Core Enaction: Semester 1

Semester 1 (Fall 2022)

“What makes science open and creative is the reinterpretation of the ‘original’ problems and approaches. As some of the best scientists have pointed out, the re-evaluation of the past of science is the best introduction to its future. (…) Only by considering the earliest roots and revisiting the problem spaces can we reach a fresh perspective on theoretical and conceptual tools.” – (Francisco J. Varela)

Conceived as a four-part e-learning curriculum (much like a MOOC), the Core Enaction Programme unfold over the course of four semesters (2022-2024): in Semester 1 (Fall 2022), we retrace the origin story and major building blocks of the enactive view across cognitive science, philosophy, Buddhist thought, and more. In Semesters 2 and 3 (Spring and Fall 2023), we will undertake a close reading of The Embodied Mind (F. Varela, E. Thompson, E. Rosch), the foundational text in which the enactive framework was elaborated from a cross-disciplinary perspective. Finally, in Semester 4 (Spring 2024), we will consider possible future applications of this robust theoretical framework, across a variety of disciplines. Although guided by current experts in the field, each session is designed to be highly participative, allowing for ample discussion and exchange at each stage of the series.

With the launch of this new curriculum, it is our heartfelt aspiration that a new generation of students and researchers will be able to access the rich lineage of enactive thought and bring it forward into their work, across an ever-widening variety of disciplines. Please be encouraged to share this announcement widely within your university networks—it will really help us get the word out!

Semester 1 (Fall 2022): Genealogy

In the 1990s Francisco Varela wrote the words quoted above as an introduction to the work that a philosopher dedicated to the genealogy of early embodied approaches to the cognitive sciences (Ceruti, 1994). Since then, for those who are familiar with Varela’s work, these words continue to resonate as a compelling proposal for the future of the cognitive sciences. More than a generic tribute to the systematic reflection on scientific evolution, they are an invitation to develop an unconventional way of practicing scientific research. In short: it is essential to explore the roots of the approaches at play in frontier research, as only by understanding the emergence and evolution of these approaches can we realize the full expression of their potential, which relies on creative reinterpretations of them, or transformative filiations.

The idea of opening the Core Enaction Programme with a semester on genealogy constitutes in itself a positive response to the above invitation – an invitation that Francisco Varela expressed implicitly in his publications, always showing a profound interest in the genealogy of the frameworks proposed. This first semester of the Core Enaction Programme, therefore, seeks to apply Varela’s ‘genealogical’ way of doing science to his scientific work, by undertaking a participative exploration of the origins of his enactive approach, with the ultimate goal of catalyzing and preparing its generative future developments. In Varela’s words: “An exercise of creative foresight”.

Concretely, this first semester of the Core Enaction Programme is broken down into seven sessions, in which the invited speakers, the participants and the organizers will study and discuss together important segments of the research path through which Varela elaborated the enactive approach.

In the first session, the organizers will introduce the Core Enaction Programme, and in particular its Genealogy Semester. We like to think of this first encounter as a moment of reciprocal presentation, and an occasion to start building the Core Enaction community.

The second and the third sessions will be dedicated to the cybernetic origins of Varela’s enactive approach, and will respectively host, as keynote speakers, Bruce Clarke and Juan Carlos Letelier.

The forth and fifth sessions will focus on autopoiesis, through lectures by Tom Ziemke and Juan Carlos Letelier.

The sixth session will be dedicated to Varela’s work on autonomous systems, presented in Principles of Biological Autonomy (Varela, 1979), and will be articulated around a lecture by Evan Thompson.

The last session will articulate the content of the Genealogy Semester with the next semester of the Core Enaction Program, through a structured discussion between the participants and the organizers.


18:00 CEST
September 14th, 2022
Session 1: “Introduction” by Dr. Luisa Damiano  Amy Cohen Varela, Dr Luisa Damiano, Dr Valérie Bonnardel and Dr John Protevi
18:00 CEST
September 28th, 2022
Session 2: “The cybernetic origins of Varela’s Enactive Approach” Dr Bruce Clarke 
18:00 CEST
October 19th, 2022
Session 3: “The cybernetic origins of Varela’s Enactive Approach” Dr Juan Carlos Letelier
18:00 CEST
October 26th, 2022
Session 4: “Autopoiesis” Dr Tom Ziemke 
18:00 CET
November 9th, 2022
Session 5: “Autopoiesis” Dr Juan Carlos Letelier
18:00 CET
November 23rd, 2022
Session 6: “Autonomous systems” Dr Evan Thompson 
18:00 CET
December 7th, 2022
Session 7: Discussion with the participantsDr Luisa Damiano, Dr Bruce Clarke, Dr Tom Ziemke, and Dr Evan Thompson

Technical Information

The lectures and discussions take place on Zoom. Participation in the live Zoom room is decided through an application process. The application period for Semester 1 is now closed.

As we have only a limited number of spaces in the online discussion room, the general audience will be able to follow the lectures and discussions live on our MLE YouTube channel.

We ask all participants to make a donation of their choice to support this course, as we are a not-for-profit organization and we rely on donations to organize regular programming. The suggested donation is 50 Euros for the entire semester; for those in financial difficulty, a minimum of 10 Euros is requested; and for those who wish to contribute at a “supporter level,” we would be grateful for donations of 100 Euros or more. We are very grateful for your support, at whatever level you are able to contribute and look forward to offering more programs like this in the future.

Note to participants wishing to continue Core Enaction in Semesters 2 and 3:

As we will be prioritizing close readings of The Embodied Mind in Semesters 2 and 3, we encourage all participants to acquire a copy of the book before the beginning of Semester 2 (February 2023). We recommend acquiring the most recent edition (2016), if possible, as we will be drawing from the updated introductions by E. Thompson and E. Rosch. A few different purchasing options are detailed below:

For those residing in the U.S., MIT Press has generously offered a 20% discount on the 2016 paperback edition of The Embodied Mind, if ordered through Penguin Random House. Please contact us for the discount code. Offer valid while supplies last. Limit one discount code per person. Valid for one transaction. Discount code is not redeemable for cash, is non-transferable and cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer or discount. Valid on https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/U.S. mailing address required.

For those residing outside the U.S., you may still purchase a 2016 copy of The Embodied Mind for around 30 Euros (paperback) or 20 Euros (Kindle edition).

Post-event recordings

Click here for Semester 1 materials & recordings

Amy Cohen Varela

Amy Cohen Varela is Chairperson of the Mind & Life Europe Board and involved with Mind and Life since its inception. She is also a clinical psychologist specialized in psychodynamic therapy and philosophy. Amy studied comparative literature at Brown and Columbia Universities before moving to Paris in the early '80s, where she received her degree in clinical psychology at the University of Paris 7, with a specialty in psychodynamic theory and practice, and in parallel, completed psychoanalytic training.

Luisa Damiano

Dr. Luisa Damiano is Associate Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the IULM University (Milan, Italy), and the coordinator of the Research Group on the Epistemology of the Sciences of the Artificial (RG-ESA). Her main research areas are: Epistemology of Complex Systems, Epistemology of the Cognitive Sciences, and Epistemology of the Sciences of the Artificial. Since 2007, she has been working on these topics with scientific teams all across Europe and in Japan. Among her publications there are many articles, the books Unità in dialogo (Bruno Mondadori, 2009) and Living with robots (with Paul Dumouchel, Harvard University Press, 2017) and several co-edited journal special issues.

Valérie Bonnardel

Following her doctoral work under the supervision of Francisco Varela at the Institute of Neurosciences (Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris), Dr Valérie Bonnardel pursued her research at the Experimental Psychology laboratory, University of Cambridge (United Kingdom). Her initial research work concerned the psychophysical aspects of colour vision in humans. She later developed interest in the study of cognitive and cultural aspects of colour, while heading the Research Chair at the National Institute of Design in India in 2011-12. She has been the Vice Chair and the Chair of the Colour Group Great Britain (2011-2014) and is today a member of the executive committee of the Association Internationale de la Couleur. In 2016 she developed a module for third year students on “Embodied Cognition and Contemplative Practice Studies” in the Department of Psychology at the University of Winchester.

John Protevi

Dr. John Protevi is Phyllis M Taylor Professor of French Studies and Professor of Philosophy at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge Louisiana (USA). He received his PhD in Philosophy from Loyola University Chicago in 1990. He is the author of Political Affect (2009), Life War Earth (2013), and Edges of the State (2019) all with University of Minnesota Press. He has a recent article in Frontiers in Psychology on Covid 19 in the USA as an “affective frame,” seeking to integrate enaction, stress physiology, and political analysis.

Bruce Clarke

Dr. Bruce Clarke is Paul Whitfield Horn Distinguished Professor of Literature and Science in the Department of English at Texas Tech University. He has been a Baruch S. Blumberg/NASA Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress; a Senior Fellow at the Center for Literature and the Natural Sciences, Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg; and a Senior Fellow at the International Research Institute for Cultural Technologies and Media Philosophy, Bauhaus-University Weimar. He coedits the book series Meaning Systems, published by Fordham University Press. His research focuses on modern literature, cybernetics and systems theory, narrative theory, and Gaia theory. His latest books are Writing Gaia: The Scientific Correspondence of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, coedited with Sébastien Dutreuil (Cambridge 2022), and Gaian Systems: Lynn Margulis, Neocybernetics, and the End of the Anthropocene (Minnesota 2020). Other books include Neocybernetics and Narrative (Minnesota 2014), Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems (Fordham 2008), and Energy Forms: Allegory and Science in the Era of Classical Thermodynamics (Michigan 2001). He is the editor or co-editor of seven essay collections, most recently Posthuman Biopolitics: The Science Fiction of Joan Slonczewski (Palgrave Macmillan 2020), and with Manuela Rossini, The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman (Cambridge 2017).

Juan Carlos Letelier

Dr. Juan Carlos Letelier is a Professor at the Universidad de Chile. As a biologist, trained by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, he is interested in neuroscience (the anatomy and physiology of avian visual perception), theoretical biology, and the uses of science to understand human society. A central focus for him has been the formal study of the notions of metabolic closure (Autopoiesis, (M,R) Systems and Free Energy principle) within the framework of Bayesian Inference and Category Theory.

Tom Ziemke

Dr. Tom Ziemke is Professor of Cognitive Systems at Linköping University, Sweden, where he leads the Cognition & Interaction Lab, which is part of the Human-Centered Systems division at the Department of Computer & Information Science. He holds a German diploma degree in informatics, a Swedish masters degree in computer science, and PhD from the University of Sheffield, UK, which he received in 2000, for a thesis on robotic and neurocomputational models of situated and embodied cognition. He was professor of cognitive science at the University of Skövde, Sweden, before moving to Linköping in 2015. His main research interests are in situated/embodied cognition and social interaction, with a current focus on people’s interaction with different types of autonomous technologies, ranging from social robots to automated vehicles. A long-standing research interest is the relation between cognition and computation – and the resulting (mis-) conceptions of AI among both researchers and the general public.

Evan Thompson

Dr. Evan Thompson is a writer and Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, where he is also an Associate Member of the Department of Asian Studies and the Department of Psychology (Cognitive Science). He works on the nature of the mind, the self, and human experience. His work combines cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Asian philosophical traditions. He is the author of Why I Am Not a Buddhist (Yale University Press, 2020); Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation and Philosophy (Columbia University Press 2015); Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard University Press, 2007); and Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (Routledge Press, 1995). He is the co-author, with Francisco J. Varela and Eleanor Rosch, of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991; revised edition 2016). He is currently working on two new books: Dying: Our Ultimate Transformation (Columbia University Press), and with Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser, The Blind Spot: Experience, Science, and the Search for Truth (MIT Press). Thompson is an Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and a Past President of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association.

Event info
Core Enaction Semester 1
Semester 1 (Fall 2022)

14-09-2022 06:00 PM
07-12-2022 08:00 PM
Semester 1 (Fall 2022)

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