This chapter discusses the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment and attempts to determine what needs to be specified so that one can properly imagine a brain in a vat. Daniel Dennett notes that philosophers often fail to set up their intuition pumps properly by failing to think carefully about the requirements and implications of their imagined scenarios. His suggestion is considered here and a careful look at the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment is proposed. The chapter puts the thought experiment to new use, namely, to address the biology of consciousness and to develop some new considerations in support of the enactive approach in cognitive science. Its main argument is that the brain-in-vat thought experiment, when spelled out with the requisite detail, suggests precisely that the body is not merely causally enabling for consciousness, but also constitutive.
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.
From the introduction: We will argue that OCD patients testify to the general condition that exercising an increased conscious control over actions can in fact diminish the sense of agency rather than increase the experience of freedom. Referring to Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty we argue that conscious control and deliberation may be useful when the natural flow of action is disturbed: for instance when a necessary tool is broken or missing or when one learns a new skill. However, deliberation itself may also disturb the flow of unreflective action. Too much deliberation on and analysis of one’s unreflective, habitual actions may cause insecurity and even a breakdown of what was once ‘second nature’. We introduce three different ways in which too much deliberation can have negative effects on patients with OCD, rendering them even more unfree.
In this article, I sketch an enactive account of autism. For the enactive approach to cognition, embodiment, experience, and social interaction are fundamental to understanding mind and subjectivity. Enaction defines cognition as sense-making: the way cognitive agents meaningfully connect with their world, based on their needs and goals as self-organizing, self-maintaining, embodied agents. In the social realm, the interactive coordination of embodied sense-making activities with others lets us participate in each other’s sense-making (social understanding = participatory sense-making). The enactive approach provides new concepts to overcome the problems of traditional functionalist accounts of autism, which can only give a piecemeal and disintegrated view because they consider cognition, communication, and perception separately, do not take embodied into account, and are methodologically individualistic. Applying the concepts of enaction to autism, I show: (1) How embodiment and sense-making connect, i.e., how autistic particularities of moving, perceiving, and emoting relate to how people with autism make sense of their world. For instance, restricted interests or preference for detail will have certain sensorimotor correlates, as well as specific meaning for autistic people. (2) That reduced flexibility in interactional coordination correlates with difficulties in participatory sense-making. At the same time, seemingly irrelevant “autistic behaviors” can be quite attuned to the interactive context. I illustrate this complexity in the case of echolalia. An enactive account of autism starts from the embodiment, experience, and social interactions of autistic people. Enaction brings together the sensorimotor, cognitive, social, experiential, and affective aspects of autism in a coherent framework based on a complex non-linear multi-causality. This foundation allows to build new bridges between autistic people and their often non-autistic context, and to improve quality of life prospects.
In their recent book Radicalizing Enactivism. Basic minds without content, Dan Hutto and Erik Myin (H&M) make two important criticisms of what they call autopoietic enactivism (AE). These two criticisms are that AE harbours tacit representationalists commitments and that it has too liberal a conception of cognition. Taking the latter claim as its main focus, this paper explores the theoretical underpinnings of AE in order to tease out how it might respond to H&M. In so doing it uncovers some reasons which not only appear to warrant H&M’s initial claims but also seem to point to further uneasy tensions within the AE framework. The paper goes beyond H&M by tracing the roots of these criticisms and apparent tensions to phenomenology and the role it plays in AE’s distinctive conception of strong life-mind continuity. It is highlighted that this phenomenological dimension of AE contains certain unexamined anthropomorphic and anthropogenic leanings which do not sit comfortably within its wider commitment to life-mind continuity. In light of this analysis it is suggested that AE will do well to rethink this role or ultimately run the risk of remaining theoretically unstable. The paper aims to contribute to the ongoing theoretical development of AE by highlighting potential internal tensions within its framework which need to be addressed in order for it to continue to evolve as a coherent paradigm.
Autopoietic enactivism (AE) is a relatively young but increasingly influential approach within embodied cognitive science, which aims to offer a viable alternative framework to mainstream cognitivism. Similarly, in biology, the nascent field of biosemiotics has steadily been developing an increasingly influential alternative framework to mainstream biology. Despite sharing common objectives and clear theoretical overlap, there has to date been little to no exchange between the two fields. This paper takes this under-appreciated overlap as not only a much needed call to begin building bridges between the two areas but also as an opportunity to explore how AE could benefit from biosemiotics. As a first tentative step towards this end, the paper will draw from both fields to develop a novel synthesis – biosemiotic enactivism – which aims to clarify, develop and ultimately strengthen some key AE concepts. The paper has two main goals: (i) to propose a novel conception of cognition that could contribute to the ongoing theoretical developments of AE and (ii) to introduce some concepts and ideas from biosemiotics to the enactive community in order to stimulate further debate across the two fields.
Context: In earlier joint work with Varela and Vermersch, we began the elaboration of a methodological and epistemological framework for a practical experiential phenomenology. Problem: I here wish to update and further develop that earlier work. Method: I present the framework of a practical, as distinct from a conceptual-theoretical, phenomenology. I update that framework, arguing for a shift in emphasis from consciousness to vigilant attention. I offer a still preliminary investigation of the important phenomenon of surprise. I link these results with ongoing scientific research conducted by myself and others. Results: Attention-as-vigilance is a key operator of experience. Attention has an antinomic dynamic with surprise. Implications: Attention and surprise are key participants in the generative process of the experience of novelty. Elaboration of this thesis enables the further development of practical, first-person methodologies. Constructivist content: This paper outlines certain key features of first-person, lived experience, and elaborates a method for linking these results directly to ongoing scientific research.
We summarize some of the main proposals of the enactive approach to social understanding and discuss some common misreadings of the notion of participatory sense-making. The emphasis on the role played by social interaction in the enactive perspective is sometimes misinterpreted as the adoption of an interactionist stance, whereby individual processes are less relevant. This is not the case, and we proceed to explain and exemplify the central role played by individual agency, subpersonal processes and subjective personal experience in the framework of participatory sense-making. This is clear from how social interaction is defined as involving the co-arising of autonomous relational patterns, not under the full control of any participant, but without loss of individual autonomy of those engaged in the social encounter. We discuss how interactive patterns can sustain a deep entanglement between brain, body and interactive dynamics during social engagement, as well as the functional role played in some case by collective dynamics. The enactive approach is neither individualistic, nor interactionist. However, we express skepticism regarding the usefulness of hybrid approaches, which perpetuate dualistic distinctions between mind and body. Instead, the tensions in the notion of participatory sense-making are elaborated dialectically, demonstrating how complex forms of social agency, including language, develop from the primordial tension in participatory sense-making.
Enactive approaches foreground the role of interpersonal interaction in explanations of social understanding. This motivates, in combination with a recent interest in neuroscientific studies involving actual interactions, the question of how interactive processes relate to neural mechanisms involved in social understanding. We introduce the Interactive Brain Hypothesis (IBH) in order to map the spectrum of possible relations between social interaction and neural processes. The hypothesis states that interactive experience and skills play enabling roles in both the development and current function of social brain mechanisms, even in the absence of immediate interaction. We examine the plausibility of this hypothesis against developmental and neurobiological evidence and contrast it with the widespread assumption that mindreading is crucial to all social cognition. We describe the elements of social interaction that bear most directly on this hypothesis and discuss the empirical possibilities open to social neuroscience. The link between coordination dynamics and social understanding can be grasped by studying transitions between coordination states. These transitions form part of the self-organization of interaction processes that characterize the dynamics of social engagement. The patterns of this self-organization help explain how individuals understand each other. Various possibilities for role-taking emerge during interaction, determining a spectrum of participation. This view contrasts sharply with the observational stance that has guided research in social neuroscience until recently. We also introduce the concept of readiness to interact to describe the practices and dispositions that are summoned in situations of social significance. Relevance: The paper derives in explicit form some of the empirical neuroscientific implications of the enactive approach to intersubjectivity.
Abstract: Excerpt: We dedicate this chapter to clarifying the central tenets of enactivism and exploring some of the themes currently under development. In this exercise, following the logic of the central ideas of enactivism can sometimes lead to unexpected hypotheses and implications. We must not underestimate the value of a new framework in allowing us to formulate questions in a different vocabulary, even if satisfactory answers are not yet forthcoming. Implicitly, the exploration of these questions and possible answers is at the same time a demonstration of the variety of methods available to enactivism, from phenomenology, to theory/experiment cycles, and to the synthesis of minimal models and validation by construction – an additional thread that runs through this chapter and that we will pick up again in the discussion.