Dimensions of the Bodily Creativity. For an Extended Theory of Performativity

  • Antonino Pennisi
Part of the Perspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology book series (PEPRPHPS, volume 23)


In our project the performance is a product of performativity. Performativity is the cognitive ability to produce physical or mental actions. Studying performance and studying performativity sets different scientific activities. Studying how to enhance the perfòrmances belongs to the behavioral science. On the contrary, studying performativity belongs to a general cognitive procedure that must not be confused with the description of behaviors, requiring a specific theorization in the cognitive sciences instead. The aim of this research project is to focus on the hypothesis that performativity is not a property confined to certain specific human skills, or to certain specific acts of language. Instead, the executive and motor component of cognitive behavior should be considered an intrinsic part of the physiological functioning of the mind and as endowed with self-generative power.

Performativity as a physiological tool of cognitive creativity has precise neural correlates and procedural properties. The firsts are summarized briefly in the central part of the essay. The latter are more widely discussed in the following chapters. From the point of view of procedures, instead, it is argued that performativity is a cognitive property that arises from the absence of an algorithm designed to carry out a given performance. Acting in a non-planned way, learning by trial and error, applying familiar behavioral patterns to new situations: these are just a few examples of what is performativity and of how it works. Thus, performativity is intrinsically creative because its nature is to face situations that cannot be solved by the application of already known algorithms. In a nutshell, performative creativity is a procedural system that is somewhere between what Chomsky called “rule governed creativity” and “rule-changing creativity”. Performativity however bears a peculiar kind of creativity, which is different from the one generated by the competence but still shares some features with the latter: in fact, it is a fully embodied and free-from-rules process that is carried out through trial and error, that is to say it depends on the bodily practice (locomotion, language, perception, etc.) made in everyday experience.

It is for this reason that Embodied Cognition (EC) should be the theoretical framework to explain the functioning of the performativity. EC indeed is the answer to all those cerebrocentric theories that consider only the computational function of the brain and ignore the role of the body as the main responsible for all the abilities of humans, animals and machines, describing performance just as an executive function. The EC however addresses the issue of performativity from the point of view of the individual rather than from that of the species. From this perspective it makes difficult to incorporate performativity into a general theory of cognition. Its phenomenological instances come into conflict with the naturalism of cognitive sciences. On the contrary, an extended theory of performativity cannot do without ethological and evolutionist perspectives. These perspectives are addressed in the second part of the essay, both from the point of view of the historical reconstruction and from that of the current debate.

In the light of the considerations made in the last part, the final hypothesis that we support is that performativity is not an attribute belonging to some human abilities only, nor to the faculty of language, nor to uniquely creative intelligence of homo sapiens. On the contrary, it can be defined as a fundamental element for any species’ cognitive process. From an evolutionary point of view, performativity probably developed in parallel with the structural and functional transformations occurred in homo sapiens that led to the species-specificity of language and let embodied simulation be our model of perception. For what concerns other species, performativity had a different development for any of them and led to other kinds of cognitive abilities.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Antonino Pennisi
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MessinaMessinaItaly

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