Remembering Francisco Varela
Posted by Chauncey on April 18, 2008
Thanks to the passionate involvement with certain questions and communities of my wife Shirah and my friends Jon and Tova Ramer, I had the opportunity last week to visit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu (at the Seeds of Compassion Event, in the company of a lot of other people).
Video feeds of the many parts of this extraordinary event are already available on the Internet. Go here. I particularly recommend the video of the morning of Tuesday April 15th. You have to scroll down in the window entitled, “EVENT GUIDE” to select it.
Francisco Varela, of blessed memory, “sat beside me” while I was there. I kept remembering him. Fernando Flores introduced me to Varela. As a scientific advisor to the Dalai Lama, Varela was instrumental in starting the fruitful exploration being supported by the Mind and Life Institute.
Here is Francisco talking about his life’s work:
“I guess I’ve had only one question all my life. Why do emergent selves, virtual identities, pop up all over the place creating worlds, whether at the mind/body level, the cellular level, or the transorganism level? This phenomenon is something so productive that it doesn’t cease creating entirely new realms: life, mind, and societies. Yet these emergent selves are based on processes so shifty, so ungrounded, that we have an apparent paradox between the solidity of what appears to show up and its groundlessness. That, to me, is a key and eternal question.
“As a consequence, I’m interested in the nervous system, cognitive science, and immunology, because they concern the processes that can answer the question of what biological identity is. How can you have some kind of identity that simultaneously allows you to know something, allows cells to configure their own relevant world, the immune system to generate the identity of our body in its own way, and the brain to be the basis for a mind, a cognitive identity? All these mechanisms share a common theme.”
And here he is speaking about his dream of a peaceful future of survival and dignity for everyone on the planet:
“If everybody would agree that their current reality is A reality, and that what we essentially share is our capacity for constructing a reality, then perhaps we could all agree on a meta-agreement for computing a reality that would mean survival and dignity for everyone on the planet, rather than each group being sold on a particular way of doing things.”
Argh, but we miss you, Francisco.