Not So Hard Problem: Francisco Varela on the Relations between Consciousness, Nature and Life
The author reconstructs the theory of F. Varela with relevance to the hard problem of consciousness. This problem was touched by Varela in relatively late period of his work. However, the implications for dissolution of this problem can be found in his earlier works with H. Maturana. Theory of autopoietic systems ties life and cognition together, resulting in natural historical comprehension of consciousness and its functioning. Autopoiesis, understood as network of processes of production of components used as resources for maintaining these processes, sets organizational invariances, distinguishing living system from its milieu. The main criterion of living system is an ability to maintain autopoietic organization while undergoing structural transformations with environment. Structural plasticity leads to multiple realizability of autopoietic organizations, which, in turn, leads to radical conclusion on nature of knowledge. One can distinguish the knower and the known only contingently, for the structure of knowledge reflects cognitive structure of the knower. This intertwinement permits Varela to introduce the enactivist program, which presupposes not simply reform in the scientific research of consciousness but also rethinking the implications of scientific knowledge itself. Cognition is a sensorimotor constitution of the world. Therefore, consciousness is not an object of material nature among other objects but provides our cognitive access to nature. Varela intended to abandon the theoretical approach to the problem of consciousness. His aim was not to provide a new argument. This is a consequence of the enactivist position which, according to theory of autopoiesis, must be applicable to the knower himself.