Volume 13 · Number 1 · Pages 59–67
Varela’s Radical Proposal: How to Embody and Open Up Cognitive Science

Kristian Moltke Martiny

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Context: The scientific landscape of cognitive science is today influenced, as are other areas of science, by the open science movement, which is seen, for instance, in the recently launched Open MIND project. Problem: More than 25 years ago Varela introduced the idea of opening up cognitive science. He called for a radical transformation of values, training and ways to conduct cognitive science. Yet, his radical proposal has been neglected in the discussions in cognitive science. Method: I describe Varela’s proposal by revisiting his philosophical arguments, his embodied and enactive view of cognition, and the methods he proposed as an alternative, namely the neurophenomenological and the second-person method. Results: I show how cognitive scientists neglect Varela’s proposal, because as scientists we are part of a scientific tradition and community that has not developed a research practice that enables us to integrate his proposal. I discuss different attempts to integrate the proposal into the research practice of cognitive science using the phenomenological interview, and argue for an even more radical approach. Implications: If we, as cognitive scientists, do not develop “how” we do cognitive science and change the scientific community we are embedded in, we will not be able to open up cognitive science and fully address the experiential, embodied and enactive aspects of cognition. Varela’s radical proposal for how to do so is therefore as important today as ever.

Key words: Cognitive science, embodying the mind, enaction, phenomenological interview, intersubjective validation


Martiny K. M. (2017) Varela’s radical proposal: How to embody and open up cognitive science. Constructivist Foundations 13(1): 59–67. http://constructivist.info/13/1/059

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