Volume 11 · Number 2 · Pages 234–245

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Interactivity and Enaction in Human Cognition

Matthew Isaac Harvey, Rasmus Gahrn-Andersen & Sune Vork Steffensen

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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.


Harvey M. I., Gahrn-Andersen R. & Steffensen S. V. (2016) Interactivity and enaction in human cognition. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 234–245. http://constructivist.info/11/2/234

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