Chapter for OUP Handbook of 4E Cognition

Here is a pre-print version of my contribution to The Oxford Handbook of 4E Cognition, edited by Newen, de Bruin, and Gallagher.

Searching for the conditions of genuine intersubjectivity: From agent-based models to perceptual crossing experiments

Tom Froese

Enactivists are searching for the conditions of genuine intersubjectivity. Theory of mind approaches to social cognition have come a long way from folk psychological theorizing by paying more attention to neuroscientific evidence and phenomenological insights. This has led to hybrid accounts that incorporate automatic processing and allow an instrumental role for perception and interaction. However, two foundational assumptions remain unquestioned. First, the cognitive unconscious: explanations assume there is a privileged domain of subpersonal mechanisms that operate in terms of representational personal-level concepts (belief, desire, inference, pretense, etc.), albeit unconsciously. Second, methodological individualism: explanations of social capacities are limited to mechanisms contained within the individual. The enactive approach breaks free from these representationalist-internalist constraints by integrating personal-level phenomenology with multi-scale dynamics occurring within and between subjects. This formal and empirical research on social interaction supports the possibility of genuine intersubjectivity: we can directly participate in the unfolding of each other’s experience.

Keynote at “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition”

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to an autumn school on “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition” organized by the Horizon 2020 project Socializing sensorimotor contingencies (socSMCs).

The event will take place in Boltenhagen by the Baltic Sea, Germany, October 11-17, 2015. My title and abstract are as follows:

Enactive and phenomenological approaches to social cognition

Tom Froese

One of the most central and also controversial claims of the enactive approach is that embodied social interaction is constitutive of social cognition. Evolutionary robotics modeling and dynamical systems theory demonstrate that at least in principle there is nothing mysterious about this claim. But can it also be verified experimentally? The most promising results so far are based on the “perceptual crossing” paradigm, in which pairs of participants interact haptically in real-time via a minimalist human-computer interface. They try to locate each other in the virtual space while avoiding distractor objects. It has repeatedly been shown that individuals’ actions become interactively self-organized in a way that collectively enhances task success. However, until recently there was no evidence that this sensorimotor self-organization was also experienced from the point of view of the participants, thereby calling into question whether it constitutively affected their social cognition. I will present the latest studies in which an accompanying phenomenology of intersubjectivity was clearly reported and quantified, thereby enabling us to identify the specific pattern of sensorimotor coupling underlying the emergence of a consciously shared moment of experience. This is some of the first evidence supporting the concept of a genuine and irreducible second-person perspective that is mutually enacted via joint actions. Intriguingly, the process of its emergence shares similarities with the first stages that are hypothesized to occur during the development of social awareness in pre-verbal infants.