Embodied Cognition represents the most important news in cognitive psychology in the last twenty years. The basis of its research program is the idea that cognitive processes depend, mirror, and are influenced by bodily control systems. A whole class of novel perspectives entered into the psychologists’ agenda only after the emergence and success of EC. In the paper we will deal with some of the main topics debated within EC, from the discussion on the role of representation, to the relationship with enactivism, with functionalism and with the extended mind view. Against an interpretation according to which EC is simply an evolution of the classical cognitivist program, we will focus on the aspects that highlight crucial discontinuities with it, suggesting instead that the EC perspective is indebted to previous theoretical traditions such as American pragmatism, ecological psychology and phenomenology. In the present paper we will discuss some of the most important achievements of EC in different areas of experimental research, from the study of affordances to that of the bodily experience, from the investigation on emotions to that on language. Our aim is to force the Italian public, particularly recalcitrant to EC, to critically reflect on the debts to previous traditions. Relevance: The paper reviews embodied theories with a special focus on enactivist approaches.
Open peer commentary on the article “Varela’s Radical Proposal: How to Embody and Open Up Cognitive Science” by Kristian Moltke Martiny. Upshot: Analyses of the epistemological premises of modern ethnography suggest that “opening up” cognitive science is problematic, caught between a theoretically impossible “translation” of another world view or culture and reverting to an autobiography. Rather, an ethnography might be viewed as a “poetic” expression of interpersonal experiences, whose writing is a new experience contributing to ongoing conversations with ethical value. In particular, one can adopt an instrumental perspective in which an ethnography is a tool for engineering design; thus the “opening” is manifest as applied science within a design collaboration.
Emotion theorists tend to separate “arousal” and other bodily events such as “actions” from the evaluative component of emotion known as “appraisal.” This separation, I argue, implies phenomenologically implausible accounts of emotion elicitation and personhood. As an alternative, I attempt a reconceptualization of the notion of appraisal within the so-called “enactive approach.” I argue that appraisal is constituted by arousal and action, and I show how this view relates to an embodied and affective notion of personhood. Relevance: It proposes an enactive conceptualization of the phenomenon of appraisal.
The theory of autopoiesis is central to the enactive approach. Recent works emphasize that the theory of autopoiesis is a theory of sense-making in living systems, i.e., of how living systems produce and consume meaning. In this chapter I first illustrate (some aspects of) these recent works, and interpret their notion of sense-making as a bodily cognitive-emotional form of understanding. Then I turn to modern emotion science, and I illustrate its tendency to over-intellectualize our capacity to evaluate and understand. I show that this over-intellectualization goes hand in hand with the rejection of the idea that the body is a vehicle of meaning. I explain why I think that this over-intellectualization is problematic, and try to reconceptualize the notion of evaluation in emotion theory in a way that is consistent and continuous with the autopoietic notion of sense-making. Relevance: It links emotion theory and the enactive notion of sense-making.
This book takes ideas from the enactive approach developed over the last twenty years in cognitive science and philosophy of mind and applies them for the first time to affective science – the study of emotions, moods, and feelings. Colombetti argues that enactivism entails a view of cognition as not just embodied but also intrinsically affective, and she elaborates on the implications of this claim for the study of emotion in psychology and neuroscience. In the course of her discussion, the author focuses on long-debated issues in affective science, including the notion of basic emotions, the nature of appraisal and its relationship to bodily arousal, the place of bodily feelings in emotion experience, the neurophysiological study of emotion experience, and the bodily nature of our encounters with others. Relevance: The author draws on enactivist tools such as dynamical systems theory, the notion of the lived body, neurophenomenology, and phenomenological accounts of empathy.
Our aim in this chapter is to bring emotion theory and the embodied view of cognition closer to each other. We first present an overview of classical (pre-Jamesian) theories of emotion and show that they were all psychosomatic. We then turn to the disembodied stance of cognitivism and trace how and why emotion theory came to lose the body. We argue that cognitivism not only neglected the body, but also tended to classify previous theories of emotion as either cognitive or physiological. This tendency has fostered a tension between these two features of emotion that exists to this day. The main manifestation of this tension in current emotion theory is the tendency to see cognitive and bodily processes as separate aspects or constituents of emotions. Finally, in the remainder of the article, we sketch an embodied approach to emotion, drawing especially on the “enactive approach” in cognitive science. Relevance: It develops ideas for an enactive approach to emotion.
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.
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.