Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Cognition and behavior


An important question in the debate over embodied, enactive, and extended cognition has been what has been meant by “cognition”. What is this cognition that is supposed to be embodied, enactive, or extended? Rather than undertake a frontal assault on this question, however, this paper will take a different approach. In particular, we may ask how cognition is supposed to be related to behavior. First, we could ask whether cognition is supposed to be (a type of) behavior. Second, we could ask whether we should attempt to understand cognitive processes in terms of antecedently understood cognitive behaviors. This paper will survey some of the answers that have been (implicitly or explicitly) given in the embodied, enactive, and extended cognition literature, then suggest reasons to believe that we should answer both questions in the negative.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    See Clark (2009), Section 6.7.

  2. 2.

    See Chalmers (2009).

  3. 3.

    See, for example, Garzón and Keijzer (2009, 2011).

  4. 4.

    See Maturana and Varela (1980).

  5. 5.

    Incidentally, there does appear to be some concern among some biologists regarding the difference between life and non-life. Perhaps this is why biology is not mentioned.

  6. 6.

    Here is another way to put the point. Rupert proposes that “we absolutely do not need a mark of the cognitive to do cognitive science” (Rupert 2013, p. 42.) This seems right and also seems to be common ground in this area. That, however, does not speak to the value of a mark of the cognitive in addressing whether cognition is embodied, enactive, or extended.

  7. 7.

    It might be thought that interest in a mark of the cognitive is a misguided proclivity of critics of embodied, enactive, and extended cognition. Rowlands (2009b), however, provides a valuable corrective.

  8. 8.

    In this volume, Colin Allen notes that, in some areas of cognitive science, researchers treat cognition as adaptive information processing. Or, they take adaptive information processing as a working definition of cognition. Such clarity about the “mark of the cognitive” can be useful, since once we understand what claims are being made, we are in a better position to evaluate them. So, for example, if we understand cognition to be adaptive information processing, then we can see why it is quite likely to be embodied and extended.

  9. 9.

    Aizawa (2014), makes this case as well.

  10. 10.

    See Wilson (1994), and Wilson and Clark (2009).

  11. 11.

    See also Rupert (2009). Rupert’s view will be discussed in greater detail in Sect. 3.

  12. 12.

    By way of contrast, the familiar cognitivist view that cognitive states must be representational does not (in any obvious way, at least) forge a logical, theoretical, or conceptual connection between cognition and behavior.

  13. 13.

    See Clark and Chalmers (1998).

  14. 14.

    The foregoing quote takes the liberty of inserting “embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended]” for “non-Cartesian.” As Rowlands first introduced the “Cartesian” in The New Science, it is meant to describe cognitive science in which the mind is realized in, or is identical to, the brain.

  15. 15.

    See Adams and Aizawa (2008), pp. 107–112, for further discussion.

  16. 16.

    For what it is worth, I generally find the poverty of the stimulus arguments in linguistics and vision science to be compelling, while the replies from the embodied, enactive, and extended cognition camp limited and inadequate. Rather than press the poverty of the stimulus arguments, however, the argumentative shift taken here is meant to develop an alternative that might be taken more seriously in literature on embodied, enactive, and extended cognition. This is in keeping with the overarching strategy of the paper. Recall that one might—legitimately, I believe—continue to press the question, “What is cognition?” Rather than do that, however, I have chosen to examine two alternative questions, namely, “Is there a difference between cognition and behavior?” and “If there is a difference between cognition and behavior, is cognition to be understood in terms of antecedently understood cognitive behavior?”

  17. 17.

    See Smith et al. (1947). For another experiment with a somewhat different protocol, see Topulos et al. (1993).

  18. 18.

    For early discussion of this, see Bennett (1940, 1941), and Gray et al. (1941).

  19. 19.

    For an early report, see Griffith and Johnson (1942).

  20. 20.

    For one study, see Osterman et al. (2001).

  21. 21.

    Another common cause is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Many know of this condition as the one afflicting Steven Hawking.

  22. 22.

    This apparent endorsement of operationalism may well not represent Clark’s view of the nature of cognition on so-called “reflective equilibrium.” As noted above, there are times when Clark hews to more traditional-sounding information processing conception of cognition.

  23. 23.

    Epstein (2007). Chatterbots are relatively simple computer programs that accept typed sentences as input and produce typed sentences as output. They do this by applying simple routines for taking elements of an input sentence and, say, producing a question based on them.

  24. 24.

    Just for the record, Rowlands (2010), embraces a somewhat different analysis of what cognition is.

  25. 25.

    In two “author meets critics” sessions, one at the University of Osnabrück in November, 2009, and the other at the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology in April, 2010, I argued that Rupert was implicitly committed to a version of operationalism. Sect. 3 of Rupert (2013), however, makes the case that these conditions are not supposed to be interpreted as operationalism:

    nothing in my sketch of the birth and development of a science entails operationalism of the sort reviled in philosophy of science; in fact, quite the contrary. According to the operationalist view, a theoretical term expresses nothing more than a claim about the results of measurement-operations that guide the application of that term: if we measure temperature by use of a mercury thermometer, then ‘temperature of system x’ simply means ‘the readout on a mercury thermometer after it’s been placed in system x in such-and-such way for n units of time’. (Rupert 2013, p. 35).

    Then, later, he adds,

    It will not do, for example, to characterize generic memories as “states that participate in processes that produce behavior that matches, along dimensions of content or structure, external material with which the subject has causally interacted” or, in the case of cognition, “processing that produce intelligent behavior.” These descriptions can, and should, be deployed at the initial stage, as hooks to try to get hold of the natural kinds of memory and cognition. (Rupert 2013, p. 37).

    Moreover, one reviewer proposes that Rupert does not take there to be an essential or conceptual connection between behavior and cognition.

    There are two things to note here. First, notice that we may distinguish two questions, “What is cognition?” and “How should we determine what cognition is?” (One reviewer—not the one mentioned above—describes these as an ontic question and an epistemic question. The reviewer also suggests that I conflate these issues, but that is another matter.) In describing himself as proposing a “sketch of the birth and development of a science,” it appears that Rupert is offering an account of how we should determine or discover what cognition—or, strictly speaking, what a cognitive system—is. If, however, that is what Rupert is offering, it is unclear how we are to relate this to the separate question of what cognition is. Rupert’s account provides us a guide to finding out what cognition is, without actually giving us an account of what cognition is. But, not to give an account of what cognition is amounts to not giving a “mark of the cognitive.”

    Second, it appears that Rupert does take there to be an essential or conceptual connection between behavior and cognition. Recall the passage cited earlier and reproduced here:

    According to the systems-based view, a state (or process) is cognitive (if and?) only if it is the state of a (non-background) mechanism (or is a process made up wholly of causally connected states of various such mechanisms) that is a component of a persisting architecture – that is, a member of the relatively persisting set of mechanisms that co-contribute (although not necessarily by interacting), in various intersecting subsets, to the production of a variety of forms of intelligent behavior (that are part of a single biography). (Rupert 2013, p. 43).

    Stated succinctly, Rupert is here saying that a necessary condition on a state being cognitive is that it contribute to the production of intelligent behavior.

    Neither of the foregoing points is likely to be the final word on Rupert’s view of the relationship between cognition and behavior. Instead, they should support the general thrust of this paper, namely, that work on embodied, enactive, and extended cognition might benefit from greater clarity regarding the relationship between cognition and behavior.

  26. 26.

    For efforts along those lines, see, for example, Adams and Aizawa (2008), and Rupert (2009).


  1. Adams, F., & Aizawa, K. (2008). The bounds of cognition. Boston: Wiley-Blackwell.

  2. Aizawa, K. (2014). What is this cognition that is supposed to be embodied? Philosophical Psychology,. doi:10.1080/09515089.2013.875280.

  3. Bennett, A. E. (1940). Preventing traumatic complications in convulsive shock therapy by curare. Journal of the American Medical Association, 114(4), 322–324.

  4. Bennett, A. E. (1941). Curare: A preventive of traumatic complications in convulsive shock therapy. American Journal of Psychiatry, 97(5), 1040–1060.

  5. Chalmers, D. (2009). Forward. In A. Clark (Ed.), Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action, and cognitive extension (pp. ix–xvi). New York: Oxford University Press.

  6. Chemero, A. (2009). Radical embodied cognitive science. Cambridge: MIT Press.

  7. Clark, A. (2009). Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action, and cognitive extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  8. Clark, A. (2010). Coupling, constitution, and the cognitive kind: A reply to Adams and Aizawa. In R. Menary (Ed.), The extended mind (pp. 81–99). Cambridge: MIT Press.

  9. Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis, 58(1), 7–19.

  10. Epstein, R. (2007). From Russia, with love. Scientific American Mind, 18(5), 16–17.

  11. Froese, T., Gershenson, C., & Rosenblueth, D. (2013). The Dynamically Extended Mind-A Minimal Modeling Case Study. arXiv preprint arXiv:1305.1958.

  12. Garzón, P. C., & Keijzer, F. (2009). Cognition in plants. In F. Baluska (Ed.), Plant-environment interactions: From sensory plant biology to active plant behavior (pp. 247–266). Berlin: Springer Verlag.

  13. Garzón, P. C., & Keijzer, F. (2011). Plants: Adaptive behavior, root-brains, and minimal cognition. Adaptive Behavior, 19(3), 155–171.

  14. Gray, R. W., Spradling, F. L., & Fechner, A. H. (1941). The use of curare in modifying metrazol therapy. Psychiatric Quarterly, 15(1), 159–162.

  15. Griffith, H. R., & Johnson, G. E. (1942). The use of curare in general anesthesia. Anesthesiology, 3(4), 418–420.

  16. Krueger, J. (2012). Seeing mind in action. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 11(2), 149–173.

  17. Maturana, H., & Varela, F. (1980). Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Dordrecht: Springer.

  18. Menary, R. (2006). Attacking the bounds of cognition. Philosophical Psychology, 19(3), 329–344.

  19. Osterman, J. E., Hopper, J., Heran, W. J., Keane, T. M., & van der Kolk, B. A. (2001). Awareness under anesthesia and the development of posttraumatic stress disorder? General Hospital Psychiatry, 23(4), 198–204.

  20. Palermos, O. (2014). Loops, constitution, and cognitive extension. Cognitive Systems Research, 27, 25–41.

  21. Rowlands, Mark. (1999). The body in mind: Understanding cognitive processes. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  22. Rowlands, M. (2009a). The extended mind. Zygon, 44(3), 628–641.

  23. Rowlands, M. (2009b). Extended cognition and the mark of the cognitive. Philosophical Psychology, 22(1), 1–19.

  24. Rowlands, M. (2010). The new science of the mind: From extended mind to embodied phenomenology. Cambridge: MIT/Bradford.

  25. Rupert, R. (2009). Cognitive systems and the extended mind. New York: Oxford University Press.

  26. Rupert, R. (2013). Memory, natural kinds, and cognitive extension; or, Martians don’t remember, and cognitive science is not about cognition. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 4(1), 25–47.

  27. Schnakers, C., Perrin, F., Schabus, M., Hustinx, R., Majerus, S., Moonen, G., Boly, M., Vanhaudenhuyse, A., Bruno, M., & Laureys, S. (2009). Detecting consciousness in a total locked-in syndrome: An active event-related paradigm. Neurocase, 15(4), 271–277.

  28. Shapiro, L. (2013). Dynamics and cognition. Minds and Machines, 23(3), 353–375.

  29. Smith, S. M., Brown, H. O., Toman, J. E., & Goodman, L. S. (1947). The lack of cerebral effects of d-tubocurarine. Anesthesiology, 8, 1–14.

  30. Topulos, G. P., Lansing, R. W., & Banzett, R. B. (1993). The experience of complete neuromuscular blockade in awake humans. Journal of Clinical Anesthesia, 5, 369–374.

  31. Wilson, R. A. (1994). Wide computationalism. Mind, 103(411), 351–372.

  32. Wilson, R. (2010). Review of Robert D. Rupert’s cognitive systems and the extended mind. https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/24309-cognitive-systems-and-the-extended-mind/.

  33. Wilson, R. A., & Clark, A. (2009). How to situate cognition: Letting nature take its course. In M. Aydede & P. Robbins (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of situated cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Ken Aizawa.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Aizawa, K. Cognition and behavior. Synthese 194, 4269–4288 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-014-0645-5

Download citation


  • Cognition
  • Behavior
  • Enactivism
  • Embodied cognition
  • Extended cognition