Doing Your Mind

Research, comments and musings about active minds.

Getting our labels straight.

The word “enaction” has seen a much greater success and more widespread appearance in the literature than the enactive approach itself. This serves as a source of potential confusion for people getting acquainted with these ideas in the first place, as they read one renowned author discuss their enactive account of perception (Noë, 2005), before reading someone else claim that that first author’s theory isn’t really enactive (Di Paolo, Rohde & De Jaegher, in press; McGann, in press), and then coming across a third theory which is termed enactive but seems to have little interaction with the first two (Newton, 1996). To make things even more interesting, there are a few theorists out there who seem to think in almost exactly the same way, but don’t like the label “enactive” and never use it, preferring to avoid niche descriptions (Hurley, 1998; Hurley & Noë, 2003). And finally, to top it all off, there are researchers in closely related disciplines using the term in a way that has very little relation indeed to any of the above.

Getting over this confusion will take time, as some kind of consensus is reached over years, and the various uses of the different terms converge or distinguish themselves more clearly. Any attempt to enforce a discipline in their use is a doomed venture, but here’s the way I think about them:

Below is a table of these different streams within the “embodied” or “active” turn in modern Cognitive Science, and some theorists associated with each. If I’ve made any clear errors, or if you have other suggestions, let me know.

Enaction theorists Dynamic sensorimotor theorists Embodiment theorists
Francisco Varela Alva Noë Andy Clark
Evan Thompson Susan Hurley Natika Newton
Ezequiel Di Paolo Kevin O’Regan Larry Barsalou
Antonio Damasio

Something a little less strictured would probably be better here. Outside of the enactive approach, where the question of autonomy is fairly well entrenched, instead of definitive streams of research we get something more like trends or tendencies in people’s thinking. Some will have more of a dynamic bent, some less, some seeing embodiment as central to the organisation of cognition, some more see it as a constraint on otherwise abstract computational systems.

Di Paolo, E. A., Rohde, M., & DeJaegher, H. (in press). Horizons for the enactive mind: values, social interaction and play. In J. Stewart, O. Gapenne, & E. Di Paolo (Eds.), Enaction: Towards a new paradigm of cognitive science. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Hurley, S. L. (1998). Consciousness in Action. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Hurley, S. L., & Noë, A. (2003). Neural Plasticity and Consciousness. Biology and Philosophy, 18(1), 131-168.

McGann, M. (in press). Perceptual modalities:modes of presentation or modes of action? Journal of Consciousness Studies.

Newton, N. (1996). Foundations of Understanding. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Noë, A. (2005). Action in Perception. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 

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