Neurophenomenology (Varela 1996) is not only philosophical but also empirical and experimental. Our purpose in this article is to illustrate concretely the efficiency of this approach in the field of neuroscience and, more precisely here, in epileptology. A number of recent observations have indicated that epileptic seizures do not arise suddenly simply as the effect of random fluctuations of brain activity, but require a process of pre-seizure changes that start long before. This has been reported at two different levels of description: on the one hand, the epileptic patient often experiences some warning symptoms that precede seizures from several minutes to hours in the form of very specific lived events. On the other hand, the analyses of brain electrical activities have provided strong evidence that it is possible to detect a pre-seizure state in the neuronal dynamics several minutes before the electro-clinical onset of a seizure. We review here some of the ongoing work of our research group concerning seizure anticipation. In particular, we discuss experimental evidence of upward (local-to-global) formation of conscious experience and its neural substrate, but also of the downward (global-to-local) determination of local neuronal activity by situated conscious activity and its substrate large-scale neural assemblies. This causal role of conscious experience may lead to new kinds of therapy for epileptic patients.
Our aim in ‘Are There Neural Correlates of Consciousness?’ was to call attention to some problematic assumptions of one widespread approach to investigating the relation between consciousness and the brain – the research programme based on trying to find neural correlates of the contents of consciousness (content-NCCs). Our aim was not to cast doubt on the importance of neuroscientific research on consciousness in general (contrary to Baars’s impresssion). Nor was it to engage in philosophical debates far removed from the concerns of scientists (as McLaughlin & Bartlett may think). Rather, it was to target some problematic assumptions of a particular empirical research programme, and by bringing them to light, to suggest that there may be other, more profitable ways to investigate the contribution of brain processes to conscious experience than searching for content NCCs. Most of the commentators (Bayne, Freeman, Hardcastle, Haynes & Rees, Hohwy & Frith, Metzinger, Myin, Roy, Searle, Van Gulick), though certainly not all (Baars, Jack & Prinz, McLaughlin & Bartlett) seem to have read us this way, and we are grateful for their critical reflections on our article. In this Authors’ Reply, we cannot respond in detail to every point raised by the commentators, so we shall limit ourselves to addressing the most important issues that we see arising from the commentaries collectively.
In jüngerer Zeit greifen philosophische Untersuchungen zum Leib-Seele-Problem zunehmend Ergebnisse aus den Neurowissenschaften auf und verknüpfen diese mit philosophischen Begrifflichkeiten. Solch eine Verknüpfung von Philosophie und Neurowissenschaft wird häufig unter dem Begriff “Neurophilosophie” subsumiert, ohne dass dieser Begriff und das damit verknüpfte methodische Vorgehen näher beleuchtet oder explizit diskutiert werden. Ziel des vorliegenden Aufsatzes ist es daher, sowohl den Begriff der “Neurophilosophie” als auch das hierfür spezifische methodische Vorgehen zu definieren und programmatisch näher zu charakterisieren.
The purpose of this paper is to describe the neurophenomenologi- cal project on epileptic seizure anticipation, and to sum up the methodological diffi- culties we met. The analysis of neuroelectric signals with new mathematical methods has provided strong evidence that it is possible to detect a pre-seizure state in the neu- ronal dynamics a few minutes before the seizure onset: do these neurodynamical modifications correspond to any modifications in the patients’ subjective experience, and which ones? This paper describes our attempt to correlate these two dimensions of seizure anticipation, the neuroelectric one and the phenomenological one. The em- phasis is put on the phenomenological dimension and the problems related with the description of the patients’ subjective experience. We also describe the different levels of correlation we explored between first person and third person data, stressing the methodological difficulties we met at each level. In conclusion, we evaluate the re- sults of the project and the relevance of the neuro-phenomenological approach on the therapeutic, methodological and epistemic levels…
Can the “first person” point of view help in an assessment of the relevance of the theory of enaction, theory in which the inside and the outside, the knower and the known, the mind and the world, determine each other? On the basis of an exploration of the dynamic micro-structure of lived experience, we suggest some means of tackling this question.
Contrary to a widespread belief, becoming aware of one’s lived experience is neither immediate nor easy, but supposes a real expertise which has to be learnt. Such training enables us to discover that lived experience associated to the realization of a given cognitive process, far from being a draft, has a very precise dynamic structure: it is constituted of a definite succession of sensations and operations that remains usually pre-reflective. Becoming aware of this dynamic structure opens up highly promising paths for transforming our experience in the medical, therapeutic and existential fields. This awareness also enables researchers to refine neurophysiological analysis, announcing the lifting of the ban that until now excluded subjective experience from the field of scientific investigation.
This special issue commemorates the tenth anniversary of the publication of The View from Within (Varela & Shear, 1999), where Francisco Varela in collaboration with Jonathan Shear designed the foundations of a research program on lived experienced.
My comments on this pioneering book by Russ Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel do not focus on the descriptions of experiences that it includes, but on the very process of description, which seems to me insufficiently highlighted, described and called into question. First I will rely on a few indications given by Melanie herself, the subject interviewed by the authors, to highlight an essential difficulty which the authors only touch upon: the not immediately recognized character of lived experience. Then I will look for clues about what Melanie does to come into contact with her experience and recognize it. These clues – completed by elements of description of this act collected through explicitation interviews – provide criteria enabling a more precise evaluation of what the authors do to guide Melanie in the real-ization of this act, and therefore the accuracy of Melanie’s descrip-tions. I will defend the idea that the description of the very process of becoming aware and describing is an essential condition for the understanding, refinement, teaching, and evaluation of introspection methods, as well as for the reproducibility of their results.
Context: The founding idea of neurophenomenology is that in order to progress in the understanding of the human mind, it is indispensable to integrate a disciplined study of human experience in cognitive neuroscience, an integration which is also presented as a methodological remedy for the “hard problem” of consciousness. Problem: Does neurophenomenology succeed in solving the hard problem? Method: I distinguish two interpretations and implementations of neurophenomenology: a light or “mild” neurophenomenology, which aims at building correlations between first-person descriptions and neural recordings, and tries to evaluate the validity of first-person descriptions through objective criteria; and a deep or radical neurophenomenology, which aims at investigating the process of co-constitution of the subjective and the objective poles, within lived experience, and tries to evaluate first-person descriptions through processual criteria. Results: While mild neurophenomenology does not solve the hard problem, radical neurophenomenology solves it by dissolving it. Exploring the early stages of phenomenal processes such as the emergence of a perception or an idea highlights: (1) a dimension of experience where the separation usually perceived between the subjective and the objective poles vanishes; (2) micro-actions that instant after instant create and support this process of co-constitution, which Varela called “enaction.” This involves on the one hand experiencing concretely the dissolution of the hard problem, and on the other hand verifying the theory of enaction in lived experience. Implications: Radical neurophenomenology is a research programme that enables us to investigate precisely the mutual unfolding of the subjective and objective poles, from its most primitive phases such as perceptual events, to its latest phases such as the co-construction of scientific objectivity and intersubjectivity.