KARL  JASPERS  FORUM
(TA112, Müller)

 

Response 11 (to Adams, C13)

 

 

SELF-STRUCTURING :  ON ALVA  NOË’S  ENACTIVISM

by Herbert FJ Müller

28 April 2009, posted 2 May 2009

 

 

[1]
In response to the interesting points raised by Adams, I try here, for purposes of discussion, to sketch a picture of some of the concepts he discusses, from the 0-D point of view.    This might help with some of the mentioned conceptual questions.   The 0-D view incorporates the following principles. 

 

(a)  An unrestricted use of the encompassment aspect (Jaspers) :  the mind encompasses all the structures of self-world-and-all within it; and there are no structures outside it.

 

(b)  An unrestricted use of the constructivist principle (vonGlasersfeld and others) :  all mental structures are actively structured within  an otherwise unstructured background or matrix of experience.   Experience is both individual and to varying degree shared with others.   But to arrive at the unstructured meaning   they must be structured  without derivation from   any possibly assumed already-existing MIR-structures (zero-derivation, 0-D).   

 

Both principles, severally and of course also jointly, exclude the possibility that any structures can exist outside of experience, in mind-independently pre-structured reality  form (MIR)  -  e.g., given, or showing themselves when uncovered or un-forgotten (‘aletheia’)  -  such as proposed by ontology-metaphysics (objectivity, realism, materialism, positivism, etc).    The MIR-assumption is replaced by reality-design, with possibilities limited as per feedback during use.    That implies as well that all structures, and the differences between them   -   for instance, in contrast to Noë, between self and environment   -   are structured as needed and as possible;  thus they are of pragmatic, not given (‘ontic’) type.  This constellation, one might add, satisfies a further principle :

 

(c)  The complete de-construction of metaphysics-ontology, absolutes, etc.

 

 

[2]
On this view, subject-inclusive experience is always present   -   for humans and also for animals   -   as the basis and envelope.    That is fundamental, and cannot be replaced by descriptions of behaviour or of physiological processes, nor also of language and related structures such as logic, mathematics, etc.   The subject-inclusion eliminates both the black box aspect and the need for a homunculus.    ‘Representation’ or ‘reference’ imply the erroneous MIR-view, and too are thus not relevant concepts. 

 

For a positive description of what goes on one can do without these terms :   a toothache (a ‘quale’- structure) signals an abnormality in a tooth.   When you close your mouth quickly you hear a noise stemming from your teeth hitting each other; or also, you can hear yourself talk.    A bit further out, you can hear your hands clapping, with the help of your auditory cortex.    Still further, a line in your visual field is visible, and that involves a response by certain neurons in the occipital cortex.    There are of course many neural connections and centers involved in all these events, but, as Adams points out, although their activity is essential, they are not the relevant aspect for the awareness of the perceptions.    In each instance the subject’s activity is required, and there is thus no passive perception.

 

And also, we ‘think we know’   more than we perceive;   for instance we actively perceive gestalt-formations and complete them into objects (Merleau-Ponty).   We structure working-theories and  -holisms (reality-design).

 

[From  TA93 in KJF :]  ‘ {8}  The philosopher Alva Noë (2006) observes that the work of Hubel and Wiesel has been conducted on the erroneous assumption that vision is a passive event in the brain.   His own opinion (2002) is based on the concept, borrowed from the constructivist Francisco Varela, of an 'enactive approach with centrality of sensory-motor skills';   but he also claims realism, and thus remains ambiguous.   One needs a constructivist orientation to deal with both objectivity and subjectivity. ’

Self-organization (‘enactivism’, self-structuring in the unstructured) is a helpful concept, and it coincides with the 0-D principle.   Jakob von Uexküll proposed (since 1909) that animals have their own worlds.   In 0-D terms one would say that this self-organization involves not only the brain but all input, output, and internal processing of brain and body, and relevant environment;   that includes also interaction (communication) with others, which is greatly increased by the invention (structuring) and use of language.    The ‘subject’ is then understood not according to physical criteria like body or brain,   with the skull or the skin or the clothes as the boundaries,   but as a functional unit which is centered on the mind (ongoing experience), and with boundaries of the ‘self’-structure  that vary according to activity.   (The ‘realism’ aspect can still be used, if desired, but only in an acknowledged  ‘as-if’  fashion.)


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Herbert FJ Müller
     e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>