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The Embodied Mind provides a unique, sophisticated treatment of the spontaneous and reflective dimension of human experience. The authors argue that only by having a sense of common ground between mind in Science and mind in experience can our understanding of cognition be more complete. Toward that end, they develop a dialogue between cognitive science and Buddhist medita The Embodied Mind provides a unique, sophisticated treatment of the spontaneous and reflective dimension of human experience. The authors argue that only by having a sense of common ground between mind in Science and mind in experience can our understanding of cognition be more complete. Toward that end, they develop a dialogue between cognitive science and Buddhist meditative psychology and situate it in relation to other traditions such as phenomenology and psychoanalysis.


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The Embodied Mind provides a unique, sophisticated treatment of the spontaneous and reflective dimension of human experience. The authors argue that only by having a sense of common ground between mind in Science and mind in experience can our understanding of cognition be more complete. Toward that end, they develop a dialogue between cognitive science and Buddhist medita The Embodied Mind provides a unique, sophisticated treatment of the spontaneous and reflective dimension of human experience. The authors argue that only by having a sense of common ground between mind in Science and mind in experience can our understanding of cognition be more complete. Toward that end, they develop a dialogue between cognitive science and Buddhist meditative psychology and situate it in relation to other traditions such as phenomenology and psychoanalysis.

30 review for The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience

  1. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    For the past year or so I've been steeped in literature in cognitive science focused on addressing issues surrounding representation. Human beings can represent all sorts of things; chairs and cups, dogs and cats, the smell of a glass of wine, hunger and thirst, the meanings of words, and on and on. We can represent things that are directly in front of us, as well as things that not present to our senses (tracking a person walking around a corner, recalling last year's vacation, imagining a unic For the past year or so I've been steeped in literature in cognitive science focused on addressing issues surrounding representation. Human beings can represent all sorts of things; chairs and cups, dogs and cats, the smell of a glass of wine, hunger and thirst, the meanings of words, and on and on. We can represent things that are directly in front of us, as well as things that not present to our senses (tracking a person walking around a corner, recalling last year's vacation, imagining a unicorn). At any point in your moment to moment experience, your mental states are in some sense “about” something that the brain is capable of representing. But brains are just a vast web of interconnected cells, passing chemicals back and forth. Where is it that thoughts and concepts arise? How is it that representation can arise out of the electrochemical functioning of the brain? Various theories have been proposed over the years to account for this, but the foremost theories in cognitive science, computationalism and connectionism, each are riddled with a myriad of problems in regards to an account of representation. Which isn't to say these views aren't of theoretical interest. Each of these research paradigms has allowed for really great breakthroughs, for example, in the functioning of computer and robotic systems. But while there has been some success in mimicking certain cognitive functions (to some degree), providing an unproblematic account for representation, for intelligence and for consciousness has remained elusive(there's also problems to do with learning, as well as what's known as the frame problem). Along come embodied cognition and dynamic systems literature. These theories are radical departures from standard cognitive science, rejecting the fundamental assumption in cognitive science that the brain is basically an information processing device, and instead focusing on the embodied sensorimotor coupling of a dynamic system (whether biological or not). Research in these fields has produced robotic agents capable of engaging in many varied behaviors thus far outside the reach of classical theories. Each of these platforms separately provide strong predictive and explanatory power when dealing with issues of cognition or intelligent behavior, and combining them is an extremely promising research strategy. The only problem is...these theories eschew the concept of representation all together. And my main question coming into this book was...how? I really like many of the ideas in these fields, but how exactly do they account for consciousness, for subjective experience, for qualia? I picked up this book hoping for an answer to that question, and I didn't get it. But I still found the book to be excellent on the whole. Their criticisms of standard cognitive science were in my opinion, spot on. Those sections alone would be worth it for anyone interested in these issues to pick up and read. And the real kicker is that for the most part I agree strongly with their own theories of cognition, or embodied action as they call it. Below are two quotes I pulled out of the book that I think do the best job of summarizing their basic points: Embodied action: by using the term embodied we mean to highlight two points: first, that cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological, and cultural context. By using the term action we mean to emphasize once again that sensory and motor processes, perception and action, are fundamentally inseparable in lived cognition. Indeed, the two are not merely contingently linked in individuals; they have also evolved together. Enaction: perception consists in perceptually guided action and cognitive structures emerge from the recurrent sensorimotor patterns that enable action to be perceptually guided. I think I'm with them 100% here, and if you're not quite ready to buy into what they say from those quotes alone, I can only say, pick up the book. They provide plenty of justification for these ideas and it squares with much of my own recent research. Where I disagree with them is the conclusion they draw given this theory they've constructed. Which is that there is no such thing as representation. Worse, there is actually no objective pregiven world (an unavoidable conclusion give many of their arguments, but a regrettable one). Their basic criticisms of representation are indeed well grounded, but only given certain naive (albeit historically dominants) conceptions of representation, where representation is viewed as the "act of re-presenting pregiven features of the world through a process of recovery of information from sensory signals". Their criticism hinges on the mistaken notion that there is an optimal fit correspondence between a pregiven world and our representation of it. i.e. - there is an object world, sensory signals hit us, our brain processes the information, and re-presents it accurately. Sure, acknowledged. We don't experience a pregiven world. We experience a construction of that world. But some sort of object reality does exist. We interact with it with our sensory systems, and our construction as a result of this interaction can be in error. So what? What is it about about the possibility of representational error that is so hard to stomach? They don't address this idea. In fact, they seem to assume that all the theories of representation out there don't account for the possibility of error, don't even think they need to. Now, if they had argued that no popular theories successfully account for the normativity of representation, I would agree. But all theories agree that representation is a normative phenomena. In fact, this is the starting point for many accounts of representation. Representations can be correct or incorrect, true or false. What evidence we have for thinking our representations of the world are accurate is certainly tricky (we can't compare our representation of the world with the actual world, since all we have access to is our own internal representation. No matter how much "external" justification you have, it must always be filtered through an internal cognitive process. this is a serious problem in epistemology), but this is a different matter. So what is one of their main justifications for this argument against representation? It's an argument against a certain brand of evolutionary theory. What they argue against is the notion of evolution as resulting in organisms that have an optimal fit for their environment, and thus against the notion that our sensory systems can accurately represent the environment since they themselves are not optimally fit for representation. Again, I found this really frustrating to read because most of their criticisms against an "optimal fit" theory of evolution are also correct. To be fair, they're not even saying anything particularly new, but in general their chapter on evolution could have been excellent, if its sole purpose wasn't to argue that if you accept what they say about evolution you have to accept what they say about representation. Sure, evolution is not involved in optimization. They describe it perfectly; "selection discards what is not compatible with survival and reproduction. Organisms and the population offer variety; natural selection guarantees only that what ensues satisfies the two basic constraints of survival and reproduction." I.e - what is selected for is not what is optimal, but what is viable. I come across moves like this all too frequently. Someone will come out with a brilliant work detailing the problems in some widely accepted theories, explaining in a more comprehensive way how things actually do work, and then simply throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Varela, Thompson, and Rosch are right on in embracing a future, action oriented process approach to cognition. Perception is not a passive process of representing the world, but an active process of construction. Objects aren't represented by sensory signals, objects present affordances for action through the sensorimotor coupling of a biological system interacting with sensory signals in the environment. None of this means representation doesn't exist. It means that our naive conceptions of representation as "sensory encodings" must be put behind us. It means that representation isn't "of things", but emerges from an internal process facilitated by "contact" with things. It means these insights into how cognition actually works themselves need to be accounted for in a theory of representation. I don't suggest this is easy, but look where getting rid of gets these authors. There is no pregiven objective reality. Not only that, but they have no account, not even a mention, of anything to do with consciousness or subjective experience. I really do highly recommend this book, even with all my criticisms. Just keep in mind when you're reading their embodied action section that what they are saying should be input for theories of representation, not arguments against it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Blaine

    Way ahead of its time, this is the book that coalesced the embodied mind paradigm. There were others that came before such as Bateson's "Mind and Nature" and Maturana & Varela's "The Tree of Knowledge" but this volume was first to set out against both cognitivism and connectionism as being different versions of the representationalist-computationalist-disembodied view of mind to lay out an agenda for a biological-body-environment- and dynamical system-based view of mind and cognition. Don't also Way ahead of its time, this is the book that coalesced the embodied mind paradigm. There were others that came before such as Bateson's "Mind and Nature" and Maturana & Varela's "The Tree of Knowledge" but this volume was first to set out against both cognitivism and connectionism as being different versions of the representationalist-computationalist-disembodied view of mind to lay out an agenda for a biological-body-environment- and dynamical system-based view of mind and cognition. Don't also be put off by the sections of this book that deal with Buddhist philosophy of mind and consciousness - instead realize that the authors are tapping into the collective knowledge and investigations of some of the world's greatest philosophical minds, even if you haven't ever heard of them. Instead, if you haven't already done so, get off your Western ethnocentric ass and start reading the philosophy of India, China, Tibet, and Japan!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    An at-times remarkably elegant text on cognitive science, philosophy both analytic and continental (more big-ups for Merleau-Ponty!), evolution as being more in the negative (genetic drift is a big thing, and natural selection is better at weeding out maladaptive traits than promoting adaptive traits, spandrels 'n such), mindfulness, and the apparent disconnect between the notion of a "self" and the raft of evidence that suggests that this just ain't the case, and the weird feels that gives you. An at-times remarkably elegant text on cognitive science, philosophy both analytic and continental (more big-ups for Merleau-Ponty!), evolution as being more in the negative (genetic drift is a big thing, and natural selection is better at weeding out maladaptive traits than promoting adaptive traits, spandrels 'n such), mindfulness, and the apparent disconnect between the notion of a "self" and the raft of evidence that suggests that this just ain't the case, and the weird feels that gives you. Varela and Co. attempt to use Buddhism to reconcile this, and specifically the philosophy of Nagarjuna, and the principle of mindfulness as enacted. Now I've been saying for years that mindfulness is the main concept of Asian philosophy that was never independently developed in the Western philosophical tradition, and it's an important one. But I don't know if the argument holds water. They're pretty keen on saying anyone who disagrees with them is either a foolhardy positivist or a hopeless nihilist, but I prefer American pragmatist philosophy as a more effective route to combating nihilism when confronted with the divide between illusory experience and scientific truth. Buddhism seemed kind of shoehorned in to be honest.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Taka

    Meh, Not So Fast-- I was far more impressed by Anthony Chemero's treatment of the subject than this classic text (though I have to take into consideration that Varela et al. were writing in a completely different period and context, and, as ushers of a new paradigm, had to deal with a different set of difficulties from those Chemero had to deal with, writing 18 years later). Most of the explanations felt incomplete, inadequate, and unconvincing (especially their exposition on the no-self, critiqu Meh, Not So Fast-- I was far more impressed by Anthony Chemero's treatment of the subject than this classic text (though I have to take into consideration that Varela et al. were writing in a completely different period and context, and, as ushers of a new paradigm, had to deal with a different set of difficulties from those Chemero had to deal with, writing 18 years later). Most of the explanations felt incomplete, inadequate, and unconvincing (especially their exposition on the no-self, critique of adaptationism in evolution, and presentation of Nagarjuna's logic in refuting independent existence), the diagrams were unhelpful and useless (esp. those on cellular automata, which I felt lacked enough explanation), and they seemed to take Buddhist views for granted (because, apparently, they have been again and again confirmed by meditation practitioners) when those views had to be argued for, ESPECIALLY in the context of cognitive science and in making the case for the fusion of cognitive science and the mindfulness/awareness tradition (which they do, but failed to convince). If the book was as unconvincing and unsatisfying even for someone sympathetic to their project (and Buddhism), I don't know how the book even survived in a milieu where Buddhism wasn't such a buzzword and mindfulness so popular. Anyway, I thought about putting the book down around page 120 when they cover a central Buddhist notion of co-dependent arising and the Abbhidharma view of consciousness, because the discussions felt frustratingly shallow, as if the authors didn't feel the need to try to even argue for them. There were also many, many passages that were hard to follow mostly because they were not all that well-written. In short, the book lacked enough explanations and argumentation, and when there were explanations and argumentation, they were often poorly presented. Compared to Chemero, though, some of the concepts covered, like those in cognitivism, connectionism, and society of minds were reader friendly (Chemero assumes the reader's familiarity with the subject already). And I mean, kudos to them for trying to bridge Buddhism and cognitive science when no one else was trying to do it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Julian

    Given the increasingly integrative nature of fields of study pertaining to the science of human experience (or is the experience of human science?) previously conceptualized as separate and distinct (i.e neurobiology, cognitive psychology, buddhism, philosophy etc), it was initially of historical interest that I picked up this book. Reading it from the viewpoint of a practicing psychiatrist/psychotherapist with inclinations toward buddhist practices rather than a neuroscientist or a philosopher, Given the increasingly integrative nature of fields of study pertaining to the science of human experience (or is the experience of human science?) previously conceptualized as separate and distinct (i.e neurobiology, cognitive psychology, buddhism, philosophy etc), it was initially of historical interest that I picked up this book. Reading it from the viewpoint of a practicing psychiatrist/psychotherapist with inclinations toward buddhist practices rather than a neuroscientist or a philosopher, I found it initially hard-going to say the least! However, as one persisted, this book was discovered to be a finely written piece that highlighted several themes clearly: our dualistic tendencies to distinguish between subject and object, and the reification of representation in our framing of experience: both projected outward (idealism) onto objects in the world that can then contain and give shape to our inner representations, or assimilated symbols of an independent world 'out there' (realism). This concept of Absolutism is then shown to be somewhat faulty from research fields such as cognitive psychology, AI and lingustics. However, a risk of the tearing down of the altar of objective truth is then the spectre of Nihilism (arising out of and dependent on absolutism), as expressed and articulated in various Western philosophies. The authors then suggest that there is an alternative perspective that at the time of writing had not been considered by 'Western' Science and Philosophy: that of the groundlessness of being as taught by the Mahdyamika school of Buddhism. Here via the focussed introspective study of experience and in particular expressed by the concept of the 12 aggregates of dependent arising, it is shown that groundlessness need not lead to nihilism. In fact nihilism only occurs because we continue to grasp onto the framework of objectuve representations. In fact, with ongoing practice of mindfulness meditation, groundlessness will in fact lead to the arising of spontaneous compassion. The authors then illustrate their viewpoint via examples of 'natural drift' in evolution, and 'structural coupling' leading to embodied 'enactions' from cognitive psychology and AI. I am glad to have read this book, and glad to have seen increasing integration since this was written in the early 1990's.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michal

    The implementation of Merleau-Ponty's framework into modern cognitive science is definitely important and well presented (hence the 2 stars). But that's where the value of this book ends (IMHO). What again is the added value of all the Buddhist references? Mindfulness is undoubtedly a promising research tool. However, I am a bit tired of all the "look, they used it for thousand of years, we have to listen to them". Show how Buddhist phenomenology can refine the western one or how it can offer a s The implementation of Merleau-Ponty's framework into modern cognitive science is definitely important and well presented (hence the 2 stars). But that's where the value of this book ends (IMHO). What again is the added value of all the Buddhist references? Mindfulness is undoubtedly a promising research tool. However, I am a bit tired of all the "look, they used it for thousand of years, we have to listen to them". Show how Buddhist phenomenology can refine the western one or how it can offer a superior conceptual framework for our research of consciousness. If your whole point is show that it might and should be relevant, then I am not impressed. I want to see HOW. And if you want to - based on these weak arguments and related alleged authority - jump to some ethical conclusions, then I am not interested.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Regina Andreassen

    2.5 stars. It is basic, good for beginners though so 2.5 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Macalpine

    In this book Eleanor Rosch who developed Prototype theory in concept based learning explores Buddhist traditions of mindfulness to suggest a new way of studying the mind that avoids the "objective world" and "mind as computer" naivety of cognitivism, and also the rather solipsistic subjectivism of the extremes of idealism and skepticism. Her point is actually pretty basic, but the text is dense. The basic point is that ideas arise in the mind and exist in the world due to a structural-coupling an In this book Eleanor Rosch who developed Prototype theory in concept based learning explores Buddhist traditions of mindfulness to suggest a new way of studying the mind that avoids the "objective world" and "mind as computer" naivety of cognitivism, and also the rather solipsistic subjectivism of the extremes of idealism and skepticism. Her point is actually pretty basic, but the text is dense. The basic point is that ideas arise in the mind and exist in the world due to a structural-coupling and ongoing action. These brain systems "exhibit emergent properties when endowed with network architectures". These emergent properties include 'concepts' and more broadly 'representation'. This resolves a problem that whilst 'concepts' are used to explain thinking and processing by cognitivist models, you can not find them in the brain at all. So instead Rosch et al. are suggesting that all thinking is sub-representational, but representations appear as an emergent property from this highly networked and interaction based engagement with the world. Again it is less as Nietzsche would say, that we invent truths to suit us, but rather thinking emerge from our interactions with the world in a way which is not subject to language and concepts, but produces them. The word for this growing area of neuroscience is connectivism. Her earlier work identified 'taxa' or 'natural prototypes' that seems to emerge across cultures to identify objects in the world based upon: 1) Are used or interacted with , by similar motor actions 2) have similar perceived shapes and can be imaged 3) have identifiable humanly meaningful attributes 4) are catagorised by young children 5) have linguistic primary This links with the work of Mark Johnson on basic catagorisation and also Larkoff whose book I recently reviewed. Her point in this text is that the next step of realising that in Wordsworth's words we "half create, And what perceive" the world, is to make the link to Heidegger and Buddhist traditions of mindfulness. In the traditions represented by Rosch et al. codependent arising is described by Buddhism and the point to 'break the wheel' is the link between "feeling" and "grasping" and rather than immediate action in the world, to be mindfully aware of aversion or desire and the feelings that give rise to them. For Rosch this also is the space to explore the working of the mind, as all other mental representations, are the product of this cycle. It is here that she is offering a new way of thinking about the mind. I found the text dense and filled with presumptions that I did not share, so had to work quite hard at understanding. However, I think it is saying something very important about our ability to step back from the 'way we think about things' in order to understand the mind. It also bizarrely helped me understand her earlier prototype theory much better, which was not her aim!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    Amazing discussion of cognitivism, connectionism, and enactivism. Quite difficult to get through at times, as Varela delved into the gritty details of certain theories. Ultimately, however, this book is a great scientific introduction to the practice of mindfulness/awareness, stripped of its religious baggage.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    The book is centred around a conflict between Cognitive Science and Human Experience: 1) cogsci findings show that the mind is fragmented into various divisions, 2) despite that, it feels like there is a single self that unifies our experience. To resolve this conflict the authors suggest that Human Experience should be expanded by Mindfulness/Awareness meditation to develop an intuitive feeling for the lack of a unified self. Likewise cognitive science should also be expanded by ideas of Enacti The book is centred around a conflict between Cognitive Science and Human Experience: 1) cogsci findings show that the mind is fragmented into various divisions, 2) despite that, it feels like there is a single self that unifies our experience. To resolve this conflict the authors suggest that Human Experience should be expanded by Mindfulness/Awareness meditation to develop an intuitive feeling for the lack of a unified self. Likewise cognitive science should also be expanded by ideas of Enaction. Classic ideas of cognitive cognitive science: cognitivism and connectionism. Cognitivism postulates that cognition comprises symbols which are physically-realised and have semantic content by representing pre-given properties in a pre-given world. Connectionism also hold that the mind represents properties in a pre-given world but suggests that this global state ‘emerges’ through local interaction among many ‘simple’ parts. There are many problems with this representational view of the mind. Enaction rejects the representationalist idea that the world contains pre-given properties that the cognitive system has to re-produce. Instead Enaction views cognition as bringing about a domain of distinctions through internal dynamics (‘operational closure’) + coupling to the environment (‘structural coupling’). These kinds of self-organising autonomous systems cannot be described by representationalist models. Simple cellular automata can be structurally coupled to a random environment of stimuli, yet the internal dynamics and this coupling give rise to a domain of distinctions in that random environment: for example the automata can be selective to odd sequences of stimuli even though this was not hard coded anywhere. This principle applies to all biological systems. This is the empirical project: a cognitive system can be described on two levels: 1) breaking down the cognitive system into parts, 2) analysing the possible couplings of the cognitive system as a whole to its milieu. Research should proceed by swapping between these types of descriptions, in order to determine the mechanisms of how the environment constrains the system and the mechanisms for how constraints are specified by the sensorimotor structure of the system. The enactive approach tries to understand perception by determining the lawful sensorimotor structures of the perceiver which permit action to be perceptually-guided. The mechanism will then shine light on how specific regularities arise. This has impacted fields such as robotics. For example Rodney Brooks: Intelligence without representation.

  11. 4 out of 5

    zynphull

    This is something else. Francisco Varela, along with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch, present an assortment of "middle ways," in special, between objectivism and nihilism, science and experience. Science is traditionally concerned with what is 'verifiable' in a very peculiar way: that which is describable in words or diagrams, and that can be measured, compared, and usually reproduced. That works wonders for basically anything involving the creation of technology or the study of the natural world. This is something else. Francisco Varela, along with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch, present an assortment of "middle ways," in special, between objectivism and nihilism, science and experience. Science is traditionally concerned with what is 'verifiable' in a very peculiar way: that which is describable in words or diagrams, and that can be measured, compared, and usually reproduced. That works wonders for basically anything involving the creation of technology or the study of the natural world. But what of the mind? Highlighting the difference between descriptions (science's main output) and experience (our daily, direct experience given through our perception and mind) the authors assert that the latter has been largely, and unfortunately, ignored by Western scientific knowledge. But that is not the case for the tradition of mindfulness/awareness meditation hailing from centuries-old Buddhism: indeed, the open-ended study and exploration of perception and consciousness is at the heart of meditation practices of many schools of Buddhism, and -as the authors explain- has some things in common with a few Western practices such as psychotherapy (e.g. Klein's object relations theory and, I'd say, the present-day "mindfulness" fad) and, especially, phenomenologists Husserl's and Mearleau-Ponty's forays on systematic explorations of perception and experience. The authors' declared goal is to attempt and build a bridge between these two disconnected but complementary, traditions, specifically cognitive science and mindfulness/awareness. Varela builds upon his previous work with former partner Humberto Maturana (see Tree of Knowledge) and, from the perspective of cognitive science, develops a theory of mind dubbed "enactivism" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enactivism). Their writing is as clear as can be, and they go through the previous two 'waves' of cognitive science explaining in detail how previous theories attempted to understand the mind (broadly, cognitivism, computationalism and connectionism), and where they fell short. Far from trying to impose an alien theory out of the blue, the authors make sure to connect their theory with then contemporary (this was the 90s!) authors and developments. Enactivism is thus seen as closely related to 'situated cognition' and 'embodied cognition'. In doing so, the authors also take a slight detour to talk about evolution theories, which was very interesting in itself, but more importantly, makes a crucial point for considering cognitive science and evolution hand in hand. Throughout the book, however, the authors make it clear that their theory is just one piece of a larger whole. Connecting science and direct (mindful) experience is their end-game, and they do so through careful analogies between mindfulness meditation and findings in cognitive science. The descriptions developed by science on the fragmentation of the mind (or should I say the 'self'?) point toward a lack of self, a lack of 'objective' ground. Instead of following through such theories to their conclusion - namely, in the authors' view, the lack of an ultimate 'Self' -, philosophers and scientists do not follow their conclusions unto experience, insisting that though science and philosophy point to the inexistence of a self, humans cannot help but to cling to the illusion that we exist; that, somehow, we are something. This discovery of no-ground thus often leads to nihilism - the craving for something one knows cannot be true. It need not be like that. Rather, one should aim for a middle way. To concede that the Self as we picture it - a messy aggregate of wills, memories, perceptions, beliefs, etc. - is just that, i.e. a messy aggregate of things our minds desperately grasp to in order to feel 'existent,' needs not lead to madness or anxiety. But on the lack of a dedicated tradition and techniques to explore such emptiness (in fact, to truly explore one's mind), Western thought has, after the fall of the old symbols of modernity, been mainly skeptical and cynical (some parts of post-modern thought, at least). Buddhism and its dedicated techniques, the authors assert, should be explored just for that. The idea of a no-self; that is, the idea that any person is just a mind grasping to that messy set of things as if they were the person itself, has been around for centuries in Buddhist thought. Entire schools of thought have been devoted to just this: reaching śūnyatā and beyond. Traditional Western thought, however, fixed as it is on language, words, on descriptions of experience, has mostly missed this point (analytic philosophy in special). We cling to words as if they alone can fix our grasping and our troubles, but we forget that we preexist words, concepts and explanations. We do not exist in words. We are not our theories. Well, we are not, I'd say. Varela, Rosch and Thompson's The Embodied Mind is a natural step after reading Maturana and Varela's The Tree of Knowledge. It is also (in my view) a somewhat accessible introduction to the main problems and theories of cognitive science itself. It won't teach you how to meditate (you should seek an accredited teacher for that, apparently), but it will serve to show you that what roughly the other half of the world has spent centuries doing can't be waived away as 'religious nonsense' or autosuggestion. It is a dedicated, serious tradition aimed at truly understanding consciousness and human experience. The longer we in the West keep believing we got it all figured out because we can heal illnesses and build spaceships (simultaneously believing in stuff like Law), and keep insisting that "reason" consists simply in laying down words carefully enough so as to make them "true," the longer we'll stay blind to the true causes our differences, struggles and turmoils. Scientific research has not been entirely blind to this, but the general public (and many academics) still needs not only to let go of such prejudices, but actively seek out alternative traditions in order to overcome its own limitations. Language and conscious thought has set us apart from other animals - but we have not 'transcended matter.' We are still animals, but animals that are able to gain true insight and understanding of our own condition.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Muhammad Arqum

    Brilliant!! One of those books that teach you so much about a subject that it is difficult to write a review with so much newly found, overwhelming knowledge inside your head which is yet to form concrete grounds. Being a tech geek and having academic background in the IT/CS field I had already quite a decent familiarity with IA and cognitive sciences and such subjects, and the fact that this domain had always fascinated me was the reason I picked this book. Without having a clear idea of what th Brilliant!! One of those books that teach you so much about a subject that it is difficult to write a review with so much newly found, overwhelming knowledge inside your head which is yet to form concrete grounds. Being a tech geek and having academic background in the IT/CS field I had already quite a decent familiarity with IA and cognitive sciences and such subjects, and the fact that this domain had always fascinated me was the reason I picked this book. Without having a clear idea of what the term "embodied mind" referred to. This book starts by investigating a little into the history of cognitive science. Touches the philosophy of being and the self. Slowly constructs a self and then destroys it. Touches upon Budhist philosophy of nothingness. Examines, different philosophies related to cognition and the nature of being and first person understanding of the experience itself. What is experience? Does the world exist as an objective reality or is it our mind's construct? What is representation and semantics and so fourth. Slowly unrolls the central concept of embodiment and "enaction". You are not your mind. Your cognitive self is more than your physical brain. It is a coupling of your brain, your nervous system and the environment outside that shapes your cognition. A crash course on evolution and natural selection is provided also to make a stronger argument. One does not have to agree with the ideas of course but there is a plethora of information about so many different fields and references about so much outside the book that it becomes such an interesting journey merely reading this book. Of course, you have to do your little wikipedia researches throughout the course of the read in order to make sense of basically anything but yea like I said in the beginning, once you finish reading this book you know A LOT more about cognitive science than before. Which is basically so much cooler. So yea, pick it up if you are interested in the subject, or philosophy in general.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

    I found this book very disappointing, as it wasn't very clear and most of its arguments fell flat. In their defence, Varela, Rosch and Thompson were not aiming to articulate a completed position so much as 'lay down a new path for thinking'; nonetheless, it would have been nice to see more arguments and less crude analogies with Buddhism and the experience of meditators. I don't doubt that meditation and Buddhism can teach us a lot about the mind, but this book doesn't make much of a case for it I found this book very disappointing, as it wasn't very clear and most of its arguments fell flat. In their defence, Varela, Rosch and Thompson were not aiming to articulate a completed position so much as 'lay down a new path for thinking'; nonetheless, it would have been nice to see more arguments and less crude analogies with Buddhism and the experience of meditators. I don't doubt that meditation and Buddhism can teach us a lot about the mind, but this book doesn't make much of a case for it, nor is it ever entirely clear what Varela et al. think differentiates Buddhist meditation from phenomenology, introspectionism, and other techniques for examining first-person experience which they reject. 2 stars because I am genuinely sympathetic to their project - I like phenomenology, connectionism and Buddhism in equal measure, and the book started an important movement in cognitive science. Still, if you're looking for a book which will discuss these topics in-depth, this is the wrong one.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alex Athanassakos

    This is a very "dense" book that would appeal to people a) with a lot of background in the philosophy of mind and b) looking for alternative approaches to those provided by western philosophy. However, if you have not read anything yet in that area, I suggest you start with something easier and more introductory. The authors provide a good review of the problems around "what is mind" and I really enjoyed the connection they make between objectivism and nihilism. However, they seem to have a parti This is a very "dense" book that would appeal to people a) with a lot of background in the philosophy of mind and b) looking for alternative approaches to those provided by western philosophy. However, if you have not read anything yet in that area, I suggest you start with something easier and more introductory. The authors provide a good review of the problems around "what is mind" and I really enjoyed the connection they make between objectivism and nihilism. However, they seem to have a particular bias towards Buddhism's theory of mind and although are critical of western ideas they do not seem to be applying the level of scrutiny to the ideas coming out of the Buddhism tradition. I understand that the authors wanted to provide more of a practical guide the lived experiences, but if that was the case then they did not need to be highly critical of western thought on that matter.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Teo 2050

    2018.11.19–2018.11.22 Contents Varela FJ, Thompson E, & Rosch E (1991) (10:54) Embodied Mind, The - Cognitive Science and Human Experience Dedication Foreword to the Revised Edition (Jon Kabat-Zinn) • Notes Introduction to the Revised Edition (Evan Thompson) • Notes • References Introduction to the Revised Edition (Eleanor Rosch) • Enaction Clarified • • Phase 1 Enaction • • Phase 2 Enaction • Personal Experience: Why Buddhism? • Science and Buddhism • • Mindfulness • • Beyond Mindfulness: Basic Knowledge Quest 2018.11.19–2018.11.22 Contents Varela FJ, Thompson E, & Rosch E (1991) (10:54) Embodied Mind, The - Cognitive Science and Human Experience Dedication Foreword to the Revised Edition (Jon Kabat-Zinn) • Notes Introduction to the Revised Edition (Evan Thompson) • Notes • References Introduction to the Revised Edition (Eleanor Rosch) • Enaction Clarified • • Phase 1 Enaction • • Phase 2 Enaction • Personal Experience: Why Buddhism? • Science and Buddhism • • Mindfulness • • Beyond Mindfulness: Basic Knowledge Questions • Science and Enaction • The Future • • Neuroscience and the Mind • • The Future of Enaction • • Ending Note • Notes • References Acknowledgments Introduction • Notes Part I: The Departing Ground 01. A Fundamental Circularity: In the Mind of the Reflective Scientist • An Already-Given Condition • What Is Cognitive Science? • Cognitive Science within the Circle • The Theme of This Book • Notes 02. What Do We Mean “Human Experience”? • Science and the Phenomenological Tradition • The Breakdown of Phenomenology • A Non-Western Philosophical Tradition • Examining Experience with a Method: Mindfulness/Awareness • The Role of Reflection in the Analysis of Experience • Experimentation and Experiential Analysis • Notes Part II: Varieties of Cognitivism 03. Symbols: The Cognitivist Hypothesis • The Foundational Cloud • Defining the Cognitivist Hypothesis • Manifestations of Cognitivism • • Cognitivism in Artificial Intelligence • • Cognitivism and the Brain • • Cognitivism in Psychology • • Cognitivism and Psychoanalysis • Cognitivism and Human Experience • Experience and the Computational Mind • Notes 04. The I of the Storm • What Do We Mean by “Self”? • Looking for a Self in the Aggregates • • Forms • • Feelings/Sensations • • Perceptions/Impulses • • Dispositional Formations • • Consciousnesses • Momentariness and the Brain • The Aggregates without a Self • Notes Part III: Varieties of Emergence 05. Emergent Properties and Connectionism • Self-Organization: The Roots of an Alternative • The Connectionist Strategy • Emergence and Self-Organization • Connectionism Today • Neuronal Emergences • Exeunt the Symbols • Linking Symbols and Emergence • Notes 06. Selfless Minds • Societies of Mind • The Society of Object Relations • Codependent Arising • • 1 Ignorance • • 2 Volitional Action • • 3 Consciousness • • 4 The Psychophysical Complex • • 5 The Six Senses • • 6 Contact • • 7 Feeling • • 8 Craving • • 9 Grasping • • 10 Becoming • • 11 Birth • • 12 Decay and Death • Basic Element Analysis • • 1 Contact • • 2 Feeling • • 3 Discernment • • 4 Intention • • 5 Attention • Mindfulness and Freedom • Selfless Minds; Divided Agents • Minding the World • Notes Part IV: Steps to a Middle Way 07. The Cartesian Anxiety • A Sense of Dissatisfaction • Representation Revisited • The Cartesian Anxiety • Steps to a Middle Way • Notes 08. Enaction: Embodied Cognition • Recovering Common Sense • Self-Organization Revisited • Color as a Study Case • • Color Appearance • • Color as a Perceived Attribute • • Where Is Color? • • Color as a Category • • Linguistic Aspects of Color • • Color and Cognition • • Color and Culture • Cognition as Embodied Action • • Heideggerian Psychoanalysis • The Retreat into Natural Selection • Notes 09. Evolutionary Path Making and Natural Drift • Adaptationism: An Idea in Transition • A Horizon of Multiple Mechanisms • • Linkage and Pleiotropy • • Development • • Random Genetic Drift • • Stasis • • Units of Selection • Beyond the Best in Evolution and Cognition • Evolution: Ecology and Development in Congruence • Lessons from Evolution as Natural Drift • Defining the Enactive Approach • Enactive Cognitive Science • In Conclusion • Notes Part V: Worlds without Ground 10. The Middle Way • Evocations of Groundlessness • Nagarjuna and the Madhyamaka Tradition • The Two Truths • Groundlessness in Contemporary Thought • • The Lack of an Entre-deux • • Interpretationism • • Transformative Potential • Notes 11. Laying Down a Path in Walking • Science and Experience in Circulation • Nihilism and the Need for Planetary Thinking • Nishitani Keiji • Ethics and Human Transformation • • The View from Social Science • • Compassion: Worlds without Ground • • In Conclusion • Notes Appendix A: Meditation Terminology Appendix B: Categories of Experiential Events Used in Mindfulness/Awareness Appendix C: Works on Buddhism and Mindfulness/Awareness References Index List of Illustrations • Figure 1.1 A conceptual chart of the cognitive sciences today in the form of a polar map, with the contributing disciplines in the angular dimensions and different approaches in the radial axis. • Figure 1.2 Interdependence or mutual specification of structure and behavior/experience. • Figure 1.3 Interdependency of scientific description and our own cognitive structure. • Figure 1.4 Interdependency of reflection and the background of biological, social, and cultural beliefs and practices. • Figure 1.5 Interdependency of the background and embodiment. • Figure 4.1 The momentariness of experience. • Figure 4.3 The grasping toward an ego-self as occurring within a given moment of experience. • Figure 4.2 Postulation of a transcendental self as a ground for the momentariness of experience. • Figure 4.4 Experimental setup to investigate the natural parsing of perceptual events. See text for description. From Varela et al., Perceptual framing and cortical alpha rhythm. • Figure 4.5 Results of experiments revealing temporal parsing of perceptual events around 100–150 msec. See text for more details. • Figure 4.6 (a) Montage of 15 electrodes over a subject’s head to extract event related potentials when confronted with a simple visuo-motor task. (b) One example of such ERP from the parietal derivation, showing a sequence of electrical events over 0.5 seconds, and differing between the two tasks only in the later 300–500 msec portion. (c) The overall electrical pattern moves and changes over this temporal frame like a “shadow of thought.” Here solid lines indicate strong correlation with the electrode encircled in the move task. High correlation in the no-move task displays a different pattern (not shown). From Gevins et al., Shadows of thought. • Figure 5.1 Constructing a simple cellular automaton. • Figure 5.2 Emergent cooperative patterns (or “attractors”) in cellular automata. • Figure 5.3 Connections in the visual pathway of mammals at the thalamic level. • Figure 5.4 The ART model for visual processing through attentional-orienting subsystems. See text for more details. From Carpenter and Grossberg, A massively parallel architecture for a self-organizing neural pattern recognition machine. • Figure 6.1 Codependent arising as the Wheel of Life. • Figure 8.1 Cellular automata Bittorio in a random soup of 1s and 0s. • Figure 8.2 Bittorio’s life history showing changes in this history depending on the perturbations it encounters. • Figure 8.3 A Bittorio of rule 10010000, choosing only odd sequences of perturbations. • Figure 8.4 A Bittorio responsive to a sequence of double perturbations. • Figure 8.5 Parallel streams in the visual pathway. From DeYoe and Van Essen, Concurrent processing streams in monkey visual cortex. • Figure 8.6 Tetrachromatic vs. trichromatic mechanisms are illustrated here on the basis of the different retinal pigments present in various animals. From Neumeyer, Das Farbensehen des Goldfisches. • Figure 9.1 Segmentation in the embryo of the fruit fly Drosophila. • Figure 9.2 Behavior-based decomposition. From Brooks, Achieving artificial intelligence through building robots. • Figure 9.3 Finite state machines are wired together into layers of control. Each layer is built on top of existing layers. Lower levels never rely on the existence of higher-level layers. From Brooks, Intelligence without representation.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Roger Whitson

    Even though this book was written in 1991, it remains one of the best academic accounts I've seen of the intersections between mindfulness, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. I say this knowing little about cognitive science. I've read Thompson's more recent book WAKING, DREAMING, BEING - which has some interesting descriptions of various cognitive states, but the comprehensiveness of the theories laid out by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch here is particularly interesting. And as a non Even though this book was written in 1991, it remains one of the best academic accounts I've seen of the intersections between mindfulness, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. I say this knowing little about cognitive science. I've read Thompson's more recent book WAKING, DREAMING, BEING - which has some interesting descriptions of various cognitive states, but the comprehensiveness of the theories laid out by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch here is particularly interesting. And as a non-scientist, I found the language *mostly* easy to follow, despite articulating a large number of difficult ideas. There's even a chapter surveying neo-Darwinian accounts of evolution as a way to understand their elaboration of an enactive cognitive process. I can't imagine anyone dealing with nuance issues in new materialism without understanding developments in evolutionary theory like the ones they describe in this chapter. I've been using mindfulness techniques for about a year, and just started getting into the intersections of cognitive science and philosophy of mind through the work of Thompson and Andy Clark. This book is a welcome discussion of the three dominant basic theories of cognition, as well as the way they interact with epistemology in Buddhism and mindfulness. Of course, again, it was published in 1991, so I don't quite know how enactive cognition measures up to more recent theories like Clark's work on predictive processing. But it's still a powerful, mind-altering, book nonetheless.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tavo

    This work should be in every scientist's curriculum. The authors make a clear, informed and precise argument of the impact of Buddhist practices in science. Without reducing my reading experience too much, I can easily say it's one of the most well put works I've read. I discussed a couple of passages with some friends and they found the language to be a little too technical. They are right. It is not the easiest read, but when such topics about differences in philosophical cultures are being disc This work should be in every scientist's curriculum. The authors make a clear, informed and precise argument of the impact of Buddhist practices in science. Without reducing my reading experience too much, I can easily say it's one of the most well put works I've read. I discussed a couple of passages with some friends and they found the language to be a little too technical. They are right. It is not the easiest read, but when such topics about differences in philosophical cultures are being discussed, only precise language allows these ideas to be so eloquently conveyed.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    Broad study on cognitive science that is unapologetic about its range of sources, from philosophy (Merleau-Ponty to Nietzsche) to colour theory (including art) to artificial intelligence to Buddhist meditation practices to neurology to social criticism (and the idea of commonage). Somehow the authors pull together a book that is not only interesting but also very engaging and legible. Great insights, a little dated, but still relevant for the breadth of research that went into the book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Having now read Dreyfus, Chemero, subsequent works by Thompson (which I also enjoyed), and bits of Gibson, this remains for me the most compelling and generative presentation of the embodied cognitive perspective.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    The absolute milestone for those interested in the so called '4e' approaches to cognition and human experience. Simply brilliant! The absolute milestone for those interested in the so called '4e' approaches to cognition and human experience. Simply brilliant!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sergej van Middendorp

    Foundational to the theory in my dissertation. A great read that relates embodiment in philosophy back to Merleau Ponty and biology.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    A challenging read full of interesting ideas.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Juan Alberto Yoga

    Amazing...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christophe Charland

    Compassion and empathy as a cure to nihilism? The answer to the world's nonsense relies within all of us ♡ Compassion and empathy as a cure to nihilism? The answer to the world's nonsense relies within all of us ♡

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tiago Faleiro

    Sounded fascinating but got a bit tired of it from being too dense... Might come back to it at some point.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Viviana

    the chapter on multi-chromates is jawdroppin. these are animals that see more than three colors.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Vadim Kulikov

    Ground breaking and seminal work which is the first to introduce the term "enactivism". I found the first half a little hard to read compared to the second half which I found exciting! Could be just me. Ground breaking and seminal work which is the first to introduce the term "enactivism". I found the first half a little hard to read compared to the second half which I found exciting! Could be just me.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Narda

    Varela was an amazing scientist whom brought Buddhist thought into artificial intelligence and transformed AI's whole approach towards the need for embodied intelligence inspired by the middle way of dependent origination. Varela set up the life and mind institute with the dalai lama but unfortuantely died of cancer and im not sure anyone took over his role so the institute may have fallen wayside but def he was instrumental in getting the dalai lama publicly on board with neuroscientific resear Varela was an amazing scientist whom brought Buddhist thought into artificial intelligence and transformed AI's whole approach towards the need for embodied intelligence inspired by the middle way of dependent origination. Varela set up the life and mind institute with the dalai lama but unfortuantely died of cancer and im not sure anyone took over his role so the institute may have fallen wayside but def he was instrumental in getting the dalai lama publicly on board with neuroscientific research. great book that explains the need for embodiment in the cognitive experience of grounding consciousness.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Varela et al make the case for bridging the gap between a phenomenological (first person) approach to experience and a dynamic systems-based approach to how the brain works. Evan Thompson continues this line of thinking in "Mind in Life" which was originally meant to be co-authored with Varela. Varela died in 2001. Varela et al make the case for bridging the gap between a phenomenological (first person) approach to experience and a dynamic systems-based approach to how the brain works. Evan Thompson continues this line of thinking in "Mind in Life" which was originally meant to be co-authored with Varela. Varela died in 2001.

  30. 4 out of 5

    William Staudenmaier

    Excellent paradigm for the study of human thought, reflection, and action. Superb ground for deep exploration of experience. Describes in detail the capacities for letting go, reflecting, re-engaging in a fully human, compassionate manner. Provides research paradigms. The book is very detailed and provides an solid basis for the full depth and breath study of human science.

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