Publication 2346

Thompson E. (2011) Précis of Mind in Life. Journal of Consciousness Studies 18: 10–22. Fulltext at
The theme of this book is the deep continuity of life and mind. Where there is life there is mind, and mind in its most articulated forms belongs to life. Life and mind share a core set of formal or organiza- tional properties, and the formal or organizational properties distinc- tive of mind are an enriched version of those fundamental to life. I take a twofold approach to these ideas in Mind in Life. On the one hand, I try to show that to be a living organism is physically to realize or instantiate a certain kind of self-organization – one that entails an autonomous and normative and cognitive mode of being in relation to the world. On the other hand, I try to show that certain features of the human mind, especially various structural features of conscious expe- rience, are constituted by self-organizing processes of the human body engaged with its environment. In this twofold way, I hope to pro- vide new resources for addressing the explanatory gap between con- sciousness and nature. The book’s subtitle indicates the principal resources from which I draw – biology, phenomenological philosophy stemming from Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and the cognitive and brain sciences. Any attempt to synthesize material from these disciplines faces two immediate challenges. On the one hand, traditional phenomenology would reject my proposal that advances in biology and the sciences of mind and brain can properly address issues about the teleology of life and the intentionality of consciousness. On the other hand, contempo- rary biology, neuroscience, and psychology would see phenomenol- ogy as irrelevant to their explanatory efforts and concerns. Hence another goal of my book is to show that science and phenomenology need each other and can work together productively to understand mind and life. I try to make good on this proposal in Part Three through detailed analyses of body awareness (Chapter Nine), percep- tion and mental imagery (Chapter Ten), time consciousness (Chapter Eleven), emotion (Chapter Twelve), and empathy and intersubject- ivity (Chapter Thirteen). Instead of trying to summarize these analyses and their supporting arguments, I will present in this Précis some of the main ideas of Mind in Life in relation to the book’s overarching aim.


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