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: Affective neuroscience has not developed first-person methods for the generation of first-person data. This neglect is problematic, because emotion experience is a central dimension of affectivity. Problem: I propose that augmenting affective neuroscience with a neurophenomenological method can help address long-standing questions in emotion theory, such as: Do different emotions come with unique, distinctive patterns of brain and bodily activity? How do emotion experience, bodily feelings and brain and bodily activity relate to one another? Method: This paper is theoretical. It advances ideas for integrating neurophenomenology and affective neuroscience, and explains how this integration would allow progress on the above questions. Results: An integrated “affective neuro-physio-phenomenology” may help scientists understand whether discrete emotion categories come in different experiential varieties, which would in turn help interpret concomitant brain and bodily activity. It may also help investigate the bodily nature of emotion experience, including how experience relates to actual brain and bodily activity. Implications: If put into practice, the ideas advanced here would enrich the scientific study of emotion experience and more generally further our understanding of the relationship of consciousness and physical activity. The paper is speculative and its ideas need to be implemented to bear fruit. Constructivist content: This paper argues in favor of the neurophenomenological method, which is an offshoot of enactivism.
Underlying the recent focus on embodied and interactive aspects of social understanding are several intuitions about what roles the body, interaction processes, and interpersonal experience play. In this paper, we introduce a systematic, hands-on method for investigating the experience of interacting and its role in intersubjectivity. Special about this method is that it starts from the idea that researchers of social understanding are themselves one of the best tools for their own investigations. The method provides ways for researchers to calibrate and to trust themselves as sophisticated instruments to help generate novel insights into human interactive experience. We present the basics of the method, and two empirical studies. The first is a video-study on autism, which shows greater refinement in the way people with autism embody their social interactions than previously thought. The second is a study of thinking in live interactions, which provides insight into the common feeling that too much thinking can hamper interaction, and into how this kind of interactional awkwardness might be unblocked.
The aim of the article is twofold. First, it aims to overview current empirical methods in the area of first-person research. Such a review cannot overlook epistemological and ontological issues, but must at the same time keep in mind methodological and almost technical nature of the problem. Empirical experience research is positioned within the frame of cognitive science and the overview of approaches and techniques of empirical phenomenology is presented, together with epistemological considerations. The second aim of the paper is concerned with the future of research in the discussed area. It suggests that in-depth, existentially liable introspection and self-inquiry should be considered as serious scientific research tools.
The author discusses the problem of integration of first- and third-person approaches in studying the human mind. She critically evaluates and compares various methodologies for studying and explaining conscious experience. Common strategies that apply reductive explanation seem to be unsatisfied for explaining experience and its subjective character. There were attempts to explain experience from the first-person point of view (introspectionism, philosophical phenomenology) but the results were not intersubjectively verifiable. Dennett proposed heterophenomenology as a scientifically viable alternative which supposed to bridge the gap between first- and third-person perspectives. The author critically evaluates his proposal and compares it to contemporary attempts to provide first-person methods.