Francisco Varela at CREA, École polytechnique (the Center for Applied Epistemological Research), and his colleagues challenged the field of Cognitive Science in 1991 with “The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience”. The after-shocks from that challenge came as a relief for some, but were felt as a betrayal of rigorous, objective science by others. Twenty years later, the term embodied mind is now part of any serious debate about the nature of the mind.
Though the void left after Varela’s untimely death in 2001 remains, a multi-disciplinary following responded to his challenge and Varela’s neurophenomenology continues to give credence to scientists seeking to examine their own first-person experience and to philosophers needing to test their theories of mind with scientifically verifiable methods.
In 1999, Varela revised his original configuration of a first-person expert subject and a third-person scientist with a significant addition. His expanded vision of the ideal experiment introduced a second-person expert (e.g., teacher, trainer, or coach) in the particular “first-person methodology” being examined to mediate between first-person subjects and third-person laboratory scientists. The benefit of this addition was to insure that the scientist designed his protocol to focus on the most pertinent measurements.
In 2012, CREA, École polytechnique, sponsored the first Embodied Mind Project in Paris: “The Embodied Mind: a domain of 2nd-person psychophysical experts”. This workshop focused specifically on a practical experience of the psychophysical methodology of the Alexander Technique. (Please see the documentary film.)
This year, the second project, “Experiencing the Embodied Mind: High performance psychophysical expertise, subjectivity research, and brain-computer technology”, is being sponsored by PERCRO Perceptual Robotics Laboratory, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy.
Our goal is to bring together for the first time a group of researchers and Alexander Technique teachers in a collaborative environment. The researchers have interdisciplinary expertise in robotics and virtual reality, medical imaging, the philosophy and science of subjectivity and intersubjectivity, disciplines of physiotherapy and osteopathy, and the practice of meditation.
During this intensive five day residential program, we have the opportunity to combine theoretical discussion, experiential training, and experimental testing of the Alexander Technique with the benefit of apparatus such as EEG monitoring caps and motion tracking sensors. We will explore together the design space of future protocols that would use the Technique as an ideal setting for realizing Varela’s model of first-, second-, and third-person rigorous neurophenomenological experiments.