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.
Open peer commentary on the article “Enacting Enaction: A Dialectic Between Knowing and Being” by Sebastjan Vörös & Michel Bitbol. Upshot: I consider the lack of clear guidelines for groundless non-dualist research proposed by Vörös and Bitbol’s interpretation of Varela’s programme. I attempt to clarify a mode of being that this kind of research calls for, and propose that understanding such a research-oriented existential attitude might replace the need for a detailed research “technique.” I reflect upon the ethical implications of research-oriented being.
Context: Philosophical and - more recently - empirical approaches to the study of mind have recognized the research of lived experience as crucial for the understanding of their subject matter. Such research is faced with self-referentiality: every attempt at examining the experience seems to change the experience in question. This so-called “excavation fallacy” has been taken by many to undermine the possibility of first-person inquiry as a form of scientific practice. Problem: What is the epistemic character and value of reflectively acquired phenomenological data? Can the study of experience, despite the excavation fallacy, rely on the act of reflection on lived experience and make sense and use of its results? Method: Through a philosophical discourse, informed by empirical first-person inquiry, we explore the experiential structure of the act of reflection and the formation of the corresponding belief about past experience. Results: We present a provisional first-person model of the experiential dynamics of retrospective reflection, in which the reflective act is characterized as enaction of belief about past experience that co-determines - rather than distorts - its results. From a constructivist perspective on the inevitable interdependence between the act of observing and the observed, the excavation “fallacy” is recognized as an intrinsic characteristic of reflection. Reflection is described as an iterative, self-referential process, guided by a context- and subject-specific horizon of expectations. Implications: Knowing the characteristics of the formation of beliefs about experience is essential for understanding first-person data and for the possibility of their acquisition and use in scientific practice, particularly in the context of second-person approaches to the study of experience. Constructivist content: We relate the proposed understanding of reflection to constructivist epistemology and argue that constructivism provides an epistemological foundation for the empirical study of experience more suitable than the traditional epistemological objectivism of cognitive science. We suggest that the constructive nature of the process of reflection calls for a collaboration between the fields of constructivism, phenomenology, and first-person research, and points towards the potential for their mutual enrichment.
I argue for an enactive account of musical experience – that is, the experience of listening ‘deeply’ (i.e., sensitively and understandingly) to a piece of music. The guiding question is: what do we do when we listen ‘deeply’ to music? I argue that these music listening episodes are, in fact, doings. They are instances of active perceiving, robust sensorimotor engagements with and manipulations of sonic structures within musical pieces. Music is thus experiential art, and in Nietzsche’s words, ‘we listen to music with our muscles’. This paper attempts to explicate and defend this claim. First, I discuss enactive approaches to consciousness and cognition generally. Next, I apply an enactive model of perceptual consciousness to the experience of listening to music. To clarify what is at stake, I use Peter Kivy’s ‘enhanced formalism’ as a philosophical foil. I then look at how the animate body shapes musical experience.
It has been argued that Extended Cognition (EXT), a recently much discussed framework in the philosophy of cognition, would serve as the theoretical basis to account for the impact of Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) on the self and life of patients with Locked-in Syndrome (LIS). In this paper I will argue that this claim is unsubstantiated, EXT is not the appropriate theoretical background for understanding the role of BCI in LIS. I will critically assess what a theory of the extended self would comprise and provide a list of desiderata for a theory of self that EXT fails to accommodate for. There is, however, an alternative framework in Cognitive Science, Enactivism, which entails the basis for an account of self that is able to accommodate for these desiderata. I will outline some first steps towards an Enactive approach to the self, suggesting that the self could be considered as a form of human autonomy. Understanding the self from an enactive point of view will allow to shed new light on the questions of whether and how BCIs affect or change the selves of patients with LIS.
The paper discusses two recent approaches to schizophrenia, a phenomenological and a neuroscientific approach, illustrating how new directions in philosophy and cognitive science can elaborate accounts of psychopathologies of the self. It is argued that the notion of the minimal and bodily self underlying these approaches is still limited since it downplays the relevance of social interactions and relations for the formation of a coherent sense of self. These approaches also illustrate that we still lack an account of how 1st and 3rd person observations can fruitfully go together in an embodied account of disorders of the self. Two concepts from enactive cognitive science are introduced, the notions of autonomy and sense-making. Based on these, a new proposal for an enactive approach to psychopathologies of the self is outlined that integrates 1st and 3rd person perspectives, while strongly emphasising the role of social interactions in the formation of self. It is shown how the enactive framework might serve as a basis for an alternative understanding of disorders of the self such as schizophrenia, as a particular form of socially constituted self-organisation.
Embodied approaches in cognitive science hold that the body is crucial for cognition. What this claim amounts to, however, still remains unclear. This paper contributes to its clarification by confronting three ways of understanding embodiment – the sensorimotor approach, extended cognition and enactivism – with Locked-in syndrome (LIS). LIS is a case of severe global paralysis in which patients are unable to move and yet largely remain cognitively intact. We propose that LIS poses a challenge to embodied approaches to cognition requiring them to make explicit the notion of embodiment they defend and its role for cognition. We argue that the sensorimotor and the extended functionalist approaches either fall short of accounting for cognition in LIS from an embodied perspective or do it too broadly by relegating the body only to a historical role. Enactivism conceives of the body as autonomous system and of cognition as sense-making. From this perspective embodiment is not equated with bodily movement but with forms of agency that do not disappear with body paralysis. Enactivism offers a clarifying perspective on embodiment and thus currently appears to be the framework in embodied cognition best suited to address the challenge posed by LIS.
Summary: What makes Hutto’s account special is his commitment to the rejection of content, a point where he becomes a real radical. The book is not just another book about enactivism but it is an enactive book for everyone written by an enactivist.