Can we see the expressiveness of other people’s gestures, hear the intentions in their voice, see the emotions in their posture? Traditional theories of social cognition still say we cannot because intentions and emotions for them are hidden away inside and we do not have direct access to them. Enactive theories still have no idea because they have so far mainly focused on perception of our physical world. We surmise, however, that the latter hold promise since, in trying to understand cognition, enactive theory focuses on the embodied engagements of a cognizer with his world. In this paper, we attempt an answer for the question: What is social perception in an enactive account? In enaction, perception is conceived as a skill, crucially involving action (perception is action and action is perception), an ability to work successfully within the set of regularities, or contingencies, that characterize a given domain. If this is the case, then social perception should be a social skill. Having thus transformed the question of what social perception is into that of what social skill is, we examine the concept of social contingencies and the manner in which social skills structure – both constrain and empower – social interaction. Some of the implications of our account for how social and physical perception differ, the role of embodiment in social interaction and the distinction between our approach and other social contingency theories are also addressed. Relevance: This paper provides an outline of an approach to social perception grounded in sensorimotor and enactive approaches, particularly the participatory sense-making approach of De Jaegher and Di Paolo (2007). It also provides links between enactive approaches to social activity and the constructivist views of cultural psychologists such as Jerome Bruner.
The enactive approach to cognitive science aims to provide an account of the mind that is both naturalistic and nonreductive. Psychological activity is viewed not as occurring within the individual organism but in the engagement between the motivated autonomous agent and their context (including their social context). The approach has been developing within the fields of philosophy, artificial life, and computational biology for the past two decades and is now growing within the domain of psychology more generally. In this short paper we outline the conceptual framework of the enactive approach. Illustrative research questions and methods for investigation are also broached, including some existing examples from theoretical, behavioral, and computational modeling research. It is suggested that an enactive psychology provides the basis for the conceptual framework of the enactive approach. Relevance: This paper defines a “enactive psychology” to describe the complex of relations between a cognitive agent and their environment.
Purpose: This paper is a brief introduction to enactive cognitive science: a description of some of the main research concerns; some examples of how such concerns have been realized in actual research; some of its research methods and proposed explanatory mechanisms and models; some of the potential as both a theoretical and applied science; and several of the major open research questions. Findings: Enactive cognitive science is an approach to the study of mind that seeks to explain how the structures and mechanisms of autonomous cognitive systems can arise and participate in the generation and maintenance of viable perceiver-dependent worlds – rather than more conventional cognitivist efforts, such as the attempt to explain cognition in terms of the “recovery” of (pre-given, timeless) features of The (objectively-existing and accessible) World. As such, enactive cognitive science is resonant with radical constructivism. Research implications: As with other scientific efforts conducted within a constructivist orientation, enactive cognitive science is broadly “conventional” in its scientific methodology. That is, there is a strong emphasis on testable hypotheses, empirical observation, supportable mechanisms and models, rigorous experimental methods, acceptable criteria of validation, and the like. Nonetheless, this approach to cognitive science does also raise a number of specific questions about the scope of amenable phenomena (e.g., meaning, consciousness, etc.) – and it also raises questions of whether such a perspective requires an expansion of what is typically considered within the purview of scientific method (e.g., the role of the observer/scientist).
Purpose: This, the second part of a two-part paper, describes how the concerns of enactive cognitive science have been realized in actual research: methodological issues, proposed explanatory mechanisms and models, some of the potential as both a theoretical and applied science, and several of the major open research questions. Findings: Despite some skepticism about “mechanisms” in constructivist literature, enactive cognitive science attempts to develop cognitive formalisms and models. Such techniques as feedback loops, self-organization, autocatalytic networks, and dynamical systems modeling are used to develop alternatives to cognitivist models. A number of technical similarities are starting to emerge in the different models being proposed. Research Implications: The need to resolve the interplay between autonomy and coupling with the environment suggests the need for further technical research. And the reintroduction of first-person concerns into cognitive science raises some questions of method, particularly with regard to the relationship between first-person experience, neuroscience, and methods of description, analysis, and explanation. Results to date suggest that insights from enactive cognitive science could lead to innovations in the design of artifacts.
Summary: wenty years ago, philosopher Evan Thompson’s aim is to “bring the experimental sciences of life and mind into a closer and more harmonious relationship with phenomenological investigations of experience and subjectivity.” He wants to “make headway on one of the outstanding philosophical and scientific problems of our time – the so-called explanatory gap between consciousness and nature. Exactly how are consciousness and subjective experience related to the brain and body?”… In conclusion, this is a rich, complex, and valuable book in the constructivist tradition of philosophy and science – and a book deserving of extended review and discussion.
“Perception is not something that happens to us, or in us, ” writes Alva Noë. “It is something we do. ” In Action in Perception, Noë argues that perception and perceptual consciousness depend on capacities for action and thought – that perception is a kind of thoughtful activity. Touch, not vision, should be our model for perception. Perception is not a process in the brain, but a kind of skillful activity of the body as a whole. We enact our perceptual experience. To perceive, according to this enactive approach to perception, is not merely to have sensations; it is to have sensations that we understand. In Action in Perception, Noë investigates the forms this understanding can take. He begins by arguing, on both phenomenological and empirical grounds, that the content of perception is not like the content of a picture; the world is not given to consciousness all at once but is gained gradually by active inquiry and exploration. Noë then argues that perceptual experience acquires content thanks to our possession and exercise of practical bodily knowledge, and examines, among other topics, the problems posed by spatial content and the experience of color. He considers the perspectival aspect of the representational content of experience and assesses the place of thought and understanding in experience. Finally, he explores the implications of the enactive approach for our understanding of the neuroscience of perception.
Upshot: According to its introduction, the aim of Enaction is to “present the paradigm of enaction as a framework for a far-reaching renewal of cognitive science as a whole.” While many of the chapters make progress towards this aim, the book as a whole does not present enactivism as a coherent framework, and it could be argued that enactivism’s embrace of phenomenology means it is no longer a theory of cognition.
This article discusses key concepts within enactivist writing, focussing especially on concepts involved in the enactivist description of cognition as embodied action: perceptually guided action, embodiment, and structural coupling through recurrent sensorimotor patterns. Other concepts on which these concepts depend are also discussed, including structural determinism, operational closure, autonomy, autopoiesis, consensual domains, and cognition as effective action. Some related concepts that follow from an enactivist view of cognition are considered, in particular bringing forth a world and languaging. The use of enactivism as a methodology in mathematics education is also outlined. References to mathematics education research reported in this issue and elsewhere are used throughout to provide illustrations.
Knowing that human judgment can be fallible, we propose to distinguish the subjective ascription of a property, such as autonomy, from the genuine fact that an entity is characterised by a certain property, i.e., it is autonomous. In this paper, we take a closer look at this distinction and what it is grounded on, taking a constructivist stance that sees the scientist as an observing subject. We arrive at a notion of fortified ascription, in which knowledge and scientific study of generative mechanisms play an important role, and look at some models of autonomy in the light of this distinction.