The sensorimotor theory of perceptual consciousness offers a form of enactivism in that it stresses patterns of interaction instead of any alleged internal rep-resentations of the environment. But how does it relate to forms of enactivism stressing the continuity between life and mind (and more particularly autopoiesis, autonomy, and valence)? We shall distinguish sensorimotor enactivism, which stresses perceptual capacities themselves, from autopoietic enactivism, which claims an essential connection between experience and autopoietic processes or associated background capacities. We show how autopoiesis, autonomous agency, and affective dimensions of experience may fit into sensorimotor enactivism, and we identify differences between this interpretation and autopoietic enactivism. By taking artificial consciousness as a case in point, we further sharpen the distinction between sensorimotor enactivism and autopoietic enactivism. We argue that sensorimotor enactivism forms a strong default position for an enactive account of perceptual consciousness.
Open peer commentary on the article “Enacting Enaction: A Dialectic Between Knowing and Being” by Sebastjan Vörös & Michel Bitbol. Upshot: In general agreement with the target article, I relate Vörös and Bitbol’s elucidation of Varelian philosophical roots of enaction to a discussion of enaction put forward by Varela’s co-authors Rosch and Thompson in their introductions to the revised edition of The Embodied Mind. I align Vörös and Bitbol’s multi-layered understanding of enaction to Rosch’s distinction between its “phase 1” and “phase 2” accounts. I consider the implications of the relationship between the pseudo-subject and the meta-subject of the enactive account of mind for the general enactivist conception of science and scientific knowledge.
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.
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.
Spontaneous thought, often colloquially referred to as “daydreaming” or “mind-wandering,” is increasingly being investigated by scientists (for recent reviews, see Christoff, 2012; Andrews-Hanna et al., 2014; Smallwood and Schooler, 2014). In a recent article published in Science, Wilson et al. (2014) argue in support of the view (e.g., Killingsworth and Gilbert, 2010) that such thinking is predominantly unpleasant, and even emotionally aversive. While we were impressed with the enormous wealth of data collected by Wilson et al. and by the number of experimental manipulations carried out, we found their interpretations surprising in light of prior research. We applaud Wilson et al.‘s detailed effort to investigate the content and affective qualities of “just thinking” – but upon examining their dataset, we find little support for their claims.
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.