In this article we analyze the methodological commitments of a radical embodied cognition (REC) approach to social interaction and social cognition, specifically with respect to the explanatory framework it adopts. According to many representatives of REC, such as enactivists and the proponents of dynamical and ecological psychology, sociality is to be explained by (1) focusing on the social unit rather than the individuals that comprise it and (2) establishing the regularities that hold on this level rather than modeling the sub-personal mechanisms that could be said to underlie social phenomena. We point out that, despite explicit commitment, such a view implies an implicit rejection of the mechanistic explanation framework widely adopted in traditional cognitive science (TCS), which, in our view, hinders comparability between REC and these approaches. We further argue that such a position is unnecessary and that enactive mechanistic explanation of sociality is both possible and desirable. We examine three distinct objections from REC against mechanistic explanation, which we dub the decomposability, causality and extended cognition worries. In each case we show that these complaints can be alleviated by either appreciation of the full scope of the mechanistic account or adjustments on both mechanistic and REC sides of the debate.
Abramova E., Slors M. & van Rooij I. (2017) Enactive mechanistic explanation of social cognition. In: Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Cognitive Science Society, Austin TX: 45–50. https://cepa.info/5795
In this paper we examine an enactive approach to social cog- nition, a species of radical embodied cognition typically pro- posed as an alternative to traditional cognitive science. Ac- cording to enactivists, social cognition is best explained by reference to the social unit rather than the individuals that par- ticipate in it. We identify a methodological problem in this approach, namely a lack of clarity with respect to the model of explanation it adopts. We review two complaints about a mechanistic explanatory framework, popular in traditional cognitive science, that prevent enactivists from embracing it. We argue that these complaints are unfounded and propose a conceptual model of enactive mechanistic explanation of so- cial cognition.
Open peer commentary on the article “Decentering the Brain: Embodied Cognition and the Critique of Neurocentrism and Narrow-Minded Philosophy of Mind” by Shaun Gallagher. Abstract: Simulation theory and theory theory are interaction accounts of theory of mind that have been neurocentrically characterized. A hybrid of these theories approximates the interaction theory of social cognition, and can be described in an indexical-symbolic processing framework.
Butz M. V. (2008) How and Why the Brain Lays the Foundations for a Conscious Self. Constructivist Foundations 4(1): 1–14 & 32–37. https://constructivist.info/4/1/001
Purpose: Constructivism postulates that the perceived reality is a complex construct formed during development. Depending on the particular school, these inner constructs take on different forms and structures and affect cognition in different ways. The purpose of this article is to address the questions of how and, even more importantly, why we form such inner constructs. Approach: This article proposes that brain development is controlled by an inherent anticipatory drive, which biases learning towards the formation of forward predictive structures and inverse goal-oriented control structures. This drive, in combination with increasingly complex environmental interactions during cognitive development, enforces the structuring of our conscious self, which is embedded in a constructed inner reality. Essentially, the following questions are addressed: Which basic mechanisms lead us to the construction of inner realities? How are these emergent inner realities structured? How is the self represented within the inner realities? And consequently, which cognitive structures constitute the media for conscious thought and selfconsciousness? Findings: Due to the anticipatory drive, representations in the brain shape themselves predominantly purposefully or intentionally. Taking a developmental, evolutionary perspective, we show how the brain is forced to develop progressively complex and abstract representations of the self embedded in the constructed inner realities. These self representations can evoke different stages of self-consciousness. Implications: The anticipatory drive shapes brain structures and cognition during the development of progressively more complex, competent, and flexible goal-oriented bodyenvironment interactions. Self-consciousness develops because increasingly abstract, individualizing self representations are necessary to realize these progressively more challenging environmental interactions.
The ubiquitous human practice of spontaneously gesturing while speaking demonstrates the embodiment, embeddedness, and sociality of cognition. Spontaneous co-speech gesture confirms embodied aspects of linguistic meaning-making that formalist and linguistic turn-type philosophical approaches fail to appreciate, while also forefronting intersubjectivity as an inherent and normative dimension of communicative action. Co-speech hand gestures, as linguistically meaningful speech acts, demonstrate sedimentation and spontaneity (in the sense of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s dialectic of linguistic expression), or features of convention and nonconvention in a Gricean sense. Yet neither pragmatic nor classic phenomenological approaches to communication can accommodate the practice of co-speech hand gesturing without some rehabilitation and reorientation. Pragmatic criteria of intersubjectivity, normativity, and rationality need to confront the nonpropositional and nonverbal meaning-making of embodied encounters. Phenomenological treatments of expression and intersubjectivity must consider the normative nature of high-order social practices like language use. Reciprocally critical exchanges between these traditions and gesture studies yield an improved philosophy that treats language as a multi-modal medium for collaborative meaning achievement. The proper paradigm for these discussions is found in enactive approaches to social cognition. Relevance: The view in this paper is constructivist as it argues for a middle-way understanding of meaning co-construction as neither internal nor external, but rather as multimodal and multi-body enacting.
Cuffari E. C., Di Paolo E. & De Jaegher H. (2015) From participatory sense-making to language: There and back again. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 14(4): 1089–1125. https://cepa.info/4351
The enactive approach to cognition distinctively emphasizes autonomy, adaptivity, agency, meaning, experience, and interaction. Taken together, these principles can provide the new sciences of language with a comprehensive philosophical framework: languaging as adaptive social sense-making. This is a refinement and advancement on Maturana’s idea of languaging as a manner of living. Overcoming limitations in Maturana’s initial formulation of languaging is one of three motivations for this paper. Another is to give a response to skeptics who challenge enactivism to connect “lower-level” sense-making with “higher-order” sophisticated moves like those commonly ascribed to language. Our primary goal is to contribute a positive story developed from the enactive account of social cognition, participatory sense-making. This concept is put into play in two different philosophical models, which respectively chronicle the logical and ontogenetic development of languaging as a particular form of social agency. Languaging emerges from the interplay of coordination and exploration inherent in the primordial tensions of participatory sense-making between individual and interactive norms; it is a practice that transcends the self-other boundary and enables agents to regulate self and other as well as interaction couplings. Linguistic sense-makers are those who negotiate interactive and internalized ways of meta-regulating the moment-to-moment activities of living and cognizing. Sense-makers in enlanguaged environments incorporate sensitivities, roles, and powers into their unique yet intelligible linguistic bodies. We dissolve the problematic dichotomies of high/low, online/offline, and linguistic/nonlinguistic cognition, and we provide new boundary criteria for specifying languaging as a prevalent kind of human social sense-making.
The focus of the book is one of the most neglected among Francisco Varela’s contributions to cognitive sciences: the model of “the conversational unit” (Varela, 1979). The author explores in detail the scientific genealogy of this model, reconstructs and analyses its structure, and presents possible applications in the current research on (the embodied and extended) mind and (social) cognition. She offers this model to contemporary cognitive sciences as a topical and viable double paradigm, able to support concretely the development of a “radical constructivism” approach, not only in their theoretical but also in their heuristic dimension – their way of practicing science.
Dautenhahn K. (1997) I could be you: The phenomenological dimension of social understanding. Special issue on epistemological aspects of embodied artificial intelligence. Cybernetics and Systems 28(5): 417–453. https://cepa.info/4471
This paper discusses the phenomenological dimension of social understanding. The author’s general hypothesis is that complex forms of social understanding that biological agents especially humans show are based on two mechanisms: 1 the bodily, experiential dynamics of emphatic resonance and 2 the biographic reconstruction of a communication situation. The latter requires the agent’s bodily experiences as the point of reference for the reconstruction process. This hypothesis is derived from discussions in philosophy, natural sciences, and cognitive science on the social embodiment of cognition and understanding. Evidence comes from studies on social cognition in primates, infants, and autistic people that are interpreted in terms of the “mind-experiencing” hypothesis. The second part of the paper sketches an '‘interactive’’ experiment that investigates the dynamic coupling of a robot with its environment. This example is used to discuss the role of the human observer and designer as an active, embodied agent who is biased toward interpreting the world in terms of intentionality and explanation. The paper describes how this aspect can influence the processes of understanding and interpretation of the behavior of autonomous robotic agents. The author concludes by stressing the need to overcome the distinction between computationalism and phenomenology in order to develop complex artificial systems.
de Bruin L. & de Haan S. (2009) Enactivism & social cognition: In search of the whole story. Cognitive Semiotics 4(1): 225–250. https://cepa.info/7282
Although the enactive approach has been very successful in explaining many basic social interactions in terms of embodied practices, there is still much work to be done when it comes to higher forms of social cognition. In this article, we discuss and evaluate two recent proposals by Shaun Gallagher and DanielHutto that try to bridge this ‘cognitive gap’ by appealing to the notion of narrative practice. Although we are enthusiastic about these proposals, we argue that (i) it is difficult to see them as continuous with the enactivist notion of direct coupling, and (ii) the failure to account for folk psychological action interpretation suggests that the enactive approach should adopt a broader notion of coupling.
In this article, we investigate the merits of an enactive view of cognition for the contemporary debate about social cognition. If enactivism is to be a genuine alternative to classic cognitivism, it should be able to bridge the “cognitive gap”, i.e. provide us with a convincing account of those higher forms of cognition that have traditionally been the focus of its cognitivist opponents. We show that, when it comes to social cognition, current articulations of enactivism are – despite their celebrated successes in explaining some cases of social interaction – not yet up to the task. This is because they (1) do not pay sufficient attention to the role of offline processing or “decoupling”, and (2) obscure the cognitive gap by overemphasizing the role of phenomenology. We argue that the main challenge for the enactive view will be to acknowledge the importance of both coupled (online) and decoupled (offline) processes for basic and advanced forms of (social) cognition. To meet this challenge, we articulate a dynamic embodied view of cognition. We illustrate the fruitfulness of this approach by recourse to recent findings on false belief understanding.