The SOS of Experience: A Dialectic Approach to the Relationship Between Sense of Self and Experience


  • Ekin Deniz Dere University of Vienna


Our experience is all we have, illuminating itself and the world. Our endeavors, including the scientific enterprise, are characterized by a perspective taking in the form of background assumptions including but not limited to how we make distinctions and indications. But how does experience arise at all, and why? Would it be possible to trace back the origins of experience in the evolutionary framework (cf. natural drift)? If so, what should be considered the mark of experience?

The aims of this thesis are manyfold: (1), it is to judge the applicability of the autopoiesis framework developed by Maturana and Varela [1] on what they term “higher order autopoietic systems” by trying to include experience in the autopoiesis framework. This amounts to, at face value, a change in the domain of explanation and poses certain difficulties and dangers. Furthermore, additional aims are: (2) by using the framework of “meshwork of selfless selves” [2], to identify the relationship between self, sense of self, and experience, (3) to test the applicability of the idea of tracing the mark of experience back to the mark of sense of self, (4) to develop a firm understanding of the “knotty dialectic” [2] of the organism, and look at what consequences a dialectical approach has on the mind-body problem, (5) to develop a framework of experience and sense of self with the understanding of the active role played by the knower (scientist or the philosopher) in developing explanations that are valid in their domain of inquiry.

Keeping the above-mentioned points in mind, the main hypothesis is, stated loosely, that the mark of experience is the sense of self, which seems to have developed in organisms that can be put in the category of “cognitive self” in the Varelian framework [2]. The task will then be shifted towards languaging beings and how a “socio-linguistic self” [2] may provide a qualitative shift which may (or may not) pose a problem for the life-mind-continuity thesis.

The frameworks mentioned above may resist interpretations that take them outside of their proposed domain of explanation. For example, trying to expand the “meshwork of selfless selves” framework onto the historical (evolutionary) domain is bound with problems. Thus, this thesis should be viewed as a dynamic process characterized by a situated sense of learning by doing.


[1] H. R. Maturana and F. J. Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, Springer Science & Business Media, 1980.

[2] F. J. Varela, “Organism: A Meshwork of Selfless Selves,” in Organism and the origins of self, Springer, 2013, pp. 79–107