Organism, Cognitive Science and the Emergence of Selfless Selves
Varela (Francisco J.)
Source: Revue européenne des sciences sociales , 1991, T. 29, No. 89, L'homme et la Société Dix ans après Piaget: VIIe colloque annuel du Groupe d'Etude "Pratiques Sociales et Théories" (1991), pp. 173-198
Paper - Abstract

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Introduction (truncated)

  1. It is a great honour to be invited to give the second Alexander Chavannes Conference «Pour une science generate de l’homme». In the spirit of the Conferences I would like to address a difficult but important multi-disciplinary issue that traverses the sciences of man. This is how to under- stand the emergence of what is self. My approach will be expressed in the voice of the biologist I am, but a biologist for whom the epistemological issues around cognition and knowledge are inextricable. Whence my title, which starts with a reference to «organism».
  2. Organism connotes a knotty dialectic: a living system makes itself into an entity distinct from its environment through a process that brings forth, through that very process, a world proper to the organism.
  3. My intention in what follows is to unpack this statement, both in the sense of providing a factual, biological justification for it, and of unfolding some of its epistemological consequences. I use the term dialectic to describe properties which stand in relation so that «... one thing cannot exist without the other, that one acquires its properties from its relation to the other, that the properties of both evolve as a consequence of their interpenetration» (Lewontin, 1985: pp. 2-3). There is more in all this than meets the eye, as we shall presently see. In fact, my conclusion will be that the relation between organism and self turns out to be the imbrication of two separable dialectics: one linked to the mechanism of identity, the other linked to the mode of relationship with its world.

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