IAS-Research Seminar (online) by Ezequiel Di Paolo (EHU/UPV, Ikerbasque, University of Sussex), “Laying down a forking path: Tensions between enaction and the free energy principle”

On Tuesday, Feb 1st, 2022, at 11:30.
To participate, please contact: perezverdugo.marta@gmail.com

Several authors have made claims about the compatibility between the Free Energy Principle (FEP) and theories of autopoiesis and enaction. Many see these theories as natural partners or as making similar statements about the nature of biological and cognitive systems. We critically examine these claims and identify a series of misreadings and misinterpretations of key enactive concepts. In particular, we notice a tendency to disregard the operational definition of autopoiesis and the distinction between a system’s structure and its organization. Other misreadings concern the conflation of processes of self-distinction in operationally closed systems and Markov blankets. Deeper theoretical tensions underlie some of these misinterpretations. FEP assumes systems that reach a non-equilibrium steady state and are enveloped by a Markov blanket. We argue that these assumptions contradict the historicity of sense-making that is explicit in the enactive approach. Enactive concepts such as adaptivity and agency are defined in terms of the modulation of parameters and constraints of the agent-environment coupling, which entail the possibility of changes in variable and parameter sets, constraints, and in the dynamical laws affecting the system. This allows enaction to address the path-dependent diversity of human bodies and minds. We argue that these ideas are incompatible with the time invariance of non-equilibrium steady states assumed by the FEP. In addition, the enactive perspective foregrounds the enabling and constitutive roles played by the world in sense-making, agency, development. We argue that this view of transactional and constitutive relations between organisms and environments is a challenge to the FEP. Once we move beyond superficial similarities, identify misreadings, and examine the theoretical commitments of the two approaches, we reach the conclusion that far from being easily integrated, the FEP, as it stands formulated today, is in tension with the theories of autopoiesis and enaction.

Full text: https://philosophymindscience.org/index.php/phimisci/article/view/9187

“Learning and Understanding” – IAS-Research Seminar by Mike Beaton

Date and time: 25th November 2013, at 11.00
Location: Carlos Santamaria Building, Room B14.
Speaker: Mike Beaton
Title: Learning and Understanding
Abstract:There is a certain Kantian conception of perceptual experience on which experience can only present those aspects of the world which we already understand (for example, can only present trees qua trees if we understand what a tree is). McDowell has famously argued that it is only by accepting this Kantian conception that we can allow for a highly desirable kind of openness to the world, such that objects in the world can be genuine reasons for our beliefs and actions. Unfortunately this same Kantian conception appears to rule out another very desirable kind of openness: openness to that which we do not yet understand. In this paper, I argue that this problem is only apparent. Even if experience can only present that which we understand, nevertheless we can already understand – from within such a framework, as it were – that the world is not behaving consistently with our expectations. This indicates that something new is required. In any normal case, this lack of coherence with our expectations will never be total, thus we can map out the extent of our lack of understanding. The ‘shape’ of our lack of understanding (which we find by exploring the world) can guide us. In all this, past experience can only ever be a partial guide: luck (in more reductive terms, random exploration) is required, as well as judgment. Using both luck and judgment, we may arrive at some new candidate framework of understanding. At this point no more luck is required, good judgment alone (applied as we interact with the world) can tell us whether or not a new candidate framework is better for our purposes than our old framework. This way of describing things pulls apart what is in reality a fluid process, but nevertheless points to key features of that process. The transitions made in such a process are genuinely rational: they are made by the perceiver, for the perceiver’s own reasons. Thus, it is concluded, we do not need to step outside the framework of practical, engaged rationality in order to analyse perceptual openness to aspects of the world which a perceiver has not yet understood.

“Toward a phenomenology of plant life” – IAS-Research Talk by Michael Marder

Michael Marder, Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country (Vitoria-Gasteiz) was invited to give an IAS-Research Talk on October the 22nd at 10:15. We recorded his talk and it is now available online at: