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.
Just over 25 years ago, Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch published The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (TEM). An ambitious synthesis of ideas from phenomenology, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, Buddhist philosophy and psychology, it attempted to articulate a new research programme: an enactive cognitive science, that would bridge the gap between the empirical study of the mind and the disciplined reflection on our lived experience that characterises phenomenological and Buddhist practices. This enactive approach to the study of mind represented a confluence of several streams of thought whose effect on the cognitive scientific landscape was becoming gradually more pronounced. A vision of cognition as active, embodied, and embedded was beginning to crystalise, and TEM consolidated and further strengthened existing trends. In the intervening years, the theoretical currents that flowed into TEM have only grown stronger within cognitive science and philosophy of mind. As a result, the ‘enactivist’ label has gained in currency, as different combinations of TEM’s main conceptual ingredients have been concocted and presented by different researchers. A consequence of this is the apparent existence of a variety of distinct but overlapping ‘enactivisms’, the relations between which are not always clear. This special issue aims to provide a clearer picture of the enactivist theoretical landscape, some of its distinctive landmarks, and the disputed borders between its main provinces. Each of the papers in this issue takes up and pursues a live theoretical issue for enactivist research, while at the same time shedding light on the conceptual geography of enactivism. In this introduction, we frame these contributions by providing a brief sketch of the streams of thought that flowed into TEM and the origins of enactivism, and the main theoretical channels that have emerged from it.
Excerpt: One of the great services of Evan Thompson’s fascinating book, _Mind in Life_, has been to break the back of this “objectivist” approach to an un¬derstanding of cognition by rigorously expand¬ing the scope of what falls under the investigative gaze of phenomenology. By wedding key ele¬ments of dynamic systems theory to an expanded notion of phenomenology, he is able to reach into the dark soil of life and capture the “biological form” of cognition. We will look at this in some detail.
In recent years, more and more people have started talking about the necessity of reconciling phenomenology with the project of naturalization. Is it possible to bridge the gap between phenomenological analyses and naturalistic models of consciousness? Is it possible to naturalize phenomenology? Given the transcendental philosophically motivated anti-naturalism found in many phenomenologists such a naturalization proposal might seem doomed from the very start, but in this paper I will examine and evaluate some possible alternatives.
Open peer commentary on the article “A First-Person Analysis Using Third Person-Data as a Generative Method: A Case Study of Surprise in Depression” by Natalie Depraz, Maria Gyemant & Thomas Desmidt. Upshot: Given the claims of Natalie Depraz regarding what she called in 2004 the “practical turn of phenomenology,” I ask the authors how they conceive the research they presented in their 2017 article, particularly regarding transcendental phenomenology.