Hanne De Jaegher

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I’m a philosopher and cognitive scientist.

My very first interest was in what thinking is and how it works. Early on, I realised that for understanding this, I needed to investigate how we think and play together.

Now, I investigate the connections between how we interact, how we understand each other, how we understand the world (together), and who we are.

Broadly, I study the role of social interaction processes in subjectivity and intersubjectivity.

For doing this, I have proposed the concept of participatory sense-making. This is also the name of the enactive approach to intersubjectivity that I’m developing, which connects the interpersonal coordination of movements (including speech) in interaction with the coordination of sense-making activities.

Putting the interaction process at the centre of the study of social understanding entails a detailed and focused examination of it. This is being done in the social sciences (interaction studies, conversation analysis, context analysis, etc.), but it is a new idea in philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences. One pillar of this work is the investigation of individual sense-making, which is the immersed and meaningful engagement of self-organizing and self-maintaining agents with their environment. If we think of how interaction influences sense-making, this has implications for how we think of individuals as well.

I also apply the idea of participatory sense-making to autism, to have a testbed for my ideas, but also to see what the idea can mean for diagnosis and ‘intervention’ (I’d rather think of it as integration and establishing more mutual understanding, or autism-friendliness, as a Dutch blog recently called it).

This work is inherently interdisciplinary. Most of my work is theoretical, but I draw on empirical research from disciplines ranging from anthropology and linguistics, over evolutionary robotics, minimal systems research, developmental, experimental and clinical psychology, to psychiatry, philosophy, and neuroscience.

One issue at the centre of this all, and which we still do not understand very well, is the experience of interacting, and its role in how we understand each other. How is with the intuition that ‘being in sync’ goes together with understanding each other well? Is it really that simple? In order to investigate this, we would need to —literally— embody the investigation of interactive experience. Together with Barbara Pieper, Daniel Clénin, and Thomas Fuchs, we have been developing a method that allows researchers to do just that. Using this hands-on method, researchers can unravel the experience of interacting, by calibrating and trusting themselves to be the sophisticated instruments with which to grasp intersubjectivity.

I am doing a lot of this work together with Ezequiel Di Paolo, and with others. For a google scholar view on how participatory sense-making is being taken up, take a look here.