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The Uroboros of Consciousness: Between the Naturalisation of Phenomenology and the Phenomenologisation of Nature

Sebastjan Vörös

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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.

Key words: Cognitive science, phenomenology, first-person approaches, naturalisation, phenomenologisation, lived experience, non-dualism


Vörös S. (2014) The uroboros of consciousness: Between the naturalisation of phenomenology and the phenomenologisation of nature. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 96–104. http://constructivist.info/10/1/096

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