The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Reference request: autopoiesis and hurricanes, fire etc.

Posted in General by Nathaniel Virgo on September 7, 2015

I’m wondering if the readers of this blog can help me out with a reference request. I’m currently putting together a paper about the relationship between autopoiesis and dissipative structures, which is partly following on from conversations that took place on the pages of this blog several years ago. The point is that structures like hurricanes have many of the properties of an autopoietic system – they consist of a network of processes that maintain the system as a unity distinct from its environment, albeit with a blurry boundary – and that this has both practical and philosophical implications that we should pay attention to, especially if we’re enactivists who are interested in the origin of life.

My question is whether the issue of hurricanes (and/or related dissipative structures such as fire) has been directly addressed in previous literature. I’ve been having these discussions with people for years, and I don’t think the idea was exactly new when I started, so I’m interested in tracing its history. Is there anything in the work of Maturana and Varela or their contemporaries that directly addresses this issue? Or is there anything substantial that has been written about it more recently? If so it would be very valuable to know about it, so that I can cite it in my paper.

I would be particularly happy to find an explicit argument that hurricanes (or other dissipative structures) should not be considered as falling within the framework of autopoiesis, or the enactive paradigm more broadly.

Special issue of Artificial Life

Posted in General, Resources by Tom Froese on December 4, 2013

The latest issue of Artificial Life is a special issue based on selected papers from ECAL 2011. A number of Life and Minders have made contributions.

Computational Approaches to Constructivism

Posted in General, Resources by Tom Froese on November 19, 2013

The latest issue of Constructivist Foundations is dedicated to Computational Approaches to Constructivism. It includes contributions from a few regular Life and Minders.

Enaction and autism

Posted in General, Resources by Hanne De Jaegher on March 31, 2013

(This is also relevant to the AISB’13 symposiums on Enaction and Reconceptualizing Mental Health. Sorry to miss them!)

De Jaegher H (2013). Embodiment and sense-making in autismFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7(15)

Most current theories see autism as a combination of social, communicative, and cognitive deficits, like in a hampered capacity to read other people’s minds. Lately, however, there is a growing awareness that autism is also characterized by different ways of perceiving and moving, as well as particular emotional-affective aspects. These, for a long time all but ignored in autism research, are receiving increasing attention. For instance, a recent special issue of Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience focuses on movement and perception in autism. However, most theories to date, whether they deal with cognitive, communicative, or embodied aspects of autism, treat them in a piecemeal fashion – different subaspects of movement, emotion, perception, cognition are studied in isolation from each other.

What is needed is a framework that can coherently bring together the cognitive, social, embodied, affective, and experiential aspects of autism. Only this will help us understand why people with autism move, perceive, and understand the world in the way they do.

I believe participatory sense-making can be such a framework. Looking at autism through the lens of the enactive approach to cognition, we can use two of its main concepts: sense-making and participatory sense-making. Sense-making is the relation that lies at the core of all forms of cognition and affect. It links the cognizer’s self-organization and self-maintenance, embodiment, affect, and experience, and makes up the way in which she perceives and gives meaning to her world. Participatory sense-making describes how people make sense of each other and of the world together. With it, we investigate the inter-individual coordination of sense-making as it happens in various forms in and outside of social interactions.

An enactive approach conjectures that people with autism make sense in different ways than non-autistics do, both individually and socially, because they are differently embodied and situated. Support for this idea can be found in the study of perception and movement in autism. There is evidence for hypo- and hypersensitivity to sounds, difficulties with the timing, coordination, and integration of movements and perceptions, painfulness of certain stimuli, muscle tone differences, rigid posture, motor planning problems, etc. An enactive account allows to make precise connections between particular sensorimotor patterns and the way a person relates to his world in terms of what it means for him. On such a perspective, for instance, echolalia — previously treated as unwelcome, meaningless behaviour that should be eliminated — can be shown to have particular significance in the interactional context in which it occurs.

Embodiment, sense-making, and participatory sense-making continually co-determine each other over the course of development. If movement difficulties are core to autism, and movement is basic to how we make sense of the world and of others, then the way people with autism move is an essential part of how they make sense of their physical and social world, and should be understood as such. Therefore, contrary to traditional views, an enactive account sees both autistic and non-autistic sense-making as intrinsically valid and significant ways of dealing with the world. The autistic and non-autistic worlds may then be brought together, not by one-sided, normative adjustment of one to the other, but by understanding the differences and similarities between how they are constituted in perception and movement, and building bridges on this basis.

See also the special issue of Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience: Autism: The Movement Perspective.

Some relevant papers in the special issue:

Becchio C & Castiello U (2012). Visuomotor resonance in autism spectrum disordersFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 6(110)

Donnellan A, Hill DA & Leary MR (2013). Rethinking autism: implications of sensory and movement differences for understanding and supportFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 6(124)

Marsh KL, Isenhower RW, Richardson MJ, Helt M, Verbalis AD, Schmidt RC & Fein D (2013). Autism and social disconnection in interpersonal rockingFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7(4)

Robledo J, Donnellan AM & Strandt-Conroy K (2012). An exploration of sensory and movement differences from the perspective of individuals with autismFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 6(107)

Varieties of autopoiesis

Posted in General by Tom Froese on January 15, 2013

Hey Life and Minders!

John Stewart and I have been trying to clarify the concept of autopoiesis from the perspective of the paradigm of enaction by rejecting the early cybernetics context as inadequate for biology. Our proposal has generated some debate, including a commentary by Maturana himself. We have now published a response to highlight more clearly where we see the essential differences between enaction and biology of cognition.

My hope is that this kind of work will help to clarify for all of us whether the “enactive” approach is just another label for some kind of second-order cybernetics, radical constructivism, biology of cognition, etc., or whether it has something genuinely new to offer (which, of course, I think it does).

I’ve posted a short summary of this debate with links to all the articles here.