The first decade of the ongoing century has marked a change in the so-called “philosophy of mind” - of great interest in the USA and, because of the mighty North American influence on cultural tendencies, in the rest of the world- that we could denominate the “return to Husserl”, parodying the famous “return to Kant” (Zurück zu Kant) which took place in the second half of the 19th century in the German philosophy. After decades of an overwhelming predominance of analytic philosophy in that country, headed by the charismatic figure of Wittgenstein, very significant winds of change seem to blow. The cause for these changes is in the great development experienced by the so-called “cognitive sciences” in the last decades of the past century, especially in the 90's, known as the “Brain's Decade” because of the appearance of new technologies, such as scanners, that allow advances in neurophysiology with important findings in regard to the explanation of neurological cognitive processes. Results that converge with others provided by robotics and the Artificial Intelligence, genetics, psycholinguistics, evolutive psychology, paleoanthropology, etc., making positive scientific knowledge about human knowledge advance considerably and, what matters to us more here, causing the revision of philosophies of knowledge such as logical positivism, which underlies the analytical tradition of Anglo-Saxon predominance.
The influent book of two of the proponents of cognitive sciences in Linguistics, Lakoff & Johnson, Philosophy in the flesh (1999), referred to Merleau-Ponty in their search for help to renew the North American Philosophy setting it free from its dogmas proceeding from English logical empiricism and bringing it closer to the phenomenological tradition of the so-called European “Continental Philosophy” proceeding from Husserl. Lakoff & Johnson proposed to treat the problems of the philosophy of the “mind” in relation to the bodily actions of subjects as a key to their interpretation. This way, the important activity of thought had to be referred, more than to sensations, to the bodily actions of the subjects in their semantic interpretation. This new point of view was named embodied mind and it is causing a kind of paradigm change in the field of the so-called philosophy of mind that accompanies the advances of the cognitive sciences. At the same time this seems to lead to a renewal or refoundation of the positivist philosophy's tradition so influent in the USA, as we have been claiming in another previous article in this blog (“For a refoundation of the positivist Philosophy”, 21-11-2012). Through a graduate student of mine who had gone to the University of Barcelona to take part in a Master, José Luis Nuño Viejo, prematurely deceased in tragic circumstances, I had news of the E. Thompson's book, Mind in Life. Biology, phenomenology and the sciences of mind (2007), which he especially recommended to me because he saw similarities between this author and the line of philosophical investigation denominated Pensamiento Hábil that I was developing and that he knew from my lectures and some articles that I had published by that time. The lecture of Thompson's book brought to my knowledge this philosophy of the embodied mind, that I had already seen applied to linguistic issues in Lakoff, now applied to biological science's problems, as well as informing me about a broad literature prominent in this new tendency denominated “enactive view”.
However, what most interested me immediately was the bibliographical reference, in Husserl's interpretations, to a young Danish philosopher called Dan Zahavi, who is playing an important role, because of his international effect, inside this return to Husserl. The interest woken up by this philosopher deserves a more detailed consideration, for it was hard 20 or 30 years ago to predict that Husserl's work was going to arouse again such a strong attraction. A complicated work and difficult to know, because the great part of what he wrote was not published in life of the philosopher, remaining in the Husserl Archive of the University of Louvain, after its bewildering withdrawal from Nazi Germany carried out by the Catholic priest Van Breda. Zahavi recognizes in an interview that when he decided to orient his academic career dedicating his doctoral works to Husserl, his decision was seen then as something out of place because of its outdatedness. However his study of Husserl was not merely historical-philological, but shared with his interest for the so-called “Cognitive Sciences”. From this resulted an unexpected connection because of which new views in such sciences rose, like the embodied mind, which began to break the monopoly that the computationalist psychology held for three decades in the explanation of the Mind, or like the new technologies of brain images obtained with scanners in neuroscience. Such views, from the 90's to today, have encouraged the re-discovery of the phenomenology of the late Husserl and of Merleau-Ponty, who was a pioneer in his study as a deeper and more adequate philosophy as logical empiricism, predominant until recently because of the overwhelming influence of Wittgenstein and his analytical followers. This way, names of scientists and philosophers who return to phenomenological views, such as F. Varela, Evan Thompson, Eleanor Rosch, Andy Clark, Shaun Gallagher, etc., have begun to arouse interest. Zahavi has published two books with great success: Husserl´s Phenomenology (2003) and, in collaboration with Shaun Gallagher, The phenomenological Mind. An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science (2008). He also directs the Center for Subjectivity Research in the University of Copenhagen.
It doesn't seem to be one philosophical fashion more, rather it seems that his interest for Husserl and his present growing prestige in the field of cognitive sciences, where a dialogue and an international discussion between philosophers and scientists still exists while it has been lost in other fields, have more to do with the confirmation that the results achieved by such sciences give to the greater suitability of “phenomenological” positivism than to that one held until now by “logical” positivism, to interpret their brilliant and innovative experimental results. In a similar way to how the Mediterranean diet, typical among South European countries, less developed than those from the North, imposes itself, however, among the taste of consumers not only for a mere and arguable reason of taste, but because it is more suitable to health as the medical-biological investigation confirms. What we miss in this philosophical approach to cognitive themes, especially to the psychological, is that it is not noticed that also phenomenology – really the last contemporary philosophical paradigm comparable to what in the 19th century was the Idealist paradigm opened by Kant, as I have presented in my book Del Yo al Cuerpo (2011) – can be overcome by a new philosophical movement that reaches what the last Husserl seemed to pretend, the step from a phenomenology of “essences” or static structures to a dynamic, operational and genetic phenomenology. I believe that Piaget's work, known and sometimes quoted by such authors, can help to open a path or a, to say it in a Hegelian way, preservation-overcoming of the phenomenology. In such sense we have proposed the path or method that we call Operatiológico (see in this Blog: “Fenomenología y Operatología” 8-8-2011 and 9-1-2012).
Manuel F. Lorenzo
(Translate into English by Luis Fernández Pontón)