Sebastjan Vörös Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana

The Slumbering Ouroboros: Enactivism and the Varelian Heritage

Francisco J. Varela is widely acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of the contemporary enactivist movement. What is less widely recognized, however, is that that the notion of “enaction” played a very specific role in his investigative journey, and that, when this broader context is taken on board, the notion can be shown to entail radical implications not only for our understanding of cognition and mind, but also for the nature and practice of science itself. More often than not, these implications seem to be downplayed, if not completely ignored, by many contemporary enactivists. In my presentation, I will endeavour to address this omission by shedding light on the wider scope of Varela’s research and explaining why I believe it matters. More specifically, I will argue that Varela’s conception of enaction has to be understood in the context of his novel - circular or ouroboric - theory of life, which, in turn, has to be situated within a larger historico-cultural movement (termed by Varela as “ontological turn”), seeking to undermine the classical subject/object divide. My main point will be that the notion of enaction, rooted in the Varelian idea of the circularity of vitality, cannot be - to use the famous Chalmer’s phrase -  taken “on the cheap”, but calls for a radical rethinking of the onto-epistemological foundations of science.