This paper provides evidence for a radically enactive, embodied account of remembering. By looking closely at highly context-dependent instances of memorizing and recalling dance material, I aim at shedding light on the workings of memory. Challenging the view that cognition fundamentally entails contentful mental representation, the examples I discuss attest the existence of non-representational instances of memory, accommodating episodic memory. That being so, this paper also makes room for content-involving forms of remembering. As a result, it supports the duplex vision of mentality advanced by the REC framework. Building on research on the enactive imagination, I suggest that contentless forms of remembering act below content-involving forms. In addition, contentless and contentful forms of remembering a movement are revealed as the product of culturally scaffolded engagements with others and the environment, in which direct perception and mirroring play a fundamental role. It is argued that many of the practices of remembering a movement are best explained as enactments or re-enactments of such direct ecological perceptions. In the process, the dance studio proves to be a paradigm of the extensive mind. This paper is also intended as an invitation to the REC framework to extend the family and explicitly embrace research on sociocultural practices as an equal partner, including dance studies. Given the fundamental role that sociocultural practices play in REC’s understanding of cognition, it is only natural that further radicalization goes along those lines.
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REC opposes cognitivism’s maxim that the mind represents and computes, as well as its mechanistic and neural explanations of cognition (Hutto and Myin 2017, pp. 3–4). According to REC, content is not a necessary feature of basic forms of cognition. In that context, REC argues against “any notion of content that assumes the existence of some kind of specified correctness condition” (p. 11). REC also abandons the content/vehicle distinction: “if basic minds lack content, then they lack vehicles that bear content” (p. 37), and hence denies the necessary existence of representations (understood as the vehicles of content). It is under this light that the reader ought to understand my use of the words ‘contentless’ and ‘non-representational’.
This thesis sums up the spirit of radical enactivism. For an elaborate account, see Hutto and Myin (2013).
Certain approaches that are understood by Sutton et al. (2011) as alternatives to the overreaction to intellectualist approaches are still under the influence of dualistic pictures. For instance, Behnke (1997) is held captive by the picture of the inner and the outer. Notice her tendency to talk in terms of ‘participating/experiencing from within’ and to oppose such experiences to ‘observing from the outside’. This extends to her concept of ‘ghost gesture’. Section 3.6 shows that this is also true of Kirsh (2013).
For an introduction to the varieties of enactivism, see Ward et al. (2017).
As an example, consider the 30 articles included in Frontiers in Psychology’s Topic Collection ‘Enaction and Ecological Psychology: Convergences and Complementarities’, edited by Di Paolo et al. (2020).
For an in-depth account of Wittgenstein’s methodology, see McGinn (1997, pp. 9–30).
A fundamental purpose of Wittgenstein’s method is to remind us of the rhetorical character of devices such as the memory-as-a-storehouse metaphor or the inner-outer picture. Although they might come quite naturally to us, the problem arises when philosophers’ theoretical accounts forget the fact that they are mere ways of looking at things, ‘objects of comparison’ (PI 131), claiming their literalness in all possible cases.
There are exceptions. There might be specific instructions coming from the choreographer not to do so. In addition, certain dancers, for a variety of reasons, including character traits, might prefer to see the material as a whole before they start executing it. It also varies from one genre to another. In ballet, it is common that dancers only mark the movement while the instructor is executing it (see Sect. 3.6). That being so, it is highly routine that dancers start executing new dance material right away in everyday contemporary dance training.
For a contemporary discussion of the concept of affordance in the context of the ecological-enactive approach, see Heras-Escribano (2019, pp. 13–17).
Flexibility, together with mass, limb structure, size or weight have been identified as some of the most relevant physical constraints to memory task in the context of dance (Stevens 2017).
Katan (2016, esp. 67) follows Gärdenfors in using Endel Tulving’s characterization of memory, distinguishing between procedural, semantic and episodic memory. As a result, in this paragraph I have not used REC’s terminology.
However, representations do not necessarily act as intermediaries in such experiences (see my argument in Carmona 2018, p. 34). It is no coincidence that the dance metaphor used as a case study by Katan (2016) is ‘Float!’, as it is a widespread experience, of which one is likely to have autobiographical memories. Notwithstanding, one might be confronted with imagery for which one actually has no experience. For instance, one of the creative strategies of Ghent-based choreographer Lisi Estaras is to disconcert her dancers by employing imagery for which they have no autobiographical memory, such as ‘You are the last human beings on Earth’ or ‘Be edgy’. She also enjoys giving them the form of rhetorical questions. Take ‘What does your body feel like doing today?’. Furthermore, part of her creative process also draws from working with dancers who do not speak the language of instruction. Consequently, they don’t understand the imagery yet follow it by responding to fellow dancers and the environment. She gave me the example of a Korean dancer: “When he received the tasks, he couldn’t even identify the theme, but he somehow could go beyond the tasks and execute the emotion behind them” (personal communication, July 21, 2020). That being so, what is at issue here is a disagreement regarding the nature of metaphor, for instance, whether representation is of its essence. To address such a debate is beyond the scope of this article.
See Sect. 4 for an example.
For examples of metaphorical dance instructions aimed at directing mood and a close description of the context in which they emerge, see Katan (2016, pp. 87–89), even though her reading is representational in kind.
Consider Kirsh (2013)’s conception of marking as an externalization of thinking that “improves or reshapes inner processes” (p. 13), or his distinction between “external and internal simulation, between doing things internally and doing things externally” and his view of a complex coordination between the two (p. 30).
However, unlike in ballet, movement does not need to be coupled to specific musical landmarks. In fact, music and other forms of soundscapes might be used as variable factors during creation and rehearsal. In such cases, musical cues do not help recall in a significant manner, as shown in the context of the Australian Dance Theatre (Stevens et al. 2019, p. 25).
Dancers remembering together often remember less than the sum of individual memories because they tend to discard aspects of the movement that they did remember individually under the influence of someone else’s or average execution. Nevertheless, remembering together is generally effective.
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I am very grateful to Lisi Estaras, Jerrold Levinson and Manuel de Pinedo for their fruitful comments and suggestions to an earlier version of this paper. I am also thankful to Lisi Estaras, Manuela Nogales, Vicente Sanfélix and Neftalí Villanueva for insightful conversations during the writing process. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the great comments I received from the reviewers that made me clarify my ideas and the theoretical purposes of this paper.
This paper has been produced in the context of (1) the research project Intercultural Understanding, Belonging and Value: Wittgensteinian Approaches” (PGC2018-093982-B-100) funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation & Universities, and (2) a research project granted by the Andalusian government (B-HUM-459-UGR18).
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The original online version of this article was revised: author name in reference Hutto, D., & Peters, A. (2018). The Roots of remembering: Radically enactive recollecting. In K. Michaelian, D. Debus, & D. Perrin (Eds.), New directions in the philosophy of memory (pp. 97–118). New York: Routledge was corrected from Peters to Peeters.
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Carmona, C. Practices of remembering a movement in the dance studio: evidence for (a radicalized version of) the REC framework in the domain of memory. Synthese (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-020-02949-w
- Contentless remembering
- Dance practice
- Radically enactive cognition
- Skilled action