This book asks the sciences of the mind to test their own boundaries, demanding that they account for a number of cognitive and experiential phenomena that are at the edge of the very possibility to cognize. We believe that this is a foundational challenge for the enactive approach to the mind, and, moreover, it is a challenge that – if actually won – might offer a persuasive theoretical framework even to those who have so far been skeptical about enactivism’s capacity to deal with higherlevel cognition.
The enactive approach replaces the classical computer metaphor of mind with emphasis on embodiment and social interaction as the sources of our goals and concerns. Researchers from a range of disciplines unite to address the challenge of how to account for the more uniquely human aspects of cognition, including the abstract and the nonsensical.
Excerpt: This essay has two parts. In the first, I advance the main theses of the enactivist approach to perception and experience. Moreover, embracing Alvin Goldman’s concept of “enactment imagination,” I argue that the imagination works by simulating (or enacting) a hypothetical perceptual experience, and that this accounts for its experiential quality. In the second part, I develop an enactivist model of the reader’s imagination, suggesting that narrative texts are sets of instructions for the enactment of a storyworld. I also question the view that fictional consciousnesses are represented in narrative texts, adding some remarks concerning the relationship between narrative and qualia (defined as the intrinsic, ineffable qualities of our experience). The analogy that steers me through this argument is that, in their imaginative engagement with narratives, readers are like blind people tapping their way around with a cane. Every tap of the cane corresponds to the reader’s being invited to imagine a nonexistent object.
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.
Applied systems-thinking involves the use of systems methodologies and concepts to facilitate intervention in social situations. In this area, a body of knowledge has been accumulated to promote informed use of systems methodology. Still, how human experience is considered and used in intervention is limited to what methodologies prescribe or what facilitators do with it. In this paper, we revisit the ideas of autopoiesis and in particular the research project pursued by one of his original authors (Francisco Varela). Following Varela’s intent to develop a middle way in science, we reflect on how applied systems thinking could take a step back regarding how human experience is integrated into intervention. We conclude the paper with a number of suggestions to make applied systems-thinking more permeable and sensitive to human experience and therefore open to compassionate thinking and action.
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.
Does the material basis of conscious experience extend beyond the boundaries of the brain and central nervous system? In Clark 2009 I reviewed a number of ‘enactivist’ arguments for such a view and found none of them compelling. Ward (2012) rejects my analysis on the grounds that the enactivist deploys an essentially world-involving concept of experience that transforms the argumentative landscape in a way that makes the enactivist conclusion inescapable. I present an alternative (prediction-and-generative-model-based) account that neatly accommodates all the positive evidence that Ward cites on behalf of this enactivist conception, and that (I argue) makes richer and more satisfying contact with the full sweep of human experience.
This paper seeks to identify, clarify, and perhaps rehabilitate the virtual reality metaphor as applied to the goal of understanding consciousness. Some proponents of the metaphor apply it in a way that implies a representational view of experience of a particular, extreme form that is indirect, internal and inactive (what we call “presentational virtualism”). In opposition to this is an application of the metaphor that eschews representation, instead preferring to view experience as direct, external and enactive (“enactive virtualism”). This paper seeks to examine some of the strengths and weaknesses of these virtuality-based positions in order to assist the development of a related, but independent view of experience: virtualist representationalism. Like presentational virtualism, this third view is representational, but like enactive virtualism, it places action centre stage, and does not require, in accounting for the richness of visual experience, global representational “snapshots” corresponding to the entire visual field to be tokened at any one time.
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.