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Neo-Naturalist Approaches to Consciousness

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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02204

Plural Embodiment(s) of Mind Genealogy and Guidelines for a Radically Embodied Approach to Mind and Consciousness

Mauro Ceruti1 and  Luisa Damiano2*
  • 1Università IULM, Italy
  • 2Università degli Studi di Messina, Italy

This article focuses on a scientific approach to the study of cognition that Warren McCulloch introduced in the era of cybernetics as “experimental epistemology”. In line with recent attempts to highlight its contribution to cognitive science and AI, our article intends to draw attention to its unexplored influence on contemporary embodied approaches to the investigation of mind and consciousness. To this end, we will survey a series of models of cognitive systems genealogically related to the McCulloch-Pitts networks-based modeling approach, i.e., von Foerster’s model of the biological computer, the Maturana-Varela model of the autopoietic system, and Varela’s model of emergent selves. Based on examination of the relevant aspects of these models, we will argue that they offered the McCulloch-Pitts ‘cybernetic of networks’ a coherent methodological and theoretical line of development, complementary to the well-known computationalist one. As we will show, this alternative evolutionary line empowered the biological orientation of McCulloch’s experimental epistemology, laying foundations for contemporary “radically embodied” approaches to mind and consciousness – in particular the Thompson-Varela approach. We will identify the heritage of this tradition of inquiry for future research in cognitive science and AI by proposing guidelines that synthetize how its methodological and theoretical insights suggest taking into account the role(s) played by the biological body in cognitive processes – consciousness included.

Keywords: autonomy, Autopoiesis, (Machine) Consciousness, constructivism, Cybernetics (of networks), (radical) embodiment, enaction, Experimental Epistemology, Synthetic modeling

Received: 12 Jul 2018; Accepted: 24 Oct 2018.

Edited by:

Riccardo Manzotti, Università IULM, Italy

Reviewed by:

Andrea Roli, Università degli Studi di Bologna, Italy
Alexander Riegler, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium  

Copyright: © 2018 Ceruti and Damiano. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Luisa Damiano, Università degli Studi di Messina, Messina, Italy,