Context: In his work on neurophenomenology, the late Francisco Varela overtly tackled the well-known “hard problem” of the (physical) origin of phenomenal consciousness. Problem: Did he have a theory for solving this problem? No, he declared, only a “remedy.” Yet this declaration has been overlooked: Varela has been considered (successively or simultaneously) as an idealist, a dualist, or an identity theorist. Results: These primarily theoretical characterizations of Varela’s position are first shown to be incorrect. Then it is argued that there exists a stance (let’s call it the Varelian stance) in which the problem of the physical origin of primary consciousness, or pure experience, does not even arise. Implications: The nature of the “hard problem” of consciousness is changed from an intellectual puzzle to an existential option. Constructivist content: The role of ontological prejudice about what the world is made of (a prejudice that determines the very form of the “hard problem” as the issue of the origin of consciousness out of a pre-existing material organization) is downplayed, and methodologies and attitudes are put to the fore.
Context: Radical constructivism claims that we have no final truth criteria for establishing one ontology over another. This leaves us with the question of how we can come to know anything in a viable manner. According to von Glasersfeld, radical constructivism is a theory of knowledge rather than a philosophy of the world in itself because we do not have access to a human-independent world. He considers knowledge as the ordering of experience to cope with situations in a satisfactory way. Problem: Von Foerster and Krippendorff show that the central goal of a constructivist theory of knowing must be to find a way of putting the knower into a known that is constructed so as to keep the knower, as well as the knowing process, viable in practice. Method: The conceptual and philosophical analysis of present theories and their necessary prerequisites suggests that such foundation for viable knowing can be built on the analysis of what the ontological prerequisites are for establishing viable observing, cognition, communication and observer-communicators, and communication media and vehicles. Results: The moment an observer chooses to accept his/her own embodied conscious presence in this world as well as language, he/she must accept other humans as partly independently existing conversation partners; if knowledge and knowing has to make sense, he/she must also accept as prerequisites for our observation and conversation a pre-linguistic reality from which our bodies come and which our conversation is often about. Furthermore, we can no longer claim that there is a reality that we do not know anything about: From being here in conversation, we know that the world can produce more or less stable embodied consciousnesses that can exchange and construct conceptual meanings through embodied conversations and actions that last over time and exist in space-time and mind, and are correlated to our embodied practices. We can also see that our communication works through signs for all living systems as well as in human language, understood as a structured and progressively developed system of communication. The prerequisite for this social semiotic production of meaning is the fourfold “semiotic star of cybersemiotics,” which includes at least four different worlds: our bodies, the combination of society, culture and language, our consciousness, and also an outer nature. Implications: The semiotic star in cybersemiotics claims that the internal subjective, the intersubjective linguistic, our living bodies, and nature are irreducible and equally necessary as epistemological prerequisites for knowing. The viable reality of any of them cannot be denied without self-refuting paradoxes. There is an obvious connectedness between the four worlds, which Peirce called “synechism.” It also points to Peirce’s conclusion that logic and rationality are part of the process of semiosis, and that meaning in the form of semiosis is a fundamental aspect of reality, not just a construction in our heads. Erratum: The paper erroneously refers to “pleroma.” The correct term is “plemora.”
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.