Volume 16 · Number 3 · Pages 265–274
Enactive Metaphorizing in the Mathematical Experience

Daniela Díaz-Rojas, Jorge Soto-Andrade & Ronnie Videla

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Context: How can an enactive approach to the teaching and learning of mathematics be implemented, which fosters mathematical thinking, making intensive use of metaphorizing and taking into account the learner’s experience? Method: Using in-person and remote ethnographic participant observation, we observe students engaged in mathematical activities suggested by our theoretical approach. We focus on their idiosyncratic metaphorizing and affective reactions while tackling mathematical problems, which we interpret from our theoretical perspective. We use these observations to illustrate our theoretical approach. Results: Our didactic examples show that alternative pathways are possible to access mathematical thinking, which bifurcate from the metaphors prevailing in most of our classrooms, like teaching as “transmission of knowledge” and learning as “climbing a staircase.” Our participant observations suggest that enacting and metaphorizing may indeed afford a new and more meaningful kind of experience for mathematics learners. Implications: Our observations highlight the relevance of leaving the learners room to ask questions, co-construct their problems, explore, and so on, instead of just learning in a prescriptive way the method to solve each type of problem. Consequently, one kind of solution to the current grim situation regarding mathematics teaching and learning would be to aim at relaxing the prevailing didactic contract that thwarts natural sense-making mechanisms of our species. Our conclusions suggest a possible re-shaping of traditional teaching practice, although we refrain from trying to implement this in a prescriptive way. A limitation of our didactic experience might be that it exhibits just a couple of illustrative examples of the application of our theoretical perspective, which show that some non-traditional learning pathways are possible. A full fledged ethnomethodological and micro-phenomenological study would be commendable. Constructivist content: We adhere to the enactive approach to cognition initiated by Francisco Varela, and to the embodied perspective as developed by Shaun Gallagher. We emphasize the cognitive role of metaphorization as a key neural mechanism evolved in humans, deeply intertwined with enaction and most relevant in our “hallucinatory construction of reality,” in the sense of Anil Seth.

Key words: Metaphor, enaction, embodiment, mathematical experience, participant observation, emotional anesthesia, negative emotions, Francisco Varela, Shaun Gallagher


Díaz-Rojas D., Soto-Andrade J. & Videla R. (2021) Enactive metaphorizing in the mathematical experience. Constructivist Foundations 16(3): 265–274. https://constructivist.info/16/3/265

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