Neurophenomenology

“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 in order to work seriously with first-person accounts. But this can only happen when the entire community adjusts itself — with a corresponding change of attitude in relation to acceptable forms of argument, refereeing standards and editorial policies in major scientific journals — so that this added competence becomes an important dimension for a young researcher. To the long-standing tradition of objectivist science this sounds anathema, and it is. But this 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. 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.”

F. J. Varela

The “problem” of Consciousness

We appear to oscillate between the belief that “we can know everything” and the doubt that “we can’t really know anything”. These two tendencies radicalize with the problem of consciousness. What is at stake then is the nature of our most intimate, yet unspeakable, reality. In our habit of localizing function, the brain stands as the indisputable substrate for consciousness. Yet, “thought is in the world”, and the world is most likely made of events (process) or of language (meaning) rather than of stuff (matter). So its physical substrate, as necessary as it might be, cannot be its sufficient explanation. But the scientist is instructed not to look inside, while the mystic does without what is going on outside. One holds on to matter to try to control life; the other suspends life in order to try to grasp mind. Reality alternates between an enigma and a mystery. And thus we recur in this double movement of crossing the boundary between manipulation and contemplation; between doubt and belief. Shall the boundary be crossed once more, or rather dissolved at once? Being aware of the process of evolution is an invaluable hint: it can help us move forward if we realize that, when fish left the water (I mean it literally), the possible did not precede the real. In other words, creative advance is perhaps the only possible (inevitable) way to bootstrap our habits and personal stories, and have the courage to face that “everything occurs in the presence of its opposite”. In this session we will be in the presence of the opposite. In particular, I will share my attempts and insights on how the study of the biological structure of movement in animal behavior can reflect how matter and mind are to be found in life as one. And so, there is an opportunity to experience an upgrade of the current “operating system” (aka, intelligence) into a higher state of mind. Most likely this needs to happen first at an individual level, and fleetingly. Yet, once the first man figured out how to ride a bike, riding a bike became a human fact. So, perhaps, after all, the solution to the problem that convokes us here is more about willingness and less about speculation. We will see.

Time and Individuality

“The modern Heraclitean is Alfred North Whitehead, but he is Heraclitus with a change. The doctrine of the latter, while it held that all things flow like a river and that change is so continuous that a man cannot step into the same river even once (since it changes as he steps), nevertheless also held that there is a fixed order which controls the ebb and flow of the universal tide.”

John Dewey