Volume 13 · Number 1 · Pages 31–40
Enacting Enaction: A Dialectic Between Knowing and Being

Sebastjan Vörös & Michel Bitbol

Log in to download the full text for free

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


Context: The notion of “enaction,” as originally expounded by Varela and his colleagues, was introduced into cognitive science as part of a broad philosophical framework combining science, phenomenology, and Buddhist philosophy. Its intention was to help the researchers in the field avoid falling prey to various dichotomies (mind/body, self/world, self/other) bedeviling modern philosophy and science, and serve as a “conceptual evocation” of “non-duality” or “groundlessness: an ongoing and irreducible circulation between the flux of lived experience (being) and the search of reason for conceptual invariants (knowing. Problem: It seems that, within the burgeoning field of “enactivism,” these far-reaching dimensions of the original proposal are often either dismissed or simply ignored. For this reason, the article tries to answer the following questions: Does the move away from the original exposition of enaction matter? What, if anything, has been lost along the way? What are the implications of the elements that have been discarded? Method: By drawing on some of the less well-known works of Varela, we spell out and elucidate some of the more radical aspects of the notion of enaction and the broader philosophical framework into which it was originally embedded. Results: We argue that this broader philosophical framework is of utmost importance, as it shows that enaction is only one part of the multi-layered “change in the context” that Varela felt was needed to successfully instantiate a move towards the non-dual. This “change of context” involves not only a change in the way we think about dualities, but also a change in the way we experience them. The role of new scientific metaphors, such as enaction (but also autopoiesis, embodiment, etc.), is to function as conceptual evocations of this back-and-forth exchange between knowing and being. However, if this overall framework is discarded, as is often the case in contemporary accounts, enaction loses its radical impetus and becomes mellowed down to yet another version of naturalized epistemology. Implications: Taking the notion of enaction seriously implies a radical shift in our conceptions of science and knowledge, as it encompasses a theoretical and existential move away from a detached observer to embedded and engaged cognizer. Thus, our manner of thinking can no longer be considered in isolation from our manner of being, which indicates a deep interconnection between epistemology and ethics, and may entail profound changes in the definition of the aims, methods, and values of the research community: self-transformation as a consequence of, and condition for, understanding. Constructivist content: The target article advocates a critical approach to realist presuppositions in contemporary science and philosophy, and emphasizes a deep interrelation between being and knowing, between ethics and epistemology.

Key words: Anti-metaphysics, enaction, ethics, lived experience, neurophenomenology, non-duality


Vörös S. & Bitbol M. (2017) Enacting enaction: A dialectic between knowing and being. Constructivist Foundations 13(1): 31–40. http://constructivist.info/13/1/031

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Valenzuela-Moguillansky C., Demšar E. & Riegler A. (2021) An Introduction to the Enactive Scientific Study of Experience
Vörös S. & Riegler A. (2017) A Plea for not Watering Down the Unseemly: Reconsidering Francisco Varela’s Contribution to Science
Solomonova E. & Sha X. W. (2016) Exploring the Depth of Dream Experience: The Enactive Framework and Methods for Neurophenomenological Research
Froese T., Gould C. & Barrett A. (2011) Re-Viewing from Within: A Commentary on First- and Second-Person Methods in the Science of Consciousness
Petri J. & Gromadzki A. (2022) Enacting the “Body” of Neurophenomenology: Off-Radar First-Person Methodologies in Pragmatics of Experiencing


Aristotle (2016) Metaphysics. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bitbol M. & Antonova E. (2016) On the too often overlooked radicality of neurophenomenology. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 359–361. http://constructivist.info/11/2/346
Bitbol M. & Petitmengin C. (2017) Neurophenomenology and the microphenomenological interview. In: Velmans M. & Schneider S. (eds.) The Blackwell companion to consciousness. Second edition. Wiley & Sons, Chichester: 726–739. http://cepa.info/4120
Bitbol M. (2012) Neurophenomenology, an ongoing practice of/in consciousness. Constructivist Foundations 7(3): 165–173. http://constructivist.info/7/3/165
Cohen A. & Varela F. J. (2000) Facing up to the embarrassment: Psychoanalysis and cognitive neuroscience. Journal of European Psychoanalysis 10–11. Available at http://cepa.info/2084
Descartes R. (2008) Meditations on the first philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Latin originally published in 1641. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foucault M. (2001) L’herméneutique du sujet. Editions du Seuil, Paris. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Froese T. (2011) From second-order cybernetics to enactive cognitive science: Varela’s turn from epistemology to phenomenology. Systems Research and Behavioural Science 28(6): 631–645. http://cepa.info/449
Heidegger M. (1975) The thinker as a poet. In: Heidegger M., Poetry, language and thought. Translated by A. Hofstadter. Harper & Row, New York: 1–14. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. & Varela F. J. (1980) Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Reidel, Boston. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. & Varela F. J. (1998) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Shambala, Boston MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Overgaard S. (2005) Being there: Heidegger’s formally indicative concept of “Dasein.” The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy V: 145–163. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Petitmengin C. (2017) Enaction as a lived experience: Towards a radical neurophenomenology. Constructivist Foundations 12(2): 139–147. http://constructivist.info/12/2/139
Stuart S. A. J. (2013) The union of two nervous systems: Neurophenomenology, enkinaesthesia, and the Alexander technique. Constructivist Foundations 8(3): 314–323. http://constructivist.info/8/3/314
Thompson E. (2004) Life and mind: From autopoiesis to neurophenomenology. A tribute to Francisco Varela. Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences 3: 381–398. http://cepa.info/1137
Varela A. C. (2002) One idea: On the path of F. J. Varela. European Journal of Psychoanalysis 14: 001. http://cepa.info/4244
Varela F. J. (1976) Not one, not two. Coevolution Quarterly 12: 62–67. http://cepa.info/2055
Varela F. J. (1978) On being autonomous: The lessons of natural history for systems theory. In: Klir G. (ed.) Applied systems research. Plenum Press, New York: 77–85. http://cepa.info/2058
Varela F. J. (1979) Principles of biological autonomy. Elsevier, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1981) Autonomy and autopoiesis. In: Roth G. & Schwegler H. (eds.) Self-organizing systems: An interdisciplinary approach. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt: 14–24. http://cepa.info/2063
Varela F. J. (1984) The creative circle: Sketches on the natural history of circularity. In: Watzlawick P. (ed.) The invented reality: Contributions to constructivism. W. W. Norton, New York: 309–325. http://cepa.info/2089
Varela F. J. (1987) Laying down a path in walking. In: Thompson W. I. (ed.) Gaia, A way of knowledge. Lindisfarne Press, Hudson NY: 48–64. http://cepa.info/2069
Varela F. J. (1991) Organism: A meshwork of selfless selves. In: Tauber A. I. (ed.) Organism and the origins of self. Kluwer Academic Publishers: 79–107. http://cepa.info/1959
Varela F. J. (1992) Whence perceptual meaning? A cartography of current ideas. In: Varela F. J. & Dupuy J.-P. (eds.) Understanding origins. Boston studies in the philosophy and history of science: 235–263. http://cepa.info/2074
Varela F. J. (1996) Neurophenomenology: A methodological remedy for the hard problem. Journal of consciousness studies 3: 330–335. http://cepa.info/1893
Varela F. J. (1999) Ethical know-how: Action, wisdom, and cognition. Stanford University Press, Stanford. http://cepa.info/2119
Varela F. J. (2000) Pour une phénoménologie de la Sunyata. In: Depraz N. & Marquet J.-F. (eds.) La gnose, une question philosophique. Cerf, Paris: 121–148. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (2000) Steps to a science of inter-being: Unfolding the dharma implicit in modern cognitive science. In: Watson G., Stephen B. & Claxton G. (eds.) The psychology of awakening. Samuel Waiser: York Beach ME: 71–89. http://cepa.info/4118
Varela F. J., Thompson E. & Rosch E. (1991) The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vörös S. & Gaitsch P. (2016) Desire and/or need for life? Towards a phenomenological dialectic of the organism. In: Tønnessen M., Armstrong K. & Rattasepp S. (eds.) Thinking about animals in anthropocene. Lexington Books, Lanham MD: 89–106. http://cepa.info/4245
Vörös S. (2014) The uroboros of consciousness: Between the naturalisation of phenomenology and the phenomenologisation of nature. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 96–104. http://constructivist.info/10/1/096
Vörös S., Froese T. & Riegler A. (2016) Epistemological odyssey: Introduction to special issue on the diversity of enactivism and neurophenomenology. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 189–204. http://constructivist.info/11/2/189
Whitehead A. N. (2004) The concept of nature. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Originally published in 1929. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wittgenstein L. (1968) Philosophical investigations. Basil Blackwell, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.