An important part of David Hume’s work is his attempt to put the natural sciences on a firmer foundation by introducing the scientific method into the study of human nature. This investigation resulted in a novel understanding of the mind, which in turn informed Hume’s critical evaluation of the scope and limits of the scientific method as such. However, while these latter reflections continue to influence today’s philosophy of science, his theory of mind is nowadays mainly of interest in terms of philosophical scholarship. This paper aims to show that, even though Hume’s recognition in the cognitive sciences has so far been limited, there is an opportunity to reevaluate his work in the context of more recent scientific developments. In particular, it is argued that we can gain a better understanding of his overall philosophy by tracing the ongoing establishment of the enactive approach. In return, this novel interpretation of Hume’s ‘science of man’ is used as the basis for a consideration of the current and future status of the cognitive sciences.
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.
The life – mind continuity thesis holds that mind is prefigured in life and that mind belongs to life. The biggest challenge faced by proponents of this thesis is to show how an explanatory framework that accounts for basic biological processes can be systematically extended to incorporate the highest reaches of human cognition. We suggest that this apparent ‘cognitive gap’ between minimal and human forms of life appears insurmountable largely because of the methodological individualism that is prevalent in cognitive science. Accordingly, a twofold strategy is used to show how a consideration of sociality can address both sides of the cognitive gap: (1) it is argued from a systemic perspective that inter-agent interactions can extend the behavioral domain of even the simplest agents and (2) it is argued from a phenomenological perspective that the cognitive attitude characteristic of adult human beings is essentially intersubjectively constituted, in particular with respect to the possibility of perceiving objects as detached from our own immediate concerns. These two complementary considerations of the constitutive role of inter-agent interactions for mind and cognition indicate that sociality is an indispensable element of the life – mind continuity thesis and of cognitive science more generally.
The enactive approach to perception is generating an extensive amount of interest and debate in the cognitive sciences. One particularly contentious issue has been how best to characterize the perceptual experiences reported by subjects who have mastered the skillful use of a perceptual supplementation (PS) device. This paper argues that this issue cannot be resolved with the use of third-person methodologies alone, but that it requires the development of a phenomenological pragmatics. In particular, it is necessary that the experimenters become skillful in the use of PS devices themselves. The ‘Enactive Torch’ is proposed as an experimental platform which is cheap, non-intrusive and easy to replicate, so as to enable researchers to corroborate reported experiences with their own phenomenology more easily.
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.
Some concerns have recently been raised with regard to the sufficiency of current embodied AI for advancing our scientific understanding of intentional agency. While from an engineering or computer science perspective this limitation might not be relevant, it is of course highly relevant for AI researchers striving to build accurate models of natural cognition. We argue that the biological foundations of enactive cognitive science can provide the conceptual tools that are needed to diagnose more clearly the shortcomings of current embodied AI. In particular, taking an enactive perspective points to the need for AI to take seriously the organismic roots of autonomous agency and sense-making. We identify two necessary systemic requirements, namely constitutive autonomy and adaptivity, which lead us to introduce two design principles of enactive AI. It is argued that the development of such enactive AI poses a significant challenge to current methodologies. However, it also provides a promising way of eventually overcoming the current limitations of embodied AI, especially in terms of providing fuller models of natural embodied cognition. Finally, some practical implications and examples of the two design principles of enactive AI are also discussed.
Current theories of social cognition are mainly based on a representationalist view. Moreover, they focus on a rather sophisticated and limited aspect of understanding others, i.e. on how we predict and explain others’ behaviours through representing their mental states. Research into the ‘social brain’ has also favoured a third-person paradigm of social cognition as a passive observation of others’ behaviour, attributing it to an inferential, simulative or projective process in the individual brain. In this paper, we present a concept of social understanding as an ongoing, dynamical process of participatory sense-making and mutual incorporation. This process may be described (1) from a dynamical agentive systems point of view as an interaction and coordination of two embodied agents; (2) from a phenomenological approach as a mutual incorporation, i.e. a process in which the lived bodies of both participants extend and form a common intercorporality. Intersubjectivity, it is argued, is not a solitary task of deciphering or simulating the movements of others but means entering a process of embodied interaction and generating common meaning through it. This approach will be further illustrated by an analysis of primary dyadic interaction in early childhood.
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.