In this text the author reviews the recent history of the preoccupation with the study of consciousness within the field of the cognitive sciences. A general categorization of approaches is provided, running from the neuro-reductionist or objectivist positions to those that leave an explicit place for subjective accounts in the study of conscious experience. Positioning himself in this latter category, the author defines the task of neurophenomenology as the exploration of the modes of circulation between first- and third-person accounts of experience. For this to be carried out, phenomenological method must be employed in order to produce and refine data from subjective experience. This data, it is argued, creates evidence that can then be related to empirical data, creating a relation of generative mutual constraint between first-and third-person perspectives on conscious experience.
Varela F. J. (2002) Upwards and downwards causation in the brain: Case studies on the emergence and efficacy of consciousness. In: Yasue K. & Jibu M. (eds.) No matter, never mind: Proceedings of Toward a Science of Consciousness: Fundamental approaches, Tokyo 1999. Benjamin Publishers, Amsterdam: 95–108. https://cepa.info/2042
A good number of researchers take for granted that a first step toward a real science of consciousness is to discover its neural correlates. Yet there is a tendency to assume that we all agree on what a neural correlate of consciousness (NCC) would look like if we ever saw one. But the question is thorny and complex. It hides behind this apparent straight-forwardness a knot of conceptual, phenomenological, and empirical issues about the nature of consciousness and its relation to the organism and its brain. This paper will not attempt to address this broad issue head on (for more see Thompson and Varela 2000). My contribution in this presentation is more circumscribed: to highlight a complementary pair of notions that seem to be essential to clear the ground for further progress. This is the intrinsic complementarity between upwards and downwards causation (as they will be defined below). I intend to do this basically by bringing in to play two case studies or examples that make this pair of notions empirically relevant and then conclude with some remarks of a more general nature.
Varela F. J. & Depraz N. (2003) Imagining: Embodiment, phenomenology, transformation. In: Wallace B. A. (ed.) Buddhism & science: Breaking new ground. Columbia University Press, New York: 195–230. https://cepa.info/2048
Our purpose in this essay is to let imagination be a guiding thread in a journey of exploration of its inextricably nondual quality, making it possible to travel from its material-brain basis to its experiential quality without discontinuity. That is, we are not going to propose a “bridge” between a scientific view of imagination and its place in the Buddhist discipline of human transformation. Our purpose is to embrace the entire phenomenon in all its complexity and weave it as a unity with its many dimensions, which need and constrain each other without residue – in the body and brain, in its direct phenomenological examination, and in its pragmatic mobilization for human change. Only such weaving can be called a meeting of Buddhism and neuroscience on a new phenomenological ground.
Varela F. J. & Thompson E. (1990) Color vision: A case study for the foundations of cognitive science. Revue de Synthèse 111(1): 129–138. https://cepa.info/1951
The paper unfolds in three stages. In the first, we briefly review some current work in the study of color vision. This view will then be taken to a critical limit in the second stage, through what we like to call the comparative argument. It purports to demonstrate the mode in which color vision is an ecologically embedded activity rather a form of information processing. We warn the reader immediately that we do not construe this in any way as a form of subjectivist view that color is a type of sensation, nor as a Lockean view that color is a form of secondary disposition. The comparative argument, we argue, allows to go beyond both those classical positions. This is done in the third and final part where we layout an enactive view of color.
Varela F. J. & Thompson E. (2003) Neural synchrony and the unity of mind: A neurophenomenological perspective. In: Cleeremans A. (ed.) The unity of consciousness: Binding, integration and dissociation. Oxford University Press, New York: 266–287. https://cepa.info/4836
Excerpt: In this paper, we wish to present a fresh approach to research on neural synchrony and the unity of mind and consciousness through a consideration of the place of mind in the network of natural causality. In particular, beyond the mechanisms of neural synchrony, we wish to consider the issue of the causal efficacy of consciousness – that aspect of consciousness in virtue of which we human beings (and other animals) qualify as conscious agents. Our approach will be to reconsider neural synchrony and consciousness within the context of two key concepts – emergence (or emergent processes) and embodiment.
Vásquez-Rosati A. (2017) Body Awareness to Recognize Feelings: The Exploration of a Musical Emotional Experience. Constructivist Foundations 12(2): 219–226. https://cepa.info/4083
Context: The current study of emotions is based on theoretical models that limit the emotional experience. The collection of emotional data is through self-report questionnaires, restricting the description of emotional experience to broad concepts or induced preconceived qualities of how an emotion should be felt. Problem: Are the emotional experiences responding exclusively to these concepts and dimensions? Method: Music was used to lead participants into an emotional experience. Then a micro-phenomenological interview, a methodology with a phenomenological approach, was used to guide their descriptions. Results: The descriptions of emotional experiences revealed a temporal structure that could have a linear or circular development. Moreover the qualitative aspects disclosed that these experiences are characterized by corporal sensations and marked variations of emotional intensity. Additionally, the emotional experience was embodied. Implications: The emotional experience is a dynamic process in which bodily sensations take a primary role, allowing the identification of such emotions. The integration of these first-person features of emotional experience with third-person data could lead to a better understanding and interpretation of emotional processes. Constructivist content: This article highlights the need to integrate first-person and third-person methodologies to study and explain human behavior in a comprehensive manner. Key Words: Emotion, experience, micro-phenomenological interview, body, music, affective neuroscience.
Vörös S. (2014) The Autopoiesis of Peace: Embodiment, Compassion, and the Selfless Self. Poligrafi 19(75/76): 125–148. https://cepa.info/2195
The aim of this paper is to detail a recent paradigm shift in the field of cognitive science (the so-called embodied or enactive approach to cognition) and to demonstrate how its unique approach to understanding life, the mind, and cognition might facilitate peaceful and compassionate coexistence. The paper is divided into three parts: first, it examines the so-called autopoietic theory of life, as proposed by Maturana and Varela. According to the embodied/enactive approach, there is a deep continuity between the structure of life and the structure of the mind, so before delving into the realm of the mental, it is important to acquaint ourselves with the fundamentals of the so-called bio-logic (the dialectical logic of living systems). Second, having elucidated the general anatomy of life, this paper goes on to discuss how the dialectical principles of bio-logic translate to the dialectical principles of neuro-logic and provides an outline of the fundamental nature of human beings as embodied organisms embedded in their environment. Third, drawing on the idea of co-determination of self and the world, which lies at the heart of bioand neuro-logic, it is argued that the dialectical structure of life and mind manifests itself in empathic openness towards the other and is thus not merely a theoretical postulate, but an experiential (realizable) actuality that can be cultivated through the application of various meditative/contemplative and therapeutic practices. This, as it turns out, is of utmost importance for the possibility of a sustained (auto)poiesis of peace, for it is only when one actually lives (en-acts), and not merely thinks, the co-determination (nondistinction) between one-self and the other that peaceful coexistence (genuine inter-being) can arise and propagate.
Context: Most recent attempts to define cognition dialectically lack the philosophical completeness necessary to explain neurocognitive and mental processes. Problem: Under what conditions could neurophenomenology be thought of as dialectical and what would be the implications of such a conception for contemporary issues such as “social cognition” and phenomenological subjectivity? Method: I assess dialectical approaches to neurocognitive processes and mind mostly within the recent neurophenomenological literature and provide reasons as to why these approaches could be further improved using Hegel’s conception of dialectical processes. Results: As suggested in the context of research on extended cognition, mostly by Gallagher and Crisafi, a cognitively shaped understanding of Hegel’s philosophy allows us to understand how neurophenomenology can be conceptualized dialectically. It allows us to conceive precisely of how dialectical processes can help shape our understanding of cognition from individual neurocognitive operations to socially embedded processes. A dialectical interpretation of Varela’s conception of neurocognitive processes can help achieve the endeavor of recent sociological work to understand the “continuity” from individual to social “entities” through a “relational ontology.” This amounts to expanding, through a neurodialectical framework, Gallagher’s research on extended cognition as well as articulating it with his most recent conception of “decentered” cognition. Implications: Neurodialectics has straightforward implications for phenomenological understandings of subjectivity as well as for recent sociological research: in both cases, it can provide us with a philosophically meaningful and empirically sustainable framework. In particular, it could help philosophically expand Gallagher’s “decentered” model of brainhood. Constructivist Content: I argue in favor of a general philosophical perspective, the neurodialectical one, stressing the “primacy of moulding on being.”