Publication 3002

Cummins F. & De Jesus P. (2016) The loneliness of the enactive cell: Towards a bio-enactive framework. Adaptive Behavior 24(3): 149–159. Fulltext at
The enactive turn in cognitive science fundamentally changes how questions about experience and behaviour are addressed. We propose that there exists a suite of core concepts within enaction that are suited to the characterisation of many kinds of intentional subjects, including and especially animals, plants, collectivities and artefacts. We summarise some basic concerns of enactive theory and show how the common illustration of the single cell ascending a chemotactic gradient serves as a focus point for discussion of important topics such as identity, perspective, value, agency and life-mind continuity. We also highlight two important deficits of this example: the cell is ahistorical and asocial. Historicity and sociality are defining characteristics of living beings and are addressed within enactive theory by the concepts of structural coupling and participatory sense-making, respectively. This strongly biological framework is to be distinguished from scientific psychology which is, we argue, necessarily anthropomorphic. We propose a constrained bio-enactive framework that remains true to its biological foundations and that would allow us to negotiate consensus-based understanding in contested domains, where incompatible value systems enacted by competing systems are in conflict. A consensual ‘we’ is, we contend, a matter of negotiation, not of fixed essence. A bio-enactive framework may serve as a jumping off point for consensus-based discussion within contested domains.

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