Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind

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Harvard University Press, 2007 - Philosophy - 543 pages
3 Reviews

How is life related to the mind? The question has long confounded philosophers and scientists, and it is this so-called explanatory gap between biological life and consciousness that Evan Thompson explores in Mind in Life.

Thompson draws upon sources as diverse as molecular biology, evolutionary theory, artificial life, complex systems theory, neuroscience, psychology, Continental Phenomenology, and analytic philosophy to argue that mind and life are more continuous than has previously been accepted, and that current explanations do not adequately address the myriad facets of the biology and phenomenology of mind. Where there is life, Thompson argues, there is mind: life and mind share common principles of self-organization, and the self-organizing features of mind are an enriched version of the self-organizing features of life. Rather than trying to close the explanatory gap, Thompson marshals philosophical and scientific analyses to bring unprecedented insight to the nature of life and consciousness. This synthesis of phenomenology and biology helps make Mind in Life a vital and long-awaited addition to his landmark volume The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (coauthored with Eleanor Rosch and Francisco Varela).

Endlessly interesting and accessible, Mind in Life is a groundbreaking addition to the fields of the theory of the mind, life science, and phenomenology.

 

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I just want to agree with the two reviews previously posted.
....but add to / slightly disagree with Ken Lanterman's review.
Ken Lanterman wrote: "An excellent compilation and review of the latest
thinking and literature on phenomenology, consciousness. Possibly panpsychist?"
To the first sentence: I'd agree, but also add biology, evolutionary theory, neuroscience, and 'the development of a science of mind which coherently fits with each of these', onto the list, since these are topics also covered in depth. In fact most of the book is not just a compilation/review, many of the ideas are fresh, the insights original, and thus above and beyond just re-viewing, the work genuinely adds some novelty to the scientific and philosophical landscape of our understanding.
As for the second sentence: I didn't find support, nor even a hint, of panpsychism support by Evan Thompson. And I feel certain that, if he were asked about whether Mind in Life lends support to Panpsychism, he would say he definitely did not have any such intentions while writing the book. Evan Thompson (from the lectures I've listened to, the works I've read by him, where he's discussed or been asked these sorts of questions) is philosopher who remains pretty strictly committed to examining the concrete evidence, whether that be phenomenological or empirical/experimental.
There's very little in the way of metaphysics here. Evan Thompson does not spend much time (in fact, I want to say he spends zero time, so far as I recall) discussing the implications of the Mind in Life thesis for the question concerning the 'underlying nature of nature/reality'. He doesn't subscribe to physicalism, materialism, panpsychism, idealism, etc. Rather, he blends together diverse disciplines through rigorous investigation and simply brackets out all talk of metaphysical '-isms' which would distract us from 'the things themselves'. Even 'being' lacks any sort of metaphysical sense for Thompson, who opts for an Ontological understanding appropriate for understanding both mind (phenomenologically) and life (biology, etc).
That said, considered within the scope of what Evan attempts to accomplish-- I think this is one of the most important books of the last 50 years or so.
 

Contents

Cognitive Science and Human Experience
3
The Phenomenological Connection
16
Autonomy and Emergence
37
The Structure of Behavior
66
Life in Mind
89
Autopoiesis The Organization of the Living
91
Life and Mind The Philosophy of the Organism
128
Laying Down a Path in Walking Development and Evolution
166
Look Again Consciousness and Mental Imagery
267
Temporality and the Living Present
312
Primordial Dynamism Emotion and Valence
360
Empathy and Enculturation
382
Husserl and Cognitive Science
413
Emergence and the Problem of Downward Causation
417
Notes
443
References
483

Consciousness in Life
219
Life beyond the Gap
221
Sensorimotor Subjectivity
243

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About the author (2007)

Evan Thompson is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

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