The paper proposes a renewal of the problem-space in which the relation between psychoanalysis and the cognitive neurosciences is played out, this is in response to the persistent embarrassment or stand-off that characterizes current attempts at dialogue. The authors suggest going beyond classical conceptual oppositions, (mind-body, subject-object etc.), and beyond the seduction of the idea of some ‘natural’ conceptual translation between the two practices. A process of reciprocal ‘transference’ becomes central to creating the space in which the “mixed,” (both biological and subjective), quality of our objects may be recognized and the pitfalls of reductionism be avoided. For psychoanalysis the hysteric was originally such a mixed or “quasiobject’ in which psyche and soma were in a relation of reciprocal representation. On the other hand, the cognitive neurosciences’ ‘embodied-enactive’ and neurophenomenological perspectives provide a philosophical framework for the place of subjectivity and interpretation in scientific work. This important epistemological shift in scientific thinking offers evocative conceptual tools (emergent processes, circular causality), which should transform the difficult dialogue between the neurosciences and psychoanalysis.
I review three answers to the question: How can phenomenology contribute to the experimental cognitive neurosciences? The first approach, neurophenomenology, employs phenomenological method and training, and uses first-person reports not just as more data for analysis, but to generate descriptive categories that are intersubjectively and scientifically validated, and are then used to interpret results that correlate with objective measurements of behaviour and brain activity. A second approach, indirect phenomenology, is shown to be problematic in a number of ways. Indirect phenomenology is generally put to work after the experiment, in critical or creative interpretations of the scientific evidence. Ultimately, however, proposals for the indirect use of phenomenology lead back to methodological questions about the direct use of phenomenology in experimental design. The third approach, “front-loaded” phenomenology, suggests that the results of phenomenological investigations can be used in the design of empirical ones. Concepts or clarifications that have been worked out phenomenologically may operate as a partial framework for experimentation.
Context: The journal Constructivist Foundations celebrates ten years of publishing articles on constructivist approaches, in particular radical constructivism. Problem: In order to preserve the sustainability of radical constructivism and regain its appeal to new generations of researchers, we set up a new course of action for and with the radical constructivist community to study its innovative potential. This new avenue is “second-order science.” Method: We specify two motivations of second-order science, i.e., the inclusion of the observer, and self-reflexivity that allows second-order science to operate on the products of normal or first-order science. Also, we present a short overview of the contributions that we have collected for this inaugural issue on second-order science. Results: These six initial contributions demonstrate the potential of the new set of approaches to second-order science across several disciplines. Implications: Second-order science is believed to be a cogent concept in the evolution of science, leading to a new wave of innovations, novel experiments and a much closer relationship with current research in the cognitive neurosciences in particular, and with evolutionary and complexity theories in general.
Millions of people worldwide engage in online role-playing with their avatar, a virtual agent that represents the self. Previous behavioral studies have indicated that many gamers identify more strongly with their avatar than with their biological self. Through their avatar, gamers develop social networks and learn new social-cognitive skills. The cognitive neurosciences have yet to identify the neural processes that underlie self-identification with these virtual agents. We applied functional neuroimaging to 22 long-term online gamers and 21 nongaming controls, while they rated personality traits of self, avatar, and familiar others. Strikingly, neuroimaging data revealed greater avatar-referential cortical activity in the left inferior parietal lobe, a region associated with self-identification from a third-person perspective. The magnitude of this brain activity correlated positively with the propensity to incorporate external body enhancements into one’s bodily identity. Avatar-referencing furthermore recruited greater activity in the rostral anterior cingulate gyrus, suggesting relatively greater emotional self-involvement with one’s avatar. Post-scanning behavioral data revealed superior recognition memory for avatar relative to others. Interestingly, memory for avatar positively covaried with play duration. These findings significantly advance our knowledge about the brain’s plasticity to self-identify with virtual agents and the human cognitive-affective potential to live and learn in virtual worlds.
Upshot: This interdisciplinary work draws on phenomenology, Indian philosophy, Tibetan Buddhism, cognitive neurosciences and a variety of personal and literary examples of conscious phenomena. Thompson proposes a view of consciousness and self as dynamic embodied processes, co-dependent with the world. According to this view, dreaming is a process of spontaneous imagination and not a delusional hallucination. This work aims at laying the ground for systematic neurophenomenological investigation of first-person experience.
Context: Phenomenology and the enactive approach pose a unique challenge to dream research: during sleep one seems to be relatively disconnected from both world and body. Movement and perception, prerequisites for sensorimotor subjectivity, are restricted; the dreamer’s experience is turned inwards. In cognitive neurosciences, on the other hand, the generally accepted approach holds that dream formation is a direct result of neural activations in the absence of perception, and dreaming is often equated with “delusions.” Problem: Can enactivism and phenomenology account for the variety of dream experiences? What kinds of experiential and empirical approaches are required in order to probe into dreaming subjectivity? Investigating qualities of perception, sensation, and embodiment in dreams, as well as the relationship between the dream-world and waking-world requires a step away from a delusional or altered-state framework of dream formation and a step toward an enactive integrative approach. Method: In this article, we will focus on the “depth” of dream experiences, i.e., what is possible in the dream state. Our article is divided into two parts: a theoretical framework for approaching dreaming from an enactive cognition standpoint; and discussion of the role and strategies for experimentation on dreaming. Based on phenomenology and theories of enactivism, we will argue for the primacy of subjectivity and imagination in the formation of lived experience. Results: We propose that neurophenomenology of dreaming is a nascent discipline that requires rethinking the relative role of third-, first- and second-person methodologies, and that a paradigm shift is required in order to investigate dreaming as a phenomenon on a continuum of conscious phenomena as opposed to a break from or an alteration of consciousness. Implications: Dream science, as part of the larger enterprise of consciousness and subjectivity studies, can be included in the enactive framework. This implies that dream experiences are neither passively lived nor functionally disconnected from dreamers’ world and body. We propose the basis and some concrete strategies for an empirical enactive neurophenomenology of dreaming. We conclude that investigating dream experiences can illuminate qualities of subjective perception and relation to the world, and thus challenge the traditional subject-object juxtaposition. Constructivist content: This article argues for an interdisciplinary enactive cognitive science approach to dream studies.
In this interview Francisco Varela traces the history of the development of consciousness studies and discusses the developments in contemporary cognitive neurosciences that have allowed consciousness to become an object of scientific study. From the experimental side, advances in non-invasive brain-imaging techniques make possible original research on neural correlates during cognitive tasks. But a non-reductionist science of cognition must take into account not only the brain, but also the fact that experience happens in the entire organism (embodiment), that itself is situated or “coupled” with the world. The notions of emergence and reciprocal causality are keys for conceptualizing this embodied, situated subject of experience. Finally, phenomenological reduction is seen as a necessary partner in scientific research, providing “first-person” accounts of experience that are correlated to the “third-person,” or experimental data, i.e. the neurophenomenology research program.