Despite the fact that the rubber hand illusion (RHI) is an experimental paradigm that has been widely used in the last 14 years to investigate different aspects of the sense of bodily self, very few studies have sought to investigate the subjective nature of the experience that the RHI evokes. The present study investigates the phenomenology of the RHI through a specific elicitation method. More particularly, this study aims at assessing whether the conditions usually used as control in the RHI have an impact in the sense of body ownership and at determining whether there are different stages in the emergence of the illusion. The results indicate that far from being “all or nothing,” the illusion induced by the RHI protocol involves nuances in the type of perceptual changes that it creates. These perceptual changes affect not only the participants' perception of the rubber hand but also the perception of their real hand. In addition, perceptual effects may vary greatly between participants and, importantly, they evolve over time.
Open peer commentary on the article “The Uroboros of Consciousness: Between the Naturalisation of Phenomenology and the Phenomenologisation of Nature” by Sebastjan Vörös. Upshot: This commentary highlights the contribution of “The Uroboros of Consciousness” to the integration of phenomenology with cognitive sciences by replacing the question of how we want to make such integration. In a very pertinent manner, this article looks at the other side of a coin that until now has been turned to the requirements and criteria of validity of the naturalistic approach. This movement allows us to come back to the original intention of this dialogue and to ask ourselves what we can do to make it more satisfactory.
This paper starts with one of Chalmers’ basic points: first-hand experience is an irreducible field of phenomena. I claim there is no ‘theoretical fix’ or ‘extra ingredient’ in nature that can possibly bridge this gap. Instead, the field of conscious phenomena requires a rigorous method and an explicit pragmatics for its exploration and analysis. My proposed approach, inspired by the style of inquiry of phenomenology, I have called neurophenomenology. It seeks articulations by mutual constraints between phenomena present in experience and the correlative field of phenomena established by the cognitive sciences. It needs to expand into a widening research community in which the method is cultivated further.
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.
The article considers whether, and how, current scientific studies of consciousness might benefit from insights of mystical traditions. Although considerable effort has been expanded towards introducing mysticism into mainstream cognitive science, the topic is still controversial, not least because of the multifariousness of meaning associated with the term (from “illogical thinking” through “visions” and “raptures” to “paranormal” and “psychopathological phenomena”). In the context of the present article, mysticism is defined as a set of practices, beliefs, values etc. developed within a given religious tradition to help the practitioner realize the experiential and existential transformations associated with mystical experiences, i.e. experiences characterized by the breakdown of the subjectobject dichotomy. It is then examined in which areas mysticism so defined might provide beneficial for consciousness studies; broadly, three such areas are identified: phenomenological research (mysticism as a repository of unique experiential material and practical know-how for rigorous phenomenological analyses), the problem of the self (mysticism as a repository of experientialexistential insights into one’s fundamental selflessness), and the so-called hard problem of consciousness (mysticism as a unique experiential-existential answer to the mind-body problem). It is contended that, contrary to popular belief, cognitive science could benefit from insights and practices found in mystical traditions, especially by way of grounding its findings in the lived experience and thereby (potentially) demystifying some of its self-imposed abstract conundrums.
Context: The burgeoning field of consciousness studies has recently witnessed a revival of first-person approaches based on phenomenology in general and Husserlian phenomenology in particular. However, the attempts to introduce phenomenological methods into cognitive science have raised serious doubts as to the feasibility of such projects. Much of the current debate has revolved around the issue of the naturalisation of phenomenology, i.e., of the possibility of integrating phenomenology into the naturalistic paradigm. Significantly less attention has been devoted to the complementary process of the phenomenologisation of nature, i.e., of a (potentially radical) transformation of the theoretical and existential underpinnings of the naturalist framework. Problem: The aim of this article is twofold. First, it provides a general overview of the resurgence of first-person methodologies in cognitive sciences, with a special emphasis on a circular process of naturalising phenomenology and phenomenologising nature. Secondly, it tries to elucidate what theoretical (conceptual) and practical (existential) implications phenomenological approaches might have for the current understanding of nature and consciousness. Results: It is argued that, in order for the integration of phenomenological and scientific approaches to prove successful, it is not enough merely to provide a firm naturalistic grounding for phenomenology. An equally, if not even more important, process of phenomenological contextualisation of science must also be considered, which might have far-reaching implications for its theoretical underpinnings (move from disembodied to embodied models) and our existential stance towards nature and consciousness (cultivation of a non-dual way of being. Implications: The broader theoretical framework brought about by the circular exchange between natural sciences and phenomenology can contribute to a more holistic conception of science, one that is in accord with the cybernetic idea of second-order science and based on a close interconnection between (abstract) reflection and (lived) experience. Constructivist content: The (re)introduction of first-person approaches into cognitive science and consciousness studies evokes the fundamental circularity that is characteristic of second-order cybernetics. It provides a rich framework for a dialogue between science and lived experience, where scientific endeavour merges with the underlying existential structures, while the latter remains reflectively open to scientific findings and proposals.
Context: The notion of “enaction,” as originally expounded by Varela and his colleagues, was introduced into cognitive science as part of a broad philosophical framework combining science, phenomenology, and Buddhist philosophy. Its intention was to help the researchers in the field avoid falling prey to various dichotomies (mind/body, self/world, self/other) bedeviling modern philosophy and science, and serve as a “conceptual evocation” of “non-duality” or “groundlessness: an ongoing and irreducible circulation between the flux of lived experience (being) and the search of reason for conceptual invariants (knowing. Problem: It seems that, within the burgeoning field of “enactivism,” these far-reaching dimensions of the original proposal are often either dismissed or simply ignored. For this reason, the article tries to answer the following questions: Does the move away from the original exposition of enaction matter? What, if anything, has been lost along the way? What are the implications of the elements that have been discarded? Method: By drawing on some of the less well-known works of Varela, we spell out and elucidate some of the more radical aspects of the notion of enaction and the broader philosophical framework into which it was originally embedded. Results: We argue that this broader philosophical framework is of utmost importance, as it shows that enaction is only one part of the multi-layered “change in the context” that Varela felt was needed to successfully instantiate a move towards the non-dual. This “change of context” involves not only a change in the way we think about dualities, but also a change in the way we experience them. The role of new scientific metaphors, such as enaction (but also autopoiesis, embodiment, etc.), is to function as conceptual evocations of this back-and-forth exchange between knowing and being. However, if this overall framework is discarded, as is often the case in contemporary accounts, enaction loses its radical impetus and becomes mellowed down to yet another version of naturalized epistemology. Implications: Taking the notion of enaction seriously implies a radical shift in our conceptions of science and knowledge, as it encompasses a theoretical and existential move away from a detached observer to embedded and engaged cognizer. Thus, our manner of thinking can no longer be considered in isolation from our manner of being, which indicates a deep interconnection between epistemology and ethics, and may entail profound changes in the definition of the aims, methods, and values of the research community: self-transformation as a consequence of, and condition for, understanding. Constructivist content: The target article advocates a critical approach to realist presuppositions in contemporary science and philosophy, and emphasizes a deep interrelation between being and knowing, between ethics and epistemology.
Excerpt: In a sense, modern biology is back to square one, for if there is, indeed, to be a “welcome return of the organism”, theoretical biologists and philosophers of biology need to “go back to the roots” and confront a vast array of intricate philosophical questions that have lain dormant for more than half a century, questions about the nature of organism, living beings, and life as such. The current paper purports to provide a small contribution to this overarching agenda by shedding light on these issues from a phenomenologically-inspired perspective. In other words, it tries to approach the phenomena of “life” and “organism” by drawing from, and reflecting upon, some of the most important phenomenological approaches to biology. But this immediately raises a delicate question: What, if anything, can phenomenology, especially if construed in the Husserlian sense as the study of experience, say about “life” or “organism”? In what sense, and to what degree, these questions fall under its aegis? Are they not, as matters pertaining to matter (however broadly construed), something that needs to be resolved by natural sciences, and not by reflection on the nature of experience?
In the past two decades, the notion of embodiment has been quickly gaining currency in cognitive science and philosophy of mind. Although virtually unknown at the beginning of the 1990's, it has now become, in the guise of embodied and enactive cognitive science, a serious contender against the classical (cognitivist) conceptions of mind, cognition, and consciousness. By drawing on the thematizations of the body found in Husserl and MerleauPonty, especially on the distinction between body as lived body (Leib) – a prereflective bodily awareness that shapes our experiential landscape –, and body as physical body (Körper) – a thematic experience of the body as an object –, it is maintained that mind and cognition are embodied in a twofold sense: (i) structurally, i.e., in the sense of being constituted by extracranial (neural, bodily, environmental, and social) processes, and (ii) phenomenologically, i.e., in the sense of including the experience of oneself as a bodily agent situated in the world. It is contended that this Janus-faced nature of corporeality, divided between “being a body” (Leibsein) and “having a body” (Körperhaben), may help undermine some of the age-old dualities (mind-body, interiorityexteriority, etc.) and thereby help anchor experience in materiality and materiality in experience. The main focus of the volume at hand is to analyze, evaluate, and critically reflect upon, what might be termed “horizons of embodiment.” First, it purports to examine the scope and applicability of the notion of embodiment in relation to not only human, but also animal, vegetative, and perhaps even artificial life. Specifically, it aims to investigate to what extent, if at all, different construals of embodiment might contribute to a better understanding of different life forms – of their unique, if tentative, modes of being, cognizing, and experiencing. Second, it purports to examine, from both practical and theoretical perspectives, possibilities for a “fusion of horizons” (Horizontverschmelzung) between structural and phenomenological approaches to embodiment: How can objective (third-person) and experiential (first-person) aspects of corporeality be combined so as to provide efficient means for the study of the living? Both perspectives wish to enrich and broaden our grasp of different grades, modes and dimensions of embodiment, bringing forth their tentative limitations and paving ways for their overcoming.
The main objective of this article is to capitalise on many years of research, and of practice, relating to the use of introspection in a research context, and thus to provide an initial outline description of introspection, while developing an introspection of introspection. After a description of the context of this research, I define the institutional conditions which would enable the renewal of introspection as a research methodology. Then I describe three aspects of introspective practice: 1) introspection as a process of becoming aware, theorized through Husserl’s model of consciousness modes; 2) introspection as recollection, through the model of retention and awakening in Husserl’s theory of memory; 3) the use of universal descriptive categories for the description of all lived experiences, as a guide for skilled practice of introspection in research. Finally I examine the question of the validation of introspective data, suggesting a strong distinction between the ethical criterion and the epistemic criterion of truth.