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Contents: Volume 1, Number 2 (2002)
Depraz, N. Introduction: Confronting death before death: Between imminence and unpredictability (pp. 83-95)
The contributions in this special issue are selected papers from a conference entitled La nature de l'esprit: à la croisée de la philosophie phénoménologique, de la neuro-biologie et des traditions spirituelles -- Journée en hommage à Francisco Varela, organized by N. Depraz in Paris, October 13th 2001, at the Maison Heinrich Heine (Cité Universitaire), under the auspices of the Collège International de Philosophie.Weber, A. and Varela, F. J. Life after Kant: Natural purposes and the autopoietic foundations of biological individuality (97-125)
This paper proposes a basic revision of the understanding of teleology in biological sciences. Since Kant, it has become customary to view purposiveness in organisms as a bias added by the observer; the recent notion of teleonomy expresses well this "as-if" character of natural purposes. In recent developments in science, however, notions such as self-organization (or complex systems) and the autopoiesis viewpoint, have displaced emergence and circular self-production as central features of life. Contrary to an often superficial reading, Kant gives a multi-faceted account of the living, and anticipates this modern reading of the organism, even introducing the term "self-organization" for the first time. Our re-reading of Kant in this light is strengthened by a group of philosophers of biology, with Hans Jonas as the central figure, who put back on center stage an organism-centered view of the living, an autonomous center of concern capable of providing an interior perspective. Thus, what is present in nuce in Kant, finds a convergent development from this current of philosophy of biology and the scientific ideas around autopoeisis, two independent but parallel developments culminating in the 1970s. Instead of viewing meaning or value as artifacts or illusions, both agree on a new understanding of a form of immanent teleology as truly biological features, inevitably intertwined with the self-establishment of an identity which is the living process.
Barbaras , R. Francisco Varela: A new idea of perception and life (127-132)
Connections among Varela's theory of enactive cognition, his evolutionary theory of natural drift, and his concept of autopoiesis are made clear. Two questions are posed in relation to Varela's conception of perception, and the tension that exists in his thought between the formal level of organization and the Jonasian notion of the organism.
Lutz, A. Toward a neurophenomenology as an account of generative passages: A first empirical case study (pp. 133-167)
This paper analyzes an explicit instantiation of the program of "neurophenomenology" (Varela, 1996) in a neuroscientific protocol. Neurophenomenology takes seriously the importance of linking the scientific study of consciousness to the careful examination of experience with a specific first-person methodology. My first claim is that such strategy is a fruitful heuristic because it produces new data and illuminates their relation to subjective experience. My second claim is that the approach could open the door to a natural account of the structure of human experience as it is mobilized in itself in such methodology. In this view, generative passages (Varela, 1997) define the type of circulation which explicitly roots the active and disciplined insight the subject has about his/her experience in a biological emergent process.
Le Vanquyen, M. and Petitmengin, C. Neuronal dynamics and conscious experience: an example of reciprocal causation before epileptic seizures (pp. 169-180)
Neurophenomenology is not only philosophical but also empirical and experimental. Our purpose in this article is to illustrate concretely the efficiency of this approach in the field of neuroscience and, more precisely here, in epileptology. A number of recent observations have indicated that epileptic seizures do not arise suddenly simply as the effect of random fluctuations of brain activity, but require a process of "pre-seizure" changes that start long before. This has been reported at two different levels of description: on the one hand, the epileptic patient often experiences some warning symptoms that precede seizures from several minutes to hours in the form of very specific lived events. On the other hand, the analyses of brain electrical activities have provided strong evidence that it is possible to detect a pre-seizure state in the neuronal dynamics several minutes before the electro-clinical onset of a seizure. We review here some of the ongoing work of our research group concerning seizure anticipation. In particular, we discuss experimental evidence of 'upward' (local-to-global) formation of conscious experience and its neural substrate, but also of the 'downward' (global-to-local) determination of local neuronal activity by situated conscious activity and its substrate large-scale neural assemblies. This causal role of conscious experience may lead to new kinds of therapy for epileptic patients.
Bitbol, M. Science as if situation mattered (pp. 181-224)
When he formulated the program of neurophenomenology, Francisco Varela suggested a balanced methodological dissolution of the "hard problem" of consciousness. I show that his dissolution is a paradigm which imposes itself onto seemingly opposite views, including materialist approaches. I also point out that Varela's revolutionary epistemological ideas are gaining wider acceptance as a side effect of a recent controversy between hermeneutists and eliminativists. Finally, I emphasize a structural parallel between the science of consciousness and the distinctive features of quantum mechanics. This parallel, together with the former convergences, point towards the common origin of the main puzzles of both quantum mechanics and the philosophy of mind: neglect of the constitutive blindspot of objective knowledge.
Cohen-Varela, A. Opening (pp. 225-230)
The contributions in this special issue are selected papers from a conference entitled La nature de l'esprit: à la croisée de la philosophie phénoménologique, de la neuro-biologie et des traditions spirituelles -- Journée en hommage à Francisco Varela, organized by N. Depraz in Paris, October 13th 2001, at the Maison Heinrich Heine (Cité Universitaire), under the auspices of the Collège International de Philosophie.
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