Volume 1 · Number 1 · Pages 19–34
Enactive Cognitive Science. Part 1: History and Research Themes

Kevin McGee

Download the full text in
PDF (350 kB)

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


Purpose: This paper is a brief introduction to enactive cognitive science: a description of some of the main research concerns; some examples of how such concerns have been realized in actual research; some of its research methods and proposed explanatory mechanisms and models; some of the potential as both a theoretical and applied science; and several of the major open research questions. Findings: Enactive cognitive science is an approach to the study of mind that seeks to explain how the structures and mechanisms of autonomous cognitive systems can arise and participate in the generation and maintenance of viable perceiver-dependent worlds – rather than more conventional cognitivist efforts, such as the attempt to explain cognition in terms of the “recovery” of (pre-given, timeless) features of The (objectively-existing and accessible) World. As such, enactive cognitive science is resonant with radical constructivism. Research implications: As with other scientific efforts conducted within a constructivist orientation, enactive cognitive science is broadly “conventional” in its scientific methodology. That is, there is a strong emphasis on testable hypotheses, empirical observation, supportable mechanisms and models, rigorous experimental methods, acceptable criteria of validation, and the like. Nonetheless, this approach to cognitive science does also raise a number of specific questions about the scope of amenable phenomena (e.g., meaning, consciousness, etc.) – and it also raises questions of whether such a perspective requires an expansion of what is typically considered within the purview of scientific method (e.g., the role of the observer/scientist).

Key words: cognition, radical constructivism, olfactory system, autonomy, umwelt, concepts, Francisco Varela


McGee K. (2005) Enactive cognitive science. Part 1: History and research themes. Constructivist Foundations 1(1): 19–34. http://constructivist.info/1/1/019

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Gallagher S. (2018) Decentering the Brain: Embodied Cognition and the Critique of Neurocentrism and Narrow-Minded Philosophy of Mind
Kordeš U. (2016) Going Beyond Theory: Constructivism and Empirical Phenomenology
Quale A. (2015) Religion: A Radical-Constructivist Perspective
Quale A. (2014) Ethics: A Radical-constructivist Approach
McGee K. (2006) Enactive Cognitive Science. Part 2: Methods, Insights, and Potential


Agre P. E. & Chapman D. (1990) What are plans for? Robotics and Autonomous Systems 6: 17–34. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Anderson M. L. (2003) Embodied cognition: a field guide. Artificial Intelligence 149: 91–130. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ashby R. (1956) Introduction to cybernetics. John Wiley, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bateson G. (1979) Mind and nature: A necessary unity. Ballantine Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Berlin B. & Kay P. (1969) Basic color terms: Their universality and evolution. University of California Press, Berkeley. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bertalanffy L. von (1968) General systems theory. Braziller, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Boden M. A. (2000) Autopoiesis and life. Cognitive Science Quarterly 1: 117–145. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Brooks R. A. (1991) Intelligence without representation. Artificial Intelligence Journal 47: 139–159. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Brown R. (1958) How shall a thing be called? Psychological Review 65: 14–21. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bruner J. S. (1966) Toward a theory of instruction. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bruner J. S. (1986) Actual minds, possible worlds. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cannon W. B. (1932) The wisdom of the body. Norton, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Capra F. (1996) The web of life: A new scientific understanding of living systems. Anchor Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Chaiklin S. & Lave J. (eds.) (1993) Understanding practice: Perspectives on activity and context. Cambridge University Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Churchland P. S. & Sejnowski T. J. (1992) The computational brain. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Clancey W. J. (1995) A tutorial on situated learning. In: Self J. (ed.) Proceedings of the International Conference on Computers and Education. AACE: Charlottesville, VA: 49–70. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Dewey J. (1896) The reflex arc concept in psychology. Psychological Review 3: 357–70. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Dewey J. (1900) Psychology and social practice. Psychological Review 7: 105–124. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Dewey J. (1916) What pragmatism means by practical. In: Essays in experimental logic. University of Chicago, Chicago IL: 303–329. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Drescher G. L. (1991) Made-up minds: A constructivist approach to artificial intelligence. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Edelman G. M. (1992) Bright air, brilliant fire: On the matter of the mind. Basic Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Eigen M. & Schuster P. (1979) The hypercycle: A principle of natural self-organization. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Fodor J. (1975) The language of thought. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von & Zopf G. W. (eds.) (1962), Principles of self-organizing systems. Pergamon, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (1984) On constructing a reality. In: Watzlawick P. (ed.) The invented reality: How do we know what we believe we know? Contributions to constructivism. W. W. Norton, New York: 41–61. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (ed.) (1996), Cybernetics of cybernetics. Second edition. Future Systems, Minneapolis MN. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Freeman W. J. & Skarda C. A. (1990) Representations: Who needs them? In McGaugh J. L., Weinberger N. & Lynch G. (eds.) Brain organization and memory cells, systems & circuits. Oxford University Press, New York: 375–380. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Freeman W. J. (2001) How brains make up their minds. Columbia University Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gadamer H.-G. (1976) Philosophical hermeneutics. University of California Press, Berkeley CA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gergen K. J. (1997) Social theory in context: Relational humanism. In: Greenwood J. (ed.) The mark of the social. Rowman and Littlefield, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glasersfeld E. von (1984) An introduction to radical constructivism. In: Watzlawick P. (ed.) The invented reality: How do we know? W. W. Norton, New York: 17–40. http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/070.1
Glasersfeld E. von (1995) Radical constructivism: a way of knowing and learning. Falmer Press, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Goodman N. (1978) Ways of worldmaking. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis IN. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gruber H. E. & Voneche J. J. (eds.) (1977) The essential Piaget. Basic Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Haken H. (1987) Synergetics: An approach to self-organization. In: Yates F. E. (ed.) Self-organizing systems. Plenum, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Harnad S. (1990) The symbol grounding problem. Physica D 42: 335–346. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Heidegger M. (1962) Being and time. Harper and Row, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Holland J. H. (1998) Emergence: From chaos to order. Helix Books, Reading MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Husserl E. (1962) Ideas: General introduction to pure phenomenology. Collier, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
James W. (1907) Pragmatism: A new name for some old ways of thinking. Longman Green and Co, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Johnson M. (1987) The body in the mind: The bodily basis of meaning, imagination, and reason. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kauffman S. A. (1993) Origins of order: Self-organization and selection in evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Köhler W. (1992) Gestalt psychology: An introduction to new concepts in modern psychology. Re-issue edition. Liveright, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Klin A., Jones W., Schultz R. T. & Volkmar F. (2003) The enactive mind, or from actions to cognition: lessons from autism. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 358: 345–60. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lakoff G. & Johnson M. (1999) Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. Basic Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lakoff G. (1987) Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lave J. & Wenger E. (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press, New York NY. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lazlo E. (1972) The systems view of the world: The natural philosophy of the new developments in the sciences. Braziller, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Leont’ev A. N. (1978) Activity, consciousness, and personality. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs NJ. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lettvin J. Y., Maturana H. R., McCulloch W. S. & Pitts W. H. (1959) What the frog’s eye tells the frog’s brain. Procedings of the I. R. E. 47: 1940–1959. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lewin K. (1946) Behavior and development as a function of the total situation. In: Carmichael L. (ed.) Manual of Child Pychology. Wiley, New York: 791–844. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lewontin R. (2000) The triple helix: Gene, organism, and environment. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lovelock J. & Margulis L. (1974) Biological modulation of the earth’s atmosphere. Icarus, 21. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lumsden C. J. & Wilson E. O. (1981) Genes, mind, and Culture: The coevolutionary process. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luria A. R. (1976) Cognitive development: Its cultural and social foundations. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Margulis L. & Fester R. (eds.) (1991), Symbiosis as a source of evolutionary innovation: Speciation and morphogenesis. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Margulis L. (1989) Gaia: the living earth. The Elmwood Newsletter, 5(2). ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Martinerie J., Adam C., van Quyen M. L., Baulac M., Renault B. & Varela F. J. (1998) Epileptic crisis can be anticipated by non-linear analysis. Nature Medicine 4: 1173–1176. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1980) Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Reidel, Boston. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. New Science Library, Boston. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (1980) Biology of cognition. In: Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Reidel, Boston: 1–58. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (1980) Introduction. In: Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Reidel, Boston: xi-xxx. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (1988) Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument. The Irish Journal of Psychology 9: 25–82. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R., Uribe G. & Frenk S. G. (1968) A biological theory of relativistic colour coding in the primate retina. Arch. Biologia y Med. Exp. 1: 1–30. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Mead G. H. (1934) Mind, self, and society. University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Merleau-Ponty M. (1963) The structure of behavior. Beacon Press, Boston MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
O’Connor T. & Wong H. Y. (2005) Emergent properties. In: Zalta E. N. (ed.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Summer 2005 Edition). http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2005/entries/properties-emergent/ ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Oyama S. (2000) Evolution’s eye: A system’s view of the biology-culture divide. Duke University Press, Durham NC. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Oyama S., (2000) The ontogeny of information: Developmental systems and evolution. Second revised and expanded edition. Duke University Press, Durham NC. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Papert S. (1980) Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. Basic Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Papert S. (1988) Introduction. In: Embodiments of mind. Revised edition. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: xxi-xxviii. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pattee H. H. (1973) The physical basis and origin of hierarchical control. In: Pattee H. H. (ed.) Hierarchy theory: The challenge of complex systems. Braziller, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pfeifer R. & Scheier C. (1999) Understanding intelligence. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Piaget J. (1955) The child’s construction of reality. Routledge, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Prigogine I. & Stengers I. (1984) Order out of chaos: Man’s new dialogue with nature. Bantam, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Reeke G. N. & Edelman G. M. (1988) Real brains and artificial intelligence. Daedalus 117: 143–174. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Resnick L. B. (1991) Shared cognition: Thinking as social practice. In: Resnick L. B., Levine J. M. & Teasley S. D. (eds.) Perspectives on socially shared cognition. American Psychological Association, Washington DC: 1–20. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Rorty R. (1979) Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Rosch E. & Lloyd B. (eds.) (1978) Cognition and categorization. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale NJ. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Rosch E. (1999) Reclaiming concepts. In: Núñez R. & Freeman W. J. (eds.) reclaiming cognition: The primacy of action, intention, and emotion. Imprint Academic, Thorverton UK: 61–77. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Sharkey N. E. & Ziemke T. (1998) Biological and physiological foundations. Connection Science 10: 361–391. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Singer W. (1980) Extraretinal influences in the geniculate. Physiology Review 57: 386–420. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Skarda C. A. (1999) The perceptual form of life. In: Núñez R. & Freeman W. J. (eds.) Reclaiming cognition: The primacy of action, intention, and emotion. Imprint Academic, Thorverton UK: 79–93. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Suchman L. A. (1987) Plans and situated actions: The problem of human-machine communication. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Thelen E. & Smith L. B. (1994) A dynamical systems approach to the development of cognition and action. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Thompson E. (1995) Colour vision: A study in cognitive science and the philosophy of perception. Routledge, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Trevarthen C. (1993) The self born in intersubjectivity: The psychology of an infant communicating. In: Neisser U. (ed.) The perceived self: Ecological and interpersonal sources of self-knowledge. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Uexküll J. von (1957) A stroll through the worlds of animals and men. In: Schiller C. H. (ed.) Instinctive behavior: The development of a modern concept. International Universities Press, New York: 5–80. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
van Quyen M. L., Martinerie J., Adam C., Lachaux J.-Ph., Baulac M., Renault B. & Varela F. J. (1997) Temporal patterns in human epileptic activity are modulated by perceptual discriminations. Neuroreport 8: 1703–1710. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
van Valen L. (1973) A new evolutionary law. Evolutionary Theory 1: 1–30. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. & Shear J. (eds.) (1999), The view from within: First-person approaches to the study of consciousness. Imprint Academic, Thorverton UK. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1999) Ethical know-how: Action, wisdom, and cognition. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1999) Steps to a science of inter-being. In: Watson G., Batchelor S. & Claxton G. (eds.) The psychology of awakening: Buddhism, science and our day-to-day lives. Rider, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J., Thompson E. & Rosch E. (1991) The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vernadsky V. (1998) The biosphere. Complete annotated edition. Springer, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vygotsky L. S. (1978) Mind in society: The development of higher mental processes. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vygotsky L. S. (1979) Consciousness as a problem in the psychology of behavior. Soviet Psychology 17: 3–35. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wertsch J. V. (1991) Voices of the mind: A sociocultural approach to mediated action. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Whitehead A. N. (1979) Process and reality. Corrected edition. Free Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wiener N. (1948) Cybernetics, or control and communication in the animal and the machine. John Wiley, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wittgenstein L. (1963) Philosophical investigations. Second edition. Blackwell, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.