Enactivism II. and the Simplicity of Social Cybernetics

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My art produced from photographs and subjected to further manipulation is the kind of art an enactivist might intentionally produce.

Embodied Situated Cognition /Enactivism

[link] Varela and colleagues build on Merleau-Ponty’s work to develop a model of cognition as “embodied action”, a process they call “enactive” (Varela et al., 1991: xx). They concur with the principle above that cognition is embodied and factor in the wider “biological, psychological, and cultural context” (Varela et al., 1991: 173). By emphasizing action they highlight that cognition is an aspect of the sensory body (Varela et al., 1991: xx) and that “knower and known, mind and world, stand in relation to each other through mutual specification or dependent coorigination” (Varela et al., 1991: 150). The enactive approach to cognition “is based on situated, embodied agents” (Varela, 2001: 215) and explicitly rejects representationalism, bypassing the “logical geography of inner versus outer” by understanding cognition as embedded in a total “biological/ psychological, and cultural context” (Varela et al., 1991: 172-173). They conclude that “organism and environment enfold into each other and unfold from one another in the fundamental circularity that is life itself” (Varela et al., 1991: 217).

Varela presents four “fundamental insights” of enactivism which he claims to be “established results” (Varela, 1999: 71). The first fundamental is that the mind is embodied and therefore “[t]he mind is not in the head” (Varela, 1999: 72; authors emphasis) and what we conventionally think of a ‘subject’ and ‘object’ are co-arising. Because the mind is embodied and arises out of “an active handling and coping with the world”, then “whatever you call an object … is entirely dependent on this constant sensory motor handling”. As a result an object is not independently ‘out there’, but “arises because of your activity, so, in fact, you and the object are co-emerging, co-arising” (Varela, 1999: 71-72). The mind “cannot be separated from the entire organism” (Varela, 1999: 73; authors emphasis) or the “outside environment” (Varela, 1999: 74). Varela’s second point focuses on the emergence of complex cognitive processes from much simpler sub-systems. The global process of cognition emerges from a huge number of simple interactions between “neural components and circuits” (Varela, 1999: 76). The relationship between local and global processes creates a “two-way street”; just as simple systems give rise to the complexity of conciousness, so what we consciously think impacts those local components (Varela, 1999: 76). From this stance it is no surprise that Varela introduces intersubjectivity, though he notes that this area is “not well charted yet”. Our everyday assumption – reinforced by older “cognitive and brain science” – is that “a mind belongs inside a brain, and hence that the other’s mind is impenetrable and opaque”. However, he claims that recent research shows “that individuality and intersubjectivity are not in opposition, but necessarily complementary” (Varela, 1999: 79). Varela points to consistent evidence that “all cognitive phenomena are also emotional-affective” and that affect is a “pre-verbal” and “pre-reflective dynamic in self-constitution of the self”. Thus our pre-reflective sense of self is “inseparable from the presence of others” (Varela, 1999: 80-81). Varela’s final point is “far less consensual than the preceding ones” and concerns issues of the philosophy of a “neurophenomenology” that lie beyond the scope of this review (Varela, 1999: 82; authors emphasis).

(Bold my emphasis)

“that individuality and intersubjectivity are not in opposition, but necessarily complementary”

Furthermore: there is the matter of how for example two persons (agents!) might go about exploring the entwined entanglement of their own/each two selves within the multiple orders of the given holistic circularity. I term the graceful and intentional effort to do as much: 3rd order interpersonal social cybernetics.

The 3rd order interpersonal social cybernetics takes time. It is this simple: two people figuring out together how to deeply know one another.

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