Francisco J. Varela

Anonymous, Apr 12, 2002
Commentary by Stephen Downes

It was some time in 1989 or 1990, I think. I still have the notes, somewhere in my files. I walked across the campus at the University of Alberta from the Philosophy Department, where I was working on a PhD, to the Medical Sciences building to hear Francisco Varela give a talk on immunology. Valera, I had been told, approached cognitive processes as self-organizing networks, something I had been thinking as a result of my own belief that human reason is founded on similarity. Demonstrating some simple neural networks, Varela animated the process whereby patterns emerge from the activities of independent, but interconnected, agents. My understanding of the world changed on that day.

CRLFA few weeks later, sitting at the top of the hill at the Edmonton Folk Festival, alone (as you could be then), I scribbled the (long) manuscript of what would become my dissertation proposal, "The Network Phenomenon: Empiricism and the New Connectionism." My dissertation committee declined the topic, prefering some ordinary work on mental representation and mental content. I submitted a (short) proposal, which was accepted. But my PhD studies ended on the day my proposal was rejected, and my real work as a researcher began. The letters behind the name (which I never did attain) mean nothing.

CRLF"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." - Francisco VarelaCRLFCRLF CRLF

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