How is life related to the mind? The question has long confounded philosophers and scientists, and it is this so-called explanatory gap between biological life and consciousness that Evan Thompson explores in Mind in Life. Thompson draws upon sources as diverse as molecular biology, evolutionary theory, artificial life, complex systems theory, neuroscience, psychology, Continental Phenomenology, and analytic philosophy to argue that mind and life are more continuous than has previously been accepted, and that current explanations do not adequately address the myriad facets of the biology and phenomenology of mind. Where there is life, Thompson argues, there is mind: life and mind share common principles of self-organization, and the self-organizing features of mind are an enriched version of the self-organizing features of life. Rather than trying to close the explanatory gap, Thompson marshals philosophical and scientific analyses to bring unprecedented insight to the nature of life and consciousness. This synthesis of phenomenology and biology helps make Mind in Life a vital and long-awaited addition to his landmark volume The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (coauthored with Eleanor Rosch and Francisco Varela).
This chapter presents a methodological approach to volitional consciousness for cognitive neuroscience based on studying the voluntary self-generation and self-regulation of mental states in meditation. Called contemplative neuroscience, this approach views attention, awareness, and emotion regulation as flexible and trainable skills, and works with experimental participants who have undergone training in contemplative practices designed to hone these skills. Drawing from research on the dynamical neural correlates of contemplative mental states and theories of large-scale neural coordination dynamics, I argue for the importance of global system causation in brain activity and present an “interventionist” approach to intentional causation.
Context: More than 20 years ago Varela initiated a research program to advance in the scientific study of consciousness, neurophenomenology. Problem: Has Varela’s neurophenomenology, the solution to the “hard problem,” been successful? Which issues remain unresolved, and why? Method: This introduction sketches the progress that has been made since then and links it to the contributions to this special issue. Results: Instead of a unified research field, today we find a variety of different interpretations and implementations of neurophenomenology. We argue that neurophenomenology needs to give additional attention to its experiential dimension by addressing first-person methods’ specific challenges and by rethinking the relationship between the frameworks of the first- and third-person approaches.
This paper discusses the notion of the self or identity as central to the unfolding of F. Varela’s work. From the fundamental concept of autopoiesis to the neurophenomenology program, the view of identity as non- fixed, always virtual, acts as a guiding thread in his elaboration of a non-dualistic vision of mind and experience. The Buddhist notion of sunyata, or emptiness, elucidates this notion of the “selfless self”, and underlies the evolution of Varela’s work toward an embodied-enactive conception of mind.
This paper is an attempt to arrive at a species-specific characterization of human consciousness by considering its value as a biological adaptation. The analysis considers conscious phenomena in animals to motivate the distinction between self-consciousness and consciousness; the distinction is substantiated with neurological data. The relation between self-consciousness and language is considered in the light of the evolution of human language. Finally, a mechanism is postulated, based on current neurobiological knowledge, which makes it possible to account for self-consciousness as an epiphenomenon of language.
This paper starts with one of Chalmers’ basic points: first-hand experience is an irreducible field of phenomena. I claim there is no ‘theoretical fix’ or ‘extra ingredient’ in nature that can possibly bridge this gap. Instead, the field of conscious phenomena requires a rigorous method and an explicit pragmatics for its exploration and analysis. My proposed approach, inspired by the style of inquiry of phenomenology, I have called neurophenomenology. It seeks articulations by mutual constraints between phenomena present in experience and the correlative field of phenomena established by the cognitive sciences. It needs to expand into a widening research community in which the method is cultivated further.
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.
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.
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.