Core Enaction: Semester 2

“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 retraced 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 are undertaking 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 2 (Spring 2023): The Embodied Mind

Following on the first semester, during which five prominent scholars and scientists unpacked the core concepts in the genealogy of the alternative view of mind known as enaction, we are delighted to announce the launch of the second semester of our four-part online learning curriculum, Core Enaction.

The spring and fall semesters in 2023 will be dedicated to a close, chapter-by-chapter reading of The Embodied Mind (F. Varela, E. Thompson, E. Rosch), the foundational text in which the enactive approach was elaborated from a cross-disciplinary perspective. For those that are less acquainted with the enactive tradition, it is our hope that this close reading will offer the necessary traction to understand how and why the enactive view became an essential alternative to outdated and often reductionistic ways of viewing the human mind. For those that have more experience with this tradition, we hope that the upcoming semesters will provide the context in which to dig more deeply into the theoretical underpinnings of the enactive view and begin to think about further applications of this view, which we’ll address more directly in Semester 4. As always, there will be ample time for in-depth discussion in each session and room for questions of all kinds.

“Although late-twentieth-century science repeatedly undermines our conviction in an ultimate ground, we nonetheless continue to seek one. We have laid down a path in both cognitive science and human experience that would lead us away from this dilemma. We repeat that this is not a purely philosophical dilemma: it is also ethical, religious, and political. Grasping can be expressed not only individually as fixation on ego-self but also collectively as fixation on racial or tribal self-identity, as well as grasping for a ground as the territory that separates one group of people from another or that one group would appropriate as its own. The idolatry of supposing not only that there is a ground but that one can appropriate it as one’s own acknowledges the other only in a purely negative, exclusionary way. The realization of groundlessness as nonegocentric responsiveness, however, requires that we acknowledge the other with whom we dependently cooriginate. If our task in the years ahead, as we believe, is to build and dwell in a planetary world, then we must learn to uproot and release the grasping tendency, especially in its collective
manifestations. ” From The Embodied Mind (1991), 2016 ed., p. 252.

This quote, taken from the penultimate chapter of The Embodied Mind, was first published in 1991 but the issues it references and the aspirations it expresses are as pressing today as they were back then. During the Core Enaction spring semester (February-May 2023) we will return to The Embodied Mind in order to uncover how its authors frame and develop the path they lay down between science and human experience as a response to these issues and questions.

The series will be hosted by Dr Marek McGann, and during this semester, we will cover chapters 1-6 of the book over six sessions, with a final 7th session dedicated to a general discussion with participants and guest speakers. Each session consists of a presentation by a guest speaker followed by questions and discussions with the participants.


18:00 CET
February 22nd, 2023
Session 1: Chapter 1 – A Fundamental Circularity: In the Mind of the Reflective ScientistDr Marek McGann
18:00 CET
March 8th, 2023
Session 2: Chapter 2 – What Do We Mean “Human Experience”? Dr Philippe Blouin
18:00 CET
March 22nd, 2023
Session 3: Chapter 3 – Symbols: The Cognitivist HypothesisDr Marieke van Vugt
18:00 CEST
April 5th, 2023
Session 4: Chapter 4 – The I of the StormDr Antonino Raffone
18:00 CEST
April 25th, 2023 (Tuesday)
Session 5: Chapter 5 – Emergent Properties and Connectionism Dr Giuseppe Pagnoni
18:00 CEST
May 3rd, 2023
Session 6: Chapter 6 – Selfless MindsDr Constance Kassor
18:00 CEST
May 17th, 2023
Session 7: Discussion with the participantsDr Evan Thompson and other guest speakers

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 2 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 2 materials & recordings

Marek McGann

Marek McGann has been a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at MIC, Limerick since 2005. His principal research is theoretical work on the enactive approach to cognitive science with regard to its conceptions of the body, self, and the environment. He has a particular interest in the complementarities and the contrasts with other dynamic, embodied approaches to cognitive science, such as ecological psychology. His most recent work has involved exploring the relationship between enaction and the extensive literature on embodiment, power, and politics, of feminist philosophy, and science and technology studies. Marek also undertakes work on critical considerations of theory and scientific practice in psychology specifically, and the challenges and opportunities around the various "crises" faced by psychological science and the transition to a more 'open science'. Marek co-convenes the ENSO Seminars, a series of online seminars with researchers from enactive and ecological cognitive science.

Philippe Blouin

After having completed a B.A. with Honours in psychology at Bishop's University, Philippe Setlakwe Blouin completed an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy at the Université de Montréal, in partnership with the Université de Rouen, specializing in Husserlian phenomenology. His doctoral thesis, La phénoménologie comme manière de vivre (Phenomenology as a Way of Life), was published by Zeta Books in 2021 and prefaced by Prof. Natalie Depraz. The main purpose of this work was to develop an understanding of phenomenology that steers it away from naturalist interpretations, and closer towards an existential and contemplative interpretation, centered on the practical ethics of the epoché. In parallel, it develops a nondualist and phenomenalist reading of Husserlian metaphysics. Philippe's ongoing research bears on the unity of consciousness and nature, the philosophy of mysticism and the role of poetry in philosophy. He currently is professor of Humanities at St. Lawrence College in Quebec City.

Marieke van Vugt

Marieke van Vugt is an assistant professor at the Institute of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Engineering (ALICE) of the University of Groningen (Netherlands). The research in Dr. van Vugt's lab focuses on how, when and why we mind-wander, and what the fundamental cognitive operations are that underlie meditation and mindfulness. Most recently, she started to investigate how analytical meditation practiced by Tibetan monks and nuns affects cognition and emotion. She addresses these questions using a combination of computational modeling, neuroscience, and experimental psychology tools. She very much enjoys projects were science, art (particularly classical ballet), and contemplation meet.

Antonino Raffone

Antonino Raffone completed a Master in “Psychology” and a Doctorate in “Cognitive Psychology and Science” at Sapienza University of Rome. He is currently Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology of Sapienza University of Rome (Italy), and Visiting Professor and Advisory Faculty at Nalanda University (India). He is also Director of the Interuniversity Center ECONA at Sapienza University of Rome, President of “Consciousness, Mindfulness, Compassion – CMC – International Association”, and Chief Editor of the Specialty Section on “Consciousness Research” of “Frontiers in Psychology”. His internationally recognized research is interdisciplinary, with a particular focus on cognitive neuroscience of consciousness and meditation. Finally, he is a dedicated Soto Zen practitioner.

Giuseppe Pagnoni

Giuseppe Pagnoni is Associate Professor at the Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy. After a Master in Physics, he completed a PhD in Neuroscience and has worked for several years in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, at Emory University, Atlanta (GA), USA. He has led and collaborated to neuroimaging studies on diverse topics including reward processing, the interaction of immune and brain function, social cognition, intrinsic brain activity, pain processing, mental effort, meditation. He is currently interested in the application of the predictive coding framework to the study of contemplative practices.

Constance Kassor

Dr. Constance Kassor is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, USA, where she teaches courses on Buddhist thought and Asian religious traditions. Her research primarily focuses on Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, and investigates the ways that Buddhists understand different kinds of knowledge. Her forthcoming book, Accounting for Awakened Awareness, explores the philosophy of the 15th-century Tibetan scholar Gorampa Sonam Senge, and examines his understanding of the relationships between conceptual and nonconceptual ways of knowing. Dr. Kassor is also interested in issues related to women and gender minorities in Buddhist traditions, as well as Buddhism and social justice, and she has spent several years living with Buddhist communities in India and Nepal. In addition to her scholarly publications, she has written for Lion’s Roar and Tricycle, and has recorded courses on Tibet and Asian religions for The Great Courses.

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 2

22-02-2023 06:00 PM
17-05-2023 08:00 PM

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