The University of Sussex

Horizons for the Enactive Mind: Values, Social Interaction, and Play

Ezequiel Di Paolo, Marieke Rohde and Hanneke De Jaegher

What is the enactive approach to cognition? Over the last 15 years this banner has grown to become a respectable alternative to traditional frameworks in cognitive science. It is at the same time a label with different interpretations and upon which different doubts have been cast. This paper elaborates on the core ideas that define the enactive approach and their implications: autonomy, sensemaking, emergence, embodiment, and experience. These are coherent, radical and very powerful concepts that establish clear methodological guidelines for research. The paper also looks at the problems that arise from taking these ideas seriously. The enactive approach has plenty of room for elaboration in many different areas and many challenges to respond to. In particular, we concentrate on the problems surrounding several theories of value-appraisal and valuegeneration. The enactive view takes the task of understanding meaning and value very seriously and elaborates a proper scientific alternative to reductionist attempts to tackle these issues by functional localization. Another area where the enactive framework can make a significant contribution is social interaction and social undertanding. The legacy of computationalism and methodological individualism is very strong in this field. Enactivism allows us to see embodied social interaction and coordination at many different levels in an integrated manner, from the emergence of autonomous temporal structures that regulate interaction to the generation of socially mediated meaning. Finally, we also present some speculations about how the enactive approach may be the right tool to help us bridge knowledge of concrete embodied and situated practices and higher-level human cognition, thus becoming a serious contender to computationalism in all areas of cognitive science (and not just on low-level sensorimotor cognition). The language offered by the enactive perspective already proves very useful in formulating the problem of human cognition in a tractable manner. These speculations will centre on the role of play as an activity that allows the development of meaning-manipulation skills as well as a further level of autonomous cognitive self, one that is characteristic of human beings. For the enactive view play is seen as re-creation whereas for computationalism fun is a mystery. These discussions will be supported and illustrated with examples from work in evolutionary robotics. The need for synthetic minimal models and their scientific role is a running theme of this paper.


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