Context: Seventeen years ago Francisco Varela introduced neurophenomenology. He proposed the integration of phenomenological approaches to first-person experience – in the tradition of Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty – with a neuro-dynamical, scientific approach to the study of the situated brain and body. Problem: It is time for a re-appraisal of this field. Has neurophenomenology already contributed to the sciences of the mind? If so, how? How should it best do so in future? Additionally, can neurophenomenology really help to resolve or dissolve the “hard problem” of the relation between mind and body, as Varela claimed? Method: The papers in this special issue arose out of a conference organised by the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society in Bristol, UK, in September 2012. We have invited a representative sample of the speakers at that conference to present their work here. Results: Various papers argue that the first-person methods of phenomenology are distinct from, and more robust than, the failed “introspectionist” methods of early modern psychology. The “elicitation interview” emerges as a successful and widely adopted method to have emerged from this field. Phenomenological techniques are already being successfully applied to neuroscientific problems. Various specific proposals for new techniques and applications are made. Implications: It is time to take neurophenomenology seriously. It has proven its worth, and it is ripe with the potential for further immediate, successful applications. Constructivist content: Varela’s key aim was to develop a non-dualising approach to the science of consciousness. The papers in this special issue look at the philosophical and practical details of successfully putting such an approach into practice.
Context: Neurophenomenology is a relatively new field, with scope for novel and informative approaches to empirical questions about what structural parallels there are between neural activity and phenomenal experience. Problem: The overall aim is to present a method for examining possible correlations of neurodynamic and phenodynamic structures within the structurally-coupled work of Alexander Technique practitioners with their pupils. Method: This paper includes the development of an enkinaesthetic explanatory framework, an overview of the salient aspects of the Alexander Technique, and the presentation of an elicitation interview technique as part of a neurophenomenological method. It will propose a way of testing the hypothesis that if, in the effective practice of Alexander Technique, there is a union between the nervous systems of teacher and pupil, it should be visible neurologically and affective phenomenologically, and thus it should be possible to investigate both its neural and phenomenal signatures. Results: The proposed means of testing the hypothesis is to use the elicitation interview technique alongside neural monitoring during the teaching of the Alexander Technique in four paired sets of subjects. Constructivist content: At the heart of this paper is the claim that all activity is co-activity. I make no assumption of an ontological primacy of mental or physical, or explanatory primacy of any methodology. Implications: This has important ramifications for somatic education and therapies, for establishing frameworks of co-engagement and care in health-care situations, and for understanding empathy.
Open peer commentary on the article “The Uroboros of Consciousness: Between the Naturalisation of Phenomenology and the Phenomenologisation of Nature” by Sebastjan Vörös. Upshot: Vörös proposes that we phenomenologise nature and, whilst I agree with the spirit and direction of his proposal, the 4EA framework, on which he bases his project, is too conservative and is, therefore, unsatisfactory. I present an alternative framework, an enkinaesthetic field, and suggest further ways in which we might explore a non-dichotomised “betwixt” and begin to experience our world in a non-individuating, non-dual aspect.