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Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Sep 30;7:611. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00611. eCollection 2013.

The embodied transcendental: a Kantian perspective on neurophenomenology.

Author information

1
Department of Neural, Biomedical, and Metabolic Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia Modena, Italy.

Abstract

Neurophenomenology is a research programme aimed at bridging the explanatory gap between first-person subjective experience and neurophysiological third-person data, through an embodied and enactive approach to the biology of consciousness. The present proposal attempts to further characterize the bodily basis of the mind by adopting a naturalistic view of the phenomenological concept of intentionality as the a priori invariant character of any lived experience. Building on the Kantian definition of transcendentality as "what concerns the a priori formal structures of the subject's mind" and as a precondition for the very possibility of human knowledge, we will suggest that this transcendental core may in fact be rooted in biology and can be examined within an extension of the theory of autopoiesis. The argument will be first clarified by examining its application to previously proposed elementary autopoietic models, to the bacterium, and to the immune system; it will be then further substantiated and illustrated by examining the mirror-neuron system and the default mode network as biological instances exemplifying the enactive nature of knowledge, and by discussing the phenomenological aspects of selected neurological conditions (neglect, schizophrenia). In this context, the free-energy principle proposed recently by Karl Friston will be briefly introduced as a rigorous, neurally-plausible framework that seems to accomodate optimally these ideas. While our approach is biologically-inspired, we will maintain that lived first-person experience is still critical for a better understanding of brain function, based on our argument that the former and the latter share the same transcendental structure. Finally, the role that disciplined contemplative practices can play to this aim, and an interpretation of the cognitive processes taking place during meditation under this perspective, will be also discussed.

KEYWORDS:

Kant; a priori; default mode network; free-energy; meditation; neurophenomenology; ongoing activity; prereflective awareness

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