Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Enaction, Embodiment and Representation

Embodiment may be considered as the role of the organisms specific physiological make up and its interaction with the world around it that decides its cognitive and experiential state. It is from this that the organisms sensorimotor system both influences and constrains the experiential life of the particular organism and which itself is situated within a larger environmental, biological and evolutionary context as such that “the organism both initiates and is shaped by the environment” (Varela, 1995). It is this embodied and participatory, enactive engagement with the world that allows for a "realm filled with purposeful striving, temporal flows, ambiguous moods, sense-making, bodily a word our "erlebete", or lived existence" (Froese & De Paolo, 2011) 

Agencies and entities are described as abstract entities by Varela (1995), from this it is unclear as to what may be considered here as constituting the agent self as also discussed is of what defines a particular experience within the enactive process as being physical or mental or cognitive is the “degree of significance” for the individual. The enactive, participatory role of the organism here is without doubt,  but where, or how, the experiential aspects of such an organism become differentiated into what may be, for want of a better term, particular personal experiences is not addressed. The use of terms such as distinct or differentiated is acknowledged as being problematic in such a context but it remains that organisms have particular experiential incidents throughout their existence and which are experienced, recollected and relived explicitly outside of any current or immediate, participatory environmental context.

The argument here is, arguably, related to the discussion of the existence of representative structures or processes within the cognitive system. It has been previously addressed as to whether a non-representationalist view of embodiment can account for all cognitive processes. Clark (1995), while fully acknowledging the vital role embodiment plays in cognitive practice, also argued that there remain some “representational hungry” aspects of thought which still requires some form of representation to remain.

It may still be argued that some form of representation such as that in line with Clark may be required for the negotiation of the environment. The organism in its embodied, situated interaction within the world around it is immersed in continuous enormities of information with which it must traverse successfully. As the organism moves through its environment there is a continual raft of environmental influx and it may be argued that the organism must hold some type of reference, or representational, system to know when and how to react to specific stimuli within such an environment. It may perhaps not be the standard view of strict representation as being direct environmental information caricatured within the cognitive system but perhaps a qualitative apportioning of embodied and environmentally based representation to allow for the organism to recollect what within the environment is to be considered pertinent and relative to survival.

Perhaps not, the positing of representations within the cognitive system remain theoretical constructs and perhaps ultimately non-verifiable, again if they indeed play any part within the embodied, or grounded perspectives. Barret (2015) discusses the negative implication of holding onto the traditional computational model of cognition to the exclusion of the consideration of the embodied and enactive agent within the environment. This approach had led to the bias of what was thought to be human cognitive functioning being imposed upon a plethora of non-human organisms aside from the lack of awareness of the explanatory power of the embodiment perspective and the sufficiency with which it allowed for the organism to negotiate its world. As such embodiment led to a much broader appreciation of the variety of ways in which individual species may interact and experience their own situatedness and offered a framework for doing so.


Clark, A. and Toribio, J. (1995) Doing without representing? Synthese101, 401–431

Froese, T. & Di Paolo, E. A. (2011). The Enactive Approach: Theoretical Sketches From Cell to Society. Pragmatics & Cognition, 19(1): 1-36

Varela F. J. (1995) The re-enchantment of the concrete. Some biological ingredients for a nouvelle cognitive science. In: Steels L. & Brooks R. (eds.) The Artificial Life route to Artificial Intelligence: Building Embodied, Situated Agents. Lawrence Erlbaum, New Haven: 11–20. Available at

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