Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 517–542 | Cite as

Locked-in syndrome: a challenge for embodied cognitive science

  • Miriam KyseloEmail author
  • Ezequiel Di Paolo


Embodied approaches in cognitive science hold that the body is crucial for cognition. What this claim amounts to, however, still remains unclear. This paper contributes to its clarification by confronting three ways of understanding embodiment—the sensorimotor approach, extended cognition and enactivism—with Locked-in syndrome (LIS). LIS is a case of severe global paralysis in which patients are unable to move and yet largely remain cognitively intact. We propose that LIS poses a challenge to embodied approaches to cognition requiring them to make explicit the notion of embodiment they defend and its role for cognition. We argue that the sensorimotor and the extended functionalist approaches either fall short of accounting for cognition in LIS from an embodied perspective or do it too broadly by relegating the body only to a historical role. Enactivism conceives of the body as autonomous system and of cognition as sense-making. From this perspective embodiment is not equated with bodily movement but with forms of agency that do not disappear with body paralysis. Enactivism offers a clarifying perspective on embodiment and thus currently appears to be the framework in embodied cognition best suited to address the challenge posed by LIS.


Embodiment Body Enactivism Locked-in syndrome Extended cognition Sensorimotor approach 



Thanks to Mike Beaton, Athena Demertzi, Marek McGann, and Shaun Gallagher for helpful comments. This work is supported by the Marie-Curie Initial Training Network, “TESIS: Towards an Embodied Science of InterSubjectivity” (FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN, 264828).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IAS-Research Centre for Life, Mind, and Society, Department of Logic and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of the Basque CountrySan SebastiánSpain
  2. 2.Ikerbasque - Basque Foundation for ScienceSan SebastiánSpain
  3. 3.Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics, and Centre for Research in Cognitive Science, School of Life Sciences, Department of InformaticsUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

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