On Feb 16th, 2023, at 16:00
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Enactivism is an approach to cognition that centres embodiment and autonomy. In the philosophy of perception, there is a realism-idealism spectrum, with perception of the ‘objective world as it is’ on one end and perception of only internal constructs on the other end. Where enactivism lands on this spectrum continues to be contested. After all, an organism ‘bringing forth a world’ sounds constructivist. Yet this is in tension with enactivism’s anti-representationalist, anti-solipsistic ambitions which may suggest a realist commitment. Here I will argue that enactivism is not idealist, realist or even something in-between. In short, the ‘colouring’ of an organism’s perception through its own activity and interactional history is incompatible with objective realism; yet the sociomaterial understanding of perception as an organism-environment relation is incompatible with idealism. More fundamentally, I propose that the realism-idealism spectrum in perception itself is rooted in a categorical separation between a reified mind and the world. This separation is incompatible with enactivism altogether, thus also ruling out a potential in-between solution. Avoiding eliminativism, I submit that the notion of mind should be reconceived as relational between organism and environment, radically co-constitutive and co-constructivist.
I will proceed as follows. First, I shall provide a brief overview of enactivism, focusing on the notion of sensorimotor autonomy, which captures the self-enabling, self-individuating organisation of clusters of sensorimotor processes like habits. This allows me to say some general things about the notion of ‘mind’ in enactivism, which can be clarified by contrasting it with realism, idealism, and a potential in-between option. I can then contour a positive proposal. Given the autonomous nature of clusters of sensorimotor activities, the encounters of organism and environment — the relations themselves — can be taken to constitute the sensorimotor mind while avoiding the issues of reification. Simultaneously, it is through the plastic changes resulting from these encounters that the organism and environment are and continue to be constructed. Perceptual activity, encompassing organism-environment relations, then, is best understood as self-shaping. I will finish with some of the crucial questions that need more work, like a better understanding of sensorimotor individuation and the nature of the co-constructive processes.