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Varela, Francisco J. 1946-

VARELA, Francisco J. 1946-


Born 1946.


Office—3, rue Michel-Ange, 75794 Paris Cedex 16, France.


Biologist; Centre National de Recherche Scienitific, Paris, director of research; Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, Foundation de France Professor of Cognitive Science and Epistemology; Institute of Neuroscience of Paris, Foundation de France Professor of Cognitive Science and Epistemology.


Organization of American States, The Inter-American Council for Education, Science and Culture, Manuel Noriega Morales Science and Technology Prize, biological sciences, 1986.


(Coauthor) Humberto R. Maturana, De Máquinas y Seres Vivos; Une Teoría Sobre la Organización Biológia, Editorial Universitaria (Sandiago, Chile), 1973.

Principlaes of Bilogical Autonomy, North Holland (New York, NY), 1979.

(Coauthor) Humberto R. Maturana, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, D. Reidel Publishing (Boston, MA), 1980.

(Coauthor) Humberto R. Maturana, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Sahmbhala/Random House (Boston, MA/New York, NY), 1987.

(Coauthors) Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1991.

(Coeditor) Jeremy Hayward, Gentle Bridges: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of Mind, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1992.

(Coeditor) Paul Bourgine, Toward a Practice of Autonomous Systems: Proceedings of the First European Conference on Artificial Life, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.

(Coeditor) Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Understanding Origins: Contemporary Views on the Origin of Life, Mind, and Society, Kluwer Academic Publishers (Boston, MA), 1992.

(Coeditor) Wilfred D. Stein, Thinking about Biology: An Invitation to Current Theoretical Biology, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1993.

(Editor) Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness with the Dali Lama, Wisdom Publications (Boston, MA), 1997.

Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom, and Cognition, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1999.

(Coeditor) Jonathan Shear, The View from Within: First-Person Approaches to the Study of Conciousness, Imprint Academic (Bowling Green, OH), 2000.

(Coeditor) Natalie Depraz and Pierre Vermersch, On Becoming Aware: A Pragmatics of Experiencing, J. Benjamins (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 2003.


In the late 1980s, after fifteen years of work in first neurology, then biology and immunology, and numerous published papers and books, Francisco J. Varela began to make his way into the American mainstream. In 1987 Varela and his frequent coauthor Humberto R. Maturana published The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, a collection of their lectures on how neural systems relate to human perception and understanding. Writing for the Library Journal, Margery C. Coombs praised the book's "logical approach and its use of examples," but warned that "the style is in many places unnecessarily abstruse."

Four years later Varela made an even larger splash in the increasingly popular and contentious field of cognitive science with The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, co-written with a philosopher (Evan Thompson) and a psychologist (Eleanor Rosch). In the book Varela and his coauthors attempt to mesh the phenomenology of Maruice Merleau-Ponty and the meditative effects of Buddhism with the quest to understand human conciousness. Writing for the American Journal of Psychology, cognition scientist Daniel C. Dennett declared the authors "radical critics of cognitive science, calling for what they consider to be more of a revolution than a set of reforms" and found their effort to be the "best informed, best balanced radical critique to date." English professor N. Katherine Hayles wrote in American Book Review that she also appreciated The Embodied Mind's "bold attempt to reintegrate body and mind by reading cognitive science through Buddhist meditative practices and Buddhist philosophy through cognitive science." Hayles noted that for many cognitive scientists their ability to fully understand the self is hampered because "they cannot imagine consciousness without [the self]." Varela and his coauthors attempt to solve this problem by examining meditative Buddhist practices that separate the self from conciousness.

In 1997 Varela participated in a published series of dialogs between Western scientists and the Dalai Lama. Given his research focus it was natural that Varela's entry, entitled Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying: An Exploration of Conscioiusness with the Dalai Lama, focused on a discussion with the Lama about consciousness, this time, as the title suggests, when humans are sleeping, dreaming, or dying. Bernadette McGrath of the Library Journal felt that although the series is intended for the general public, "these conversations are academic in tone and will appeal mostly to the very committed lay reader."



American Book Review, April, 1992, N. Katherine Hayles, review of The Embodied Mind, p. 13.

American Journal of Psychology, spring, 1993, Daniel C. Dennett, review of The Embodied Mind, p. 121-5.

Library Journal, September 1, 1987, Margery C. Coombs, review of The Tree of Knowledge, p. 190; May 1, 1997, Bernadette McGrath, review of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying, p. 111.

Mind, July, 1993, Hebert L. Creyfus, review of The Embodied Mind, p. 542-6.

New Scientist, June 13, 1992, Daniel C. Dennett, "Revolution on the Mind," review of The Embodied Mind, p. 48-9

Times Literary Supplement, December 31, 1999, Dan Zahavi, "From First Person to Third," review of The View from Within, p. 23.

Whole Earth Review, Fall, 1993, Peter Schwartz, review of The Embodied Mind, p. 75-9.*

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