This paper examines the experience of where we end and the rest of the world begins, that is, the sense of boundaries. Since meditators are recognized for their ability to introspect about the bodily level of experience, and in particular about their sense of boundaries, 27 senior meditators (those with more than 10, 000 hours of experience) were interviewed for this study. The main conclusions of this paper are that (a) the boundaries of the so-called “physical body” (body-as-object) are not equivalent to the individual’s sense of boundaries; (b) the sense of boundaries depends upon sensory activity; (c) the sense of boundaries should be defined according to its level of flexibility; (d) the sense of body ownership (the sense that it is one’s own body that undergoes an experience) cannot be reduced to the sense of boundaries; nevertheless, (e) the sense of ownership depends on the level of flexibility of the sense of boundaries.
This paper discusses the phenomenological nature of the sense of boundaries (SB), based on the case of S, who has practiced mindfulness in the Satipathana and Theravada Vipassana traditions for about 40years and accumulated around 20,000h of meditative practice. S’s unique abilities enable him to describe his inner lived experience with great precision and clarity. S was asked to shift between three different stages: (a) the default state, (b) the dissolving of the SB, and (c) the disappearance of the SB. Based on his descriptions, we identified seven categories (with some overlap) that alter during the shifts between these stages, including the senses of: (1) internal versus external, (2) time, (3) location, (4) self, (5) agency (control), (6) ownership, and (7) center (first-person-egocentric-bodily perspective). Two other categories, the touching/touched structure and one’s bodily feelings, do not fade away completely even when the sense-of-boundaries disappears.
The paper is a reading of Martin Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Even) by means of Ranulph Glanville’s notions of black box, cybernetic control and objects as well as by George Spencer-Brown’s notion of form and Fritz Heider’s notion of medium. In fact, as Heidegger was among those who emphasized systems thinking as the epitome of modern thinking, did in his lecture on Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom a most thorough reading of this thinking, and considered cybernetics the very fulfilment of modern science it is interesting to know whether second-order cybernetics, as it was not known to Heidegger and as it delves into an understanding of inevitable complexity and foundational ignorance, falls within that verdict mere modernity or goes beyond it. If modern science in its rational understanding considers its subjects to be objects sitting still while being observed, then indeed second-order cybernetics is different. It looks into the observer’s interactions with black boxes, radically uncertain of where to expect operations of a self, but certain that we cannot restrict it to human consciousness.
At a conference last month called Investigating the Mind, held here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, neuroscientists and Buddhist scholars discussed attention, mental imagery, emotion, and collaborations to test insights gleaned from meditation.
When he formulated the program of neurophenomenology, Francisco Varela suggested a balanced methodological dissolution of the “hard problem” of consciousness. I show that his dissolution is a paradigm which imposes itself onto seemingly opposite views, including materialist approaches. I also point out that Varela’s revolutionary epistemological ideas are gaining wider acceptance as a side effect of a recent controversy between hermeneutists and eliminativists. Finally, I emphasize a structural parallel between the science of consciousness and the distinctive features of quantum mechanics. This parallel, together with the former convergences, point towards the common origin of the main puzzles of both quantum mechanics and the philosophy of mind: neglect of the constitutive blindspot of objective knowledge.
Six arguments against the view that conscious experience derives from a material basis are presented, none of which is entirely new taken in isolation but whose conjunction is compelling. These arguments arise from epistemology, phenomenology, neuropsychology, and philosophy of quantum mechanics. It turns out that any attempt at proving that conscious experience is ontologically secondary to material objects both fails and brings out its methodological and existential primacy. No alternative metaphysical view is espoused (not even a variety of Spinoza’s attractive double-aspect theory). Instead, an alternative stance, inspired from F. Varela’s neurophenomenology is advocated. This unfamiliar stance involves (i) a complete redefinition of the boundary between unquestioned assumptions and relevant questions ; (ii) a descent towards the common ground of the statements of phenomenology and objective natural science: a practice motivated by the quest of an expanding circle of intersubjective agreement.
Conflicting claims have been made about whether introspection can be reliable at all. Lots of objections have been formulated against it in classical and modern literature. We thus list these objections and outline some replies, in addition to some theoretical rebuttals based on contemporary philosophy of science. We further point out that these objections target an abstract image of introspection rather than introspection per se. Accordingly, we describe one of the currently available methods that we ourselves practice: the elicitation (or micro-phenomenological) interview method. Our aim is to show that, irrespective of its alleged theoretical impossibility”, introspection is made real by this kind of method which incorporates replies to most standard objections.