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

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Abstract
From his earliest work forward, phenomenologist Maurice 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 intrinsic sense which is prior to reflection. 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.
ISBN(s)
1917-9685
PhilPapers/Archive ID
MOSSAS-2
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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2013-10-31

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