The article by Froese, Gould and Seth is a survey rather than a commentary, dealing with the intertwined issues of the validity of first- person reports and of their interest for a science of consciousness. While acknowledging that experiential research has already produced promising results, the authors find that it has not yet produced ‘killer experiments’ providing a definitively positive answer to these two questions, and wonder what kind of experiment would allow it. Our response will address these two questions successively.
Neurophenomenology, as an attempt to combine and mutually enlighten neural and experiential descriptions of cognitive processes, has met practical difficulties which have limited its implementation into actual research projects. The main difficulty seems to be the disparity of the levels of description: while neurophenomenology strongly emphasizes the micro-dynamics of experience, at the level of brief mental events with very specific content, most neural measures have much coarser functional selectivity, because they mix functionally heterogeneous neural processes either in space or in time. We propose a new starting point for this neurophenomenology, based on (a) the recent development of human intra-cerebral EEG (iEEG) research to highlight the neural micro-dynamics of human cognition, with millimetric and millisecond precision and (b) a disciplined access to the experiential micro-dynamics, through specific elicitation techniques. This lays the foundation for a microcognitive science, the practical implementation of neurophenomenology to combine the neural and experiential investigations of human cognition at the subsecond level. This twofold microdynamic approach opens a line of investigation into the very cognitive acts in which the scission between the objective and the subjective worlds originates, and a means to verify and refine the dynamic epistemology of enaction. Relevance: The twofold microdynamic approach that we are advocating in this article not only provides a methodological solution to the problems of correlation between experiential and neuronal, first-person and third-person descriptions of our cognitive processes. It also opens a line of investigation into the very cognitive acts in which the scission between the objective and the subjective worlds originates, and a means to verify and refine the dynamic epistemology of enaction.
This article describes a research programme aimed at integrating a disciplined study of lived experience as a part of cognitive science, thanks to new methods which make it possible to obtain a precise and rigorous description of the “first person” experience of the subject. After presenting the procedures involved in these methods, their epistemological foundations, and the process of circulation between analysis in the first person and third person, we explore possible applications of these methods in clinical and therapeutic domains, in the domains of education transfer.
Analysis of electroencephalographic signals and several brain imaging studies suggest that a preictal state precedes the onset of seizures. In this study, we used phenomenological strategies to detect modifications in patients’ experience before their seizures. We observed that patients with partial epilepsy feeling an aura (n = 9) frequently experienced prodromes (n = 6). Prodromes were subtle preictal symptoms, varying among patients and having common negative features. They were generally continuous before seizures and could last hours, whereas auras were sudden and intermittent. All patients were able to recognize facilitating factors. We also found that patients spontaneously develop cognitive countermeasures to avoid facilitating factors (n = 6), to prevent a seizure (n = 1) or to interrupt a seizure (n = 5). Prodromes are not specific enough for clinical use, but could refine the behavioral strategies used in the treatment of epilepsy and the pathophysiology of the preictal state.
In our society where interest in Buddhist meditation is expanding enormously, numerous scientific studies are now conducted on the neurophysiological effects of meditation practice and on the neural correlates of meditative states. However, very few studies have been conducted on the experience associated with contemplative practice: what it is like to meditate – from instant to instant, at different stages of the practice – remains almost invisible in contemporary contemplative science. New concrete “micro-phenomenological” interview methods have recently been designed to help us become aware of our lived experience and describe it with rigor and precision. The present article presents the results of a pilot project aiming at applying these methods to the description of meditative experience. The first part of the article describes these methods and the adjustments made to them in order to investigate meditative experience. The second part provides micro-phenomenological descriptions of two processes of which meditation practice enables the practitioner to become aware: the process of loss of contact with the current situation and generation of virtual ones in “mind-wandering” episodes, and the process of emergence of a thought. The third part of the article highlights the interest of such descriptions for meditation practitioners and meditation teachers, defines the status of these results and outlines the research directions they open.
In our society, where interest in Buddhist meditation is expanding enormously, numerous scientific studies are now conducted on the neurophysiological effects of meditation practices and on the neural correlates of meditative states. However, very few studies have been conducted on the experience associated with contemplative practice: what it is like to meditate – from moment to moment, at different stages of practice – remains almost invisible in contemporary contemplative science. Recently, ‘micro-phenomenological’ interview methods have been developed to help us become aware of lived experience and describe it with rigour and precision. The present article presents the results of a pilot project1 aimed at applying these methods to the description of meditative experience. The first part of the article describes these methods and their adjustment for the investigation of meditative experience. The second part provides micro- phenomenological descriptions of two processes of which meditation practice enables the practitioner to become aware: the process of losing contact with the current situation and generation of virtual ones in ‘mind-wandering’ episodes, and the process of emergence of a thought. The third part of the article highlights the interest such descriptions may have for practitioners and for teachers of meditation, defines the status of these results, and outlines directions for further research.
The purpose of this paper is to show through the concrete example of epileptic seizure anticipation how neuro-dynamic analysis (using new mathematical tools to detect the dynamic structure of the neuro-electric activity of the brain) and ‘‘pheno-dynamic’’ analysis (using new interview techniques to detect the pre-reflective dynamic micro-structure of the cor- responding subjective experience) may guide and determine each other. We will show that this dynamic approach to epi- leptic seizure makes it possible to consolidate the foundations of a cognitive non pharmacological therapy of epilepsy. We will also show through this example how the neuro-phenomenological co-determination could shed new light on the dif- ficult problem of the ‘‘gap’’ which separates subjective experience from neurophysiological activity.
Empirical phenomenology – study of lived subjective experience is the latest addition to the interdisciplinary efforts aiming at understanding the human mind. We present the research, which was originally aimed at investigating the experiences of Holotropic Breathwork, however, results of the analysis convinced us to move the focus of our interest to differences between individual ways of constructing experience. We have identified three types of personal epistemologies (i.e. ways of constructing the subjective experience) and found the correlation with individual attitudes towards self-exploration. The paper aims at providing a novel model with regard to how experience is constructed and expands the understanding of the limitations of the phenomenological interview techniques.
Excerpt: A perusal of the research and literature on the cognitive neuroscience of emotion bears this out: there is a sudden interest in the phenomenology of emotion, and this is because some cognitive neuroscientists are finally beginning to get the picture; one cannot explain the consciousness of emotion as a content of experience without necessarily presupposing the ontological primacy of the experience being explained. Let me put this another way: what neuroscientists are charged with doing is taking the experience of emotion and then explaining it in terms of cognitive processes and physiological events in the nervous system. These efforts from the beginning have always had as their goal to reduce the meaning of conscious experience to biomechanical explanations. But this approach has proved fatal for the project of a reductive cognitive neuroscience, because as soon as you explain something, you are presupposing the existence of whatever it is you set out to explain. If I say, “emotion is triggered, in part, by neuromechanisms in the amygdala of the brain’s limbic system,” this means that the amygdala’s activity explains how emotion gets triggered, but what the explanation presupposes is an experience of emotion that is in need of explanation. But what is this experience of emotion? Clearly, from the first-person perspective of the person undergoing the emotional experience, this is not remotely experienced as an event in the brain. As the phenomenologist understands it, the first-person experience of emotion is the transformation of a world. Neuroscientists who ascribe to phenomenology are beginning to come to terms with the fact that their neuromechanisms are tied to a world of experience that cannot be accessed with their instruments, but require careful experiential description.