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Francisco Varela in Dharamsala India, 1994

Francisco Javier Varela García (September 7, 1946 – May 28, 2001), was a Chilean biologist, philosopher and neuroscientist who, together with his teacher Humberto Maturana, is best known for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology.

Contents

Biography

Francisco Varela was born in 1946 in Santiago in Chile. After completing secondary school at the Liceo Aleman de Santiago (1951-1963),like his mentor Humberto Maturana, Varela studied first medicine then biology at the University of Chile, then did a Ph.D. in biology at Harvard University. His thesis, defended in 1970 and supervised by Torsten Wiesel, was titled Insect Retinas: Information processing in the compound eye.

After the 1973 military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, Varela and his family spent 7 years in exile in the USA before returning to Chile to become a Professor of biology.

Varela became a Tibetan Buddhist in the 1970s, initially studying, together with Keun-Tshen Goba, with the meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Vajradhatu and Shambhala Training, and later with Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, a Nepalese meditation master of higher tantras.

In 1986, he settled in France, where he at first taught cognitive science and epistemology at the École Polytechnique, and neuroscience at the University of Paris. From 1988 until his death, he led a research group at the CNRS (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique).

He died in 2001 in Paris of Hepatitis C after having written an account of his 1998 liver transplant.[1]. Varela had four children, including the actress, environmental spokesperson, and model Leonor Varela.

Work

Varela was primarily trained as a biologist, and was fundamentally influenced by his teacher and fellow Chilean, Humberto Maturana, also a biologist with a strong philosophical orientation.

Varela wrote and edited a number of books and numerous journal articles in biology, neurology, cognitive science, mathematics, and philosophy. He was a founding member of the Integral Institute, a thinktank dedicated to the cross-fertilization of ideas and disciplines.

Varela was a proponent of the embodied philosophy which argues that human cognition and consciousness can only be understood in terms of the enactive structures in which they arise, namely the body (understood both as a biological system and as personally, phenomenogically experienced) and the physical world with which the body interacts. He introduced into neuroscience the concepts of neurophenomenology, based on the phenomenological writings of Edmund Husserl and of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and on "first person science," in which observers examine their conscious experience using scientifically verifiable methods.

See also

Publications

Varela wrote numerous books and articles:[2]

  • 1980 (with Humberto Maturana). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Boston: Reidel.
  • 1979. Principles of Biological Autonomy. North-Holland.
  • 1998 (1987) (with Humberto Maturana). The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Boston: Shambhala Press.
  • 1991 (with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. MIT Press.
  • 1992 (with P. Bourgine, eds.). Towards a Practice of Autonomous Systems: The First European Conference on Artificial Life. MIT Press.
  • 1992 (with J. Hayward, eds.). Gentle Bridges: Dialogues Between the Cognitive Sciences and the Buddhist Tradition. Boston: Shambhala Press.
  • 1993 ( with D. Stein, eds.). Thinking About Biology: An Introduction to Theoretical Biology. Addison-Wesley, SFI Series on Complexity.
  • 1997 (ed.). Sleeping, Dreaming and Dying. Boston: Wisdom Book.
  • 1996-99. Invitation aux sciences cognitives. Paris: Seuil.
  • 1999. Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom and Cognition. Stanford University Press.
  • 1999 (with J. Shear, eds.). The View from Within: First-Person Methodologies in the Study of Consciousness. London: Imprint Academic.
  • 1999 (with J. Petitot, B. Pachoud, and J-M. Roy, eds.). Naturalizing Phenomenology: Contemporary Issues in Phenomenology and Cognitive Science. Stanford University Press.

References

External links

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Francisco Javier Varela García (September 7, 1946May 28, 2001) was a Chilean biologist and philosopher who, together with his teacher Humberto Maturana, is best known for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology.

Sourced

  • [...] the last 15 years have witnessed the ascent of an alternative view, that of embodied or enactive cognition. This new wave arose because the computationalist doctrine failed to account even for the most elementary coping with the world: walking, perceiving object in a natural setting, imagination. Slowly the cards turned into considering that the basis of mind is the body in coupled action, that is, the sensory-motor circuits establish the organism as viable in situated contexts. Form this perspective the brain appears as a dynamical process (and not a syntactic one) of real time variables with a rich self-organizing capacity (and not a representational machinery). So in this sense the mind is not in the head since it is roots in the body as a whole and also in the extended environment where the organism finds itself.

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