Volume 11 · Number 2 · Pages 189–204

< Previous Paper · Next Paper >

Epistemological Odyssey: Introduction to Special Issue on the Diversity of Enactivism and Neurophenomenology

Sebastjan Vörös, Tom Froese & Alexander Riegler

Download the full text in
PDF (542 kB)


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.

Key words: Francisco Varela, anti-representationalism, cognitive science, enaction, mind/body problem, plurality, reflexivity


Vörös S., Froese T. & Riegler A. (2016) Epistemological Odyssey: Introduction to Special Issue on the Diversity of Enactivism and Neurophenomenology. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 189–204. Available at http://constructivist.info/11/2/189

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Froese T., Gould C. & Barrett A. (2011) Re-Viewing from Within: A Commentary on First- and Second-Person Methods in the Science of Consciousness

Vörös S. (2014) The Uroboros of Consciousness: Between the Naturalisation of Phenomenology and the Phenomenologisation of Nature

Müller K. H. & Riegler A. (2014) A New Course of Action

Froese T. (2010) From Cybernetics to Second-Order Cybernetics: A Comparative Analysis of Their Central Ideas

Kauffman L. H. (2016) Cybernetics, Reflexivity and Second-Order Science


Barandiaran X. E., Di Paolo E. A. & Rohde M. (2009) Defining agency: Individuality, normativity, asymmetry, and spatio-temporality in action. Adaptive Behavior 17(5): 367–386. Available at http://cepa.info/324

Bayne T. (2004) Closing the gap? Some questions for neurophenomenology. Phenomenology and cognitive sciences 3: 349–364. Available at http://cepa.info/2260

Beaton M. (2013) Phenomenology and embodied action. Constructivist Foundations 8(3): 298–313. Available at http://constructivist.info/8/3/298

Bitbol M. & Luisi P. L. (2004) Autopoiesis with or without cognition: Defining life at its edge. Journal of the social society interface 1: 99–107. Available at http://cepa.info/2262

Bitbol M. (2008) Is consciousness primary? NeuroQuantoloy 6(1): 53–72. Available at http://cepa.info/2261

Bitbol M. (2012) Neurophenomenology, an ongoing practice of/in consciousness. Constructivist Foundations 7(3): 165–173. Available at http://constructivist.info/7/3/165

Bourgine P. & Stewart J. (2004) Autopoiesis and cognition. Artificial life 10: 327–345. Available at http://cepa.info/2263

Carman T. (1999) The body in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Philosophical topics 27(2): 205–226. Available at http://cepa.info/2264

Cartwright N. (1999) The dappled world: A study of the boundaries of science. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. << Google Scholar

Chalmers D. J. (1995) Facing up to the problem of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies 2(3): 200–219. << Google Scholar

Chalmers D. J. (1996) The conscious mind: In search of a fundamental theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford. << Google Scholar

Chemero A. (1998) A stroll through the worlds of animats and humans: Review of Andy Clark’s Being there. Psyche 4: 24. Available at http://cepa.info/2265

Chemero A. (2009) Radical embodied cognitive science. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Clark A. & Chalmers D. (1998) The extended mind. Analysis 58: 7–19. << Google Scholar

Clark A. (1997) Being there: Putting brain, body and world together again. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Clark A. (1999) Visual awareness and visuomotor action. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6(11–12): 1–18. Available at http://cepa.info/2266

Clark A. (2001) Mindware. MIT Press. Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Clark A. (2003) Natural-born cyborgs: Minds, technologies, and the future of human intelligence. Oxford University Press, Oxford. << Google Scholar

Clark A. (2008) Pressing the flesh: A tension in the study of the embodied, embedded mind? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76(1): 37–59. Available at http://cepa.info/2267

Clark A. (2008) Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action, and cognitive extension. Oxford University Press, Oxford. << Google Scholar

Colombetti G. & Thompson E. (2008) The feeling body: Towards an enactive approach to emotion. In: Overton W. F., Müller U. & Newman J. L. (eds.) Developmental perspectives on embodiment and consciousness. Erlbaum, New York: 45–68. Available at http://cepa.info/777

Colombetti G. (2014) The feeling body: Affective science meets the enactive mind. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

de Haan S. & Fuchs T. (2010) The ghost in the machine: Disembodiment in schizophrenia (two case studies). Psychopathology 43(5): 327–333. Available at http://cepa.info/2268

de Haan S., Rietveld E. & Denys D. (2015) Being free by losing control: What obsessive-compulsive disorder can tell us about free will. In: Glannon W. (ed.) Free will and the brain. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge MA: 83–102. Available at http://cepa.info/2256

De Jaegher H. (2013) Embodiment and sense-making in autism. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 7: 15. Available at http://cepa.info/2257

De Preester H. (2002) Naturalizing Husserlian phenomenology: An introduction. Psychoanalytische Perspectieven 20(4): 633–647. << Google Scholar

De Preester H. (2011) Technology and the body: The (im)possibilities of re-embodiment. Foundations of Science 16(2): 119–137. << Google Scholar

Dennett D. (1991) Consciousness explained. Little, Brown and Company, Boston. << Google Scholar

Depraz N., Varela F. J. & Vermersch P. (2003) On becoming aware. John Benjamin, Amsterdam. << Google Scholar

Di Paolo E. A. (2005) Autopoiesis, adaptivity, teleology, agency. Phenomenology and the cognitive sciences 4(4): 429–452. Available at http://cepa.info/2269

Di Paolo E. A. (2009) Extended life. Topoi 28(1): 9–21. Available at http://cepa.info/322

Di Paolo E. A., Rohde M. & De Jaegher H. (2010) Horizons for the enactive mind: Values, social interaction, and play. In: Stewart J., Gapenne O. & Di Paolo E. A. (eds.) Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 33–87. Available at http://cepa.info/2413

Douglas K. (2009) Science, policy, and the value-free ideal. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh. << Google Scholar

Foerster H. von (1984) Notes on an epistemology for living things. In: Foerster H. von, Observing systems. Second edition. Intersystems, Salinas CA: 258–271. Originally published in 1972. Available at http://cepa.info/1655

Foerster H. von (1991) Through the eyes of the other. In: Steier F. (ed.) Research and Reflexivity. Sage Publications, London: 63–75. Available at http://cepa.info/1729

Froese T. & Fuchs T. (2012) The extended body: A case study in the neurophenomenology of social interaction. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 11(2): 205–235. Available at http://cepa.info/2389

Froese T. & Stewart J. (2010) Life after Ashby: Ultrastability and the autopoietic foundations of biological autonomy. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 17(4): 7–50. Available at http://cepa.info/387

Froese T. & Ziemke T. (2009) Enactive artificial intelligence: Investigating the systemic organization of life and mind. Artificial intelligence 173(3–4): 466–500. Available at http://cepa.info/279

Froese T. (2011) From second-order cybernetics to enactive cognitive science: Varela’s turn from epistemology to phenomenology. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 28(6): 631–645. Available at http://cepa.info/449

Froese T. (2014) Review of Hutto and Myin “Radicalizing enactivism: Basic minds without content.” The Journal of Mind and Behavior 35(1–2): 71–82. Available at http://cepa.info/2273

Froese T., Gould C. & Barrett A. (2011) Re-viewing from within: A commentary on first- and second-person methods in the science of consciousness. Constructivist Foundations 6(2): 254–269. Available at http://constructivist.info/6/2/254

Fuchs T. & De Jaegher H. (2009) Enactive intersubjectivity: Participatory sense-making and mutual incorporation. Phenomenology and the cognitive sciences 8(4): 465–486. Available at http://cepa.info/2274

Fuchs T. & Schlimme J. E. (2009) Embodiment and psychopathology: A phenomenological perspective. Current opinion in psychiatry 22: 570–575. Available at http://cepa.info/2275

Gallagher S. (1997) Mutual enlightenment: Recent phenomenology in cognitive science. Journal of Consciousness Studies 4(3): 195–214. Available at http://cepa.info/2276

Gallagher S. (2003) Phenomenology and experimental design. Journal of Consciousness Studies 10(9–10): 85–99. << Google Scholar

Gallagher S. (2004) Understanding interpersonal problems in autism: Interaction theory as an alternative to theory of mind. Philosophy, psychiatry & psychology 11(3): 199–217. Available at http://cepa.info/2278

Gallagher S. (2005) How the body shapes the mind. Clarendon Press, Oxford. << Google Scholar

Gallagher S. (2012) On the possibility of naturalizing phenomenology. In: Zahavi D. (ed.) The Oxford handbook of contemporary phenomenology. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 70–93. Available at http://cepa.info/2279

Gallagher S. (2015) Invasion of the body snatchers: How embodied cognition is being disembodied. The Philosophers’ Magazine 68(1): 96–102. Available at http://cepa.info/2255

Gibson J. J. (1979) The ecological approach to visual perception. Houghton Mifflin: Boston. << Google Scholar

Glasersfeld E. von (1991) Knowing without metaphysics. Aspects of the radical constructivist position. In: Steier F. (ed.) Research and reflexivity. Sage, London: 12–29. Available at http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/132

Glasersfeld E. von (1995) Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. Falmer Press, London. << Google Scholar

Hasenkamp W. & Thompson E. (eds.) (2013) Research topic: Examining subjective experience: Advances in neurophenomenology. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7. << Google Scholar

Hurley S. (1998) Consciousness in action. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Hutto D. & Myin E. (2013) Radicalizing enactivism: Basic minds without content. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Jackson F. (2002) Epiphenomenal qualia. In: Chalmers D. J. (ed.) Philosophy of mind: Classical and contemporary readings. Oxford University Press, New York: 273–280. Originally published in 1982. << Google Scholar

Kellert S. H., Longino H. E. & Waters K. C. (eds.) (2006) Scientific pluralism. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. << Google Scholar

Kitcher P. (2001) Science, truth, and democracy. Oxford University Press, New York. << Google Scholar

Kiverstein J. & Clark A. (2009) Introduction: Mind embodied, embedded, enacted: One church or many? Topoi 28: 1–7. Available at http://cepa.info/2280

Kiverstein J. & Miller M. (2015) The embodied brain: Towards a radical embodied cognitive neuroscience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9: 237. Available at http://cepa.info/2281

Krueger J. & Henriksen M. G. (2016) Embodiment and affectivity in Moebius syndrome and schizophrenia: A phenomenological analysis. In: Simmons J. A. & Hackett J. E. (eds.) Phenomenology for the 21st century. Palgrave Macmillan, London. In: Press. << Google Scholar

Krueger J. (2014) Varieties of extended emotions. Phenomenology and cognitive science 13(4): 533–555. Available at http://cepa.info/2282

Kyselo M. & Di Paolo E. (2015) Locked-in syndrome: A challenge for embodied cognitive science. Phenomenology and the cognitive sciences 14(3): 517–542. Available at http://cepa.info/2283

Longino H. (1990) Science as social knowledge. Princeton, Princeton University Press. << Google Scholar

Longino H. (2002) The fate of knowledge. Princeton, Princeton University Press. << Google Scholar

Malafouris L. (2013) How things shape the mind: A theory of mental engagement. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Maturana H. & Varela F. (1980) Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Kluwer Academic: Dordrecht, Holland. << Google Scholar

Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Shambhala, Boston. << Google Scholar

Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1992) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Revised edition. Shambhala, Boston. << Google Scholar

Menary R. (2010) Introduction to the special issue. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9(4): 459–463. Available at http://cepa.info/2284

Merleau-Ponty M. (1962) Phenomenology of perception. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London. French original published in 1945. << Google Scholar

Mitchell S. M. (2003) Biological complexity and integrative pluralism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. << Google Scholar

Moran D. (2000) Introduction to phenomenology. Routledge, London. << Google Scholar

Moran D. (2010) Husserl and Merleau-Ponty on embodied experience. In: Blosser P. & Nenon T. (eds.) Advancing Phenomenology: 175–195. << Google Scholar

Nagel T. (1974) What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review 83(4): 435–450. Available at http://cepa.info/2399

Nagel T. (1986) The view from nowhere. Oxford University Press, Oxford. << Google Scholar

Noë A. (2004) Action in perception. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Noë A. (2009) Out of our heads. Hill & Wang, New York. << Google Scholar

Noë A. (2012) Varieties of presence. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

O’Regan J. K. & Noë A. (2001) A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and brain sciences 24(5): 883–917. Available at http://cepa.info/2285

Overgaard S. (2004) Heidegger on embodiment. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 35(2): 116–131. << Google Scholar

Pascal F. & O’Regan K. (2008) Commentary on Mossio and Taraborelli: Is the enactive approach really sensorimotor? Consciousness and Cognition 17(4): 1341–1342. << Google Scholar

Peschl M. F. & Riegler A. (1999) Does representation need reality? In: Riegler A., Peschl M. F. & Stein A. von (eds.) (1999) Understanding representation in the cognitive sciences. Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers: New York: 9–17. Available at http://cepa.info/2419

Petitot J., Roy J.-M., Pachoud B. & Varela F. J. (1999) Naturalizing phenomenology: Issues in contemporary phenomenology and cognitive science. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA. << Google Scholar

Pfeifer R. & Bongard J. (2007) How the boy shapes the way we think: A new view of intelligence. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Ratcliffe M. (2007) Rethinking commonsense psychology: A critique of folk psychology, theory of mind and stimulation. Palgrave Macmillan: London. << Google Scholar

Reiss J. & Sprenger J. (2014) Objectivity. In: Zalta E. (ed.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Available at http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/scientific-objectivity

Riegler A. & Müller K. H. (2014) Second-order science. Special issue of Constructivist foundations 10(1) Available at http://constructivist.info/10/1

Riegler A. (2002) When is a cognitive system embodied? Cognitive Systems Research 3: 339–348. Available at http://cepa.info/1862

Riegler A. (2005) Editorial. The constructivist challenge. Constructivist Foundations 1(1): 1–8. Available at http://constructivist.info/1/1/001

Rietveld E. & Kiverstein J. (2014) A rich landscape of affordances. Ecological Psychology 26(4): 325–352. << Google Scholar

Rowlands M. (2009) Enactivism and the extended mind. Topoi 28(1): 53–62. Available at http://cepa.info/2287

Rowlands M. (2010) The new science of the mind: From extended mind to embodied phenomenology. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Rudrauf D., Lutz A., Cosmelli D., Lachaux J.-P. & Le Van Quyen M. (2003) From autopoiesis to neurophenomenology: Francisco Varela’s exploration to the biophysics of being. Biological research 36: 27–65. Available at http://cepa.info/1140

Shapiro L. (2011) Embodied cognition. Routledge, London. << Google Scholar

Stewart J. (2010) Foundational issues in enaction as a paradigm for cognitive science: From the origin of life to consciousness and writing. In: Stewart J., Gapenne O. & Di Paolo E. A. (eds.) Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 1–32. Available at http://cepa.info/2494

Stewart J., Gapenne E. & Di Paolo E. A. (2010) Introduction. In: Stewart J., Gapenne E. & Di Paolo E. A. (eds.) Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: Vii–xvii. Available at http://cepa.info/2289

Thompson E. & Stapleton M. (2009) Making sense of sense-making: Reflections on enactive and extended mind theories. Topoi 28(1): 23–30. Available at http://cepa.info/2290

Thompson E. (2001) Empathy and consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies 8(5–7): 1–32. Available at http://cepa.info/2364

Thompson E. (2004) Life and mind: From autopoiesis to neurophenomenology. A tribute to Francisco Varela. Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences 3: 381–398. Available at http://cepa.info/1137

Thompson E. (2007) Mind in life: Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of the mind. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Thompson E. (2011) Living ways of sense-making. Philosophy Today 55 (Supplement): 114–123. Available at http://cepa.info/2291

Torrance S. (2005) In search of the enactive: Introduction to the special issue on enactive experience. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Science 4(4): 357–368. Available at http://cepa.info/2539

Turvey M. T. & Carello C. (1981) Cognition: The view from ecological realism. Cognition 10(1081): 313–321. << Google Scholar

Tye M. (2015) Qualia. In: Zalta E. (ed.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Available at http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/qualia/

Varela F. J. & Shear J. (eds.) (1999) The view from within: First-person approaches to the study of consciousness. Imprint Academic, Thorverton UK. << Google Scholar

Varela F. J. (1976) Not one, not two. CoEvolution Quarterly 12: 62–67. Available at http://cepa.info/2055

Varela F. J. (1984) Introduction: The ages of Heinz von Foerster. In: Foerster H. von, Observing systems. Intersystems, Seaside CA: Xiii–xviii. << Google Scholar

Varela F. J. (1996) Neurophenomenology: A methodological remedy for the hard problem. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3(4): 330–349. Available at http://cepa.info/1893

Varela F. J. (2001) Why the proper study of mind implies the transcendence of nature. In: Andresen J. (ed.) Religion in mind: Cognitive perspectives on religious belief, ritual, and experience. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 207–236. << Google Scholar

Varela F. J., Thompson E. & Rosch E. (1991) The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Vörös S. (2014) The uroboros of consciousness: Between the naturalisation of phenomenology and the phenomenologisation of nature. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 96–104. Available at http://constructivist.info/10/1/096

Virgo N., Egbert M. D. & Froese T. (2011) The role of the spatial boundary in autopoiesis. In: Kampis G., Karsai I. & Szathmáry E. (eds.) Advances in artificial life: Darwin meets von Neumann. 10th European Conference CAL 2009. Springer, Berlin: 234–241. Available at http://cepa.info/2254

Ward D. & Stapleton M. (2012) Es are good: Cognition as enacted, embodied, embedded, affective and extended. In: Paglieri F. (ed.) Consciousness in interaction: The role of the natural and social context in shaping consciousness. John Benjamins, Amsterdam: 89–104. Available at http://cepa.info/2292

Welton D. (2011) Can a top-down phenomenology of intentional consciousness be integrated with a bottom-up phenomenology of biological systems? Philosophy Today 55(Supplement): 102–113. Available at http://cepa.info/2476

Wheeler M. (2005) Reconstructing the cognitive world: The next step. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Wheeler M. (2008) Minimal representing: A reply to Gallagher. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 16(3): 371–376. << Google Scholar

Wheeler M. (2009) The problem of representation. In: Gallagher S. & Schmicking D. (eds.) Handbook of phenomenology and cognitive science. Springer, Dordrecht. << Google Scholar

Wheeler M. (2010) In defense of extended functionalism. In: Menary R. (ed.) The extended mind. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

Zahavi D. (2003) Husserl’s phenomenology. Stanford University Press, Stanford. << Google Scholar

Zahavi D. (2004) Phenomenology and the project of naturalization. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Science 3: 331–347. Available at http://cepa.info/2375

Zahavi D. (2007) Killing the straw man: Dennett and phenomenology. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Science 6: 21–43. << Google Scholar

Zahavi D. (2010) Naturalized phenomenology. In: Gallagher S. & Schmicking D. (eds.) Handbook of phenomenology and cognitive science. Springer, Dordrecht: 3–19. << Google Scholar

Zahidi K. (2014) Non-representationalist cognitive science and realism. Phenomenology and the cognitive sciences 13(3): 461–475. << Google Scholar