Volume 12 · Number 2 · Pages 139–147
Enaction as a Lived Experience: Towards a Radical Neurophenomenology

Claire Petitmengin

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Context: The founding idea of neurophenomenology is that in order to progress in the understanding of the human mind, it is indispensable to integrate a disciplined study of human experience in cognitive neuroscience, an integration which is also presented as a methodological remedy for the “hard problem” of consciousness. Problem: Does neurophenomenology succeed in solving the hard problem? Method: I distinguish two interpretations and implementations of neurophenomenology: a light or “mild” neurophenomenology, which aims at building correlations between first-person descriptions and neural recordings, and tries to evaluate the validity of first-person descriptions through objective criteria; and a deep or radical neurophenomenology, which aims at investigating the process of co-constitution of the subjective and the objective poles, within lived experience, and tries to evaluate first-person descriptions through processual criteria. Results: While mild neurophenomenology does not solve the hard problem, radical neurophenomenology solves it by dissolving it. Exploring the early stages of phenomenal processes such as the emergence of a perception or an idea highlights: (1) a dimension of experience where the separation usually perceived between the subjective and the objective poles vanishes; (2) micro-actions that instant after instant create and support this process of co-constitution, which Varela called “enaction.” This involves on the one hand experiencing concretely the dissolution of the hard problem, and on the other hand verifying the theory of enaction in lived experience. Implications: Radical neurophenomenology is a research programme that enables us to investigate precisely the mutual unfolding of the subjective and objective poles, from its most primitive phases such as perceptual events, to its latest phases such as the co-construction of scientific objectivity and intersubjectivity.


Petitmengin C. (2017) Enaction as a lived experience: Towards a radical neurophenomenology. Constructivist Foundations 12(2): 139–147. http://constructivist.info/12/2/139

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Comment by Angus Jenkinson · 24 Mar 2017
Supplementing this fine work is the tradition of Goethe, via Steiner. A PhD by Seth Miller (Miller, S. T., 2014. Toward an aesthetic epistemology: Transforming thinking through cybernetic epistemology and anthroposophy) connects this to Gendlin and Bateson. Amrine notes influence through von Uexküll, Merleau-Ponty, Zukerkandl and Deleuze. Henri Bortoft is valuable, including what it means to go upstream in the genesis of thought, equivalent to microgenesis.
All are indebted to Rudolf Steiner, editor of Goethe’s and Nietzsche’s archives. His seminal introduction to Goethe’s scientific works provided a significant theoretical and methodological foundation. His philosophical work, Intuitive thinking as a spiritual path: A philosophy of freedom (1893/1995), overcomes the limitations of Kant and Hegel, resolving the hard problem philosophically. His subtle account is useful, with phenomenological/theoretical distinctions, such as between the pathways of percept and thinking and the illusion of separation this forms. So is his cybernetic distinction between memory’s mental picture and percept (invaluable for this research), and that between thinking as process and thoughts (Bortoft’s upstream and downstream, which Petitmengin describes as microgenesis). Space prevents a fuller account. But the existential connections are also intriguing. See also Barfield, Kuhlewind, Gidley and ben Aharon.