The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Battle08 Outputs

Here you can find some links to outputs of the Battle08 workshop.

A page with audio recordings of talks and discussions can be found here.

You can also see some nice photos of the workshop.

A briefing on enactive approaches to social cognition has been prepared for our sponsor euCognition. It contains an introduction to the topics of the workshop plus some after-workshop reflections by participants.

Replies to the pre-workshop questionnaire were found to be very useful by the participants. They can be found here.

Summaries of group discussions

Steve has also prepared a summary on the Ethics and Enaction theme.

A special issue of Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences based on the discussion topics is under preparation. More information soon.


Nikki Moran

I found the workshop extremely stimulating (and a lot of fun!). There were many important and insightful moments, which I shall be mulling over for ages. A few of these, from my point-of-view:

1. I had a fascinating discussion with Maxine about the concept of ‘listening’. When musicians ‘listen’ they are participating in an activity that goes far beyond registering an audio signal. I have considered many times how it is that this quality of ‘listening’ speaks to experiences such as dancing salsa, playing imaginary games with small children, talking with babies, and, er, well, sex. Maxine identified for me that this quality of ‘listening’ focuses not on ‘what’ is being signalled, but ‘how’. Without attention to their change-in-time, the ‘signals’ themselves would not guide our own participation in the dance/game/conversation/bedroom.

2. There were some general discussions that raised awareness of the potential insights into communicative disorders (locked-in syndrome, autism, schizophrenia) through enactive conceptions of human interaction. I was very taken with a comment by Hanne and Ezequiel in their paper on Participatory Sense-Making (particularly referring to Hanne’s work, I believe), regarding the fundamental change in perspective that enactive approaches to the study of communication might potentially yield: in the case of autism, “individual predispositions undoubtedly have an effect on social encounters, but less attention has been paid to the dynamics of the latter for better understanding, diagnosing and treating the disorder”. A framework that provides purchase for an alternative interpretation of ‘disorder’ is very powerful. In my doctoral research, I began to search out methods and tools that could examine the real-time interaction of musicians in improvised North Indian classical performance which, in the rhetoric surrounding the genre, focuses on a dichotomy of so-called soloist (creative source) vs. accompanist (less powerful). I found that the accompanist’s role as a very high quality “listener” was vital to the success of the performance. I am keen to explore further the implications on ‘responsibility'(?) in social interaction which are brought to the fore through an enactive approach.

3. Learning about the potential of applying dynamical systems theory was valuable, as was thinking about its application in the study of video-recorded instances of music-making. I would like to spend some time considering a focused study of qualities of musicians’ interactions that could possibly help to investigate the way that musicians demonstrate their acts of “listening” to one another.

4. Charles’ perceptual crossing experiment – this is helping me to begin imagining ways of approaching large messy questions – of shared, emergent meaning in music performance – in smaller, cleaner slices.

Charles Lenay

It was for me a really great pleasure to share these days with you at Battle! So much perceptual and intellectual crossing! I remember these days like one moment of great human warmth in the middle of enthralling scientific discussions. Definitely, the effort to understand and the pleasure to live are not contradictory!

I encountered so many interesting ideas. For example, the idea of a tactile supplementation for the people suffering of the locked-in syndrom (Miriam) is formidable, as well for the perception of the things as for the perception of the others. I hope that that will be carried out.

I quote also just the last idea which emerged from our workgroup: the opposition of the self as separation and the self as participation, i.e. between (i) the construction of self like a separate point of view from the objects and from others, by opposition with (ii) the construction of self like a point of engagement in a community, like participant in a group. In (i), one easily forgets that it is however thanks to others than he can build his identity. In (ii), as in a group of musicians (Nikki) it is to some extent necessary to decrease his self-consciousness for a better engaging in the common production. But during this process of collective individuation, it is in return each one which individue himself in a richer way. One understands better here how the collective contributes to the constitution of the individuals who produce it.

I hope to often live workshops of this quality.

Xabier Barandiaran

The enactive approach to cognition has shown a very fruitful foundation to tackle certain aspects of cognition that where blind-spot or hidden for traditional cognitivist-computationalist approaches; particularly for the problems of meaning/sense-making and the biological grounding of the mind. Yet the domain of the social is still lacking a full fledged enactive approach and the workshop was a decisive step forward in this direction. The primacy of embodied interaction for grounding the social dimensions of cognition and the focus on coordination dynamics as a departure point are not only promising avenues but have already shown valuable results (as it became evident by some excellent pieces of work presented at the workshop). There remains however a lot of work to be done. The next bottom-up challenges point towards establishing a gradient towards the social (in a strong sense of the term) since coordinated interaction dynamics perse do not seem to provide all that is necessary and sufficient for a strong sense of sociality. On the one hand social agents bear the social with them, as an integrated part of their sense-making capacities channelled and shaped by social interaction. This aspect of sociality requires to move beyond direct interaction dynamics to analyse how the very identity of social agents is shaped by and through social interaction and the “institutions” or structures that result from it. Despite the foundational contribution of the enactive approach to the issue of identity formation and sense-making, it seems to me that much work is still required in order to understand how sense-making is achieved by cognitive agents. There are but a few theoretical models that have tried to deepen into the nature of sense-making beyond the embodied sensorimotor loop. My feeling is that theoretical progress on this issue is urgently required in order to explore the social dimensions of sense-making. On the other hand “languaging” seems yet far from having a clear enactive theory. As the discussions during the workshop showed, productively moving beyond the theoretical conception of languaging as “coordination of coordination” (to put it in Maturana’s terms) is a very difficult task. A stronger sense of sociality will need to be grounded on the way in which language and linguistically mediated social interactions shape individual and collective phenomenology. The enactive approach has much to offer at these two levels and, as it happened with the domain of individual cognition, both lower level biological models (like bacterial or insect colonies) and minimal dynamicist simulation models might provide theoretical insights for these challenges. Regarding the minimal-modelling paradigm, evolutionary robotics has shown a great potential for addressing theoretical issues in cognitive science. It is perhaps time to move into a collective-evolutionary-robotic scenario (that moves beyond individually or diadically tested agents) in order to approach those aspects of social cognition that result from a joint history of collective interactions. Finally, I would like to stress the importance of social cognitive development for understanding sociality. It is perhaps at these level were the embodied-interaction based approach to sociality seems more promising. And yet, without disregarding the significance and quality of the work being carried out with infants and apes, there seems to be little empirical research onless complex and more tractable animal models that could permit to integrate behavioural and neurophysiological data into a much needed theory of social cognitive development.

Ezequiel Di Paolo

I would like to make a brief comment about the workshop as an event. I think that we have been very lucky in that many important factors converged to make this meeting a success (people, topics, location, structure). The workshop was intended to register a shift in our understanding of social cognition and to generate ideas about where this understanding is heading towards. This is still a matter for debate as seen in all the discussion summaries, but there seems to be a consensus that 1) social cognition refers to a multiplicity of phenomena, not just the problem of figuring out someone else’s intentions and 2) the model of a passive cogniser receiving and consuming information in order to solve a problem in the social domain is inadequate and should be replaced by a model based on active participation and mutual modulation between individual and social processes.

The organisers have (semi-consciously) reflected some of these themes in the very structure of the meeting. We have planned to move from a model of “consumption” which is characterised mostly by passively listening to talks with some minimal time for quick “product evaluation” to a model of “participation” and “joint production” along different dimensions (discussions before, during and after the event, collaborative activities, a movement workshop, and now potentially future collaborations). In other words, we have put more emphasis on the work part and less on the shop part. I’m convinced that this idea should be developed and hope to see similar events in the future.

Most of the participants have responded positively to this shift in format and I personally read in this a confirmation that the shift in our understanding of social cognition is probably moving in the right direction.


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