Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Naturalizing Dasein. Aporias of the Neo-Heideggerian Approach in Cognitive Science

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Naturalizing Dasein. Aporias of the Neo-Heideggerian Approach in Cognitive Science

Article excerpt

NEO-HEIDEGGERIAN COGNITIVE SCIENCE

Michael Wheeler's project for reconstructing the cognitive world (2005) can be viewed as a reflection on the philosophical foundations of cognitive science, concerned with helping in the search for a sort of Kuhnian revolution in the field (2005, p. 15). A project which is essentially Heideggerian. According to Wheeler's understanding of the field's history, this revolutionary twist has been emerging over the last few years as a response to orthodox cognitive science--basically, GOFAI (1) and connectionism, that is, "most cognitive science as we know it" (idem). Although the countermovement has adopted various names throughout its brief existence (2) and despite its identity being admittedly somewhat amorphous, it is customary to refer to it as embodied-embedded cognitive science. And this, believes Wheeler, because embodiment and embedding are part of "a central and distinctive theoretical tendency within the more nebulous movement" (2005, p. 11). As Clark claims, "talk of mind as intimately embodied and profoundly environmentally embedded shimmers at the cusp of the cognitive scientific zeitgeist" (2012, p. 275). In order to pin down why this new science of mind (Rowlands 2010) abjures of orthodox cognitive science, its aims and scope need some clarification.

According to Wheeler, "the embodied-embedded approach revolves around the thought that cognitive science needs to put cognition back in the brain, the brain back in the body, and the body back in the world" (idem). Incidentally, this purpose is substantially akin to the ambitions of Andy Clark's 1997 book titled with a decisively Heideggerian connotation: Being There. Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again. On Clark's understanding, the new trend thinks it necessary "to abandon the idea (common since Descartes) of the mental as a realm distinct from the realm of the body; to abandon the idea of neat dividing lines between perception, cognition, and action; to abandon the idea of an executive center where the brain carries out high-level reasoning; and most of all, to abandon research methods that artificially divorce thought from embodied action-taking" (1997, pp. xii-xiii). Wheeler adheres overtly to the principles encompassing this novel program. His own project, construed as a reflection on the philosophical foundations of cognitive science, targets precisely Cartesian philosophy as the mindset dominating cognitive science from which the new approach needs to escape (1995; 2008). As is widely known, Heidegger criticizes Descartes boldly in Sein und Zeit while claiming at the same time that the cogito sum is no firm footing--as Descartes supposed. On the contrary, claims Heidegger, "what he left undetermined when he began in this 'radical' way was the kind of Being which belongs to the res cogitans, or--more precisely--the meaning of the Being of the sum" (SZ [section] 6, p. 24). Bluntly put, on Heidegger's view, the Cartesian cogito sum gives us no special insight into the nature of the sum itself. Be that as it may, Wheeler wants to revise both the traditional interpretation to which Descartes has often been subjected to in Anglo-American philosophy (as the resolute representative of a far-fetched and, for that very reason, unacceptable dualism) and--something which will be dealt with in due course--Heidegger's appraisal in cognitive science, which more often than not is understood as a mystical threat unable to contribute anything constructive to the field. That is to say, Wheeler wants to criticize the Cartesian assumptions underlying orthodox cognitive science but he will neither simply interpret Descartes's philosophy drawing heavily from Heidegger's own critique, nor interpret Heidegger, a la Dreyfus (see Dreyfus 2007), as the staunch critic who would never accept the theoretical possibility of cognitive science. It must be possible to do both: to show Descartes's pervading influence on cognitive science and to embrace simultaneously Heideggerian insights without subscribing tout court to the consequences of his philosophy. …

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