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Volume 17, Issue 2, Fall 2013

Éthique, Politique et Subjectivité chez Michel Foucault

Noah Moss Brender
Pages 246-270

Sense-Making and Symmetry-Breaking
Merleau-Ponty, Cognitive Science, and Dynamic Systems Theory

From his earliest work forward, Merleau-Ponty attempted to develop a new ontology of nature that would avoid the antinomies of realism and idealism by showing that nature has its own endogenous sense which is prior to re􀏔lection. The key to this new ontology was the concept of form, which he appropriated from Gestalt psychology. However, Merleau-Ponty struggled to give a positive characterization of the phenomenon of form which would clarify its ontological status. Evan Thompson has recently taken up Merleau-Ponty’s ontology as the basis for a new, “enactive” approach to cognitive science, synthesizing it with concepts from dynamic systems theory and Francisco Varela’s theory of autopoiesis. However, Thompson does not quite succeed in resolving the ambiguities in Merleau- Ponty’s account of form. This article builds on an indication from Thompson in order to propose a new account of form as asymmetry, and of the genesis of form in nature as symmetry-breaking. These concepts help us to escape the antinomies of Modern thought by showing how nature is the autoproduction of a sense which can only be known by an embodied perceiver.

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