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.
Excerpt: In addition to this new methodological approach, neurophenomenology is also informed by an autopoietic conception of life; an enactive conception of mind; and a phenomenological conception of intentionality, subjectivity, and the lived body. These link neurophenomenology to what Francisco [Varela] called “renewed ontologies” of mind and life. This idea of renewed ontologies is what I want to talk about today.
Despite the fact that the rubber hand illusion (RHI) is an experimental paradigm that has been widely used in the last 14 years to investigate different aspects of the sense of bodily self, very few studies have sought to investigate the subjective nature of the experience that the RHI evokes. The present study investigates the phenomenology of the RHI through a specific elicitation method. More particularly, this study aims at assessing whether the conditions usually used as control in the RHI have an impact in the sense of body ownership and at determining whether there are different stages in the emergence of the illusion. The results indicate that far from being “all or nothing,” the illusion induced by the RHI protocol involves nuances in the type of perceptual changes that it creates. These perceptual changes affect not only the participants” perception of the rubber hand but also the perception of their real hand. In addition, perceptual effects may vary greatly between participants and, importantly, they evolve over time.
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 presents a novel reading of ideas on temporal binding as a key for cognitive operations by means of fast (gamma band) phase synchrony. We advocate a view of binding of widely distributed cell assemblies transiently locked in a neural hypergraph which serves as a reference point to incorporate or interpret other less coherent concurrent neural events. The paper traces in some detail the empirical evidence concerning the gamma binding process and presents some implications for the constitution of a unified cognitive-mental space. Relevance:
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.