Mind in Life

I’ve just completed reading Evan Thompson’s Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, a work which I heartily endorse as the best statement yet of the enactivist theory of mind. I especially like his taking on the philosopher’s zombie and his chapter on Empathy and Enculturation. Last, but by no means least, Thompson has clarified ideas from his now classic collaboration with Varela and Rosch – The Embodied Mind. But never mind my view, check out Dorothée Legrand’s superb critical notice from The Journal of Mind and Behavior.

In Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, Evan Thompson defends the thesis of a “deep continuity of life and mind” according to which “life and mind share a set of basic organizational properties . . . . Mind is life-like and life is mind-like” (p. 128, also p. ix). On the one hand, Thompson uncovers mind in life, by considering life and explaining how living organisms are organized in a way that involves the biological implementation of properties that are usually attributed to mental states. On the other hand, he roots mind in life by considering the mind and explaining how mental states are anchored to (neuro)biological processes. Following the lead of Merleau–Ponty and his notion of “comportment” (1963, p. 4; see Mind in Life, p. 67), Thompson argues that the notion of autonomous dynamic system can integrate the orders of life and mind, and account for the originality of each order, allowing the understanding that “on the one hand, nature is not pure exteriority, but rather in the case of life has its own interiority and thus resembles mind. On the other hand, mind is not pure interiority, but rather a form of structure of engagement with the world and thus resembles life” (p. 78).

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dorothée Legrand, Centre de Recherche en Epistemologie Appliquee, 32, boulevard Victor, 75015 Paris, France.