Cognitive systems research has predominantly been guided by the historical distinction between emotion and cognition, and has focused its efforts on modelling the “cognitive” aspects of behaviour. While this initially meant modelling only the control system of cognitive creatures, with the advent of “embodied” cognitive science this expanded to also modelling the interactions between the control system and the external environment. What did not seem to change with this embodiment revolution, however, was the attitude towards affect and emotion in cognitive science. This paper argues that cognitive systems research is now beginning to integrate these aspects of natural cognitive systems into cognitive science proper, not in virtue of traditional “embodied cognitive science,” which focuses predominantly on the body’s gross morphology, but rather in virtue of research into the interoceptive, organismic basis of natural cognitive systems.
Following on from the philosophy of embodiment by Merleau-Ponty, Jonas and others, enactivism is a pivot point from which various areas of science can be brought into a fruitful dialogue about the nature of subjectivity. In this chapter we present the enactive conception of agency, which, in contrast to current mainstream theories of agency, is deeply and strongly embodied. In line with this thinking we argue that anything that ought to be considered a genuine agent is a biologically embodied (even if distributed) agent, and that this embodiment must be affectively lived. However, we also consider that such an affective agent is not necessarily also an agent imbued with an explicit sense of subjectivity. To support this contention we outline the interoceptive foundation of basic agency and argue that there is a qualitative difference in the phenomenology of agency when it is instantiated in organisms which, due to their complexity and size, require a nervous system to underpin their physiological and sensorimotor processes. We argue that this interoceptively grounded agency not only entails affectivity but also forms the necessary basis for subjectivity.
This article is based on a strong theoretical definition of a truly social domain, which is always defined by a set of structural norms; moreover, these social structures are not only a set of constraints, but actually constitute the possibility of enacting worlds that would just not exist without them. This view emphasizes the heteronomy of individuals who abide by norms that are impersonal, culturally inherited and to a large extent independent of the individuals. Human beings are socialized through and through; consequently, all human cognition is social cognition. Finally, it appears that fully blown autonomy actually requires heteronomy. It is the acceptance of the constraints of social structures that enables individuals to enter new realms of common meaningfulness. The emergence of social life marks a crucial step in the evolution of cognition; so that at some evolutionary point human cognition cannot but be social cognition.
Open peer commentary on the article “Enacting Enaction: A Dialectic Between Knowing and Being” by Sebastjan Vörös & Michel Bitbol. Upshot: Setting up a dialectic between knowing and being poses an uncomfortable challenge to our usual way of doing science. As a modest contribution to the new collective culture we need, this commentary shares a few Zen koans, and three Taoist stories.
Open peer commentary on the article “Varela’s Radical Proposal: How to Embody and Open Up Cognitive Science” by Kristian Moltke Martiny. Upshot: To provide an illustration of some of the author’s theses, I firstly discuss contemporary accounts of embodied decision-making. I argue that they do not endorse the embodied cognition thesis in its essential (or radical) scope and thus cannot provide a meaningful account of decision-making. Secondly, I briefly discuss researchers’ intrinsic embeddedness in their scientific culture and life-world and the associated inseparability of the subject and the world. I end the essay with a question pertaining to the seemingly endless circularity of knowledge emergence in cognitive science which, arguably, entails that we cannot reveal the “invariants of the mind.”
Excerpt: Here we have brought together philosophical, neurophysiological, psychological, psychiatric, sociological, anthropological, and evolutionary studies of the interplay of embodiment, enaction, and culture. The constitution of the shared world is understood in terms of participatory and broader collective sense-making processes manifested in dynamic forms of intercorporeality, collective body memory, artifacts, affordances, scaffolding, use of symbols, and so on. The contributors investigate how preconscious and conscious accomplishments work together in empathy, interaffectivity, identifications of oneself with others through emotions such as shame, we-intentionality, and hermeneutical understanding of the thoughts of others. The shared world is seen as something constituted by intersubjective understanding that discloses things in the shared significance they have for the members of a culture. Special emphasis is put on phenomenological approaches to cognition and culture and their relation to other approaches. Our introduction explicates the key concepts, relates them to relevant empirical research, raises guiding questions, and explains the structure of the book. Starting with a phenomenological approach to the intertwinement of mind, body, and the cultural world, we continue with an exploration of the concepts of intercorporeality and interaffectivity. The ideas underlying these concepts are put in dialogue with central tenets of enactivism. We then consider further cultural conditions, such as those of cognitive scaffolding, and explain how these cultural conditions in turn depend on the embodied interaction of human beings. Finally, we outline the book’s structure and introduce the individual chapters.
The enactive approach offers a distinctive view of how mental life relates to bodily activity at three levels: bodily self-regulation, sensorimotor coupling, and intersubjective interaction. This paper concentrates on the second level of sensorimotor coupling. An account is given of how the subjectively lived body and the living body of the organism are related (the body-body problem) via dynamic sensorimotor activity, and it is shown how this account helps to bridge the explanatory gap between consciousness and the brain. Arguments by O’Regan, Noë, and Myin that seek to account for the phenomenal character of perceptual consciousness in terms of ‘bodiliness’ and ‘grabbiness’ are considered. It is suggested that their account does not pay sufficient attention to two other key aspects of perceptual phenomenality: the autonomous nature of the experiencing self or agent, and the pre-reflective nature of bodily self-consciousness.
My title – “Living Ways of Sense Making” – comes from the title of a paper that Francisco Varela gave in 1981 to the Stanford International Symposium on “Disorder and Order.”1 Building on his work on autopoiesis or the self-producing organization of living beings,2 Varela spoke as a neurobiologist concerned with the biology of mind. His paper is notable both for being an early critique of the representationist view of the brain and cognition, and for being an early statement of an alternative view informed by phenomenology – a view we were later to call the enactive view of cognition.3 According to the enactive view, living beings are sense-making beings; they enact or bring forth significance in their intimate engagements with their environments. Here is how Varela put this idea at the outset of this early paper: “Order is order, relative to somebody or some being who takes such a stance towards it. In the world of the living, order is indeed inseparable from the ways in which living beings make sense, so that they can be said to have a world.”4 “The ways in which livings beings make sense” – these words have a double meaning. On the one hand, they refer to how living beings go about their sense-making activities and thereby constitute and inhabit their worlds. On the other hand, they refer to how we understand living beings, how living beings make sense to us. In this way, these words point back to us as those living beings who have a pre-understanding of life and who can therefore raise the question, “what is living being?” This question is the overarching question of Donn Welton’s and John Protevi’s papers responding to my book, Mind in Life.5 Welton has examined how to integrate a “bottom up” phenomenology of biological systems into a phenomenology of intentional conciousness, while Protevi has discussed whether this kind of integration of life and mind might lead us also to panpsychism. My way of entering this discussion and responding to their rich papers will be to take up again the question, “what is living being?” Or, more simply and precisely, “what is living?” My essay has four parts. First, I will say more about what I mean when I ask, “What is living?” Second, I will present my way of answering this question, which is that living is sense-making in precarious conditions. Third, I will respond to Welton’s considerations about what he calls the “affective entrainment” of the living being by the environment. Finally, I will address Protevi’s remarks about panpsychism.
One of the major debates in classical Indian philosophy concerned whether consciousness is present or absent in dreamless sleep. The philosophical schools of Advaita Vedānta and Yoga maintained that consciousness is present in dreamless sleep, whereas the Nyāya school maintained that it is absent. Consideration of this debate, especially the reasoning used by Advaita Vedānta to rebut the Nyāya view, calls into question the standard neuroscientific way of operationally defining consciousness as “that which disappears in dreamless sleep and reappears when we wake up or dream.” The Indian debate also offers new resources for contemporary philosophy of mind. At the same time, findings from cognitive neuroscience have important implications for Indian debates about cognition during sleep, as well as for Indian and Western philosophical discussions of the self and its relationship to the body. Finally, considerations about sleep drawn from the Indian materials suggest that we need a more refined taxonomy of sleep states than that which sleep science currently employs, and that contemplative methods of mind training are relevant for advancing the neurophenomenology of sleep and consciousness.