Abstract: According to the view that has become known as the extended mind, some token mental processes extend into the cognizing organism’s environment in that they are composed (partly) of manipulative, exploitative, and transformative operations performed by that subject on suitable environmental structures. Enactivist models understand mental processes as (partly) constituted by sensorimotor knowledge and by the organism’s ability to act, in appropriate ways, on environmental structures. Given the obvious similarities between the two views, it is both tempting and common to regard them as essentially variations on the same theme. In this paper, I shall argue that the similarities between enactivist and extended models of cognition are relatively superficial, and the divergences are deeper than commonly thought.
Context: Our body schema is not restricted to biological body boundaries (such as the skin), as can be seen in the use of a cane by a person who is visually impaired or the “rubber hands” experiment. The tool becomes a part of the body schema when the focus of our attention is shifted from the tool to the task to be performed. Problem: A body schema is formed through interactions among brain, body, tool, and environment. Nevertheless, the dynamic mechanisms underlying changes in the body schema are still not fully understood. Method: To study the changing conditions of the body schema (e.g., a shift of attention), a simulation model of object discrimination was extended to differentiate between two kinds of sensitivities – sensitivity to an object being directly manipulated and sensitivity to another object being manipulated by the first. The proposed model consisted of windmills with different numbers of vanes. A model agent was required to determine the number of vanes on a windmill by touching the vanes blindly with an arm controlled by a neural network. Placing a second windmill beside the first and gearing the two windmills to move associatively resulted in the agent using the first windmill as a tool with which to discern the number of vanes on the second windmill. In other words, an agent’s body schema can shift from its arm tip to the boundary between the first and second windmills. We then introduced an experiment with a real windmill model to test the hypothesis demonstrated by the theoretical model. Results: We demonstrated that even simple computational agents can have two different sensitivities to the windmills. One agent becomes sensitive to the first windmill and insensitive to the second one. Another agent becomes insensitive to the first windmill and sensitive to the second one by using the first one as a tool. Therefore, we concluded that the boundary of the body schema was extended to the first windmill in the case of the latter agent because paying attention to the task to be performed instead of the tool itself is essential for the tool to be considered as part of the body schema. Analysis of the experiments using a computational model and human experimentation revealed that a shift from an irregular to a regular movement of a windmill is an indication of extension of the body schema. Constructivist content: Our insights are beneficial for enactive cognitive science. This is because an extended body schema questions the Cartesian separation between subject and object, and the self and the environment.
Following on from the philosophy of embodiment by Merleau-Ponty, Jonas and others, enactivism is a pivot point from which various areas of science can be brought into a fruitful dialogue about the nature of subjectivity. In this chapter we present the enactive conception of agency, which, in contrast to current mainstream theories of agency, is deeply and strongly embodied. In line with this thinking we argue that anything that ought to be considered a genuine agent is a biologically embodied (even if distributed) agent, and that this embodiment must be affectively lived. However, we also consider that such an affective agent is not necessarily also an agent imbued with an explicit sense of subjectivity. To support this contention we outline the interoceptive foundation of basic agency and argue that there is a qualitative difference in the phenomenology of agency when it is instantiated in organisms which, due to their complexity and size, require a nervous system to underpin their physiological and sensorimotor processes. We argue that this interoceptively grounded agency not only entails affectivity but also forms the necessary basis for subjectivity.
This article is based on a strong theoretical definition of a truly social domain, which is always defined by a set of structural norms; moreover, these social structures are not only a set of constraints, but actually constitute the possibility of enacting worlds that would just not exist without them. This view emphasizes the heteronomy of individuals who abide by norms that are impersonal, culturally inherited and to a large extent independent of the individuals. Human beings are socialized through and through; consequently, all human cognition is social cognition. Finally, it appears that fully blown autonomy actually requires heteronomy. It is the acceptance of the constraints of social structures that enables individuals to enter new realms of common meaningfulness. The emergence of social life marks a crucial step in the evolution of cognition; so that at some evolutionary point human cognition cannot but be social cognition.
My title – “Living Ways of Sense Making” – comes from the title of a paper that Francisco Varela gave in 1981 to the Stanford International Symposium on “Disorder and Order.”1 Building on his work on autopoiesis or the self-producing organization of living beings,2 Varela spoke as a neurobiologist concerned with the biology of mind. His paper is notable both for being an early critique of the representationist view of the brain and cognition, and for being an early statement of an alternative view informed by phenomenology – a view we were later to call the enactive view of cognition.3 According to the enactive view, living beings are sense-making beings; they enact or bring forth significance in their intimate engagements with their environments. Here is how Varela put this idea at the outset of this early paper: “Order is order, relative to somebody or some being who takes such a stance towards it. In the world of the living, order is indeed inseparable from the ways in which living beings make sense, so that they can be said to have a world.”4 “The ways in which livings beings make sense” – these words have a double meaning. On the one hand, they refer to how living beings go about their sense-making activities and thereby constitute and inhabit their worlds. On the other hand, they refer to how we understand living beings, how living beings make sense to us. In this way, these words point back to us as those living beings who have a pre-understanding of life and who can therefore raise the question, “what is living being?” This question is the overarching question of Donn Welton’s and John Protevi’s papers responding to my book, Mind in Life.5 Welton has examined how to integrate a “bottom up” phenomenology of biological systems into a phenomenology of intentional conciousness, while Protevi has discussed whether this kind of integration of life and mind might lead us also to panpsychism. My way of entering this discussion and responding to their rich papers will be to take up again the question, “what is living being?” Or, more simply and precisely, “what is living?” My essay has four parts. First, I will say more about what I mean when I ask, “What is living?” Second, I will present my way of answering this question, which is that living is sense-making in precarious conditions. Third, I will respond to Welton’s considerations about what he calls the “affective entrainment” of the living being by the environment. Finally, I will address Protevi’s remarks about panpsychism.
This paper explores some of the differences between the enactive approach in cognitive science and the extended mind thesis. We review the key enactive concepts of autonomy and sense-making. We then focus on the following issues: (1) the debate between internalism and externalism about cognitive processes; (2) the relation between cognition and emotion; (3) the status of the body; and (4) the difference between ‘incorporation’ and mere ‘extension’ in the body-mind-environment relation.
Excerpt: It is […] clear that there are a number of epistemological options for diverseresearch programs in [Artificial Life]. […] [My] purpose here is to sketch the options that I have been cultivating for some 20 years and why.
Context: In the past two decades, the so-called 4E approaches to the mind and cognition have been rapidly gaining in recognition and have become an integral part of various disciplines. Problem: Recently, however, questions have been raised as to whether, and to what degree, these different approaches actually cohere with one another. Specifically, it seems that many of them endorse mutually incompatible, perhaps even contradictory, epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions. Method: By retracing the roots of an alternative conception of mind and cognition, as propounded by Varela, Thompson & Rosch, we provide an outline of the original philosophical framework of enactivism and neurophenomenology. We focus on its three central tenets - reflexivity, subject-world co-determination, and the construal of cognition as situated, skillful and embodied action - and show how they collectively add up to a radical change in attitude towards the age-old philosophical dilemmas. Results: We show how contemporary enactivist and embodied approaches relate to the original Varelian conception, and argue that many of them, despite frequent claims to the contrary, adopt significantly less radical philosophical positions. Further, we provide some tentative suggestions as to why this dilution of the original impetus might have occurred, paying special attention to the deep-rooted disparities that span the field. Implications: It is argued that more attention should be paid to epistemological and metaphysical tenets of different proposals within the 4E movement in general and enactivism in particular. Additionally, in emphasizing the inescapable multilayeredness and contextuality of scientific knowledge, enactivism and neurophenomenology accord with pluralist accounts of science and might provide important contributions to contemporary debates in the field. Constructivist content: The epistemological odyssey, construed as a journey to find a middle way between realism and idealism, is a central tenet of anti-representationalist, non-dualist constructivist approaches aimed at avoiding age-old philosophical traps.
The enactive approach is usually associated with a revolutionary project that aims to transform in a radical way our understanding of mind and cognition. Bold theoretical moves such as the rejection of cognitive representations or the assumption of a deep continuity between life and mind, among other enactive ideas, justify this perception. Nonetheless, when we assume a broader historical perspective, including the long cybernetic tradition that preceded the emergence of cognitive sciences, the image of the enactive approach looks different. Put in the context of the paradigmatic shift that took place between first-order and second-order cybernetics, especially in the case of Maturana’s autopoietic theory, the enactive paradigm, so I will try to show in this work, appears rather like a conservative or revisionist project. Better said, it appears as a slightly hybrid paradigm, wherein original and progressive elements coexist with revisionist components. The paper aims to offer an alternative interpretation of the enactive approach and contribute to a better understanding of its identity as a research program, and its present and its possible future challenges. Relevance: The paper offers a reconstruction of the historical relationship between autopoietic theory and the enactive approach, and evaluates the internal consistency of the enactive approach.