CEPA eprint 1894 (FJV-1997h)

A science of consciousness as if experience mattered

Varela F. J. (1997) A science of consciousness as if experience mattered. In: Hameroff S., Kazniak A. & Scott A. (eds.) Towards the science of consciousness: The second Tucson discussions and debates. MIT Press: 31–44. Available at http://cepa.info/1894
Table of Contents
Why we need a radically new approach
A neurophenomenological approach
Irreducibility: The Basic Ground
Method: Moving Ahead
Attitude: Reduction
Intimacy: Intuition
Description: Invariants
Training: Stability
Avoiding standard traps
Phenomenological Analysis Is Not Introspedionism
Intuition Is Not “Some Fluffy Stuff”
Life Beyond the Objective-Subjective Duality
Better Pragmatics Are Needed
A neurophenomenological circulation
The working hypothesis of neurophenomenology
Why we need a radically new approach
A science of consciousness requires a significant reframing of the way that is usually posed within cognitive science and in the Anglo-American philosophy of mind. We need to turn to a systematic exploration of the only link between mind and consciousness that seems both obvious and natural: the structure of human experience itself {Varela 1996. Neurophenomenology: A methodological remedy for the hard problem & Journal of Consciousness Studies 3:330-349.}. [Note 1] Practically speaking, this means taking the tradition of phenomenology as a science of experience seriously and linking it skillfully with modem science. My purpose in this chapter is to sketch for the scientific study of consciousness a research direction that is radical in the way in which methodological principles are linked to scientific studies to seek a productive marriage between modern cognitive science and a disciplined approach to human experience. I call this approach neurophenomenology. [Note 2] No piecemeal empirical correlates or purely theoretical principles help at this stage. Yet, a skillful bridge-building between science and experience stands in stark contrast to what most people at the Tucson Conference presented.
Three axes seem to capture the essential orientations in the current boom of discussion on consciousness. These orientations are analogous to those in politics-the center, the right, and the left. The right, best represented by P. S. Churchland and F. Crick, is dose to the spontaneous philosophy of a significant: percentage of my colleagues in neuroscience, and is appropriately labeled as neuroreductionism or eliminitivism. As is well known, this view seeks to solve the “hard problem” by eliminating the pole of experience in favor of some form of neurobiological account that generates consciousness.
At the center position are a variety of proposals that can be labeled functionalistic. They are identified as the most popular ecology of ideas active today, and include a number of well-developed proposals such as Jackendorff’s (1987) “projective mechanism,” Baars’s (1992) “global workspace,” Dennett’s (1991) “multiple drafts,” Calvin’s (1990) “Darwinian machines,” or Edelman’s (1989) “neural Darwinism.” The basic move in these proposals is quite similar. First, start from the modular items of cognitive capacities (i.e., the “soft” problems). Second, construct a theoretical framework to put the items together so that their unity amounts to an account of experience. The strategy to bridge the emergent unity and experience itself varies, but typically the explanation is left vague because the proposals rely almost entirely on a third-person or externalistic approach to obtain data and to validate the theory. This position represents the work of an important segment of researchers in cognitive science. Its popularity rests on the acceptance of the reality of experience and mental life while keeping the methods and ideas within the known framework of empirical science.
Finally, to the left, is the sector that interests me most, the one that can be roughly described as giving an explicit and central role to first-person accounts and to the irreducible nature of experience while at the same time refusing both a dualistic concession or a pessimistic surrender. This sector has odd bedfellows such as Lakoff and Johnson’s (1987) approach to cognitive semantics, Searle’s (1994) ideas on ontological irreducibility, Globus’s (1995) “post-modem” brain, and, at the edge, Flannagan’s (1992) “reflective equilibrium” and Chalmers’s (1996) formulation of the hard problem in the study of consciousness.
What is interesting about this diverse group, within which I place myself, is that even though we share a concern for first-hand experience as basic fad to incorporate in the future of the discipline, the differences are patent in the manner in which experience is taken into .account. The phenomenological approach is grounded in the exploration of experience, which is the center of my proposal. This sufficiently clarifies, I hope, the context for my ideas within today’s debate. Now I can move into the heart of the matter: the nature of the circulation between a first-person account and an external account of human experience, the phenomenological position in fertile dialogue with cognitive science.
A neurophenomenological approach
Irreducibility: The Basic Ground
The phenomenological approach starts from the irreducible nature of conscious experience. Lived experience is where we start from. Most modem authors are either disinclined to focus on the distinction between mental life in a general sense and experience or they manifest some suspicion about the status of mental life.
From a phenomenological standpoint, conscious experience is at variance with that of mental content as it figures in the Anglo-American philosophy of mind. The tension between these two orientations appears in a rather dramatic fashion in Dennett’s book, (1991) in which he concludes with little effort (15 lines in a 550-page book) that phenomenology has failed. He remarks:
Like other attempts to strip away interpretation and reveal the basic facts of consciousness to rigorous observation, such as the Impressionistic move-ments in the arts [sic) and the Introspectionist psychologists of Wundt, Titchener and others, Phenomenology has failed to find a single settled method that everyone could agree upon. (p.44)
This passage is revealing: Dennett mixes apples and oranges by putting impressionism and introspectionism into the same bag; he confuses introspectionism with phenomenology, which it is most definitely not (see later discussion), and he draws his conclusion from the absence of some idyllic universal agreement that would validate the whole. Surely we would not demand “that everyone could agree” on, say, Darwinism, to make it a remarkably useful research program. And certainly some people agree on the established possibility of disciplined examination of human experience. Similarly, although Flannagan (1992) claims to make phenomenology into an essential dimension of his inclusive position, one does not find a single reference to what this tradition has accomplished or for some of its main exponents! In books that are in many other respects savant and insightful, this display of ignorance concerning phenomenology is a symptom that says a lot about what is amiss in this field.
Method: Moving Ahead
We need to explore, beyond the spook of subjectivity, the concrete possibilities of a disciplined examination of experience that is at the very core of the phenomenological inspiration. As stated earlier, the rediscovery:· of the primacy of human experience and its direct, lived quality is phenomenology’s foundational project. This is the sense within which Edmund Husser! inaugurated such thinking in the West and established a long tradition that is well and alive today not only in Europe but worldwide.
It is fair to say that phenomenology is, more than anything else, a style of thinking that was started in the West by Husserl but which does not exhaust his personal options and style. {I do not here want to engage in an account of the diversity and complexity of western phenomenology-see e.g., Spiegelberg 1962.) The contributions of individuals such as Eugen Fink, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, or Aaron Gurwitsch, to cite only a few, attest to the continuing development of phenomenology. More recently, various links with modern cognitive science have been explored (see, for instance, Dreyfus 1982; Varela, Thompson, and Rosch 1991; Petitot, Varela, Pachoud, and Roy et al. 1998; Thompson and Varela 1998). [Note 3] My observation is that most people unfamiliar with the phenomenological movement automatically assume that phenomenology is some sort of old-fashioned, European school.
My position cannot be ascribed to any particular school but represents my own synthesis of phenomenology in the light of modem cognitive science and other traditions focusing on human experience. Phenomenology can also be described as a special type of reflection or attitude about our capacity for being conscious. All reflection reveals a variety of mental contents (mental acts) and their correlated orientation or intended contents. Natural or naïve attitude takes for granted a number of received claims about both the nature of the experiencer and its intended objects. It was Husserl’s hope (and the basic inspiration behind phenomenological research) that a true science of experience would gradually be established-one that could not only stand on equal footing with the natural sciences, but that could give them a needed ground, since knowledge necessarily emerges from our lived experience.
On the one hand, experience is suffused with spontaneous pre-understanding; thus, it might seem that any theory about experience is quite superfluous. On the other hand, pre-understanding itself must be examined since it is unclear what kind of knowledge it represents. Experience demands specific examination to free it from its status as habitual belief. Phenomenology aims its movement towards a fresh look at experience in a specific gesture of reflection or phenomenological reduction (PhR). [Note 4]
This approach or gesture changes the habitual ways in which we relate to our lived world, which does not mean to consider a different world, but to consider the present one otherwise. This gesture transforms a naive or unexamined experience into a reflexive or second-order one. Phenomenology correctly insists on a shift from the natural to the phenomenological attitude because only then can the world and experience appear as open and in need of exploration. The meaning and pragmatics of PhR have taken several variants from this common trunk. [Note 5]
The conscious gesture at the base of PhR can be decomposed into four intertwined moments or aspects:
Attitude: Reduction
The attitude of reduction is the necessary starting point. It can also be defined by its similarities to doubt: a sudden, transient suspension of beliefs about what is being examined, a putting in abeyance of habitual discourse about something, a bracketing of the preset structuring that constitutes the ubiquitous background of everyday life. Reduction is self-induced (it is an active gesture), and it seeks to be resolved (dissipating doubts) because it is here as a source of experience. A common mistake assumes that suspending habitual thinking means stopping the stream of thoughts, which is not possible. The point is to tum the direction of the movement of thinking from its habitual, content-oriented direction backwards toward the arising of thoughts themselves. This is no more than the very human capacity for reflexivity, and the lifeblood of reduction. To engage in reduction is to cultivate a systematic capacity for reflexiveness and thus open up new possibilities within one’s habitual mind stream. For instance, right now you, the reader, are probably making some internal remarks concerning what reduction is, what it reminds you of, and so on. To mobilize an attitude of reduction begins by noticing those automatic thought patterns, taking a reflexive distance from them, and focusing reflection toward their source.
Intimacy: Intuition
The result of reduction is that a field of experience appears both less encumbered and more vividly present, as if the habitual distance separating the experiencer and the world has been dispelled. As William James saw, the immediacy of experience thus appears surrounded by a diversity of horizons to which we can tum our interest. The gain in intimacy with the phenomenon is crucial because it is the basis of the criteria of truth in phenomenological analysis, the nature of its evidence. Intimacy or immediacy is the beginning of the process, and it continues by cultivation of imaginary variations, in the virtual space of mind considers multiple possibilities of the phenomenon as it appears. These ideal variations are familiar to us from mathematics, but here they serve whatever becomes the focus of our analysis: perception of three-dimensional form, the structure of newness, the manifestations of empathy, and so on. Through these multiple variations a new stage of understanding arises, an “Aha!” experience, which adds a new evidence that carries a force of conviction. This moving intimacy with our experience corresponds well to what is traditionally referred to as intuition, and represents, along with reflection, the two main human capacities that are mobilized and cultivated in PhR.
Description: Invariants
To stop at reduction followed by imaginary variations would be to condemn this method to private ascertainment. As crucial as the preceding ones is the next component. The gain in intuitive evidence must be inscribed or translated into communicable items, usually through language or other symbolic . inscriptions (e.g., sketches or formulae). The materialities of these descriptions, however, are also a constitutive part of the PhR and shape our experience as much as the intuition that shapes them. In other words, we are not talking about an “encoding” into’ a public record but of an ‘‘embodiment” that incarnates and shapes what we experience. I refer to these public descriptions as invariants because through variations one finds broad conditions under which an observation can be communicable. This is not so different from what mathematicians have done for centuries-the novelty is its application to the contents of consciousness.
Training: Stability
As with any discipline, sustained training and steady learning are key. A casual inspection of consciousness is a far cry from the disciplined cultivation of PhR. This point is particularly relevant because the attitude of reduction is notoriously fragile. If one does not cultivate the skill to stabilize and. deepen one’s capacity for attentive bracketing and intuition along with the skill for illuminating descriptions, no systematic study can mature. This last aspect of the PhR is perhaps the greatest obstacle for the constitution of a research program since it implies a disciplined commitment from a community of researchers. Table 2.1 summarizes the four aspects of phenomenological reduction.
Table 2.1: Aspects of Phenomenological Reduction
Aspect Characteristics of Resulting ExaminationAttitudeBracketing, suspending beliefsIntuitionIntimacy, immediate evidenceInvariantsInscriptions, intersubjectivityTrainingStability, pragmatics
Avoiding standard traps
Previous presentations of these ideas have prompted a number of recurrent traps and misleading conclusions. Let me address a few of them in a preventive move.
Phenomenological Analysis Is Not Introspedionism
As many have remarked, introspection presupposes that we have access to our experience in the same manner that we have access to an inner visual field, as the etymology of the word suggests, by inspection. Such an internal examination is a normal cognitive ability of reflective doubling, a gesture in which we engage regularly.
In the days of pre-phenomenology (i.e., without reduction} introspection elicited a wave of interest in psychology, starting with the work of Wundt and followed by others· such as Titchener in the United States and the Würzburg school. Despite an initial enthusiasm, the research program advanced by introspectionism did not take root. Among other problems, reports from different laboratories could not reach a common ground of validation. The historical account of Lyons (1986) was written as an obituary for introspection, but it was a hasty conclusion, as Howe (1991) reminded us. This manner of mobilizing reflexive capacities still falls into the natural attitude for a phenomenologist, for it rides on the wave of previous elaborations and assumptions.
Phenomenology does share With introspectionism an interest in the reflexive doubling as a key move of its approach to phenomena, but there the two attitudes part company. In PhR, the skill to be mobilized is called bracketing for good reasons, since it seeks precisely the opposite effect of an uncritical introspection – it cub short our quick and fast elaborations and beliefs, in particular location, and puts in abeyance what we consider we think we should find, or some expected description. Thus, PhR is not a “seeing inside,” but a tolerance concerning the suspension of conclusions that allows a new aspect or insight into the phenomenon to unfold. In consequence, this move does not sustain the basic subject–object duality but opens into a field of phenomena in which it becomes less obvious how to distinguish between subject and object (the “fundamental correlation” discussed by Husser!).
Intuition Is Not “Some Fluffy Stuff”
Many people react to the mention of intuition with suspicion. In this context, intuitive capacity does not refer here to some elusive, will-o’-wisp inspiration. It is, on the contrary, a basic human ability that operates constantly in daily life and that has been widely discussed in studies of creativity. In mathematics, for example, ultimately the weight of a proof is its convincing nature – the immediacy of the evidence imposed on us beyond the Logical chains of symbolic reasoning. This is the nature of intuitive evidence: born not of argument but from the establishment of a clarity that is fully convincing. We take this capacity for granted and do little to cultivate it in a systematic manner. Obviously, there is no contradiction here with reasoning and inference – intuition without reasoning is blind, but ideas without intuition are empty.
Life Beyond the Objective-Subjective Duality
One of the originalities of the phenomenological attitude is that it does not seek to oppose the subjective to the objective but to move beyond the split into their fundamental correlation. PhR takes us quickly into the evidence that consciousness is inseparably linked to what goes beyond itself (“transcendental” in Husserlian terms).
Consciousness is not some private, internal event having, in the end, an existence of the same kind as the external, nonconscious world. Phenomenological investigation is not my “private trip” since it is destined for others through intersubjective validation. In this sense, what one is up to in phenomenological attitude is not radically different from other modes of inquiry.
Through PhR, consciousness appears as a foundation that sheds light on how derived notions such as objectivity and subjectivity can arise in the first place. Hence, consciousness in this. style of examination is drastically different from that of Anglo-American empiricism. We are not concerned with a private inspection but with a realm of phenomena in which subjectivity and objectivity, as well as subject and others, emerge from the method applied and from its context. This is a point that reductionists and functionalists often miss. Experience is clearly a personal event, but that does not mean it is private in the sense that it is a kind of isolated subject parachuted down to a pre-given objective world. One of the most impressive discoveries of the phenomenological movement is to have quickly realized that an investigation of the structure of human experience inevitably induces a shift toward considering several levels of my consciousness as inextricably linked to those of others and to the phenomenal world in an empathic mesh (Depraz 1995).
Consequently, the usual opposition of first-person vs. third-person accounts is misleading. It makes us forget that so-called third-person, objective accounts are done by a community of peopl~ who are embodied in their social and natural worlds as much as are first-person accounts.
Better Pragmatics Are Needed
On the whole, my claim is that neurophenomenology is a natural solution that can allow us to move beyond the hard problem in the study of consciousness. It has little to do with some theoretical or conceptual “extra ingredient,” to use Chalmers’s (1996) formula. Instead, it acknowledges a realm of practical ignorance that can be remedied. It is also dear that, like all solutions in science that radically reframe an open problem instead of trying to solve it within its original setting, it has a revolutionary potential. In other words, instead of finding extra ingredients to account for how consciousness emerges from matter and brain, my proposal reframes the question to that of finding meaningful bridges between two irreducible phenomenal domains. In this specific sense, neurophenomenology is a potential solution to the hard problem by framing what “hard” means in an entirely different light.
Unfortunately, a pragmatics of what is available in published form about reduction are limited. [Note 6] This situation is both a symptom and a cause for the relative paucity of recent work bearing on phenomenological approaches to mind. The reader cannot be blamed for not having had more than a passing whiff of what I mean by emphasizing the gesture of reduction, the core of the my methodological remedy. It is remarkable that this capacity for becoming aware. has been paid so little attention as a human pragmatic. It is as if the exploration of rhythmic movement had led to no development of dance training. A phenomenologically inspired reflection requires strategies for its development, as cognitive practicians have known for some time (Vermersch 1994) and as attested in the mindfulness tradition of various Buddhist schools (Varela, Thompson, and Rosch 1991). My only comment concerning this relative poverty of pragmatical elaboration is that it represents an urgent call for research to fill this gaping need. (My contribution concerning the practice of reduction and its training will be presented in Depraz, Varela, and Vermersch 1998).
In the West we have not had a rich pantheon of individuals gifted for phenomenological expertise (with notable exceptions, such as Husserl or James), who have rendered their investigations to an attentive community. In consequence, this avenue of inquiry may appear foreign to many readers. But my contention is precisely that this absence is at the root of consciousness’s opacity for science today. What is needed are precisely the connecting structures provided by PhR because they are both immediately pertinent for experience by their very nature and, at the same time, are sufficiently intersubjective to serve as constructive counterparts for external analysis.
From the standpoint of phenomenology, experimental psychology and modern cognitive science miss a fundamental dimension of mental phenom-ena by dismissing an analysis of immediate, direct experience. Husserl stated that even if it took time, some day the scientific community would “consider the instrument of phenomenological eidetic theory to be no less important, indeed at first probably very much more than mechanical instruments” (one could add, today, computers and electronics). In this context Husserl also raised an “analogy of proportionality” between mathematics and modem physics and between pure phenomenology and psychology. Clearly, this analogy has to be handled with care, but it is useful in this context because it highlights the inescapable need to seek a disciplined approach to include experience in our study of mind and toward a genuine science of consciousness.
A neurophenomenological circulation
In recent years, a number of different studies, although remaining well-grounded in the scientific tradition of cognitive neuroscience, have shown that the part played by lived experience is progressively more important to the extent that it begins to enter inescapably into the picture apart from any interest in first-person accounts (Picton and Stuss 1994). Clearly, as more sophisticated methods of brain imaging become available, we shall need subjects whose competence in making phenomenological discriminations and descriptions is developed. This is an important philosophical issue, but it is also a pragmatic, empirical need.
For instance, temporality is inseparable from all experience, at various horizons of duration from present nowness to an entire life span. One level of study is precisely the experience of immediate time, the structure of nowness as such (or in James’s happy phrase, “the specious present”). This has been a traditional theme in phenomenological studies and describes a basic, three-part structure of the present with its constitutive threads into past and future horizons, the so-called protentions and retentions (Husserl 1966; McInemy 1991). In fact, these structural invariants are not compatible with the point-continuum representation of linear time we have inherited
from physics. But they do link naturally to the body of conclusions in cognitive neuroscience that there is a minimal time required for the emergence of neural events that correlate to a cognitive event (Dennett and Kinsboume 1992). This non-compressible time framework can be analyzed as a manifestation of long-range neuronal integration in the brain linked to a widespread synchrony (Varela 1995). The link illuminates both the nature of phenomenological invariants via a dynamical reconstruction that underlies them and gives to the process of synchrony a tangible experiential content. I have developed this neurophenomenological view of temporal nowness in detail elsewhere (Varela 1998).
The evocation of study cases such as this one is meant to provide a concrete background to discuss further the central concern of the neurophenomenological program. On one hand, we have a process of emergence with well defined neurobiological attributes; on the other, a phenomena-logical description that links directly to our lived experience. To make further progress we need cutting-edge techniques, analyses from science, and consistent development of phenomenological investigation for the purposes of the research itself.
Do I expect the list of structural invariants relevant to human experience to grow ad infinitum? Certainly not. 1surmise that the horizon of fundamental topics can be expected to converge towards a corpus of well-integrated knowledge. When and how fast this happens depends on the pace at which a community of researchers committed to this mode of inquiry is Constituted to create further standards of evidence.
The working hypothesis of neurophenomenology
Only a balanced and disciplined account of both the external and experiential side of an issue can make us move closer to bridging the biological mind–experiential mind gap:
Phenomenological accounts of the structure of experience and their counterparts in cognitive science relate to each through reciprocal constraints.
The key point here is that by emphasizing a codetermination of both accounts one can explore the bridges, challenges, insights, and contradictions between them. Both domains of phenomena have equal status in demanding full attention and respect for their specificity. It is quite easy to see how scientific accounts illuminate mental experience, but the reciprocal direction, from experience towards science, is what is typically ignored.
Phenomenological accounts provide at least two main aspects of the larger picture. First, without these accounts, the first-hand quality of experience vanishes or becomes a mysterious riddle. Thus, they provide scientific studies with a dimension of meaning that is otherwise lost Second, structural accounts provide constraints on empirical observations. For instance, a computational, step-by-step interpretation of time is in fact excluded by the phenomenological evidence, whereas a dynamical account of resonance is strongly suggested (Varela 1998).
The study of experience is not a convenient stop on our way to a real explanation, but an active participant in its own right. Clearly, in this research program, a certain body of evidence is slowly accumulated; other aspects are more obscure and difficult to seize. The study cases mentioned above need substantially more development, but I hope it is clear how they begin to provide a stereoscopic perspective on the various large, local issues in which experience and cognitve science become active partners.
The demand for a disciplined circulation is both a more precise and a more demanding standard than the “reflective equilibrium” proposed by Flannagan (1992) or the “conscious projection” put forth by Velmans (1996). Although there is a similarity in intention to what I am proposing here, these authors have proposed no explicit or new methodological grounds for carrying out these intentions.
Still, is this not just a fleshed-up version of the well-known identity theory (or at least a homomorphism) between experience and cognitive neuroscientific accounts? Not really, because I claim that the correlates are to be established, not just as a matter of philosophical commitment or physicalist assumption, but from a methodologically sound examination of experiential invariants. This is a question of pragmatics and learning of a method, not of a priori argumentation or theoretical completeness. ·
One obtains an intellectually coherent account of mind and consciousness at the point at which the experiential pole enters directly into the formulation of the complete account and thus makes direct reference to the nature of our lived experience. In all functionalistic accounts, what is missing is not the coherent nature of the explanation but its alienation from human life. Only putting human life back can erase that absence, not an extra ingredient or a theoretical fix.
One must take seriously the double challenge my proposal represents. First, it demands relearning and a mastery of the skill of phenomenological description. This should not be different from the acquisition of any other skill, like learning to play an instrument or to speak a new language. Anyone who engages in learning is bringing forth a change in everyday life. This is the meaning of the fourth item in PhR: sustained, disciplined learning does entail transformation just as does anything else one does in a sustained mode. One needs to reject the assumption (as I do) that there is a type of well-defined standard for what counts as real or normal experience. Experience appears to be inherently open ended and pliable; hence, there is no contradiction in saying that sustained training in a method can make available aspects of experience that were not available before. The point of PhR is to overcome the habit of automatic introspection; we need not mourn for what may be lost. but tum our interest to what can be learned.
The second challenge that my proposal represents is that of a call for transforming the style and values of the research community itself. Unless we accept that at this point in intellectual and scientific history radical relearning is necessary, we cannot hope to move forward in the compulsive history of the ambivalent rejection–fascination with consciousness in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. My proposal implies that every good student of cognitive science who is also interested in issues at the level of mental experience must inescapably attain a level of mastery in phenomenological examination to work seriously with first-person accounts.
This can only happen when the entire community adjusts itself to the corresponding acceptance of arguments, the refereeing standards and editorial policies in major scientific journals, which can make this added competence an important dimension of a young researcher. To the long-standing tradition of objectivist science this sounds like anathema, and it is. But it is not a betrayal of science; it is a necessary extension and complement. Science and experience constrain and modify each other as in a dance. This is where the potential for transformation lies. It is also the key for the difficulties this position has found within the scientific community because it requires us to leave behind a certain image of how science is done and to question a style of training in science which is part of the very fabric of our cultural identity.
In brief, then:
I take lived, first-hand experience as a proper field of phenomena, irreducible to anything· else. My claim is that there is no theoretical fix or extra ingredient in nature that can possibly bridge this gap.This field of phenomena requires a proper, rigorous method and pragmatics for its exploration and analysis.The orientation for such method is inspired from the style of inquiry of phenomenology to constitute a widening research community and a research program.The research program seeks articulations by mutual constraints between field of phenomena revealed by experience and the correlative field of phenomena established by the cognitive sciences. I call this point of view neurophenomenology.
My thanks to all my phenomenological seekers-partners in Paris and elsewhere, especially Jean Petitot, Jean-Michel Roy, Natalie Depraz, Evan Thompson, and· Pierre Vermersch.
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This paper is a modified version of Varela (1996), keeping the main ideas that were actually presented for my invited lecture at Tucson. I am grateful to the editors of the Journal of Consciousness Studies for letting me recycle my text for the present volume. Some ideas also appear in D. Aerts, ed. Einstein Meets Magritte: An Interdisciplinary Conference. Amsterdam: Kluwer Associated, 1997.
The usage of “neuro” should be taken here as a nom de guerre: It is chosen in explicit contrast to the current usage of “neurophilosophy,” which identifies philosophy with the Anglo-American philosophy of mind. Further, “neuro” here refers to the entire array of scientific correlates that are relevant in cognitive science. But to speak of a neuropsychoevolutionary phenomenology is not very handy.
Cognitive scientists may have. read the collection edited by Dreyfus {1982), which prevents Husserl as some sort of protocomputationalist, and assume that this historical -anecdote is all they need to know about phenomenology. As critics have made dear, however, Dreyfus’s reading of Husserl is seriously flawed, see Langsdorf (1985), McIntyre (1986), and Roy (1995).
The reader should refrain from the temptation to assimilate this usage of the word “reduction” with that of “theoretical reduction” as it appears, for instance, in the neuroreductionist framework and as well-articulated in the writings of P. Churchland. The two meanings run completely opposite one another; it is convenient to append a qualifier.
For a recent discussion about the varieties of reduction see Bernet (1994), pp. 5-36. Husserl’s first articulation can be found in his breakthrough lectures of 1910 (Husserl, 1970).
But see the early attempts of Don Ihde (1977) to remedy this situation as cited in Marbach (1988), p. 254.
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