Buddhism originated and developed in an Indian cultural context that featured many first-person practices for producing and exploring states of consciousness through the systematic training of attention. In contrast, the dominant methods of investigating the mind in Western cognitive science have emphasized third-person observation of the brain and behavior. In this chapter, we explore how these two different projects might prove mutually beneficial. We lay the groundwork for a cross-cultural cognitive science by using one traditional Buddhist model of the mind – that of the five aggregates – as a lens for examining contemporary cognitive science conceptions of consciousness.
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.
An important shift is taking place in social cognition research, away from a focus on the individual mind and toward embodied and participatory aspects of social understanding. Empirical results already imply that social cognition is not reducible to the workings of individual cognitive mechanisms. To galvanize this interactive turn, we provide an operational definition of social interaction and distinguish the different explanatory roles – contextual, enabling and constitutive – it can play in social cognition. We show that interactive processes are more than a context for social cognition: they can complement and even replace individual mechanisms. This new explanatory power of social interaction can push the field forward by expanding the possibilities of scientific explanation beyond the individual.
Underlying the recent focus on embodied and interactive aspects of social understanding are several intuitions about what roles the body, interaction processes, and interpersonal experience play. In this paper, we introduce a systematic, hands-on method for investigating the experience of interacting and its role in intersubjectivity. Special about this method is that it starts from the idea that researchers of social understanding are themselves one of the best tools for their own investigations. The method provides ways for researchers to calibrate and to trust themselves as sophisticated instruments to help generate novel insights into human interactive experience. We present the basics of the method, and two empirical studies. The first is a video-study on autism, which shows greater refinement in the way people with autism embody their social interactions than previously thought. The second is a study of thinking in live interactions, which provides insight into the common feeling that too much thinking can hamper interaction, and into how this kind of interactional awkwardness might be unblocked.
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.
Autopoietic enactivism (AE) has over the last two decades undoubtedly been at the forefront of the “embodiment revolution” in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. It has developed a “radical” and influential account of embodiment which maintains that cognition is constitutively dependent on the living body. AE presents a naturalist but non-reductive framework in which the body can be understood both as an autonomous system and subjective sense-making agent. According to AE this account should serve as the core basis from which to develop a truly embodied cognition paradigm worthy of challenging traditional cognitivism. The paper will present AE’s account of the body in order to examine and critically evaluate it. This evaluation will explore certain conceptual ambiguities and theoretical incongruences which are at the root of two difficulties for AE’s account: (i) it highlights a potential anthropocentric and anthropomorphic bias; and (ii) it is too abstract, synchronic, and does not pay sufficient attention to the historical, sociocultural dimension of embodiment. The paper concludes by drawing from recent work in the sociology of the body to both support this reading of AE and also as a possible means to improve on it.