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The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience Revised ed. Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262720212
ISBN-10: 0262720213
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Editorial Reviews

Review

One of the main difficulties of the science of the mind is to explain how consciousness is possible without there being a transcendental Self that is the receptacle for all experience or a transcendental "I" that accompanies all experience. The Embodied Mind blends insights from cognitive neuroscience and the Buddhist theory of mind to show how consciousness is possible without any self at all! The book is tremendously helpful in sparing us the illusion that there is a "mind's 'I'."

(Owen Flanagan, Class of 1919 Professor, Wellesley College)

Our concern is to open a space of possibilities in which the circulation between cognitive science and human experience can be fully appreciated and to foster the transformative possibilities of human experience in a scientific culture.

(the authors)

The Embodied Mind is a thoroughly original integration of cognitive science, continental philosophy, and Buddhist thought, and in its transpersonal dimension, rather beautiful.

(Gordon G. Globus, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Philosophy, University of California, Irvine)

An important book with wideranging implications for the construction of subjectivity in the Western tradition. Moreover, it is engagingly written, presenting difficult ideas and complex research programs with grace, lucidity, and style.

(N. Katherine Hayles American Book Review)

About the Author

Francisco Varela is Director of Research at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique and Professor of Cognitive Science and Epistemology, CREA, at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris.



Eleanor Rosch is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Revised ed. edition (November 13, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262720213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262720212
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Gerofsky on January 13, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is perhaps the most challenging and unusual book I ever read. At first it seems similar to the other books on mind and consciousness that started appearing in the late 1980s, in response to advances in neurobiology and artificial intelligence. But the final chapters confirm that the authors were shooting for something much grander.

The writers of this book, which was first published in 1991, were a "dream team" of philosopher, psychologist, and neuroscientist (the late, great Francisco Varela). They wrote for a professional audience. An interested layperson having some familiarity with philosophy of mind issues can keep up, but only with much effort; I had to stop several times to look up a term or research an important concept. But it's worth the effort. You will review a wide variety of interesting ideas and be shown how they relate to one other, including neural networks, societies of mind, object-relations psychoanalysis, adaptive resource theory, multi-chromatic vision, evolutionary drift, nihilism, the delusion of "self", and much more.

And you will also read about Buddhism. The authors introduce Buddhist concepts every second or third chapter, noting the parallels between ancient thought and modern science (and the failures of western philosophy). Yes, this does remind one of Capra`s Tao of Physics, although the conceptual juxtapositions aren't as forced. The two biggest problems that cognitive science present for western thought involve the failure to integrate and account for subjective experience, and an increasing sense of social groundlessness as science and history reveal the world to be mostly "relative".
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Format: Paperback
Reading this book contributed helpfully to my studies of the phenomenology of the embodied experience. The authors argue that we cannot understand ourselves to be isolated bodies controlled by a mind that stands apart from and judges an independent environment. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in cognitive science, phenomenological philosophy, philosophies of embodiment, and the relationship of Buddhism to these areas of thought.
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While I love reading Evan Thompson and Fransisco Varela, it is suprising to me how unexamined some of their positions are.

For example, Varela continuously states the 'groundlessness' of being to the point where it seems to be the core of his philosophical fixation. But then when turning to the subject of ethics, he seems to not notice the contradiction between the negation of any 'ground', and the the subtle, though necessary act of POSITING which Buddhism engages in assuming that "compassion" spontaneously emerges in the 'enlightened mind'.

The naivete in this view is astounding in light of modern attachment research and developmental psychology. Varela, appears to be too tendentiously 'stuck' on groundlessness to notice the problem.

The problem is the act of positing. At one moment he says there is no ground and no referent, YET, he is obviously relying upon a referent by positing a 'middle way', and claiming that 'compassion arises spontaneuously in the enlightened mind'.

A simple issue being ignored is the FUNDAMENTAL relational quality - and purpose - of human emotion. As attachment research shows, without an 'other' - a caregiver, mother, or some other human being - emotions don't develop and neither does the self. Varela ignores this because his purposes are different. Just like any other human being, he has needs, and his needs are more evolved - sophisticated - as philosophical notions. But nevertheless, they are needs: need to control the anxieties, fears and apprehension of meaninglessness.

While I completely agree with the non-linear approach and the validity of 'dependent emergence", the fact remains, if we want any ASSOCIATION with the world outside of ourselves, we are inevitably dependent on the REALITY of the other.
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Format: Paperback
This book combines four of my very favorite things: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Buddhism, dynamic systems theory, and neuroscience. I am not, therefore, the most objective reviewer. I had already bought into the authors' project before I picked up the book. I am convinced that recent developments in neuroscience and the spread of Buddhism to the West are two of the most important historical developments of the last century. I think they are both going to be extremely important in shaping the world that is currently coming to birth. So I am all for the attempt to combine the two particularly when one of my favorite philosophers (Maurice Merleau-Ponty) is thrown in the mix for good measure.

The authors of this book are attempting to do many things all at once: to chart a middle path between objectivism and subjectivism, find a solution to the problem of nihilism that attends the collapse of objectivism and belief in a unified self, combine the insights of modern neuroscience with the insights of what they call the mindfulness/meditation traditions of Buddhism, and to present their own embodied/enactive research program and contrast it with other research programs in cognitive science. The authors are fairly successful in all of their tasks, although I think they are more successful in some than in others.

I am not going to try to outline the whole book. I am simply going to point out why I think this book is a really important work even for those who are not necessarily interested in the philosophy of mind. I think the authors of this book are grappling with what I consider to be the most important philosophical problems at our current historical moment.
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