Enactivism

Enactivism has long and diverse roots in various disciplines (McGee 2005), especially in second-order cybernetics (Froese 2010). The approach was first systematically introduced as a new paradigm for cognitive science by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch in their book The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (Varela , Thompson & Rosch 1991). That original proposal is best known for two contributions:
  1. The key theoretical claim was that the mind is not best understood in representational terms but rather as embodied and situated, and in particular that perceptual experience is constituted by perceptually guided action in the world. This claim has been developed into a philosophical position that explicitly rejects internalism as an adequate foundation of epistemology (Noë 2009; Hutto & Myin 2013; Beaton 2013). This later development therefore also is in tension with radical constructivism, especially with regard to the constitutive role of the other in shaping our experiential world (Di Paolo 2008).
  2. The main methodological proposal was to take the phenomenology of our first-person experience seriously as a source of data and insights for cognitive science, but with the caveat that this phenomenology must be analyzed by means of qualitative methods based on disciplined reflection on our own conscious experience, such as phenomenological epoché and meditative expertise. More recently, the paucity of trained subjects has led to a greater emphasis on the use of semi-structured interviews to guide introspection (Petitmengin 2006; for a review, see Froese , Gould & Barrett 2011).
In the years following the original proposal enactivism has been applied to an increasingly broad set of disciplines, and has become diversified into a range of mutually sympathetic yet distinctive strands of enactivist research (see Stewart , Gapenne & Di Paolo 2010 and the special issue on Exploring the Diversity within Enactivism and Neurophenomenology). There are three prominent ones:
  1. The key theoretical claim regarding perceptual experience has been systematically studied by sensorimotor enactivism, albeit more in the tradition of psychology and analytic philosophy of mind without concern for disciplined methods of phenomenological reflection (O’Regan & Noë 2001; Noë 2004).
  2. The emphasis on the importance of embodiment and phenomenology was further developed into autopoietic enactivism (Thompson 2007), which has restricted the concept of embodiment to the living body (Noë 2009) and has grounded the enactive approach to perception in the concept of sense-making (Weber & Varela 2002; Di Paolo 2005).
  3. The non-representational stance has found its most systematic expression in radical enactivism, which claims that basic minds are contentless minds (Hutto & Myin 2013).
All of these strands of enactivism jointly face the challenge of scaling up their theories from basic minds to specifically human minds. Overcoming this cognitive gap seems to require appeals to various forms of autonomous social dynamics (Froese & Di Paolo 2011) and cultural scaffolding (Gallagher 2013), in particular those that enable subjects to go beyond immediate biological sense-making so as to navigate the non-sense inherent in arbitrary symbol systems that are regulated by conventional norms instead (Cappuccio & Froese 2014).
^ Version History
  • Version 1: Tom Froese, 20 December 2020
^ References
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