Xavier Barandiaran

Presenting: Xavier Barandiaran

One of the speakers at The Organic and the Normative conference is going to be Xavier Barandiaran.

Dr. Xabier E. Barandiaran is a philosopher of biological, cognitive, and social sciences, with a special focus on complex systems analysis and conceptual simulation models. He currently holds a Senior Lecturer position at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) where he has been working as teacher and researcher since 2011, and is currently Director of the MBA “Philosophy: Cience, Society, Technology”. He graduated in Philosophy from the University of Deusto, obtained his MSc in Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems at the University of Sussex and his PhD in Philosophy of Science and Cognitive Systems. Xabier was a visiting researcher at the Konrad Lorenz Institute (Austria) and the Autonomous Systems Laboratory at Polytechnic University (Madrid), then awarded with a post-doctoral research fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Science at the Center for Neuroscience and Computational Robotics and COGS (University of Sussex, UK) and at the Center for Research in Applied Epistemology, CNRS-Ecole Polytechnique (Paris, France). He is co-author of the books Sensorimotor Life (OUP, 2017) and Decidim (Springer, 2024), and hold more than 50 publications as book chapters and journals in Philosophy, Psychology, Social Sciences, Cognitive Sciences, and Neuroscience. From April 2016 to September 2018, he enjoyed an unpaid leave from University to become coordinator of Research, Development and Innovation at Barcelona’s City Council, where he co-founded the project decidim.org (an open source digital platform for participatory democracy and collective intelligence). His current research topics include biological, cognitive and social autonomy, enactive intentionality, technopolitics and social-ecological systems.

Highlighted Work

Barandiaran, X. E. (2017). Autonomy and Enactivism: Towards a Theory of Sensorimotor Autonomous Agency. Topoi, 36(3), 409–430. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-016-9365-4.

The concept of “autonomy”, once at the core of the original enactivist proposal in The Embodied Mind (Varela et al. in The embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991), is nowadays ignored or neglected by some of the most prominent contemporary enactivists approaches. Theories of autonomy, however, come to fill a theoretical gap that sensorimotor accounts of cognition cannot ignore: they provide a naturalized account of normativity and the resources to ground the identity of a cognitive subject in its specific mode of organization. There are, however, good reasons for the contemporary neglect of autonomy as a relevant concept for enactivism. On the one hand, the concept of autonomy has too often been assimilated into autopoiesis (or basic autonomy in the molecular or biological realm) and the implications are not always clear for a dynamical sensorimotor approach to cognitive science. On the other hand, the foundational enactivist proposal displays a metaphysical tension between the concept of operational closure (autonomy), deployed as constitutive, and that of structural coupling (sensorimotor dynamics); making it hard to reconcile with the claim that experience is sensorimotorly constituted. This tension is particularly apparent when Varela et al. propose Bittorio (a 1D cellular automata) as a model of the operational closure of the nervous system as it fails to satisfy the required conditions for a sensorimotor constitution of experience. It is, however, possible to solve these problems by re-considering autonomy at the level of sensorimotor neurodynamics. Two recent robotic simulation models are used for this task, illustrating the notion of strong sensorimotor dependency of neurodynamic patterns, and their networked intertwinement. The concept of habit is proposed as an enactivist building block for cognitive theorizing, re-conceptualizing mental life as a habit ecology, tied within an agent’s behaviour generating mechanism in coordination with its environment. Norms can be naturalized in terms of dynamic, interactively self-sustaining, coherentism. This conception of autonomous sensorimotor agency is put in contrast with those enactive approaches that reject autonomy or neglect the theoretical resources it has to offer for the project of naturalizing minds.