Home > About Enaction and Enactive Systems
About Enaction and Enactive Systems

A. Excerpts from the Enactive Interfaces project


1. “Enactive Interfaces are inspired by a fundamental concept of “interaction” that has not been exploited by other approaches to the design of human-computer interface technologies. Mainly, interfaces have been designed to present information via symbols, or icons. In the symbolic approach, information is stored as words, mathematical symbols or other symbolic systems, while in the iconic approach information is stored in the form of visual images, such as diagrams and illustrations. Enactive knowledge is neither symbolic nor iconic. It is direct, in the sense that it is natural and intuitive, based on experience and the perceptual consequences of motor acts. Enactive knowledge is information gained through perception-action interactions with the environment. Examples include information gained by grasping an object, by hefting a stone, or by walking around an obstacle that occludes our view. It is gained through intuitive movements, of which we often are not aware. Enactive knowledge is inherently multimodal, because motor actions alter the stimulation of multiple perceptual systems. Enactive knowledge is essential in tasks such as driving a car, dancing, playing a musical instrument, modelling objects from clay, performing sports, and so on.”

2. “Enaction is a term coined in psychology (J. Bruner) and used in a particular biological approach (F. Varela), according to which cognition is fundamentally a feature of living organisms in a dynamic adaptive relationship with their environment. Only recently the term has gained widespread currency in domains such as human-computer interaction. In the same kind of view, the physicist Jean Petitot proposes the idea of a "Phenophysics", based on the theory of "Morphogenesis" of the mathematician R. Thom, according to which the necessary condition for categorization to occur, is the presence of specific singularities in the dynamics of physical sensorial events, on which categorization can get a grip. These theories are used in signal processing, shape recognition and can be used in extraction of emotive patterns in signals. Other related concepts are presently developed also in relationship with artificial intelligence and robotics. The proper domain is that of the so-called embodied cognition, which gives much importance to action and perception in the definition and simulation of intelligent behaviors, by focusing the attention on parallel, distributed architectures, on adaptive behavior of different kinds (not only high order symbolic capacities) and on the possibilities offered by the dynamic systems modeling of behavior.”

B. Quotations

"...cognition is not the representation of a pregiven world by a pregiven mind but is rather the enactment of a world and a mind on the basis of a history of the variety of actions that a being in the world performs.”

Varela, Thompson, Rosch. The Embodied Mind , 1991

Enactive Interaction between human and world (including humans and technologies) is seen as a process participating to :

  • the co-construction of the mind with the body
  • the co-construction of the humans and the world. Mediated Artificial systems, called “Enactive Interfaces”, which preserve this type of interaction, would be favourable conditions
  • to understand such complex processes
  • to allow humans to produce and create in really fruitful way”
Luciani. Scientific objectives of Enactive Network of Excellence, 2006

C. Relevant references

Seminal references

1. Varela F., Thompson E., Rosch E., The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,1991.

2. Gibson J.J., The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

3. Gibson J.J., The senses considered as perceptual systems .Boston, MA: Hougton Mifflin, 1966.

4. Turvey M. T., Shaw R. E., Reed E. S., Mace W. M., Ecological laws of perceiving and acting: In reply to Fodor and Pylyshyn. Cognition, 9, 237-304., 1981.


1. Warren W. H., Enactive Knowledge: Sensory-motor expectancies or perception-action invariants?. Invited talk at the Enactive / 06 Conference, Montpellier, November 2006.

2. CNRS Thematic School organised by ARCo (Association pour la Recherche Cognitive): Constructivisme et Enaction : Un nouveau paradigme pour les sciences cognitives http://liris.cnrs.fr/enaction/index.html

3. Havelange V., Lenay C., Stewart J., Les représentations : mémoire externe et objets techniques ». Intellectica, 35, 2003.

4. Hutchins E., Cultural cognition. In Cognition in the wild (pp. 353-76). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.

5. Hutchins E., Material anchors for conceptual blends. Journal of pragmatics, 37, 2005.

6. Cadoz C. (2006), Retour au réel : le sens du feedback, rétroaction-interaction-enaction. In "Le feedback dans la création musicale, rencontres musicales pluridisciplinaires". Available at http://www.grame.fr/RMPD/RMPD2006/

7. Luciani A., Enaction and Visual Arts : Toward dynamic instrumental arts. In 2nd Conference on Enactive Interfaces, Genoa, Italy, 2005.

Open Access Research