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  ENACTIVE COGNITIVE SCIENCE IN CONTEXT:
Comparisons with Earlier Traditions

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Copyright © 2001 Randall Whitaker
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  • Table ECS1

    A summary overview of 3 cognitive science traditions, including the new enactive cognitive science

  • Table ECS2

    A summary of how these 3 traditions address key questions facing any coherent 'cognitive science'

 

 
Enactive cognitive science is the mode or perspective for cognitive studies proposed and propounded by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch in their 1991 book The Embodied Mind. Although the principles underlying enactive cognitive science clearly derive (at least in part) from autopoietic theory (by way of Varela), there are actually few points of reference to Maturana and Varela's earlier work.

Enactive cognitive science is presented as a third alternative to the currently-prevalent schools of thought labeled cognitivism and emergence. The former is that perspective emphasizing symbolization, representationalism, and the computer as a metaphor for a cognitive system. The latter is that perspective emphasizing behavioral / configurational emergence in parallel distributed networks, and this formal model inspired by the neural system as a metaphor for a cognitive system.

Because the definition of enactive cognitive science is accomplished primarily through comparisons and contrasts with the other two paradigms, it is best explained in the same manner. The two tables presented below cover the general and the specific comparative analyses presented in The Embodied Mind.

 

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TABLE ECS1:
THE THREE TRADITIONS OF COGNITIVE SCIENCE

(Based on Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991)

 

COGNITIVISM EMERGENCE (Connectionism) ENACTIVE


METAPHOR FOR MIND:
Digital computer

Parallel distributed network

Inseparable from experience and world


METAPHOR FOR COGNITION:
Symbol processing

Emergence of global states

Ongoing interaction within the medium


THE WORLD IN RELATION TO US:
Separate
Objective

 


Separate
Objective

 


Engaged
'Brought forth'

 

 
Representable
(in symbols)

Representable
(in patterns of network activation)

Presentable
(through action)


MIND VS. BODY/WORLD:
Separable

 


Separable

 


Inseparable

 


Cartesian dualism
(mind and body hermetically sealed from each other)

Epiphenomenal dualism
(mind related to body and world via emergence)

Phenomenology
(mind and world enacted in history of interactions)


EXPONENTS:
(*)

Simon, Newell,
Chomsky, Fodor,
Pylyshyn

Rumelhart, McClelland,
Dennett, Hofstadter

Maturana, Lakoff,
Rorty, Piaget,
Dreyfus


 

* (cf. Figure 1.1, p. 7, in Varela, Thompson & Rosch (1991))

 

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TABLE ECS2:
HOW THESE TRADITIONS ANSWER 3 KEY QUESTIONS

(Based on Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991)

 

COGNITIVISM EMERGENCE (Connectionism) ENACTIVE


WHAT IS COGNITION? "Information processing as symbolic computation -- rule-based manipulation of symbols." "The emergence of global states in a network of simple components" "Enaction: a history of structural coupling that brings forth a world."


HOW DOES COGNITION WORK? (Via) "...any device that can support and manipulate discrete functional elements -- the symbols." "Through rules for individual operation and rules for changes in the connectivity among the elements." "Through a network consisting of multiple levels of interconnected, sensorimotor subnetworks."


HOW DO I KNOW A COGNITIVE SYSTEM IS FUNCTIONING ADEQUATELY? "When the symbols appropriately represent some aspect of the real world, and the information processing leads to ... successful solution of the problem given..." "When the emergent properties (and resulting structure) can be seen to correspond to a specific cognitive capacity -- a successful solution to a required task." "When it becomes part of an ongoing existing world (as the young of every species do) or shapes a new one (as happens in evolutionary history)."


  All quoted material comes form Varela, Thompson & Rosch (1991).

The quoted points on cognitivism come from p. 42, on emergence from p. 99, and on enaction from p. 206.

 


 
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