New Paper (2023), J. Lee, Enactivism Meets Mechanism: Tensions & Congruities in Cognitive Science

Published Open Access in Minds and Machines

Abstract: Enactivism advances an understanding of cognition rooted in the dynamic interac- tion between an embodied agent and their environment, whilst new mechanism sug- gests that cognition is explained by uncovering the organised components underlying cognitive capacities. On the face of it, the mechanistic model’s emphasis on localisable and decomposable mechanisms, often neural in nature, runs contrary to the enactivist ethos. Despite appearances, this paper argues that mechanistic explanations of cognition, being neither narrow nor reductive, and compatible with plausible iterations of ideas like emergence and downward causation, are congruent with enactivism. Attention to enactivist ideas, moreover, may serve as a heuristic for mechanistic investigations of cognition. Nevertheless, I show how enactivism and approaches that prioritise mechanistic modelling may diverge in starting assump- tions about the nature of cognitive phenomena, such as where the constitutive boundaries of cognition lie.