This paper compares the enactive approach to perception, which has recently emerged in cognitive science, with the phenomenological approach. Inspired by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, the enactive theorists Alva Noë and Evan Thompson take perception to be a result of the interaction between the brain, the body and the environment. Their argument turns mostly on the role of self-motion and sensorimotor knowledge in perceptual experience. It was said to be entirely consistent with phenomenology, indeed its revival. However, this issue is under debate. To show this, I begin with analyzing the enactive conception as a physicalist attempt to overcome the challenge of dualism and representationalism. I then turn to Husserl’s transcendental method and argue that Noë’s solution, unlike Husserl’s, remains naturalistic, as it does not take the phenomenon of intersubjectivity and the constitution of the “cultural world” into account. Afterwards I turn to Merleau-Ponty and demonstrate that there is some certain common ground with Noë, but also major differences. I conclude that the enactive approach is not completely refuted by the phenomenological one, insofar as the latter partly contains the first. Yet the enactivists deal merely with the necessary physiological conditions of perception qua animal perception, not with the sufficient sociocultural conditions for the understanding of human perception, like the inquiry into the historical and linguistic circumstances under which the understanding of human mind is made possible. The reason why the recent transformation of phenomenology into neurophenomenology is perceived as a revival is virtually inherent to the specific scientific ethos of enactivism and reveals a certain oblivion of the objectives of philosophical phenomenology.
Context: We are presently witnessing a revival of introspective methods, which implicitly challenges an impressive list of in-principle objections that were addressed to introspection by various philosophers and by behaviorists. Problem: How can one overcome those objections and provide introspection with a secure basis? Results: A renewed definition of introspection as “enlargement of the field of attention and contact with re-enacted experience,” rather than “looking-within,” is formulated. This entails (i) an alternative status of introspective phenomena, which are no longer taken as revelations of some an sich slice of experience, but as full-fledged experiences; and (ii) an alternative view of the validity of first-person reports as “performative coherence” rather than correspondence. A preliminary empirical study of the self-assessed reliability of introspective data using the elicitation interview method is then carried out. It turns out that subjects make use of reproducible processual criteria in order to probe into the authenticity and completeness of their own introspective reports. Implications: Introspective inquiry is likely to have enough resources to “take care of itself.” Constructivist content: It is argued that the failure of the introspectionist wave of the turn of the 19th/20th centuries is mostly due to its unconditional acceptance of the representationalist theory of knowledge, and that alternative non-representationalist criteria of validity give new credibility to introspective knowledge.
Open peer commentary on the article “Missing Colors: The Enactivist Approach to Perception” by Adrián G. Palacios, María-José Escobar & Esteban Céspedes. Upshot: Palacios, Escobar and Céspedes consider misrepresentation and comparability in the context of the enactivist approach of colour perception. This consideration leads them to propose the introduction of a weak form of representationalism to account for internal representation of “reality” and “shared experience” and to accommodate the Bayesian principle of prior information used in machine vision. The weak representationalism is not limited to brain states but may include embodied factors to be compatible with the enactivist framework. My commentary will essentially consider the misrepresentation and comparability arguments used by the authors to introduce the notion of representation.
Clark A. & Toribio J. (1994) Doing without representing? Synthese 101(3): 401–431. https://cepa.info/4897
Connectionism and classicism, it generally appears, have at least this much in common: both place some notion of internal representation at the heart of a scientific study of mind. In recent years, however, a much more radical view has gained increasing popularity. This view calls into question the commitment to internal representation itself. More strikingly still, this new wave of anti-representationalism is rooted not in ‘armchair’ theorizing but in practical attempts to model and understand intelligent, adaptive be-havior. In this paper we first present, and then critically assess, a variety of recent antirepresentationalist treatments. We suggest that so far, at least, the sceptical rhetoric outpaces both evidence and argument. Some probable causes of this premature scepticism are isolated. Nonetheless, the anti-representationalist challenge is shown to be both important and progressive insofar as it forces us to see beyond the bare representa-tional/non-representational dichotomy and to recognize instead a rich continuum of degrees and types of representationality.
This paper seeks to identify, clarify, and perhaps rehabilitate the virtual reality metaphor as applied to the goal of understanding consciousness. Some proponents of the metaphor apply it in a way that implies a representational view of experience of a particular, extreme form that is indirect, internal and inactive (what we call “presentational virtualism”). In opposition to this is an application of the metaphor that eschews representation, instead preferring to view experience as direct, external and enactive (“enactive virtualism”). This paper seeks to examine some of the strengths and weaknesses of these virtuality-based positions in order to assist the development of a related, but independent view of experience: virtualist representationalism. Like presentational virtualism, this third view is representational, but like enactive virtualism, it places action centre stage, and does not require, in accounting for the richness of visual experience, global representational “snapshots” corresponding to the entire visual field to be tokened at any one time.
Over the last 30 years, representationalist and dynamicist positions in the philosophy of cognitive science have argued over whether neurocognitive processes should be viewed as representational or not. Major scientific and technological developments over the years have furnished both parties with ever more sophisticated conceptual weaponry. In recent years, an enactive generalization of predictive processing – known as active inference – has been proposed as a unifying theory of brain functions. Since then, active inference has fueled both representationalist and dynamicist campaigns. However, we believe that when diving into the formal details of active inference, one should be able to find a solution to the war; if not a peace treaty, surely an armistice of a sort. Based on an analysis of these formal details, this paper shows how both representationalist and dynamicist sensibilities can peacefully coexist within the new territory of active inference.
Human thinking uses other peoples’ experience. While often pictured as computation or based on the workings of a language-system in the mind or brain, the evidence suggests alternatives to representationalism. In terms proposed here, embodiment is interlaced with wordings as people tackle the integration problem. Using a case study, the paper shows how a young man uses external resources in an experimental task. He grasps a well-defined problem by using material resources, talking about his doings and switching roles and procedures. Attentional skills enable him to act as an air cadet who, among other things, connects action, leadership and logic. Airforce practices prompt him to draw timeously on non-local resources as, using impersonal experience, he interlaces language, action and perception. He connects the cultural and the metabolic in cognitive work as he finds a way to completion of the task.
Open peer commentary on the article “Coordination Produces Cognitive Niches, not just Experiences: A Semi-Formal Constructivist Ontology Based on von Foerster” by Konrad Werner. Upshot: I will aim to show that a cognitive niche, as introduced by Werner, although a theoretically rich and insightful concept, ultimately falls short of its intended aims. Here I will draw attention to three distinct reasons for this: (a) it does not adequately deal with the issue of Cartesian subjectivism, (b) it conflates the ontological domain with the epistemic and as a consequence (c) introduces a counterproductive type of representationalism. The commentary finishes with a few words on an alternative proposal for solving the problem of presentation.
De Jesus P. (2018) Thinking through enactive agency: Sense-making, bio-semiosis and the ontologies of organismic worlds. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 17(5): 861–887. https://cepa.info/5701
According to enactivism all living systems, from single cell organisms to human beings, are ontologically endowed with some form of teleological and sense-making agency. Furthermore, enactivists maintain that: (i) there is no fixed pregiven world and as a consequence (ii) all organisms “bring forth” their own unique “worlds” through processes of sense-making. The first half of the paper takes these two ontological claims as its central focus and aims to clarify and make explicit the arguments and motivations underlying them. Our analysis here highlights three distinct but connected problems for enactivism: (i) these arguments do not and cannot guarantee that there is no pregiven world, instead, they (ii) end up generating a contradiction whereby a pregiven world seems to in fact be tacitly presupposed by virtue of (iii) a reliance on a tacit epistemic perspectivalism which is also inherently representationalist and as a consequence makes it difficult to satisfactorily account for the ontological plurality of worlds. Taking these considerations on board, the second half of the paper then aims to develop a more robust ontologically grounded enactivism. Drawing from biosemiotic enactivism, science and technology studies and anthropology, the paper aims to present an account which both rejects a pregiven world and coherently accounts for how organisms bring forth ontologically multiple worlds.
According to a standard representationalist view cognitive capacities depend on internal content-carrying states. Recent alternatives to this view have been met with the reaction that they have, at best, limited scope, because a large range of cognitive phenomena – those involving absent and abstract features – require representational explanations. Here we challenge the idea that the consideration of cognition regarding the absent and the abstract can move the debate about representationalism along. Whether or not cognition involving the absent and the abstract requires the positing of representations depends upon whether more basic forms of cognition require the positing of representations.