Article in support of life-mind continuity

Prof. Dr. Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic and Dr. Robert Lowe guest-edited a special issue of the journal Entropy on the topic “Information-Processing and Embodied, Embedded, Enactive Cognition” to which I contributed an article with Michael Kirchhoff.

Where There is Life There is Mind: In Support of a Strong Life-Mind Continuity Thesis

Michael D. Kirchhoff and Tom Froese

This paper considers questions about continuity and discontinuity between life and mind. It begins by examining such questions from the perspective of the free energy principle (FEP). The FEP is becoming increasingly influential in neuroscience and cognitive science. It says that organisms act to maintain themselves in their expected biological and cognitive states, and that they can do so only by minimizing their free energy given that the long-term average of free energy is entropy. The paper then argues that there is no singular interpretation of the FEP for thinking about the relation between life and mind. Some FEP formulations express what we call an independence view of life and mind. One independence view is a cognitivist view of the FEP. It turns on information processing with semantic content, thus restricting the range of systems capable of exhibiting mentality. Other independence views exemplify what we call an overly generous non-cognitivist view of the FEP, and these appear to go in the opposite direction. That is, they imply that mentality is nearly everywhere. The paper proceeds to argue that non-cognitivist FEP, and its implications for thinking about the relation between life and mind, can be usefully constrained by key ideas in recent enactive approaches to cognitive science. We conclude that the most compelling account of the relationship between life and mind treats them as strongly continuous, and that this continuity is based on particular concepts of life (autopoiesis and adaptivity) and mind (basic and non-semantic).

Chapter on the enactive philosophy of embodiment

imagesMog Stapleton and I collaborated on a chapter that has just been published by Springer in Biology and Subjectivity: Philosophical Contributions to Non-reductive Neuroscience, edited by GarcĂ­a-Valdecasas, Murillo, and Barrett.

The enactive philosophy of embodiment: From biological foundations of agency to the phenomenology of subjectivity

Mog Stapleton and Tom Froese

Following on from the philosophy of embodiment by Merleau-Ponty, Jonas and others, enactivism is a pivot point from which various areas of science can be brought into a fruitful dialogue about the nature of subjectivity. In this chapter we present the enactive conception of agency, which, in contrast to current mainstream theories of agency, is deeply and strongly embodied. In line with this thinking we argue that anything that ought to be considered a genuine agent is a biologically embodied (even if distributed) agent, and that this embodiment must be affectively lived. However, we also consider that such an affective agent is not necessarily also an agent imbued with an explicit sense of subjectivity. To support this contention we outline the interoceptive foundation of basic agency and argue that there is a qualitative difference in the phenomenology of agency when it is instantiated in organisms which, due to their complexity and size, require a nervous system to underpin their physiological and sensorimotor processes. We argue that this interoceptively grounded agency not only entails affectivity but also forms the necessary basis for subjectivity.

Review of Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds without Content

I was invited to write a review of Hutto and Myin’s Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds without Content for The Journal of Mind and Behavior. You can read my largely positive verdict here:

Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds without Content. Daniel D. Hutto and Erik Myin. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2013, 206 pages, $35.00 hardcover

Tom Froese

Increasing numbers of philosophers of mind and cognitive scientists are jumping on the embodied cognition bandwagon. Accordingly, mind is no longer viewed as locked away in some Platonic realm of pure logic, as the computational theory of mind has traditionally proposed. Instead, mind has become identified with purposeful activity in the world, an activity that is realized by the body, extended by usage of tools, and scaffolded by a sociocultural environment.