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.
In this text, I propose to review the major analyses of Husserlian phenomenology, and to show how this renews the questions of the nature and the genesis of mind, the epistemological constitution of cognitive science, and their relation. On this basis, I shall propose a new view of the possible relations between phenomenology and cognitive science, quite different from the “naturalization of phenomenology.”
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.
Open peer commentary on the article “Varela’s Radical Proposal: How to Embody and Open Up Cognitive Science” by Kristian Moltke Martiny. Upshot: I ask exactly how “open” we should be in “opening up cognitive science” and how many scientists should embrace the radical openness Martiny advocates. I suggest that the most fruitful realization of Martiny’s vision would consist in the creation of research groups with a balance between scholars of singular disciplines and transdisciplinary cognitive scientists.
Upshot: This eclectic collection of essays attempts to make sense of the complexly vexed relation between various modalities of sense-making and non-sense – a relation previously underspecified by enactivist theories and programs of research. As such, the book offers creative conceptual elaboration often augmented by analysis of experimental research in support of the enactivist approach to cognition.
Excerpt:The cognitive accomplishments of all human groups depend on the simultaneous operation of cognitive processes on all of these levels from neuron to social group. The big questions in contemporary cognitive science concern the ways that humans, understood as biological creatures, can produce culturally meaningful outcomes.
Open peer commentary on the article “Varela’s Radical Proposal: How to Embody and Open Up Cognitive Science” by Kristian Moltke Martiny. Upshot: I welcome the perspective presented in Martiny’s target article. In this commentary I push for clarity on three matters: (a) The concept of embodiment; (b) The status of the type of knowledge generated in the phenomenological interview; and (c) The notion of openness in relation to interdisciplinarity and the disciplinary identity of the cognitive sciences.
Context: Neurophenomenology, as formulated by Varela, offers an approach to the science of consciousness that seeks to get beyond the hard problem of consciousness. There is much to admire in the practical approach to the science of consciousness that neurophenomenology advocates. Problem: Even so, this article argues, the metaphysical commitments of the enterprise require a firmer foundation. The root problem is that neurophenomenology, as classically formulated by Varela, endorses a form of non-reductionism that, despite its ambitions, assumes rather than dissolves the hard problem of consciousness. We expose that neurophenomenology is not a natural solution to that problem. We defend the view that whatever else neurophenomenology might achieve, it cannot close the gap between the phenomenal and the physical if there is no such gap to close. Method: Building on radical enactive and embodied approaches to cognitive science that deny that the phenomenal and the physical are metaphysically distinct, this article shows that the only way to deal properly with the hard problem is by denying the metaphysical distinction between the physical and the phenomenal that gives the hard problem life. Results: This article concludes by discussing how neurophenomenology might be reformulated under the auspices of a radically enactive and embodied account of cognition. That is, only by denying that there are two distinct phenomena - the physical and the phenomenal - can the neurophenomenological project get on with addressing its pragmatic problems of showing how neuroscientists may be guided by first-person data in their analysis of third-person experimental data, and vice versa. Implications: The topic addressed in this article is of direct value to consciousness studies in general and specifically for the project of neurophenomenology. If the neurophenomenological project is to deal with the hard problem, it must denude itself of its non-reductionist background assumption and embrace a strict identity thesis. Constructivist content: Radical enactive and embodied approaches to mind and consciousness adopt a view of consciousness as a dynamic activity - something an organism enacts in ongoing engagement with its environment. These approaches therefore share with constructivist approaches an action-based view of mind.
Context: Epistemologically, constructivism has reached its goals, particularly by emphasizing the idea of participatory observation, circularity, and the fact that construction is based on experience. However, rather than research, the main occupation of constructivists and second-order cyberneticians seems to lie in making the case for their epistemological idea, which has been exhausted in many aspects. Purpose: To counteract this exhaustion and an increasingly apparent lack of energy, it is argued that constructivism requires a dedicated field of research, a field where it would be possible to test constructivist concepts empirically and thus go beyond mere theoretical discourse. Method: Based on a review of basic constructivist premises and a critical examination of the field of empirical phenomenological research, the article connects their respective findings. Results: The article proposes that empirical research on lived experience (i.e., empirical phenomenology) requires a constructivist epistemological foundation and might therefore be a logical continuation of constructivist endeavours. In such a way, both fields might benefit considerably. Not only would constructivism acquire an empirical tool for testing its ideas, such a partnership might also provide empirical phenomenology with a more suitable epistemological platform than the realism-based research framework of cognitive science (of which it has become an integral part. The possibilities and problems of introducing empirical research into constructivism are also discussed. Implications: The article presents an opportunity to re-think the role and future of constructivism. It suggests educating a new generation of constructivist researchers whose principal goal would be the attempt to study lived human experience. That could also open a path to the experimental grounding of many constructivist insights.