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.
The problems associated with a really conscious decision do not disappear by mixing determination with a touch of coincidence. Both must enter into a higher unity. In so doing it will emerge that a certain degree of freedom of choice (or free will) is just as omnipresent as consciousness – an inherent part of reality itself. Relevance: This paper unites aspects of radical constructivism, non-dualism and first-person approaches to explain freedom of choice by a broader definition of consciousness.
Context: The burgeoning field of consciousness studies has recently witnessed a revival of first-person approaches based on phenomenology in general and Husserlian phenomenology in particular. However, the attempts to introduce phenomenological methods into cognitive science have raised serious doubts as to the feasibility of such projects. Much of the current debate has revolved around the issue of the naturalisation of phenomenology, i.e., of the possibility of integrating phenomenology into the naturalistic paradigm. Significantly less attention has been devoted to the complementary process of the phenomenologisation of nature, i.e., of a (potentially radical) transformation of the theoretical and existential underpinnings of the naturalist framework. Problem: The aim of this article is twofold. First, it provides a general overview of the resurgence of first-person methodologies in cognitive sciences, with a special emphasis on a circular process of naturalising phenomenology and phenomenologising nature. Secondly, it tries to elucidate what theoretical (conceptual) and practical (existential) implications phenomenological approaches might have for the current understanding of nature and consciousness. Results: It is argued that, in order for the integration of phenomenological and scientific approaches to prove successful, it is not enough merely to provide a firm naturalistic grounding for phenomenology. An equally, if not even more important, process of phenomenological contextualisation of science must also be considered, which might have far-reaching implications for its theoretical underpinnings (move from disembodied to embodied models) and our existential stance towards nature and consciousness (cultivation of a non-dual way of being. Implications: The broader theoretical framework brought about by the circular exchange between natural sciences and phenomenology can contribute to a more holistic conception of science, one that is in accord with the cybernetic idea of second-order science and based on a close interconnection between (abstract) reflection and (lived) experience. Constructivist content: The (re)introduction of first-person approaches into cognitive science and consciousness studies evokes the fundamental circularity that is characteristic of second-order cybernetics. It provides a rich framework for a dialogue between science and lived experience, where scientific endeavour merges with the underlying existential structures, while the latter remains reflectively open to scientific findings and proposals.