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2017 Conference - Brains, bodies and cultural affordances
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Shaun Gallagher is the Lillian and Morrie Moss Professor of Excellence in Philosophy at the University of Memphis. His areas of research include phenomenology and the cognitive sciences, especially topics related to embodiment, self, agency and intersubjectivity, hermeneutics, and the philosophy of time. Dr. Gallagher has a secondary research appointment at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He is Honorary Professor at the University of Tromsø, Norway, and was Honorary Professor at the University of Copenhagen (2010-15) and the Durham University (2011-16). He has held visiting positions at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge University; the Center for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen; the Centre de Recherche en Epistémelogie Appliquée (CREA), Paris; the Ecole Normale Supériure, Lyon; the Humboldt University in Berlin, and most recently at Keble College, University of Oxford. Professor Gallagher holds the Humboldt Foundation’s Anneliese Maier Research Award [Anneliese Maier-Forschungspreis] (2012-18). Gallagher is a founding editor and a co-editor-in-chief of the journal Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. His publications include How the Body Shapes the Mind (Oxford, 2005); The Phenomenological Mind (with Dan Zahavi, Routledge, 2008; 2nd ed. 2012); Phenomenology (Palgrave Macmillan 2011); and Enactivist Interventions: Rethinking the Mind (Oxford 2017).


Recent work in cognitive neuroscience has emphasized the notion of neural reuse on the evolutionary timescale (Anderson 2010) and neural recycling on the developmental timescale (Dehaene 2004; 2009). These concepts have been put to use especially in contexts of social cognition (Gallese 2014), in neural linguistics (Pulvermüller 2005), and more generally in theories of ‘weak’ embodied cognition and embodied simulation (Goldman 2012; 2014). In both philosophy and neuroscience, however, these analyses have remained caught in the classic cognitivist stances of internalism and methodological individualism where mechanisms of cognition and even social cognition are sought in purely internal (brain-based, 'in the head') processes that downplay the contribution of bodily, environmental, and social-cultural factors. In contrast, enactivist proposals in philosophy of mind have championed the importance of cultural affordances and embodied social interactions in processes of meaning institution. Such proposals align well with empirical research in applied linguistics and Conversation Analysis (e.g., Goodwin 2000; 2011; 2013), and anthropological theories of material engagement (e.g., Malafouris 2009). I’ll argue that an integration of these latter approaches not only presents a strong viable alternative to classic cognitivist theories, but can still employ notions of neural reuse/recycling as part of a more comprehensive or extensive concept of metaplasticity. It also provides a way to reconceive of brain function in the context of enactivist embodied cognition.


  • Anderson, M.L. 2010 Neural reuse: A fundamental reorganizing principle of the brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33: 245–266.
  • Anderson, M. L. 2014. After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Dehaene, S. 2004. Evolution of human cortical circuits for reading and arithmetic: The ‘neuronal recycling’ hypothesis. In S. Dehaene, J. R. Duhamel, M. Hauser, and G. Rizzolatti (eds.), From Monkey Brain to Human Brain (133-57). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Dehaene, S. 2009. Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention. New York: Viking.
  • Gallese V. 2014. Bodily selves in relation: embodied simulation as second-person perspective on intersubjectivity. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 369 (177): 1-10.
  • Goldman, A. I. 2012. A moderate approach to embodied cognitive science. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 3 (1): 71-88.
  • Goldman, A. I. 2014. The bodily formats approach to embodied cognition. In U. Kriegel (ed.), Current Controversies in Philosophy of Mind (91-108). New York and
    London: Routledge.
  • Goodwin, C. (2000). Action and embodiment within situated human interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 32(10), 1489-1522.
  • Goodwin, C. (2011). Building action in public environments with diverse semiotic resources. Versus: quaderni di studi semiotici, (112), 169-182.
  • Goodwin, C. (2013). The co-operative, transformative organization of human action and knowledge. Journal of Pragmatics, 46(1), 8-23.
  • Malafouris, L. 2013. How Things Shape the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    Pulvermuller, F. 2005. Brain mechanisms linking language and action. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6: 576-582.
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