Neurophenomenology: a methodological remedy for the hard problem

Francisco Varela

1996. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3.

This paper responds to the issues raised by D. Chalmers by offering a research direction which is quite radical because of the way in which methodological principles are linked to scientific studies of consciousness. Neuro-phenomenology is the name I use here to designate a quest to marry modern cognitive science and a disciplined approach to human experience, thereby placing myself in the lineage of the continental tradition of Phenomenology. My claim is that the so-called hard problem that animates these Special Issues can only be addressed productively by gathering a research community armed with new pragmatic tools for the development of a science of consciousness. I will claim that no piecemeal empirical correlates, nor purely theoretical principles, will really help us at this stage. We need to turn to a systematic exploration of the only link between mind and consciousness that seems both obvious and natural: the structure of human experience itself.In what follows I motivate my choice by briefly examining the current debate about consciousness at the light of Chalmer’s hard problem. Next, I outline the (neuro)phenomenological strategy. Finally I conclude by discussing some of the main difficulties and consequences of this strategy.

Keywords: cognitive science, consciousness, embodiment, hard problem, neurophenomenology.

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