Exploring the Future of Rationality at the Age of ChatGPT

A conversation with ChatGPT4 about cognitive functionalism, mechanical thinking, the enactive paradigm and their systemic implications both on our world and on our common rationality.

We succeeded, and we failed, for exactly the same reason, namely our mode of rationality.”

J. A. Wojciechowski.

The deep civilizational roots of functionalism and mechanical thinking

Me: “Explain the epistemological relation between cognitive functionalism and mechanical thinking, both in a theoretical and historical sense.”

“Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature, scope, and sources of knowledge. To understand the epistemological relation between cognitive functionalism and mechanical thinking, we need to delve into their theoretical and historical origins, as well as how they inform our understanding of the mind and cognition.

Cognitive functionalism emerged in the mid-20th century as a reaction to behaviorism, which dominated psychology at the time. Behaviorism posited that mental states were not scientifically observable, and therefore, should not be part of scientific inquiry. Functionalism, on the other hand, focused on the mental processes and functions that underlie behavior, emphasizing that the mind is an information-processing system.

Functionalism has strong connections to computationalism, the idea that the mind can be understood as a computational system, akin to a computer. This perspective aligns with mechanical thinking, which dates back to ancient Greece and has evolved over time. Mechanical thinking posits that natural phenomena, including mental processes, can be explained through the principles of mechanics, such as cause and effect.

Historically, mechanical thinking began with philosophers like Democritus, who proposed that the world is composed of indivisible atoms governed by mechanical laws. This idea was further developed by Descartes, who proposed that the universe, including living organisms, operates like a machine. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Newton’s laws of motion and the development of classical mechanics further solidified mechanical thinking as a dominant worldview in science and philosophy. This mechanistic perspective influenced the development of cognitive functionalism, as it provided a framework for understanding mental processes through the lens of computational systems and information processing.

The epistemological relation between cognitive functionalism and mechanical thinking is that both aim to understand and explain mental processes through objective, systematic, and quantifiable methods. Cognitive functionalism builds on the foundation of mechanical thinking by treating the mind as a complex information-processing system, often drawing parallels to computers and other machines.

In cognitive functionalism, mental processes and states are explained in terms of their function and the way they process information, rather than their physical or biological makeup. This idea shares an epistemological connection to mechanical thinking, as both seek to uncover the underlying principles and operations governing mental phenomena, often through the use of formal models and computational simulations.

In conclusion, cognitive functionalism and mechanical thinking share an epistemological relation that stems from their common goal of understanding the mind and cognition through systematic, quantifiable, and objective means. Cognitive functionalism builds on the historical foundations of mechanical thinking by applying the principles of information processing and computational systems to the study of mental processes. Both approaches aim to provide a rigorous and mechanistic account of the mind, contributing to our overall understanding of cognition and the nature of knowledge.”

The global consequences of an excessive functionalist and mechanical rationality on our societies

Me: “What are the systemic and global consequences of an excessive functionalist and mechanical rationality on our societies?”


“An excessive functionalist and mechanical rationality can have several systemic and global consequences on our societies. While these approaches have been instrumental in driving advancements in science, technology, and industry, they can also lead to unintended negative consequences.

Some potential consequences of an excessive functionalist and mechanical rationality include:

  1. Reductionism: Overemphasis on breaking down complex phenomena into simpler components can lead to a reductionist view of reality. This reductionism might cause us to overlook important interactions and emergent properties that arise from the complexity of social and natural systems.
  2. Dehumanization: A mechanistic worldview can result in a dehumanized perspective, treating individuals as mere components of a larger system rather than as unique, conscious beings. This can lead to a disregard for the subjective experiences and emotions of people, affecting social relationships and ethical considerations.
  3. Environmental degradation: The focus on efficiency, productivity, and technological progress can contribute to the exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation. The mechanistic view may treat the environment as a mere resource to be used, rather than as a complex, interconnected ecosystem that needs to be protected and preserved.
  4. Alienation: The emphasis on rationality and quantification can lead to feelings of alienation and disconnection from our inner selves, nature, and others, reducing the importance of subjective experiences, intuition, and empathy in decision-making processes.

How can the Enactive paradigm help re-harmonizing the balance?

Me: “Compare the preceding with an enactive rationality (Francisco Varela).”


“In contrast, Francisco Varela’s enactive approach offers an alternative perspective on rationality, cognition, and the relationship between the mind and the environment. The enactive approach, rooted in phenomenology and first-person experience, emphasizes the following aspects:

  1. Embodiment: Enactive rationality highlights the importance of the body in cognition, asserting that our thinking is deeply grounded in our physical experiences and interactions with the world. This view recognizes the role of emotions, sensations, and intuition in shaping our understanding of reality.
  2. Embeddedness: The enactive approach posits that cognition is not an isolated process occurring solely within the brain but is instead embedded within and influenced by the broader social, cultural, and environmental contexts.
  3. Emergence: Enactive rationality acknowledges the complexity of natural and social systems and the emergent properties that arise from the interactions between their components. This perspective values the importance of understanding phenomena holistically rather than reducing them to their constituent parts.
  4. Co-creation: The enactive approach emphasizes the role of individuals in co-creating their reality through their interactions with the environment and other living beings. This perspective recognizes the importance of human agency, values, and ethics in shaping the world.

By comparing the potential consequences of excessive functionalist and mechanical rationality with the enactive approach, we can see that the enactive perspective offers a more holistic and human-centered understanding of cognition, reality, and our relationship with the environment. The enactive approach encourages a greater appreciation for the complexity and interconnectedness of natural and social systems, the role of subjective experiences, emotions, and embodiment in shaping our understanding of the world, and the importance of ethical considerations in our actions and decisions.

The systemic and global consequences of adopting an enactive rationality might include:

  1. Greater emphasis on well-being: By valuing subjective experiences and emotions, an enactive approach could lead to a greater focus on mental health, happiness, and overall well-being in societal decision-making processes.
  2. Holistic problem-solving: Addressing complex global challenges, such as climate change, poverty, and social inequality, may benefit from the enactive approach’s appreciation for emergent properties and the interconnectedness of systems. This could result in more comprehensive and sustainable solutions.
  3. Ethical and value-based considerations: The recognition of human agency and co-creation of reality in the enactive approach can lead to greater emphasis on ethical considerations and values in decision-making processes, promoting social responsibility and accountability.
  4. Improved social cohesion: By acknowledging the importance of social and cultural contexts in cognition, the enactive approach could foster greater understanding and empathy among individuals from diverse backgrounds, promoting social cohesion and inclusivity.”


“In summary, while functionalist and mechanical rationality have been key drivers of scientific and technological progress, their excessive focus can lead to negative consequences, such as reductionism, dehumanization, environmental degradation, and alienation. The enactive approach, as proposed by Francisco Varela, offers an alternative perspective that values embodiment, embeddedness, emergence, and co-creation. Adopting enactive rationality could result in a greater emphasis on well-being, holistic problem-solving, ethical considerations, and social cohesion, ultimately promoting more sustainable, inclusive, and human-centered societies.

However, it is essential to recognize that neither approach should be taken to an extreme, as each has its merits and limitations. Striking a balance between functionalist-mechanical rationality and enactive rationality can lead to a more nuanced understanding of the world and enable us to address complex global challenges more effectively, while also fostering a deeper connection with ourselves, others, and the environment.”

Extending your knowledge of enaction

>>> What is enaction? (synthetic recap and refs)

>>> Ongoing Project: KI-LIFE²