ENSO Seminar Series

The Zero Mode of Human Activity

Ezequiel Di Paolo

Ikerbasque; University of Sussex
June 1, 2017, 9 a.m. UTC // June 1, 2017, 9 a.m. in UTC

Are we always involved in some cognitive task? The answer is no. Yet researchers in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence tend to investigate cognition almost exclusively in task-related scenarios. Framed by an ideology that foregrounds questions of efficiency,optimality, secure prediction, robust learning, and flexibility, functionalist cognitive science spends little effort in understanding what goes on when we are not doing anything, when we are not quite immersed in a flow of activities, when we explore the world playfully, or are about to commit to an act but haven't yet.

Firstly, these moments are hard to capture descriptively due to the recessive character of the experiences involved (they are characterised precisely as lacking a clear focus). Secondly, existing work in dynamical approaches investigating such issues, should be integrated into a compatible theoretical approach, which does not frame research only in terms of how minds work, but also in terms of what they are, how they relate to the world, how they are constituted.

Drawing on Margaret Donaldson's descriptive account of the different modes of human minds and on Francisco Varela's concepts of microworlds and micro-identities, I showcase in this talk the kind of phenomena and ways of thinkings one can engage in outside a functionalist frame. I look at the dynamical and phenomenal aspects of commitment to action and perception and the ground from which it grows; that of open-ended, creative, material richness present in bodies and world, what I call the zero mode of human activity. A novel account of sensorimotor agency in terms of self-sustaining networks of sensorimotor schemes provides a useful characterisation of phenomena in the zero mode, albeit not a complete one as several issues remain open. Time permitting, I will discuss some of the implications of the zero mode for clarifying the material ontology of human bodies.

Donaldson, M. (1992). Human Minds: An Exploration. London: Penguin Books.

Di Paolo, E. A., Buhrmann, T. and Barandiaran, X. E. (2017). Sensorimotor Life: An Enactive Proposal. Oxford University Press.

Varela, F. J. (1992). Making it concrete: Before, during and after breakdowns. Revue Internationale de Psychopathologie, 4, 435-450.

Link to join/watch the seminar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPr0LQM0I50