Excerpt: The question I wish to address is the following. At face value, there are two kinds of time: inner time and physical time. The first is the linear sequence of moments given by the clock we live by, and the other is what we live in. Both are valid as sources of facts and of scientific investigation. The first gives rise to well-developed physical theories; the other, to human temporality, centered on the present and manifesting as a threefold unity of the just-past and the about-to-occur. Both can be developed in precise scientific detail. I will sketch some of my ideas in this regard concerning inner time in terms of modern cognitive neuroscience. More precisely my topic for this symposium is: What is the meeting ground in our discourse and understanding for these two kinds of time?
Excerpt: Cognitive science today, what is it to you? You being anyone except a brain scientist. I have structured this in four main key points. I will present them as slogans of ideas, or to be more precise, fundamental insights which rest upon about fifty years of good research, and which I take to be established results. After spending a long time in cognitive science laboratories you could say that I’m presenting take-home messages. These are not very personal interpretations, but an attempt to squeeze out the fundamental messages that can be seriously defended. There is no space for the detailed empirical and theoretical arguments here, but the point is that these are statements which are not arbitrary but can be supported by evidence from the long process of research. They are not just something off the top of my head or my own private opinions. I’m trying to take a reading and make it congruent with the underpinning of empirical results.
Francisco Varela, a leading neurobiologist and cognitive scientist, made a 10-year-long incursion into immunology. His in-depth contributions aimed to develop a systemic description to replace the standard stimulus/response/regulation scaffold that has governed immunology since its inception in the 19th century. Many of these efforts involved expansions of the notions introduced by Niels Jerne in his idiotypic network theory (Jerne, 1974a, 1974b) with the added notion of organizational closure, derived from the autopoietic theory. However, today, just like yesterday, the immunological community remains inclined to neglect these efforts and instead rests satisfied with half-a-century old clonal selection concepts (Burnet, 1959).
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.
Context: The majority of contemporary enactivist work is influenced by the philosophical biology of Hans Jonas. Jonas credits all living organisms with experience that involves particular “existential” structures: nascent forms of concern for self-preservation and desire for objects and outcomes that promote well-being. We argue that Jonas’s attitude towards living systems involves a problematic anthropomorphism that threatens to place enactivism at odds with cognitive science, and undermine its legitimate aims to become a new paradigm for scientific investigation and understanding of the mind. Problem: Enactivism needs to address the tension between its Jonasian influences and its aspirations to become a new paradigm for cognitive science. By relying on Jonasian phenomenology, contemporary enactivism obscures alternative ways in which phenomenology can be more smoothly integrated with cognitive science. Method: We outline the historical relationship between enactivism and phenomenology, and explain why anthropomorphism is problematic for a research program that aspires to become a new paradigm for cognitive science. We examine the roots of Jonas’s existential interpretation of biological facts, and describe how and why Jonas himself understood his project as founded on an anthropomorphic assumption that is incompatible with a crucial methodological assumption of scientific enquiry: the prohibition of unexplained natural purposes. We describe the way in which phenomenology can be integrated into Maturana’s autopoietic theory, and use this as an example of how an alternative, non-anthropomorphic science of the biological roots of cognition might proceed. Results: Our analysis reveals a crucial tension between Jonas’s influence on enactivism and enactivism’s paradigmatic aspirations. This suggests the possibility of, and need to investigate, other ways of integrating phenomenology with cognitive science that do not succumb to this tension. Implications: In light of this, enactivists should either eliminate the Jonasian inference from properties of our human experience to properties of the experience of all living organisms, or articulate an alternative conception of scientific enquiry that can tolerate the anthropomorphism this inference entails. The Maturanian view we present in the article’s final section constitutes a possible framework within which enactivist tools and concepts can be used to understand cognition and phenomenology, and that does not involve a problematic anthropomorphism. Constructivist content: Any constructivist approach that aims for integration with current scientific practice must either avoid the type of anthropomorphic inference on which Jonas bases his work, or specify a new conception of scientific enquiry that renders anthropomorphism unproblematic.
Context: Von Foerster’s concept of eigenbehavior can be recognized against the broader context of enactivism as it has been advocated by Varela, Thompson and Rosch, by Noë and recently by Hutto and Myin, among others. This flourishing constellation of ideas is on its way to becoming the new paradigm of cognitive science. However, in my reading, enactivism, putting stress on the constitutive role of action when it comes to mind and perception, faces a serious philosophical challenge when attempting to account for the way we actually perceive our environments, most importantly for the fact that we perceive things or objects. Von Foester’s eigenbehavior is understood here as a concept supposed to take on this challenge. Problem: In this article I tackle the following issues: (1) Enactivism must be able to account for the apparent stability of the perceived world: this is not a realm of a never-ending flux of stimuli; it is a realm of stable things. (2) Enactivism is committed to the anti-Cartesian endeavor seeking to bridge the gap between the inner and the outer; between the subjective and the objective. Now, these two points constrain each other so that one cannot address (1) simply by regarding the apparent stability of things as a projection that springs out of the internal machinery binding inputs with outputs. This is because the very idea of such an internal machinery opposes (2), i.e., it employs the Cartesian dichotomy. So, enactivism is in need of an account of (1) that would not oppose its anti-Cartesian commitment. Method: I introduce the ontology of location and niche theory, as it has been brought forth by Varzi, Casati, and Smith, and develop it so that it can be used in the philosophy of mind. This is a conceptual, semi-formal philosophical analysis. Results: I shall come up with the idea of object conceived of a product of action, and - drawing on von Foerster’s central idea - as a product of coordination of perceptions. Yet, it is not coordination of stimuli but coordination of cognitive connections. The notion of connection is thus articulated in the article and cast as the central concept in my proposal. Implications: We are able to account for both (1) and (2. The apparent stability of the perceived world is due to the setting up and maintaining of connections between the perceiver and the things perceived, resulting in the establishment of what I call a cognitive niche. Constructivist content: Constructivism, broadly construed, takes, in my reading, a negative stance in the first place. Namely, it opposes what I call the metaphysics of the ready-made world. So, it holds that there is no ready-made reality; however it remains open when it comes to positive claims: a mind-independent reality does not exist at all or it does exist but it is not ready-made and as such it must be brought to completion, so to speak, or enacted, as Varela et al. would say, by a cognitive subject. In this article, I follow the latter and address one specific issue: how the enacted world gains its relatively stable architecture.
Upshot: Chemero provides a modern re-interpretation of Gibson’s ecological psychology and his affordance concept that is more coherent than the original and in line with antirepresentationalist, dynamical theories in embodied cognitive science. He argues for a radical embodied cognitive science, in which ecological and enactive approaches join forces against the more watered-down, mainstream embodied cognitive science that still maintains traditional commitments to representationalism and computationalism. He also defends a special version of realism, entity realism, which many constructivists might not find entirely convincing, but which is nevertheless more or less compatible with enactive theories of embodied cognition.