Date: 17th November 2021

Speaker of the day: Natalie Depraz

Article: Varela, Depraz, “At the Source of Time” (2005)

Keywords: fold, valence, triple braid, emotion, time, intersubjectivity, Lebensphilosophie, Aristotelian model of plants-animals-human, epoché



With this paper, we see that besides being a scientist and a Buddhist practitioner, Francisco has a stature of a philosopher, and is thus forming a triple braid. Given his passion for experiments, first-person experiential descriptions and practical involvement, the philosophy of his choice was, unsurprisingly, phenomenology.

Contextual genesis: From 1996 to 1998, we sketched the ideas for this article, while at the same time working with Pierre Wermersch on the book On becoming aware. Other contextual background: several articles and books either by Francisco or me – The Embodied Mind, Organism: a meshwork of selfless selves, The Body’s Self, my PhD book on Husserl’s theory of intersubjectivity, etc.

Conception: From 1998 to 1999, the article was linked with the research seminar (of the journal Alter), themed Emotion et Affectivité. The first traces of the Valence article (two goals) can be found in the last part of my 1999 article Délimitations de l’émotion: Approche d’une phénoménologie du cœur.

Birth: Valence article published thrice: in Arob@se (1999), Ipseity and Alterity. Interdisciplinary Approaches to Intersubjectivity (2004), and in Emotion experience issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies (2005). One of the editors of the 2004 publication, Shaun Gallagher, summarized the phenomenological importance of the article in three points: it is a hermeneutical (affect originally shapes time), an epistemological (naturalized phenomenology of affect and emotions), and a philosophical(-metaphysical) challenge (self-affection includes others). In the 2005 publication, Giovanna Colombetti and Evan Thompson put an emphasis on the valence aspect of the paper.

Childhood: The sum of different possibilities, that is, interpretations of the article:

a) methodological: unfold the co-generative neurophenomenology while applying to emotions;

b) descriptive: identify and refine the emotional fluctuations through the Gestalt-psychological tool of valence;

c) hermeneutic: renew phenomenology while identifying affect as the matrix of the time experience;

d) epistemological: present a naturalized phenomenology of emotions;

e) metaphysical: contend that affection as a root dimension pervades all levels of experience and acts as a dynamics in turn traversed by alterity as a self-other rhythmic.

Adolescence: On how the article proceeds. The threads of time, emotion and intersubjectivity are braided together, starting from their unitary source – the self. In a mutual adjustment, every notion is recasted in a different meaning: time → the source that springs off; emotion → the move of being self-affected; intersubjectivity → the othering self. The self at the source is non-substantial, reverberating the referential fields the article draws its evidence from: Husserl’s phenomenology of time,biological sciences and Buddhist teachings.

Adulthood: On the methodic structure of the article. The figures used in the paper crystallize its ideas and claims. We’ve instantiated a philosophical zig-zag method: the transcendental level is tested empirically, and the empirical is illuminated transcendentally. The concretization process aims to show that a regressive transcendental analysis (identifying the micro-move of emotion in implicit unconscious levels of life as pulsion, tendency, salience) and a progressive empirical analysis (evidence from animal life, natural history and neuroscience) both yield the same insight. The philosophical analysis is concretized in three ways: through valence, intersubjectivity and affective neuroscience.

We’ve chosen the term valence because it hadn’t been heavily used in the literature (as was the case with the terms feeling, emotion and affect), and also because – originating from the Gestalt psychology – it is open to empirical description.

The image of the fold concretely emblematizes the distinction within the unity; the move of unfolding = the process of co-emergence. As such, the fold disarms the abstract alternative which either starts from the unity (harmony) or from the duality (conflict, tension), bringing to the fore the process of differentiation. And from the fold, there is only one step toward the image of the braid, which seemed to Francisco as the right model to design the complexity of experience.

Old age: On the articles that were already in germ when we wrote the Valence article: Au cœur du temps: l’auto-antécédance II (2003), The rainbow of emotions: at the crossroads of neurobiology and phenomenology (2008), Empathy and Compassion as Experiential Praxis. Confronting Phenomenological Analysis and Buddhist Teachings (2004), and Imagining: Embodiment, Phenomenology, Transformation (2003; on imagination (mental imagining, remembering, fantasy and dreaming) as a leading thread of the braided approach).

As naturalizing phenomenology and experiencing phenomenology are mirror, mutually generating moves without any primacy, there is no need to create a bridge between them. We do not start with a distinction and then try to unify it, but instead proceed by unfolding the gradual continuity of the multifarious levels of experience and analysis. This is quite different from trying to solve the hard problem.

Renaissance? The Valence article appears to be a pioneer paper for many aspects of the scientific research of emotion (affective neuroscience, 4EA cognition, cardio-vascular physiology in the investigation of emotions and their neural correlates, emotion-focused Damasio’s approach). What is left aside from the Valence article (i.e., what is not discussed further) are the issues of time (the way it is recast into affect and emotions) and intersubjectivity (as a self-othering dimension); the mainstream research puts emotions to the fore and does not take into account something more complex. To try and unfold the integrative approach of the Valence article, I conduct a research on the issue of surprise. I think that it permeates many of Francisco’s articles – he stressed that novelty, generativity, unpredictability, openness and alterity are the main features of the living being.


1) Viktorija Lipič: Can you say more about 1) how is temporality understood in this article; 2) how are values essential and 3) how do they in your opinion primordially constitute our experience?

Natalie Depraz: The time issue is presupposed in the article: it relies on Husserl’s manuscript from the 1930’s, where he proposes in a speculative hypothesis that self-affection is the primal move of time. It is a very philosophical hypothesis, and as such, very well analysed and described in his text. For us, however, its inner philosophical validity was insufficient, so we aimed to multiply the evidence on different levels (experiential & empirical).

The valence issue is dealing with process and polarity. Value is linked to valence; we, however, did not go into this distinction in the article, since it would bring us to emotions, and further, to ethics. Even if we integrated intersubjectivity, we did not do the same with ethics. But to do justice to the value problematic, we would’ve needed to include ethics. The valence was at the right level to deal with emotions.

2) Sebastjan Vörös: An interesting interlocutor might be Canguilhem. He emphasizes that polarity is crucial for life, and that the living being is necessarily normative; polarity is taken to be the fundamental normativity.

Also, when discussing affectivity in the paper, you would follow the path of phenomenology + add your own contributions to it; when it came to the notion of life, it seems as if a shift towards natural sciences was necessitated. But what about Lebensphilosophie, i.e., an attempt to develop a notion of aliveness without necessarily entering the framework of the natural sciences? Would searching for parallels between this movement and your paper be an avenue worth exploring?

Natalie: The difficulty with Canguilhem and his concept of norms (which brings on the issue of value and ethics) is that its setting is not experientially-based. It puts structures on the living being without beforehand embodying them. Francisco was, by large, seeking to experience what was being said, so I think that he might criticize the normative structures for being overmuch constructed.

As for Lebensphilosophie, Husserl was in touch with many of its authors, e.g., Dilthey and Misch. In his phenomenology of life, he, in fact, argued against Lebensphilosophie. The nature of this movement appeared to him as being too speculative; he saw in it a risk of vitalistic absolutization of life, which does not do justice to all the different phenomena.

Sebastjan: It is however worthy to note that Max Scheler, who is explicitly mentioned in the article, belonges to the circle of Lebensphilosophie.

3) Andreas Weber: Despite its name, Lebensphilosophie offers no real take on life’s action, on the process of life. Life remains rational and abstract. The revolutionary movement started, to my eyes, when thinkers either entered into the posture of époche – of really experiencing – or when they started to use biological input. An example would be Merleau-Ponty. Lebensphilosophie is really suffering from the lack of this, so I find it as astonishingly dead-end. Nowadays, I tend to include philosophical anthropology into my work, pointing to Plessner, Scheler and Gehler.

As for every fan of Deleuze who only half-understands him – like me – when reading “fold” in a text about life, the Deleuze flashlight goes on – thinking about his book on aliveness & a marvellous chapter on Deleuze and life that was written by John Protevi. Indeed, Deleuze is talking about time and the organism. So I was thinking – if this at all falls into the horizon of your paper – was the fold a reference, or maybe a starting point, an opening of window?

Much like Jonas and Plessner do, this article is using the Aristotelian step model of plant-animal-human. In this model, animals are distinguished by motion, and by rejection-avoidance that is motion-dependent. But as we now know through the work of plant researchers like Monica Gagliano, Suzanne Simard and Stefano Mancuso, plants have all of the life functions that we usually designate as the ‘animal type’. Does the Aristotelian step model still work? I feel like now it is perhaps a right moment to revise it.

Natalie: I hardly remember how exactly the notion of fold has emerged in our collaboration. It had been a familiar concept to me, as I’d studied Leibniz and Deleuze. So for me, the fold was directly linked to these authors, even though we did not refer to them explicitly. [Later, Amy mentions that Francisco owned a number of books by Deleuze, including on the topic of the fold.] But I think that, compared to Deleuze, what we’ve done with it is more methodological and rigorous.

Rather than taking much interest in a step model of plant-animal-human, we wanted to investigate how different levels of emotions, time and intersubjectivity can be distinguished in the very human way of being. It was not our aim to project them into other beings.

Andreas: I am, however, sure I’ve found in the article this Jonasian or Aristotelian connection between motility, animality and a different form of perception. There is also this idea that only animals have nervous system. Yet plants still are autopoietic, biological subjects. I’d love to hear Francisco’s thoughts on that.

4) John Protevi: I think it is not exactly correct that Deleuze’s book on Leibniz doesn’t contain a concrete descriptive quality of the chapter on the fold. Deleuze also comments on Foucault, who uses the term ‘fold’ when describing subjectivity.

You describe the point in which the valence fades away – in the Greek tradition, that is ataraxia. At the point of neutrality of valence, is there still a salience? Does a thing only jump out from the background because it is affectively charged?

Natalie: It is difficult to map salience and valence together. The concept of indifference is present in Christian mysticism, as well as in Greek skepticism. Therein the fluctuation of emotions is very subtle, so it is difficult to identify the moment where you are either negatively or positively affected. You stop making judgements (about ethical values). This happens at the zero point of valence.

Sebastjan: So would you say that there is a mode of being that is over and above affectivity?

Natalie: I think it is hard to find something devoid of affectivity, as this would be a negative way of putting it, and with that you go back to the polarity. The way I’d go about this is to understand the indifference as a mode of being beneath this polarity: you wouldn’t have to identify it as something negative or positive (the Greek skeptics don’t do this either – it is more of an inclusive way of putting things). I would not say there is no affect.

5) Francisco Parra: The time is a living entity, and everytime a surprise or epoché happens, time begins anew. The trilogy shows itself most profoundly in the epoché.

Natalie: I would say that surprise is a way to make epoché more concrete – this way, we can see how the latter operates on a daily base.