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