, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 579–591 | Cite as

Locked-in Syndrome and BCI - Towards an Enactive Approach to the Self

  • Miriam Kyselo
Original Paper


It has been argued that Extended Cognition (EXT), a recently much discussed framework in the philosophy of cognition, would serve as the theoretical basis to account for the impact of Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) on the self and life of patients with Locked-in Syndrome (LIS). In this paper I will argue that this claim is unsubstantiated, EXT is not the appropriate theoretical background for understanding the role of BCI in LIS. I will critically assess what a theory of the extended self would comprise and provide a list of desiderata for a theory of self that EXT fails to accommodate for. There is, however, an alternative framework in Cognitive Science, Enactivism, which entails the basis for an account of self that is able to accommodate for these desiderata. I will outline some first steps towards an Enactive approach to the self, suggesting that the self could be considered as a form of human autonomy. Understanding the self from an enactive point of view will allow to shed new light on the questions of whether and how BCIs affect or change the selves of patients with LIS.


Locked-in syndrome Enactivism Extended cognition Self Autonomy BCI 



I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer, Ezequiel Di Paolo, Markus I. Eronen, Rudolf Müllan, Frank Schumann and Sven Walter for valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. My research is funded by a scholarship of the Research Training Group “Adaptivity in Hybrid Cognitive Systems”, University of Osnabrück, Germany.


  1. 1.
    Bauer, G., F. Gerstenbrand, and E. Rumpl. 1979. Varieties of locked-in syndrome. Journal of Neurology 221: 77–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Inci, S., and T. Özgen. 2003. Locked-in syndrome due to metastatic pontomedullary tumor—case report. Neurologia Medico-Chirurgica 43: 497–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Laureys, S. et al. 2005. The locked-in syndrome : what is it like to be conscious but paralyzed and voiceless? In Laureys, S. (Ed.). Progress in Brain Research: 150.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    León-Carrión, J., P. van Eeckhout, and M. Del Rosario Domínguez-Morales. 2002. The locked-in syndrome: a syndrome looking for a therapy. Brain Injury 16: 555–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bauby, J.D. 1997. The diving bell and the butterfly. London: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Wolpaw, J.N., D. Birbaumer, G.P. McFarland, and T. Vaughan. 2002. Brain-computer interfaces for communication and control. Clinical Neurophysiology 113: 767–791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Birbaumer, N., et al. 2002. Brain-computer interfaces for communication and control, in. Clinical Neurophysiology 113: 767–791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Birbaumer, N. 2006. Breaking the silence: Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) for communication and motor control. Psychophysiology 43(6): 517–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Birbaumer, N., and L.G. Cohen. 2007. Brain–computer interfaces: communication and restoration of movement in paralysis. The Journal of Physiology 579(3): 621–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kyselo, M. and Di Paolo, E. in progress. Through the enactive eye—locked-in syndrome as a challenge for embodied cognition.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kurthen, M., et al. 1991. The locked-in syndrome and the behaviorist epistemology of other minds. Theoretical Medicine 12: 69–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Dudzinski, D. 2001. The diving bell meets the butterfly: identity lost and re-membered. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 22: 33–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Fenton, A., and S. Alpert. 2008. Extending our view on using BCIs for locked in syndrome. Neuroethics 1: 119–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Clark, A., and D. Chalmers. 1998. The extended mind. Analysis 58: 7–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Clark, A. 2008. Supersizing the mind: embodiment, action, and cognitive extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Walter, S. 2010. Locked-in syndrome, BCI, and a confusion about embodied, embedded, extended, and enacted cognition. Neuroethics 3: 61–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Kübler, A., A. Furdea, S. Halder, and A. Hösle. 2008. Brain Painting—BCI meets art. In 4th international brain-computer interface workshop and training course. Graz University of Technology, ed. G.R. Müller-Putz, C. Brunner, R. Leeb, G. Pfurtscheller, and C. Neuper, 361–366. Austria: Verlag der Technischen Universität Graz.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Fodor, Jerry. 1987. Psychosemantics: The Problem of Meaning in the Philosophy of Mind. MIT Press.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Bauby, J.-D. 1997. The diving bell and the butterfly. London: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Clark, A. 2009. Spreading the joy: why the machinery of consciousness is (probably) still in the head. Mind 118: 963–993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Kyselo, M., and S. Walter. 2009. Supersizing the mind. Philosophical Psychology 22: 803–807.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Adams, F., and K. Aizawa. 2010. Defending the bounds of cognition. In The extended mind, ed. R. Menary. Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Adams, F., and K. Aizawa. 2009. The bounds of cognition. Blackwell: Wiley.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Rupert, D.R. 2004. Challenges to the hypothesis of extended cognition. Journal of Philosophy 101: 389–428.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Di Paolo, E. 2009. Extended life. Topoi 28: 9–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Thompson, E. 2007. Mind in life: biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Di Paolo, E.A., M. Rohde, and H. De Jaegher. 2007. Horizons for the enactive mind: values, social interaction and play. In Enaction: towards a new paradigm for cognitive science, ed. J. Stewart, O. Gapenne, and E.A. Di Paolo. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Weber, A., and F.J. Varela. 2002. Life after Kant: natural purposes and the autopoietic foundations of biological individuality. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 1: 97–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Varela, F.J. 1997. Patterns of life: intertwining identity and cognition. Brain and Cognition 34: 72–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Barandiaran, X., Rohde, M. and Di Paolo, E. 2009. Defining agency: individuality, normativity, asymmetry and spatio-temporality in action. Adaptive Behavior 17: 367–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Di Paolo, E. 2005. Autopoiesis, adaptivity, teleology, agency. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4: 429–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Colombetti, G., and S. Torrance. 2009. Emotion and ethics: an inter-(en)active approach. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8: 505–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Maturana, H. R. and Varela, F. J. 1980. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science. 42. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    De Jaegher, H. and Di Paolo, E. 2008. Making Sense in Participation: An Enactive Approach to Social Cognition. In Morganti, F., Carassa, A., Riva G. (Eds.) Enacting Intersubjectivity: A Cognitive and Social Perspective on the Study of Interactions Amsterdam, IOS Press.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Varela, F.J., E. Thompson, and E. Rosch. 1991. The embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Torrance, S. 2005. In search of the enactive. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4(4): 357–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Lulé, D. et al. 2009. Life can be worth living in locked-in syndrome, Progress in Brain Research, 177.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Lutz, A., and E. Thompson. 2003. Neurophenomenology: integrating subjective experience and brain dynamics in the neuroscience of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies 10(9–10): 31–52.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Wolpaw, J. 2007. Brain–computer interfaces as new brain output pathways. The Journal of Physiology 579(3): 613–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Cognitive ScienceUniversity of OsnabrückOsnabrückGermany

Personalised recommendations