Music, Enactivism and Extended Mind

109 Muirhead Tower
Arts and Law, Lectures Talks and Workshops, Research
Wednesday 22nd May 2019 (14:00-17:00)
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Dr Maria A. G. Witek, Department of Music, University of Birmingham,

For the last 30 years, philosophers of the mind have increasingly recognised that the processes that constitute perception, cognition and consciousness are not confined to the central nervous systems but are instead distributed across our brains, bodies and environments. Such theories emphasise the Embodied, Embedded, Enacted and Extended nature of the mind, and often overlap within what is now called 4E cognition.

These developments have offered music scholars ways to reaffirm musical behaviours – from listening to dancing and performing - as fundamentally active practices in which corporeal, neural, sonic and material processes in our musical environments play equal parts. But as the 4E approaches mature, some have queried the reach of their musical extensions. At this symposium, music scholars attempt to address some of these queries. To what extent does aesthetic creativity and interpretation in music align with the extended view of the mind in musicking? How enactive are our musical communications in social performance contexts? And what role do musical expectations – which have stood at the centre of music cognitive theories since the middle of the last century – play in a distributed model of musical experience?


  • Dr Joel Krueger, Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter
  • Dr Nikki Moran, Reid School of Music, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Juan Loaiza, independent researcher. 


  • Dr Maria A. G. Witek, Department of Music, University of Birmingham


An extended approach to musicking (and why it matters)

Joel Krueger 

For proponents of the “extended mind thesis”, the artefacts and technologies we use to enhance our thinking — from sketchpads and smartphones to models and memory aids — can, under certain circumstances, become part of our (extended) mind. Recently, some have even defended the possibility of extended emotions, including musically extended emotions. There is growing consensus that extended approaches can help us better understand the development and character of our musicking practices both solitary and social. 

But not everyone is convinced. In a recent (2019) paper, “Aesthetics and the Limits of the Extended Mind”, Ted Nannicelli develops some useful criticisms of an extended approach to musicking. He argues that an extended approach does not square with our actual practices of aesthetic creation and appreciation and that it is therefore of limited explanatory or practical value. In this talk, I address both prongs of Nannicelli’s worries and defend an extended approach to musicking. I focus especially on music’s capacity to scaffold — and thus extend — self-regulative process constitutive of emotional consciousness, as well as some of the shared behavioral mechanisms (mimicry; behavioral synchronization; affectively motivated movements, gestures, and engagements) responsible for our empathic connection with others. Along the way, I consider the “material” and “worldmaking” character of music — two features largely overlooked in philosophical literature — and I demonstrate the practical value of an extended approach by considering a case study: music as a “therapeutic world” for social interventions in autism. 

Performing music, performing musicality – what’s the difference? On the advantages of a 4E perspective

Nikki Moran  

The current move toward enactive accounts of cognition provides fertile grounds for cross-disciplinary music research. On the topic of musical performance, the work of ethnomusicologists, sociologists, historical musicologists, critics, audiences, and music educators all contribute rich insights: how do musical performances mean? How do they succeed? What does it mean to perform musically? In this paper, I suggest that a portion of the puzzle belonging to the cognitive and behavioural sciences centres on a slightly different question, namely: how does our human musicality express itself in the performance of everyday behaviour? 4E accounts have shaped a discourse which takes seriously the tacit know-how, rather than the know-that, of artistic human practices. I will discuss the advantage that this perspective brings through its insight into the primarily communicative features of our performative artistic impulse. To (try to!) explore and explain these ideas, I’ll reiterate the social nature of musical experience and practice, and offer up the concept of mutual listening as a means to investigate the behaviours and actions that construct a musical performance event.

Musical Expectations in the wild: a naturalistic and multi-scale view of general anticipatory dynamics in biosocial systems.

Juan Loaiza 

Musical expectations have had a privileged position within internalist views of music cognition (Huron, 2006). By definition, those views are incompatible with 4E approaches to cognition. For example, embodiment (one of the 4E concepts), understood simply as musculoskeletal coordination, is usually presented in a way that contrasts with top-down internal predictions (i.e. expectations). Is it thus the case that expectations are inevitably out of reach of theories of embodiment and other more radical 4E alternatives?

In this presentation I show how expectations are central to a philosophical lineage of well established pragmatist approaches and general systems thinking –including the multi-scale informational approach known as variational free energy principle (Ramstead et al., 2018). In the view I propose, expectations are a class of phenomena belonging to a general category of anticipatory dynamics in biosocial systems. These systems straddle both “internal” and “external” (and extended) parts of the phenotype, cutting across brains, bodies and environment, and extend well into the ecologies of cultural practices. Anticipatory dynamics are thus not restricted to internal mechanisms but emerge in the constrained orchestration of manifold ecological resources (Bruineberg et al., 2018).

The aim of the presentation is thus to recast music expectations and propose that they belong to a larger family of inference-like anticipatory phenomena that extends well beyond the internal / external divide. They represent a small scale (and indeed more amenable for laboratory testing) version of naturally occurring biosocial phenomena that spread across multiple spatio-temporal scales.


  • Bruineberg, J., Kiverstein, J., & Rietveld, E. (2018). The anticipating brain is not a scientist: the free-energy principle from an ecological-enactive perspective. Synthese195(6), 2417-2444.
  • Huron, D. B. (2006). Sweet anticipation: Music and the psychology of expectation. MIT press.
  • Ramstead, M. J. D., Badcock, P. B., & Friston, K. J. (2018). Answering Schrödinger's question: a free-energy formulation. Physics of life reviews24, 1-16.