Embodied Cognition at the Crossroads of
Philosophy, Linguistics, Psychology and Artificial Intelligence

May 13-15, 2021, Cluj-Napoca, ROMANIA

Section 5B


5B: Enactivist approaches in psychology, philosophy and other fields



Friday 14/5, 13:40-14:40



Alfonsina Scarinzi

Affiliation: Georg-August-University Göttingen (Germany)
Title: Enacting the Distinctive Quality of an Experience: Sensorimotor Non-Duality and the Feel of Bodily Sense-Making
Abstract: In a recent contribution co-authored by Michel Bitbol, the authors (Vörös, S. & Bitbol, M. (2017)) remark that in the last years within the field of “enactivism” the far–reaching dimensions of the original proposal of the enactive framework are often simply ignored. The original framework of enactivism is a “conceptual evocation” of “non-duality”. It focuses on the ongoing circulation between the flux of lived experience (being) and the search of reason for conceptual invariants (knowing): “What we take to be objective is what can be turned from individual accounts into a body of regulated knowledge. This body of knowledge is inescapably in part subjective since it depends on individual observation and experience, and partly objective, since it is constrained and regulated by the empirical, natural phenomena” (Varela & Shear (1999)). The notion of enaction was introduced into cognitive science with the purpose of overcoming dichotomies (mind/body, self/other, self/world). Enaction as originally expounded by Varela et al. (The Embodied Mind, 1991) conciliates phenomenology and cognitive science, acknowledging that especially the phenomenological studies on the lived body can clarify and guide scientific research on subjectivity and consciousness. In the enactive approach, cognition is embodied action and depends upon “the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities that are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological, and cultural context” (Varela et al. 1991, The Embodied Mind). In my contribution, I will consider this enactive tenet of the original proposal and focus on how we enact or bring forth the distinctive quality of an experience – constituted by skilled modes of interaction with the environment – having a subjective and an objective side. An experience is supposed to have a unity, a single quality – the distinctive quality – that pervades the entire experience in spite of the variation of its constituent parts and that makes a meal, for example, that meal or a storm that storm or a meeting that meeting. “In going over an experience in mind after its occurrence, we may find that one property rather than another was sufficiently dominant so that it characterizes the experience as a whole” (Dewey). The capacity of experience to become an experience is realized through a consummatory process of bodily sense-making and conveys a feeling of wholeness. In my contribution, I claim that the property of an experience becomes distinctive when it is made perceivable from an unusual perspective. I will argue that the distinctive quality of an experience can be enacted or brought forth by an embodied agent in a relation of co-determination with the environment in a process of cognitive-emotional adaptive sense-making of deviations from expectations. In doing so, I will take O’Regan’s (2011) dynamic sensorimotor account of raw feel into account and combine it with an explanation both of how the subject makes sense of the objective qualities of his/her own experience and of how the experience of sensorial events relates one’s subjectively lived body to itself.


Andrei Simionescu-Panait

Affiliation: Polytechnic University of Bucharest
Title: Constructivism vs. Enactivism in Math Education. A False Opposition
Abstract: Mathematical education in schools is currently being reformed by two new approaches: constructivism and enactivism. The constructivist class design is enacted by the constructivism-minded teacher who aims to connect abstract ideas and formulas to daily life (Vintere 2018). This well known tradition that includes classic thinkers like Piaget, Vigotsky and van Glasersfeld has lately been refreshed by two new and improved versions of itself: the concreteness fading theory (Fyfe et al., 2012, 2014) and the kinaesthetic approach (Goldin-Meadow et al., 1999; Novack et al., 2014). Both versions are openly competing for being the math class design that is the most efficient in making children perform far transfer problems in primary school algebra. At the same time, the constructivist approach to math class design is challenged by the more philosophical enactivist approach to teaching mathematics (Davis, 1995; 2013; Brown, Coles, 2011). Enactivists Proulx and Simmt (2013) critique the constructivist class design (which includes the concreteness fading and the kinaesthetic versions) on 3 main presuppositions that they have: • The idea that the student can produce from a fixed number of viable interpretations that fit reality; • The idea that the problem awaits to be solved by the student; • The idea that knowledge is a possession that the student needs to acquire; The enactivist class design radically rewrites those three presuppositions: • Viability is replaced by the idea that interpretations are the result of a coupling (Maturana, Varela, 1992) between knower and known; • The “problem that is awaiting out there to be solved” (Varela et al., 1991) is replaced by the idea that the problem is posed by the learner and that strategies for solving the problem are enacted in the interaction between the knower and the problem he himself enacted (Maheux, Roth, 2012) • The idea that the student acquires knowledge is replaced by the idea that knowledge is a type of performance (Bateson, 1972; Maturana, 1987) that the student can enact. The paper argues that the idea that constructivist and enactivist class designs are competing towards one another is misleading. The paper uses enactivistic / phenomenological terminology to analyse the concreteness fading, kinaesthetic and enactivist math class in order to determine their differences in terms of the intersubjective learning process. The phenomenological assessments show that the constructivist and enactivist designs provide two intentionally different settings which make the children encounter different affordances and produce different consciousness objects and attitudes, even though both class designs have a similar mathematical content. Reference list is not included due to upper word limit.


Guido Baggio

Affiliation: Roma Tre University
Title: Pragmatist Enactivism
Abstract: Cognitive sciences have been witnessing in recent years what has been called a pragmatist turn (Johnson 2006; Gallagher 2014; Engel et al. 2015; Madzia, Jung 2016; Madzia, Santarelli 2017), that is, increased use of pragmatist theories and concepts for the study of human cognition and experience. The pragmatist turn is the most recent expression of the second generation of cognitive scientists (Lakoff & Johnson 1999). Embodied, embedded, enactive, extended and affective (4EA) approaches to cognition arise from the need to provide an empirically reliable account of the nature and functioning of cognition, mind, and human experience. Though these approaches move from a common conceptual ground – their theoretical assumptions mainly deriving from the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty as to perception, and from James Gibson’s ecological psychology as to the motor aspect – they do, however, present perspectival differences with respect to cognitive research, and they also highlight different conceptions of mind and human experience. The aim to provide a possible integration of the different, sometimes conflicting, 4EA perspectives into a unitary investigation program is at the origin of recent interests in pragmatism studies. Classic pragmatists, in particular, William James, John Dewey, and George H. Mead have written extensively about cognition from a naturalistic perspective, and a number of their theses are compatible with contemporary approaches to cognition. Of all pragmatists, Mead is perhaps the least popular but very likely the most suitable for an integrated approach of different perspectives on cognition and self. Some of Mead’s fundamental ideas can be investigated to show how these can be useful for a 4EA cognitive approach to minds and selves (Baggio 2019, 2016; Madzia 2017, 2016; Nungesser 2016). In my talk, I propose to take into consideration Mead’s theory of the act (Mead 1938) which can be considered a pioneering enactivist approach to perception and cognition based on the triadic relationship between organism, social and physical environment. The affinities with the enactivist approach to cognition are also justified by Mead’s similarities with Merleau-Ponty (Rosenthal and Bourgeois 1991). In particular, both Mead and Merleau-Ponty sustain a holistic, non-reductive naturalism according to which organism and environment interact through perceptual processes that are central to cognition. Although Mead does not refer to intentionality, he deals with the question of the constitutive character of the synthetic function of apperception (differently from Kant and Husserl), that is, of the “selective activity of attention” (Mead 1903: 112) that would enable a sensible multiplicity as contained in a sort of “motor intentionality”, as Merleau-Ponty would have called it (see Dreyfus 2000; Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1996; Bizzari and Hipolito 2016). More specifically, according to Mead, the tension between primary, i.e. sensitive, associations and the apperceptive process that organises them into a unified concept can be overcome by focusing on sensory-motor anticipation, and by referring to apperception as an embodied form of transaction that cannot be reduced to brain processes. This view would also offer an interesting contribution to the current debate on representationalism/anti-representationalism.


Print Email