The metaphors that we choose to describe living and cognitive systems influence how we study them. Similarly, the behaviours that we choose as examples of intelligence or adaptivity influence the models we build and the ways we conceive of and study cognition. Over the course of history, humanity has embraced a variety of metaphors for minds and how they work. The dominant metaphor at the moment compares minds to computers. I would like to consider an alternative metaphor. Instead of thinking about brains as computers, and instead of thinking about cognition as problem-solving, what emerges when we compare mind (and life) to improvisational performance? This abstract uses improvisational drumming as a specific example to elaborate upon key aspects of enactivist and A-Life related perspectives of cognition. I suggest that (i) by recognising how improvised performances define their own norms as they develop, we can come to better understand how living and thinking systems might also define their own dynamic norms; (ii) by understanding what is lost when an acoustic drumset is replaced by one that is electronic, we can derive insight into what is missed when the body and the environment are left out of our descriptions of intelligent adaptive behaviour; and (iii) by recognising the diverse factors that determine the form of an improvised collaborative performance, we can better recognise the similarly diverse factors that sculpt the norms, behaviours and other features of an individual.

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