Zahavi (Being Someone) – neurophenomenology

Dan Zahavi, Being Someone. PSYCHE 11 (5), June 2005

As already mentioned, Metzinger also employs the term “neurophenomenology”. This term was originally coined by Francisco Varela, who gave it a precise definition and envisaged it as a novel approach in cognitive science. According to Varela, neurophenomenology is an approach that rejects representationalist and computationalist accounts of consciousness and cognition, and which considers the data from phenomenologically disciplined analyses of lived experience and the experimentally based accounts found in cognitive neuroscience to have equal status and to be linked by mutual constraints. More specifically, Varela argued that the subjective dimension is intrinsically open to intersubjective validation, if only we avail ourselves of a method and procedure for doing so. He thought classical philosophical phenomenology had provided such a method and considered it crucial for the future development of cognitive science that cognitive scientists actually learned to use some of the methodological tools that were developed by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty (Varela 1996, 1997). It is obvious that Metzinger does not have the same agenda in mind as Varela, but although he speaks repeatedly of neurophenomenology, he never provides his own definition of what it actually amounts to.

During the past 10-15 years, there has been a lot of new work dealing with the methodological problem of how to integrate phenomenology, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science. I am thinking of work by, for instance, Varela, Petitot, Thompson and Gallagher (Varela, Thompson & Rosch 1991, Varela 1996, 1997, Varela & Shear 1999, Petitot 1995, Roy, Petitot, Pachoud & Varela 1999, Gallagher 1997).10 However, Being No One contains no discussion of this work. Given Metzinger’s frequent reference to phenomenology, and given how crucial the whole issue of methodology is to his own enterprise, this silence is regrettable.