How Low Can You Go? BioEnactivism, Cognitive Biology and Umwelt Ontology

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The viability of enactivist philosophy in providing descriptions of biological phenomena (bioenactivism) across the phylogenetic spectrum relies in large part
on the scalability of its central concepts, i.e. whether they remain operative at
varying levels of biological complexity. In this paper, I will examine the
possibility of scaling two deeply intertwined concepts: cognition and
surrounding world (Umwelt). Contra some indications from Varela and others,
I will argue that the concept of embodied cognition can be scaled down below
the level of the organism. I will draw upon the “cognitive biology” espoused by
Kováč (2000, 2006) and Monod’s (1971) studies of protein behaviour to make
this case. The downscaling of embodied cognition below the level of the
organism has ramifications for how we understand the concept of surrounding
world (Umwelt). Reconfiguring the relation between these two central
bioenactive concepts has further consequences for what ontological
commitments bioenactive thinking leads to, and what paths of investigation it
points us toward.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-95
JournalHumana Mente: Journal of Philosophical Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • enactivism
  • biology
  • Cognition
  • Umwelt
  • biochemistry
  • phenomenology

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