Philosophy of mind is a lively field overflowing with competing theoretical frameworks. In my own estimation, most contemporary debate centers around the competition between computational representationalism and 4EA philosophy of mind. For those who don’t know, 4EA refers to the school of thought which claims that the mind is not a representing computer, but rather, an embodied, embedded, enacted, extended, affective, dynamic system. There is a lot to unpack in this mantra. Embodied refers to the phenomenological tradition of Merleau-Ponty and the emphasis on the lived body as the starting point for philosophical investigation of cognition. Embedded refers to the fact that the neural system is embedded or nested within a organized body and environment and cannot be analyzed independent of its behavior within both a physical environment and a social-cultural milieu. Enacted refers to the way in which action-control is not a matter of sensing-modeling-planning-acting, but rather, regulating the intrinsic behavioral dynamics of autopoiesis (emergent self-organization) so as to effectively utilize resources in the environment. Extended refers to how the cognitive system actively offloads tasks onto external environmental props so as to free up limited cognitive resources (e.g. using a notepad as external memory storage). Affective refers to how the intrinsic behavioral dynamics of emergent self-organization are driven by an emotional attunement or affectivity that valences stimuli in terms of meaningful salience thresholds e.g. good/bad, inviting/threatening, etc. Such affectivity is grounded by what Damasio calls “background feelings” and what Ratcliffe calls “feelings of being-in-the-world” or “ways of finding oneself”.
In my (admittedly biased) opinion, 4EA philosophy is a superior philosophical/empirical paradigm for interpreting the vast majority of psychological research in a metaphysically respectable fashion.
But this is not the future of philosophy of mind.
In order to glimpse the future, we must take extension more seriously. We must look beyond the artificial thought experiments involving notepads and walking canes and instead develop an appreciation for how mind is extended and changed by propositional reasoning i.e. narrative practice, the giving and asking for reasons (rational stories) for actions and events (with implicit inferential commitments holding us responsible for the things we do/say). This is why I think people like Robert Brandom and Daniel Hutto are going to take us into the next generation of cognitive science: 4EAC. Embodied, embedded, enacted, extended, affective, constructed.
Julian Jaynes has already cleared the underbrush to prepare the way for social-linguistic constructivism. And not your Grandpa’s neutered Sapir-Whorf hypothesis either. I’m talking about the linguistic construction of consciousness and higher-order thought itself. In other words,Vygotsky, not Whorf. Indeed, “Saying that consciousness is developed out of language means that everybody from Darwin on, including myself in earlier years, was wrong in trying to trace out the origin of consciousness biologically or neurophysiologically. It means we have to look at human history after language has evolved and ask when in history did an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mindspace begin.”
The introduction of constructivism into 4EA philosophy of mind will provide a new intellectual trajectory for understanding the unique structure of human consciousness in distinction to our nonverbal animal cousins. Whereas Alva Noe and Evan Thompson have done an admirable job capturing the essence of animal consciousness (what I simply refer to as “nonconscious cognition” or “behavioral reactivity”), they have unwittingly conflated two distinct levels of mentality: primary and secondary consciousness, prereflective and reflective awareness, cognition and metacognition, automatic and controlled processes, etc. As I put it in a footnote to my recent paper, “What Is It Like to Be Nonconscious? A Defense of Julian Jaynes“:
Unfortunately, even thinkers within the externalist paradigm for perception have overlooked this important point, placing the “mystery” of consciousness in terms of explaining the nonconscious what-it-is-like of phenomenal sensory experience. So while I agree with Alva Noë (2004, 2009) when he argues that visual perception is a process of enactive exploration of the world enabled by automatic sensorimotor skills, when he claims that this body-world interaction fully constitutes the conscious mind, he too is falling into the trap of confusing consciousness with cognition, mistakenly thinking that the latter subsumes the entirety of the former. Moreover, this conflation is so rampant that even when Andy Clark (2009) argues against the notion that we can explain consciousness by recourse to an enactive account of perception, he still buys into the original claim that what needs explaining about the conscious mind is “the elusive ‘what-it-is-likeness’ that seems to characterize a subject’s experience of a certain kind of redness, of a certain voice, or of a pain in her stomach” (p. 1-2). If Jaynes is right, then such what-it-is-likeness is not what needs explaining in coming to terms with the “mystery” of consciousness. Instead, what needs explaining is narratizing within a functional mind-space through cultural-linguistic conditioning in childhood.