The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"


Following Maurice Merleau-Ponty's philosophical thought and drawing inspiration from Buddhist meditative practice, the Chilean philosopher Francisco Varela, a close associate of Maturana, argued in favor of an "enactive" approach to cognition: cognition as embodied action (or "enaction"), evolution not as optimal adaptation but as "natural drift".  His stance views the human body both as matter and as experience, both as a biological entity and a phenomenological entity. 

Varela believes in the emergent formation of direct experience without the need to posit the existence of a self. The mind is selfless. "Self" refers to a set of mental and bodily formations that are linked by causal coherence over time.  At the same time the world is not a given, but reflects the actions in which we engage,  i.e. it is "enacted" from our actions (or structural coupling).

Everything that exists is the projection of a brain.

Organisms do not adapt to a pre-given world. Organisms and environment mutually specify each other. Organisms drift naturally in the environment.  Environmental regularities arise from the interaction between a living organism and its environment. The world of an organism is “enacted” by the history of its structural coupling with the environment.  Perception is perceptually guided action (or sensorimotor enactment).  Cognitive structures emerge from the recurrent sensorimotor activity that enables such a process.  And perceptually guided action is constrained by the need to preserve the integrity of the organism (ontogeny) and its lineage (phylogeny).

Varela assigns an almost metaphysical meaning to Maturana’s biological findings. Life is an elegant dance between the organism and the environment. The mind is the tune of that dance.


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