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Mind & Life Europe Podcast


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  • 8. “Phenomenology in the Making”

    44:30
    My guest today is the brilliant multidimensional thinker Michel Bitbol, a rare mind that is as well versed in medicine and physics as it is in Buddhist philosophy and micro-phenomenology.His copious bibliography traces the evolution of his interlocking interests and his thinking about the role of phenomenology in theories of consciousness, the parallels between Buddhist dependent arising and certain Western theories of knowledge, and most relevantly for our conversation today, quantum philosophy and the common blind spots in the work of a scientist.In this third and final segment, my conversation with Michel opens out onto questions about the role of contemplation in the life of the scientist and what we mean by contemplative science. He offers a granular description of the practice of micro-phenomenology within that tradition, and discusses the important work being done by the Initiative for Contemplative Phenomenology at Mind & Life Europe. Ultimately, the conversation brings us to some of the subtle points of similarity between contemplative practice and the practice of phenomenology, bringing to bear the ethical dimension of both. We end on some of Michel’s most recent work, including his two latest books from 2023, Philosophie quantique. Le monde est-il extérieur? and Mettre fin aux controverses.I’d encourage you to visit our YouTube page to watch the online course that he offered for the MLE Friends community, “Beyond Confines: the Philosophy track.” There you can hear him speak about “Buddhism and Quantum Mechanics” in Part I and about “Consciousness: East and West” in Part II. You can also check out an online course in which he taught, hosted by our partner Science & Wisdom Live, “Buddhism and Quantum Physics.”Bergson, “An Introduction to Metaphysics,” essay from 1903Mind & Life Europe’s Initiative for Contemplative Phenomenology (ICP)Paper on the validity of 1st-person descriptions by Michel Bitbol and Claire Petitmengin (2009)Carlo Rovelli If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing to this podcast, donating to Mind & Life Europe, and becoming an MLE Friend. We would also encourage you to visit our website for upcoming events, as well as our YouTube Channel, where you can find dozens of free talks, dialogues, symposia, and cutting-edge educational materials."Slate Tracker" and "Lemon and Melon" by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).

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  • 7. “(Im)mersive Epistemologies in Physics, Philosophy, and Buddhism”

    42:40
    My guest today is the brilliant multidimensional thinker Michel Bitbol, a rare mind that is as well versed in medicine and physics as it is in Buddhist philosophy and micro-phenomenology. Michel is Emeritus Director of Research at the CNRS, in Paris, France. He is presently based at the Archives Husserl, a center of research in phenomenology. He received successively his M.D., his Ph.D. in physics, and his “Habilitation” in philosophy in Paris.As you’ll see in the show notes, his copious bibliography traces the evolution of his interlocking interests and his thinking about the role of phenomenology in theories of consciousness, the parallels between Buddhist dependent arising and certain Western theories of knowledge, and most relevantly for our conversation today, quantum philosophy and the common blind spots in the work of a scientist. His two most recent works, which you might want to check out are: Philosophie quantique. Le monde est-il extérieur? (Editions Mimésis) and Mettre fin aux controverses (Editions du cerf), a translation and scholarly commentary of Nagarjuna.In this second part of my conversation with Michel, we get into the nitty gritty, as it were, of the work he is most well-known for: we discuss the circulation between 1st-person and 3rd-person perspectives, between agent and environment; his encounter with the work of physicist Chrisopher Fuchs and his entry into understanding quantum physics; quantum mechanics as a participatory, (im)mersive epistemology, somewhat akin to participatory sense-making; the slipperiness of language when we talk about 1st- and 3rd-person perspectives; the primordial importance of including the 1st-person standpoint in scientific investigation; Michel’s progressive discovery of nondual epistemologies and ways of living in Buddhism; and, finally, the possible congeniality between Western science and frameworks proposed by Buddhism. We hope you enjoy and will stay with us for the third and final part of the conversation, where we’ll discuss the role of contemplation in the life of a scientist and the nature of experience itself.Christopher Fuchs and a brief intro to Quantum Bayesianism (Q-bism)Two contemporary French phenomenologists mentioned: Renaud Barbaras and Bruce BégoutIf you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing to this podcast, donating to Mind & Life Europe, and becoming an MLE Friend. We would also encourage you to visit our website for upcoming events, as well as our YouTube Channel, where you can find dozens of free talks, dialogues, symposia, and cutting-edge educational materials."Slate Tracker" and "Lemon and Melon" by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).
  • 6. “A Community of Minds”

    27:46
    My guest today is the brilliant multidimensional thinker Michel Bitbol, a rare mind that is as well versed in medicine and physics as it is in Buddhist philosophy and micro-phenomenology. Michel is Emeritus Director of Research at the CNRS, in Paris, France. He is presently based at the Archives Husserl, a center of research in phenomenology. He received successively his M.D., his Ph.D. in physics, and his “Habilitation” in philosophy in Paris.As you’ll see in the show notes, his copious bibliography traces the evolution of his interlocking interests and his thinking about the role of phenomenology in theories of consciousness, the parallels between Buddhist dependent arising and certain Western theories of knowledge, and most relevantly for our conversation today, quantum philosophy and the common blind spots in the work of a scientist. His two most recent works, which you might want to check out are: Philosophie quantique. Le monde est-il extérieur? (Editions Mimésis) and Mettre fin aux controverses (Editions du cerf), a translation and scholarly commentary of Nagarjuna.Michel’s mind is much like a kaleidoscope, and one which reveals and describes concepts with an astonishing degree of lucidity. In this first segment of my conversation with him, it was a pleasure to follow him into the past to describe the early synergy between his interests in medicine, physics, Buddhism, and philosophy, the existential questions that drove his intellectual curiosity, the revelation of first reading the writings of Husserl, how he first made contact with Francisco Varela and the congeniality he found there despite apparent disagreement, and the idea of generating a ‘mindful science,’ one which is mindful of its own situated origins. This was only the introduction to Michel’s thinking, and so we hope you’ll tune in again for the following two episodes, in which we’ll dive more deeply into Michel’s work in quantum mechanics and the nature of experience itself.Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleonor Rosch, The Embodied Mind (MIT Press, 1991 and 2016)Some key titles by Michel Bitbol: L'aveuglante proximité du réel, Champs-Flammarion, 1998.Physique et Philosophie de l'Esprit, Flammarion, 2000.De l'intérieur du monde. Pour une philosophie et une science des relations, Flammarion, 2010.La conscience a-t-elle une origine ? : des neurosciences à la pleine conscience : une nouvelle approche de l'esprit, Flammarion, 2014.Maintenant la finitude. Peut-on penser l'absolu?, Flammarion, 2019.Philosophie quantique. Le monde est-il extérieur?, Éditions Mimésis, 2023.Mettre fin aux controverses, Éditions du cerf, 2023.If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing to this podcast, donating to Mind & Life Europe, and becoming an MLE Friend. We would also encourage you to visit our website for upcoming events, as well as our YouTube Channel, where you can find dozens of free talks, dialogues, symposia, and cutting-edge educational materials."Slate Tracker" and "Lemon and Melon" by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).
  • 5. “The Blind Spot: Opening Up Our Understanding of Human Experience”

    51:53
    My guest today is Evan Thompson, known to many in the worlds of cognitive science, Asian studies, and philosophy, and one of the foundational figures in the story of Mind & Life Europe. Evan was one of Francisco Varela’s closest collaborators and co-authored with Francisco and Eleonore Rosch the now classic volume, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991, reissued in 2016). Evan is currently a writer and professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He works on the nature of the mind, the self, and human experience, and his work combines cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Asian philosophical traditions.In this second part we delve into his most recent book, The Blind Spot: Why Science Cannot Ignore Human Experience; the importance of tolerating complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty; the thorny state of science in western contexts; alternative epistemologies; philosophy as a way of life; what kind of conversation Evan would have with Francisco if he were alive today; future directions for his work (including reflections on death and dying); and, finally, visions for an organisation like Mind & Life Europe. We’ve included a whole host of references in the show notes below, as it was a richly layered conversation.Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, and Evan Thompson, “The blind spot” in Aeon (Jan 8, 2019)Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, and Evan Thompson, The Blind Spot: Why Science Cannot Ignore Human Experience (MIT Press, 2024)For more on the debate between Bergson and Einstein, see for example: Jimena Canales, The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time (Princeton University Press, 2016)Kyle Whyte, the indigenous philosopher, scholar, and activist referenced by EvanFor the classic account of epistemology and ethics by Francisco Varela, see: Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom, and Cognition (SUP, 1999)Hanne De Jaegher and participatory sense-making [see for example: De Jaegher and Di Paolo (2007), “Participatory sense-making: an enactive approach to social cognition”]For more on the Lindisfarne Association, including an archive of recordings, see: William Irwin Thompson, Thinking Together at the Edge of History: A Memoir of the Lindisfarne Association, 1972-2012 (2016)Pierre Hadot (ed. Arnold I. Davidson), Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault (Blackwell, 1995)If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing to this podcast, donating to Mind & Life Europe, and becoming an MLE Friend. We would also encourage you to visit our website for upcoming events, as well as our YouTube Channel, where you can find dozens of free talks, dialogues, symposia, and cutting-edge educational materials"Slate Tracker" and "Lemon and Melon" by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).
  • 4. “Coming into One’s Own as an Enactive Thinker”

    44:17
    My guest today is Evan Thompson, known to many in the worlds of cognitive science, Asian studies, and philosophy, and one of the foundational figures in the story of Mind & Life Europe. Evan was one of Francisco Varela’s closest collaborators and co-authored with Francisco and Eleonore Rosch the now classic volume, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991, reissued in 2016). Evan is currently a writer and professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He received his A.B. from Amherst College in 1983 in Asian Studies and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1990. He works on the nature of the mind, the self, and human experience, and his work combines cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Asian philosophical traditions. In March 2024, he released his most recent book, co-authored with physicists Marcelo Gleiser and Adam Frank, The Blind Spot: Why Science Cannot Ignore Human Experience (MIT, March 2024). You’ll hear us reference this book during our conversation, which was recorded in fall 2023.  Our conversation began in medias res, as I like to begin many of my conversations, and it was as far-reaching as it was multilayered: touching on the enduring power of the enactive approach; knowing as an intersubjective, participatory process; the continued relevance of The Embodied Mind; his own intellectual trajectory beginning with his time spent growing up in the Lindisfarne Association and his first encounters with Francisco Varela; and, finally, we journey through Evan’s own development as a thinker through the defining book projects of his career, including a more personal turn in his thinking.  This conversation was divided into two parts, so we hope you’ll tune in to the next episode for Part II, where we’ll do a deep dive into his most recent book, The Blind Spot: Why Science Cannot Ignore Human Experience (MIT, March 2024), co-authored with Marcelo Gleiser and Adam Frank.Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleonor Rosch, The Embodied Mind (MIT Press, 1991 and 2016)Francisco J. Varela, Principles of Biological Autonomy (newly annotated edition coming out from MIT Press in 2025, with a forward by Amy Cohen Varela)Evan Thompson, Why I Am Not a Buddhist (Yale University Press, 2020) Evan Thompson, Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015) Evan Thompson, Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard University Press, 2007)Evan Thompson, Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (Routledge Press, 1995)If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing to this podcast, donating to Mind & Life Europe, and becoming an MLE Friend. We would also encourage you to visit our website for upcoming events, as well as our YouTube Channel, where you can find dozens of free talks, dialogues, symposia, and cutting-edge educational materials."Slate Tracker" and "Lemon and Melon" by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).
  • 3. "Epistemology Matters"

    42:01
    Amy Cohen Varela is Chairperson of the Mind & Life Europe Board and has been involved with Mind and Life since its inception. She is also a clinical psychologist specialised in psychodynamic therapy and philosophy. Amy studied comparative literature at Brown and Columbia Universities before moving to Paris in the early ’80s, where she received her degree in clinical psychology at the University of Paris 7, with a specialty in psychodynamic theory and practice, and in parallel, completed psychoanalytic training. For context here, we should also mention that Amy is the former wife and partner of Francisco Varela and was intimately involved in the intellectual ecosystem of Francisco and the evolution of his thinking during the height of his intellectual productivity. And as you’re hear, she has her own unique and uniquely lush ways of thinking about epistemology, intersubjectivity, embodiment, and particularly participatory sense-making, which we’ll dive into together.In this final segment of my conversation with Amy Cohen Varela, this is where the rubber hits the road and we talk about the ethical dimension of enaction and participatory sense-making, and how enaction can provide a robust and compassionate framework for relating with one another. One of the points that most fascinated me about this conversation was our discussion of the imagination, as it shows up for both the scientist and the psychoanalyst. We also discussed the very risky business of owning the 1st-person perspective as a scientist and owning a way of working in an organisation like MLE that is unfinished, processual, and frictive. Ultimately, this was a conversation about ethics and ethical ways of being, whether as a scientist, a psychoanalyst, or a team working collaboratively to advance interdisciplinary work in the world. What kept ringing true for me well after the conversation ended was that great quote from Francisco: “epistemology matters.” We hope you enjoy, and if you haven’t listened to the first two episodes, we’d encourage you to go back and give them a listen.Francisco Varela: The Logic of Paradise (Varela’s 1978 lecture at the Lindisfarne Fellows Meeting, “The Cultural Contradictions of Power,” courtesy of Lindisfarne Tapes)Hanne De Jaegher and Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, Enactive Ethics: Difference Becoming Participation (2021)If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing to this podcast, donating to Mind & Life Europe, and becoming an MLE Friend. We would also encourage you to visit our website for upcoming events, as well as our YouTube Channel, where you can find dozens of free talks, dialogues, symposia, and cutting-edge educational materials."Slate Tracker" and "Lemon and Melon" by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).
  • 2. "Epistemophilia: The Pleasure of the Search"

    45:15
    Amy Cohen Varela is Chairperson of the Mind & Life Europe Board and has been involved with Mind and Life since its inception. She is also a clinical psychologist specialised in psychodynamic therapy and philosophy. Amy studied comparative literature at Brown and Columbia Universities before moving to Paris in the early ’80s, where she received her degree in clinical psychology at the University of Paris 7, with a specialty in psychodynamic theory and practice, and in parallel, completed psychoanalytic training. For context here, we should also mention that Amy is the former wife and partner of Francisco Varela and was intimately involved in the intellectual ecosystem of Francisco and the evolution of his thinking during the height of his intellectual productivity. And as you’re hear, she has her own unique and uniquely lush ways of thinking about epistemology, intersubjectivity, embodiment, and particularly participatory sense-making, which we’ll dive into together.In this second part of my conversation with Amy Cohen Varela, we do a deep dive into some of the conceptual frameworks that Amy is most passionate about, including the field of participatory sense-making (as developed by Hanne De Jaegher and Ezequiel Di Paolo) and the notion of epistemophilia. You’ll hear us reference the work of Gemma Corradi Fiumara, who first theorised this notion in the field of psychoanalysis. It was particularly evocative to hear Amy think about the body as the site of sense-making, the importance of desire in the sense-making process, the crucial role of adaptivity, Hans Jonas’ notion of ‘needful freedom,’ the idea of theory and practice playing together, and the work of letting be and always becoming an analyst in the psychoanalytic situation. I found it particularly illuminating when Amy defined sense-making as “adaptive self-regulation in precarious circumstances.” What better way to describe the state of being human, and conscious? So with that, I hope you’ll enjoy this segment of the conversation as much as I did. And if you haven’t listened to the first episode yet, we’d encourage you to go back and give it a listen!Mind & Life Europe’s European Summer Research Institute (ESRI), where Amy’s paper was delivered in 2023Hanne De Jaegher’s website for material on participatory sense-makingAn introduction to Gemma Corradi Fiumara’s work on epistemophilia: The Mind’s Affective Life: A Psychoanalytic and Philosophical Inquiry (2001)If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing to this podcast, donating to Mind & Life Europe, and becoming an MLE Friend. We would also encourage you to visit our website for upcoming events, as well as our YouTube Channel, where you can find dozens of free talks, dialogues, symposia, and cutting-edge educational materials."Slate Tracker" and "Lemon and Melon" by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).