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Neurophenomenology refers to a scientific research program aimed to address the hard problem of consciousness in a pragmatic way. [1] It combines neuroscience with phenomenology in order to study experience, mind, and consciousness with an emphasis on the embodied condition of the human mind. [2] The field is very much linked to fields such as neuropsychology, neuroanthropology and behavioral neuroscience (also known as biopsychology) and the study of phenomenology in psychology.



The label was coined by C. Laughlin, J. McManus and E. d'Aquili in 1990. [3] However, the term was appropriated and given a distinctive understanding by the cognitive neuroscientist Francisco Varela in the mid-1990s, [4] whose work has inspired many philosophers and neuroscientists to continue with this new direction of research.

Phenomenology is a philosophical method of inquiry of everyday experience. The focus in phenomenology is on the examination of different phenomena (from Greek, phainomenon, "that which shows itself") as they appear to consciousness, i.e. in a first-person perspective. Thus, phenomenology is a discipline particularly useful to understand how is it that appearances present themselves to us, and how is it that we attribute meaning to them. [5] [6]

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the brain, and deals with the third-person aspects of consciousness[ citation needed ]. Some scientists[ who? ] studying consciousness believe that the exclusive utilization of either first- or third-person methods will not provide answers to the difficult questions of consciousness[ citation needed ].

Historically, Edmund Husserl is regarded as the philosopher whose work made phenomenology a coherent philosophical discipline with a concrete methodology in the study of consciousness, namely the epoche. Husserl, who was a former student of Franz Brentano, thought that in the study of mind it was extremely important to acknowledge that consciousness is characterized by intentionality, a concept often explained as "aboutness"; consciousness is always consciousness of something. A particular emphasis on the phenomenology of embodiment was developed by philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty in the mid-20th century.

Naturally, phenomenology and neuroscience find a convergence of common interests. However, primarily because of ontological disagreements between phenomenology and philosophy of mind, the dialogue between these two disciplines is still a very controversial subject. [7] Husserl himself was very critical towards any attempt to "naturalizing" philosophy, and his phenomenology was founded upon a criticism of empiricism, "psychologism", and "anthropologism" as contradictory standpoints in philosophy and logic. [8] [9] The influential critique of the ontological assumptions of computationalist and representationalist cognitive science, as well as artificial intelligence, made by philosopher Hubert Dreyfus has marked new directions for integration of neurosciences with an embodied ontology. The work of Dreyfus has influenced cognitive scientists and neuroscientists to study phenomenology and embodied cognitive science and/or enactivism. One such case is neuroscientist Walter Freeman, whose neurodynamical analysis has a marked Merleau-Pontyian approach. [10] However, recent trends on the matter appear to reject Dreyfus's interpretation of Husserl while at the same time maintaining a high interest in the integration of Husserlian phenomenology into the sciences of mind, as demonstrated by Evan Thompson's recent work[ improper synthesis? ]. [11]

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Edmund Husserl German philosopher, known as the father of phenomenology

Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl was a German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology. In his early work, he elaborated critiques of historicism and of psychologism in logic based on analyses of intentionality. In his mature work, he sought to develop a systematic foundational science based on the so-called phenomenological reduction. Arguing that transcendental consciousness sets the limits of all possible knowledge, Husserl redefined phenomenology as a transcendental-idealist philosophy. Husserl's thought profoundly influenced the landscape of 20th-century philosophy, and he remains a notable figure in contemporary philosophy and beyond.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty French phenomenological philosopher

Maurice Jean Jacques Merleau-Ponty was a French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. The constitution of meaning in human experience was his main interest and he wrote on perception, art, and politics. He was on the editorial board of Les Temps modernes, the leftist magazine established by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1945.


The philosophy of perception is concerned with the nature of perceptual experience and the status of perceptual data, in particular how they relate to beliefs about, or knowledge of, the world. Any explicit account of perception requires a commitment to one of a variety of ontological or metaphysical views. Philosophers distinguish internalist accounts, which assume that perceptions of objects, and knowledge or beliefs about them, are aspects of an individual's mind, and externalist accounts, which state that they constitute real aspects of the world external to the individual. The position of naïve realism—the 'everyday' impression of physical objects constituting what is perceived—is to some extent contradicted by the occurrence of perceptual illusions and hallucinations and the relativity of perceptual experience as well as certain insights in science. Realist conceptions include phenomenalism and direct and indirect realism. Anti-realist conceptions include idealism and skepticism.

Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. It then spread to France, the United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work.

Francisco Varela Chilean biologist

Francisco Javier Varela García was a Chilean biologist, philosopher, cybernetician, and neuroscientist who, together with his mentor Humberto Maturana, is best known for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology, and for co-founding the Mind and Life Institute to promote dialog between science and Buddhism.

Hubert Dreyfus American philosopher

Hubert Lederer Dreyfus was an American philosopher and professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. His main interests included phenomenology, existentialism and the philosophy of both psychology and literature, as well as the philosophical implications of artificial intelligence. He was known for his exegesis of Martin Heidegger, which critics labeled "Dreydegger".

Movements in cognitive science are considered to be post-cognitivist if they are opposed to or move beyond the cognitivist theories posited by Noam Chomsky, Jerry Fodor, David Marr, and others.

<i>Phenomenology of Perception</i> 1945 book by Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Phenomenology of Perception is a 1945 book about perception by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in which the author expounds his thesis of "the primacy of perception". The work established Merleau-Ponty as the pre-eminent philosopher of the body, and is considered a major statement of French existentialism.

Shaun Gallagher American philosopher

Shaun Gallagher is an American philosopher who works on embodied cognition, social cognition, agency and the philosophy of psychopathology. Since 2011 he has held the Lillian and Morrie Moss Chair of Excellence in Philosophy at the University of Memphis and was awarded the Anneliese Maier Research Award by the Humboldt Foundation (2012-2018). Since 2014 he has been professorial fellow on the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong in Australia. He has held visiting positions at Keble College, Oxford; Humboldt University, Berlin; Ruhr Universität, Bochum; Husserl Archives, ENS, Paris; École Normale Supérieure, Lyon; University of Copenhagen; and the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge University.

Enactivism argues that cognition arises through a dynamic interaction between an acting organism and its environment. It claims that our environment is one which we selectively create through our capacities to interact with the world. "Organisms do not passively receive information from their environments, which they then translate into internal representations. Natural cognitive systems...participate in the generation of meaning ...engaging in transformational and not merely informational interactions: they enact a world." These authors suggest that the increasing emphasis upon enactive terminology presages a new era in thinking about cognitive science. How the actions involved in enactivism relate to age-old questions about free will remains a topic of active debate.

Phenomenology within psychology is the psychological study of subjective experience. It is an approach to psychological subject matter that has its roots in the phenomenological philosophical work of Edmund Husserl. Early phenomenologists such as Husserl, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty conducted philosophical investigations of consciousness in the early 20th century. Their critiques of psychologism and positivism later influenced at least two main fields of contemporary psychology: the phenomenological psychological approach of the Duquesne School, including Amedeo Giorgi and Frederick Wertz; and the experimental approaches associated with Francisco Varela, Shaun Gallagher, Evan Thompson, and others. Other names associated with the movement include Jonathan Smith, Steinar Kvale, and Wolfgang Köhler. But "an even stronger influence on psychopathology came from Heidegger (1963), particularly through Kunz (1931), Blankenburg (1971), Tellenbach (1983), Binswanger (1994), and others." Phenomenological psychologists have also figured prominently in the history of the humanistic psychology movement.

Samuel Todes was an American philosopher who made notable contributions to existentialism, phenomenology, and philosophy of mind.

Dan Zahavi Danish philosopher

Dan Zahavi is a Danish philosopher. He is currently Professor of Philosophy at University of Copenhagen and University of Oxford.

John Russon is a Canadian philosopher, working primarily in the tradition of Continental Philosophy. In 2006, he was named Presidential Distinguished Professor at the University of Guelph, and in 2011 he was the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute's Canadian Lecturer to India.

Retention and protention are key aspects of Edmund Husserl's phenomenology of temporality.

Evan Thompson is professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia. He writes about cognitive science, phenomenology, the philosophy of mind, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Buddhist philosophy in dialogue with Western philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

Phenomenological description is a method of phenomenology. A phenomenological description attempts to depict the structure of first person lived experience, rather than theoretically explain it. This method was first conceived of by Edmund Husserl. It was developed through the latter work of Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Immanuel Levinas and Maurice Merleau-Ponty — and others. It has also been developed through recent strands of modern psychology and cognitive science.

Renaud Barbaras is a French contemporary philosopher. An École normale supérieure de Saint-Cloud alumnus, he is Chair of Contemporary Philosophy in the Sorbonne.

Center for Subjectivity Research

The Center for Subjectivity Research (CFS) is an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Copenhagen, directed by Dan Zahavi. They work on a number of different topics: subjectivity, intentionality, empathy, action, perception, embodiment, naturalism, self-consciousness, self-disorders, schizophrenia, autism, cerebral palsy, normativity, anxiety, and trust, and do scholarly work on classical thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Brentano, Husserl, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and Ricoeur. They put a variety of philosophical and empirical perspectives on subjectivity into play to obtain mutual enlightenment, and methodological and conceptual pluralism. Hence, they have had collaborations within different disciplines such as phenomenology, analytic philosophy, hermeneutics, psychiatry, neuroscience, philosophy of religion, Asian philosophy, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, and cognitive science.


  1. D. Rudrauf, A. Lutz, D. Cosmelli, J.-P. Lachaux, M. Le Van Quyen. "From autopoiesis to neurophenomenology: Francisco Varela's exploration of the biophysics of being", Biol Res 36: 21-59, 2003.
  2. Gallagher, S. 2009. Neurophenomenology. In T. Bayne, A. Cleeremans and P. Wilken (eds.), Oxford Companion to Consciousness (470-472). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. C. Laughlin, J. McManus and E. d'Aquili: Brain, Symbol and Experience: Toward a Neurophenomenology of Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press)
  4. Varela, F. 1996. Neurophenomenology: A methodological remedy for the hard problem. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3: 330-49.
  5. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Phenomenology
  6. Gallagher, S. and Zahavi, D. 2008. The Phenomenological Mind. London: Routledge, Chapter 2.
  7. Debate Between D. Chalmers and D. Dennett: The Fantasy of First-Person Science
  8. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Edmund Husserl
  9. Carel, Havi; Meachem, Darian, eds. (2013). Phenomenology and Naturalism: Examining the Relationship between Human Experience and Nature. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9781107699052. Lay summary Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (7 October 2014).
  10. "Hubert Dreyfus 'Intelligence Without Representation: Merleau-Ponty's Critique of Mental Representation'". Archived from the original on 2008-12-01. Retrieved 2008-11-06.
  11. "Evan Thompson. 'Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind. Belknap, Harvard. 2007'"

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