Educating the right stuff: Lessons in enactivist learning


On an enactivist conception of cognition, the unit of explanation is not just the brain, not just the body, and not just the environment, but the body–brain–environment understood as a dynamically coupled structure or gestalt. On this view, referencing Viktor von Weizsäcker’s metaphor of the gestalt circle (Gestaltkreis), the brain is not in the center of a circle issuing radial commands to elements on the circumference; rather, it is one element on that circumference, along with body and environment. Taking this idea into the educational context implies that one can intervene at any point on the circle to get results. One can, for example, enhance brain function by artificial means; alternatively, one can enhance intellectual performance through the learning of skilled or expressive movements (as demonstrated by the use of gesture in math education); likewise, one can improve conceptual understanding by manipulating the material and/or social environment (for example, through the use of virtual reality). On the enactivist view, interventions at any of these “parts" of the cognitive system lead to modulations in the dynamic structure itself and the overall performance of the system. In this article, Shaun Gallagher argues on pragmatic grounds that given various adverse side effects from artificial stimulation of the brain, enhancements directed at the body and the environment are less risky and, for educational purposes are, at the very least, equally effective. To support this conclusion, he cites evidence from a study that uses whole-body action in a mixed reality simulation for science education.

Publication Title

Educational Theory