Dances with dogs: interspecies play and a case for sympoietic enactivism

Abstract

I argue that an enactivist framework has more explanatory power than traditional philosophical theories of cognition when it comes to understanding the mechanisms underlying human-animal relationships. In both intraspecies and interspecies exchanges, what we often find are novel forms of cognition emerging from such transactions, but these “co-cognitive” processes cannot be understood apart from the interaction itself. I focus on a specific form of human-animal interaction—play, as it occurs between humans and domestic dogs—and argue that the best theory suited to the task of explaining how these two species create unique thought processes is a “sympoietic enactivism.” Rather than the more common “autopoietic” arguments defended by many enactivists, I argue that what is more accurately occurring during bouts of human–dog play is sympoietic, or “collectively producing.” Drawing on several different disciplines that converge on similar conclusions about creativity and collaboration, I show that human–dog play is a quintessential case of cognition that cannot be readily understood by appealing to the inner workings of either individual among the dyad. Thinking, on this view, is a form of play, and in playful interaction what gets created are wholly intersubjective modes of thought.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The original text, in Spanish, is largely inaccessible, and was eventually written in English by Varela et al. (1974).

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Merritt, M. Dances with dogs: interspecies play and a case for sympoietic enactivism. Anim Cogn 24, 353–369 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-020-01468-y

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Keywords

  • Dogs
  • Cognitive science
  • Play
  • Philosophy
  • Interspecies interactions