Publication 2042

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. Fulltext at
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.

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