The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Seminar #32: How Enactivism relates to Reflexive Monism

Posted in Seminars by Tom Froese on February 11, 2008

This week we will have another special Life and Mind seminar!

When: Wednesday, 13th Feb., at 16:30
Where: Room Pev1 1A01

We are very pleased to have Prof. Max Velmans, from the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, talk to us about his work. His main research interest is in the area of consciousness studies, with a particular focus on integrating work in philosophy, cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, and mind/body relationships in clinical practice.

He will be speaking on:

How Enactivism Relates to Reflexive Monism

Abstract. Dualists believe that experiences have neither location nor extension, while reductive and ‘non-reductive’ physicalists (biological naturalists) believe that experiences are really in the brain, producing an apparent impasse in current theories of mind. Enactive and reflexive models of perception try to resolve this impasse with a form of “externalism” that challenges the assumption that experiences must either be nowhere or in the brain. However, they are externalist in very different ways. Insofar as they locate experiences anywhere, enactive models locate conscious phenomenology in the dynamic interaction of organisms with the external world, and in some versions, they reduce conscious phenomenology to such interactions, in the hope that this will resolve the “hard” problems of consciousness. The reflexive model accepts that experiences of the world result from dynamic organism-environment interactions, but argues that such interactions are preconscious. While the resulting phenomenal world is a consequence of such interactions, it cannot be reduced to them. The reflexive model is externalist in its claim that this external phenomenal world, which we normally think of as the “physical world,” is literally outside the brain. Furthermore, there are no added conscious experiences of the external world inside the brain. In closing the gap between the phenomenal world and what we normally think of as the physical world, the reflexive model of perception and the broader reflexive monism it supports provide a different approach to the hard problems of consciousness. Conversely, while enactive models have useful things to say about percept formation and representation, they fail to address the hard problems of consciousness.


Velmans, M (2007), Dualist, reductionist, enactive and reflexive accounts of phenomenal consciousness. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 6(4), 547-563.

Velmans, M. (2008), Reflexive monism. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 15 (2), (in press)

Both papers are available online.

NOTE: In order to make the discussion as fruitful as possible, I suggest that everyone has a look at his 2007 paper, which can be downloaded from here:

All welcome!



2 Responses

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  1. tomfroese said, on February 12, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Here are some thoughts that I had while reading Velmans (2007). I pretty much agreed with what I was reading until I came to the reflexive model of perception.

    For example: to say, when placing a cat before an observer, that the “phenomenal cat literally is what she experiences” seems to me to reduce the experience which the observer undergoes to the intended object of that experience. The object of experience might be charaterized by spatial properties, but it does not follow that the experience itself has those properties. Moreover, what about the intending subject, that is, the pre-reflective self-consciousness? What about the relation, that is, the intentional structure of that experience? The problem of “perceptual projection” seems to me to result from this reduction of experience to its intentional object.

    My personal take on how to make advances on the “hard problem” of consciousness would be to approach it from a European phenomenological perspective. The first step would be to ask what a scientific object is. Typically the naive realist metaphysics describes it as an independently existing object of some kind. Note that this is an impoverished view of the scientific attitude, because, by focusing only on the object of the scientific intention, it neglects the relational aspects of the experience which discloses the object as well as the constitutive contribution of consciousness.

    While I will accept this reduction for the sake of argument, it is still interesting to ask what kind of intentional relation intends a scientific object? I think that it is a particular form of imagination that is derived and constrained by theory and our natural attitude. I cannot perceive myself as a complex aggregate of molecules, but I can imagine myself to be.

    What is consciousness? It is often characterized as the “what it is like” of experience. For phenomenologists this mode of giveness is indeed an important aspect of experience. However, as far as I understand phenomenology, for them consciousness is something different: it can be roughly characterized as the condition of possibility for the constitution (or disclosure) of objects in experience. The ways objects can be disclosed are varied: perceptual, imaginary, remembered, etc.

    If we accept these phenomenological descriptions of scientific objects and consciousness then the hard problem can be reframed as the problem of determining the relation between the scientific world, conceived as the intentional object of an imaginative mode of constitution, with the condition of possibility for constitution as such (including of course the imaginative).

    What does this entail? I follow Varela in claiming that the naturalization of phenomenology goes hand in hand with a phenomenological reconceptualization of nature.

  2. tomfroese said, on February 15, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    I have added a link to an audio recording of this talk to the Audio / Video page of this blog.

    Click here for the Audio / Video page.

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