Excerpt: The goal of this chapter is to explore possible implications of […] a “pragmatic turn” for cognitive neuroscience. In addition to reviewing major conceptual components of this new framework, I will discuss neurobiological evidence supporting this notion. Specifically, I will relate this new view to recent findings on the dynamics of signal flow in the nervous system and on encoding dimensions of neural activity patterns. As I will argue, new vistas on the “meaning,” the functional roles, and the presumed “representational” nature of neural processes are likely to emerge from this confrontation.
This paper supports the view that the ongoing shift from orthodox to embodied-embedded cognitive science has been significantly influenced by the experimental results generated by AI research. Recently, there has also been a noticeable shift toward enactivism, a paradigm which radicalizes the embodiedembedded approach by placing autonomous agency and lived subjectivity at the heart of cognitive science. Some first steps toward a clarification of the relationship of AI to this further shift are outlined. It is concluded that the success of enactivism in establishing itself as a mainstream cognitive science research program will depend less on progress made in AI research and more on the development of a phenomenological pragmatics.
Context: The enactive paradigm in the cognitive sciences is establishing itself as a strong and comprehensive alternative to the computationalist mainstream. However, its own particular historical roots have so far been largely ignored in the historical analyses of the cognitive sciences. Problem: In order to properly assess the enactive paradigm’s theoretical foundations in terms of their validity, novelty and potential future directions of development, it is essential for us to know more about the history of ideas that has led to the current state of affairs. Method: The meaning of the disappearance of the field of cybernetics and the rise of second-order cybernetics is analyzed by taking a closer look at the work of representative figures for each of the phases: Rosenblueth, Wiener and Bigelow for the early wave of cybernetics, Ashby for its culmination, and von Foerster for the development of the second-order approach. Results: It is argued that the disintegration of cybernetics eventually resulted in two distinct scientific traditions, one going from symbolic AI to modern cognitive science on the one hand, and the other leading from second-order cybernetics to the current enactive paradigm. Implications: We can now understand that the extent to which the cognitive sciences have neglected their cybernetic parent is precisely the extent to which cybernetics had already carried the tendencies that would later find fuller expression in second-order cybernetics.
Varela is well known in the systems sciences for his work on second-order cybernetics, biology of cognition, and especially autopoietic theory. His concern during this period was to find an appropriate epistemological foundation for the self-reference inherent in life and mind. In his later years, Varela began to develop the so-called ‘enactive’ approach to cognitive science, which sets itself apart from other sciences by promoting a careful consideration of concrete experiential insights. His final efforts were thus dedicated to finding a pragmatic phenomenological foundation for life and mind. It is argued that Varela’s experiential turn – from epistemology to phenomenology – can be seen as a natural progression that builds on many ideas that were already implicit in second-order cybernetics and biology of cognition. It is also suggested that the rigorous study of conscious experience may enable us to refine our theories and systemic concepts of life, mind, and sociality.
We very much appreciate that Maturana (2011) responded to our article, where we had made an attempt to excavate some of the hidden conceptual context in which the idea of autopoiesis had originally been formulated (Froese & Stewart, 2010). Our investigation was motivated by the growing interest in autopoiesis and related ideas among a new generations of researchers in cognitive science, driven by the increasing popularity of the enactive approach to cognitive science (Stewart, Gapenne, & Di Paolo, 2010). This enactive paradigm has been developed as an alternative to the traditional cognitivist-computationalist paradigm, and it is remarkable for its serious consideration of first-person experience and biological autonomy, two important domains of human existence that have so far been neglected in cognitive science.
Context: The dominant approach to the study of perception is representational/computational, with an emphasis on the achievements of the brain and the nervous system, which are taken to construct internal models of the world. Alternatives include ecological, embedded, embodied, and enactivist approaches, all of which emphasize the centrality of action in understanding perception. Problem: Despite sharing many theoretical commitments that lead to a rejection of the classical approach, the alternatives are characterized by important contrasts and points of divergence. Here we focus on the enactive and ecological approaches, in particular, on how they construe the status of the environment and the content of perception. Method: We begin with a review of James Gibson’s ecological psychology, highlighting it as a psychology for all organisms not just humans. Against this backdrop, we consider enactivist arguments against direct perception - a central assertion of the ecological approach - and in favor of interpreting the activity of perceptual agents as a kind of construction of a perceptually meaningful world. Results: We assess the merits of this interpretation and we conclude that it cannot be grounded on fundamental principles such as thermodynamics and organism-environment mutuality. Implications: As a consequence, enactivism remains close to representationalism and entails a form of dualism. Constructivist content: We advance a criticism of the constructivist foundations of the enactive approach to perception. Perception-action mutuality at the heart of enactivism does not require mental construction; indeed, perception-action mutuality obviates construction.
A novel way to model an agent interacting with an environment is introduced, called an Enactive Markov Decision Process (EMDP). An EMDP keeps perception and action embedded within sensorimotor schemes rather than dissociated, in compliance with theories of embodied cognition. Rather than seeking a goal associated with a reward, as in reinforcement learning, an EMDP agent learns to master the sensorimotor contingencies offered by its coupling with the environment. In doing so, the agent exhibits a form of intrinsic motivation related to the autotelic principle (Steels), and a value system attached to interactions called “interactional motivation.” This modeling approach allows the design of agents capable of autonomous self-programming, which provides rudimentary constitutive autonomy – a property that theoreticians of enaction consider necessary for autonomous sense-making (e.g., Froese & Ziemke). A cognitive architecture is presented that allows the agent to discover, memorize, and exploit spatio-sequential regularities of interaction, called Enactive Cognitive Architecture (ECA). In our experiments, behavioral analysis shows that ECA agents develop active perception and begin to construct their own ontological perspective on the environment. Relevance: This publication relates to constructivism by the fact that the agent learns from input data that does not convey ontological information about the environment. That is, the agent learns by actively experiencing its environment through interaction, as opposed to learning by registering observations directly characterizing the environment. This publication also relates to enactivism by the fact that the agent engages in self-programming through its experience from interacting with the environment, rather than executing pre-programmed behaviors.
Context: Distributed language and interactivity are central members of a set of concepts that are rapidly developing into rigorous, exciting additions to 4E cognitive science. Because they share certain assumptions and methodological commitments with enactivism, the two have sometimes been confused; additionally, while enactivism is a well-developed paradigm, interactivity has relied more on methodological development and on a set of focal examples. Problem: The goal of this article is to clarify the core conceptual commitments of both interactivity-based and enactive approaches to cognitive science by contrasting the two and highlighting their differences in assumptions, focus, and explanatory strategies. Method: We begin with the shared commitments of interactivity and enactivism - e.g., antirepresentationalism, naturalism, interdisciplinarity, the importance of biology, etc. We then give an overview of several important varieties of enactivism, including sensorimotor and anti-representationalist enactivism, and then walk through the history of the “core” varieties, taking care to contrast Maturana’s approach with that of Varela and the current researchers following in Varela’s footsteps. We then describe the differences between this latter group and interactivity-based approaches to cognitive science. Results: We argue that enactivism’s core concepts are explanatorily inadequate in two ways. First, they mis-portray the organization of many living systems, which are not operationally closed. Second, they fail to realize that most epistemic activity (i.e., “sense-making”) depends on engagement with non-local resources. Both problems can be dealt with by adopting an interactivity-based perspective, in which agency and cognition are fundamentally distributed and involve integration of non-local resources into the local coupling of organism and environment. Implications: The article’s primary goal is theoretical clarification and exposition; its primary implication is that enactive concepts need to be modified or extended in some way in order to explain fully many aspects of cognition and directed biological activity. Or, read another way, the article’s primary implication is that interactivity already provides a rich set of concepts for doing just that, which, while closely allied with enactivism in several ways, are not enactivist concepts. Constructivist content: The article consists entirely of a comparison between two constructivist fields of theory. Key Words: Interactivity, enactivism, distributed language, radical embodied cognitive science, ecological psychology, autonomy.
A l“encontre de l“acception classique, qui voit dans la représentation le tenant-lieu d“un référent prédonné, nous proposons une définition de la représentation comme activité de rendre présent. Cette approche, qui s“origine dans le concept phénoménologique d“intentionnalité, ouvre les sciences cognitives à un programme de recherche fondé sur l”énaction et renvoie à une définition de la cognition ancrée dans le vivant. Or des dispositifs de couplage sensori-moteur médiatisent le co-avènement de l“organisme et de son monde propre. Inamovibles chez l“animal, ces dispositifs deviennent amovibles chez l“homme et donnent lieu à des prothèses techniques qui lui permettent une inventivité inédite. Anthropologiquement constitutive, la technique médiatise ainsi la représentation par une mémoire externe inscrite dans des objets matériels. Au plan phénoménologique, elle instaure une genèse technologique de l“intentionnalité qui ébranle le partage traditionnel entre l“empirique et le transcendantal.