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“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 (Autumn 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 Autumn 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!
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 autumn 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 third semester (September-December 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 7-11 of the book over five sessions, with a final 6th 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.
27th September, 2023
|Session 1 – Chapter 7: The Cartesian Anxiety
|Dr Sebastjan Vörös
11th October, 2023
|Session 2 – Chapter 8: Enaction: Embodied Cognition
|Dr Valérie Bonnardel
25th October, 2023
|Session 3 – Chapter 9: Evolutionary Path Making and Natural Drift
|Dr Ezequiel Di Paolo
|17:00 CET (!)
8th November, 2023
|Session 4 – Chapter 10: The Middle Way
|Dr Jay Garfield
22nd November, 2023
|Session 5 – Chapter 11: Laying Down a Path in Walking
|Roshi Dr Joan Halifax
6th December, 2023
|Session 6 – Concluding discussion
|Dr Evan Thompson and fellow guest speakers
The lectures and discussions take place on Zoom. Participation in the live Zoom room is decided through an application process. The application period is now closed for this semester!
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).
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.
Dr Sebastjan Vörös is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. His research interests encompass philosophy of science, epistemology, phenomenology, and philosophy of religion. He is the author of Podobe neupodobljivega (The Images of the Unimaginable; KUD Logos & University of Ljubljana Press 2013, 2015), in which he investigates the phenomenon of mystical experiences from neuroscientific, phenomenological, and gnoseological perspectives. He has (co)edited numerous articles and special issues centered on embodiment, enaction and (neuro)phenomenology, with a special emphasis on Francisco Varela’s contributions to these fields. Additionally, he has translated several important philosophical texts into Slovene: in addition to works by A. Damasio, D. Dennett, W. James and A. N. Whitehead, he has also translated and edited The Embodied Mind by F. Varela, E. Thompson, and E. Rosch. Finally, he is the head of the transdisciplinary institute-in-the-making Metanoia, and is currently – painfully slowly, yet arduously – writing a book on the philosophical and scientific work of Francisco Varela.
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.
Ezequiel A. Di Paolo is a full-time Research Professor working at Ikerbasque, the Basque Science Foundation in Spain and a Visiting Professor at the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex. His interdisciplinary work on embodied and enactive approaches to life, mind, and society integrates insights from cognitive science, neuroscience, phenomenology, philosophy of mind, and computational modelling. His recent research focus is on enactive theory, embodied intersubjectivity, language, ethics, and participatory sense-making. He is (co)author of over 180 publications (journal articles, books, and edited collections) including the books Sensorimotor Life: An Enactive Proposal (2017, Oxford University Press) and Linguistic Bodies. The Continuity between Life and Language (2018, MIT Press). He is co-editor of the forthcoming annotated edition of Francisco Varela’s Principles of Biological Autonomy (MIT Press).
Jay L. Garfield directs the Buddhist Studies Program and Tibetan Studies in India program at Smith College. He is also visiting professor of Buddhist philosophy at Harvard Divinity School, Professor of Philosophy at Melbourne University and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies. Academicinfluence.com has identified him as one of the 50 most influential philosophers in the world over the past decade.
Garfield’s research addresses topics in the foundations of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind; metaphysics; the history of modern Indian philosophy; topics in ethics, epistemology and the philosophy of logic; methodology in cross-cultural interpretation; and topics in Buddhist philosophy, particularly Indo-Tibetan Madhyamaka and Yogācāra. He is the author or editor of over 30 books and over 200 articles, chapters, and reviews.
Garfield’s most recent books are Getting Over Ourselves: How to be a Person Without a Self (2022), Knowing Illusion: Bringing a Tibetan Debate into Contemporary Discourse (with the Yakherds 2021, Buddhist Ethics: A Philosophical Exploration (2021), ̛What Can’t Be Said: Paradox and Contradiction in East Asian Thought (with Yasuo Deguchi, Graham Priest, and Robert Sharf 2021), and The Concealed Influence of Custom: Hume’s Treatise From the Inside Out (2019).
Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD, is a Buddhist teacher, anthropologist and author. She is co-founder of the Mind & Life Institute, founded the Ojai Foundation, the Prajna Mountain Buddhist Order, is Abbot and Head Teacher of Upaya Zen Center, and co-founder of the Zen Peacemaker Order. She is a pioneer in the end-of-life care field, and is well known internationally for her work in engaged Buddhism. She was an Honorary Research Fellow at Harvard University and a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Library of Congress.
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.