Context: Society is faced with “wicked” problems of environmental sustainability, which are inherently multiperspectival, and there is a need for explicitly constructivist and perspectivist theories to address them. Problem: However, different constructivist theories construe the environment in different ways. The aim of this paper is to clarify the conceptions of environment in constructivist approaches, and thereby to assist the sciences of complex systems and complex environmental problems. Method: We describe the terms used for “the environment” in von Uexküll, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, and analyse how their conceptions of environment are connected to differences of perspective and observation. Results: We show the need to distinguish between inside and outside perspectives on the environment, and identify two very different and complementary logics of observation, the logic of distinction and the logic of representation, in the three constructivist theories. Implications: Luhmann’s theory of social systems can be a helpful perspective on the wicked environmental problems of society if we consider carefully the theory’s own blind spots: that it confines itself to systems of communication, and that it is based fully on the conception of observation as indication by means of distinction.
Analyzing the outline of the endless literature on consciousness, the separation between science and philosophy rather than being overcome, seems to come back in different shapes. According to this point of view, the hard problem seems to be how to study consciousness while avoiding a slip back to the old dualism. This article outlines the advantages of the phenomenological method. This method, more than getting over the mind-body separation, anticipates it through an open gaze, able to bring back the human presence as something structurally “ambiguous.” Reintroducing Husserl’s scientific project in a complete way, Francisco Varela opened up a research area yet to be explored, which promises to be fertile for neuroscience, provided that we accept that radicalism essential to phenomenology.
Kelly’s personal construct theory, put forward in 1955, is considered the first constructivist theory of personality and the first expression of those contemporary psychotherapeutic perspectives grounded on a constructivist view of knowledge. Notwithstanding the similarities between psychological constructivism and the phenomenological-hermeneutic tradition, Kelly always rejected the parallel of his theory to phenomenology, regarding the latter as unacceptable since idealistic, solipsistic, and particularistic. In this first article of a work subdivided into three parts, the Authors explain such criticism by Kelly with his knowledge of phenomenology deriving from secondary sources, and stress the wide possibilities of a phenomenological interpretation and elaboration of his theory. Relevance: The publication highlights the analogy between psychological constructivism and phenomenology.
In this part of our work about a comparison between Kelly’s personal construct theory and phenomenology, we enter the fields of psychotherapy and research. The topic of intersubjectivity, meant as original recognition of the other’s subjectivity, provides a backdrop for both phenomenological clinic and Kellyan psychotherapy. Though Kelly never used the term “intersubjectivity,” his theory and the corollary of sociality in particular, reveals a view of interpersonal relationships as intercorporeality, which is much closer to phenomenological ideas than to the cognitive ones. Depending on such commonality, in either cases clinical relationship is not viewed as an “aspecific factor” of psychotherapy, but as the essential tool for the care of other. Furthermore, the core role of intersubjectivity in scientific knowledge implies a radical revision of the criteria of research. Consistently with the intent of a science of experience, it is no more a matter of collecting data, as of accepting meanings. Psychological research has to refound itself in continuity with life and recognize the need for a real involvement and real interaction with the subjects, as far as to reverse the traditional relation between clinic and research. It is nonsense to conceive clinic as an applicative sector of a pure science because clinic, on the contrary, is the place where one can know, in first-person, those meaningful realities which take shape in the intersubjective exchange of ideas, in order to make them comprehensible and controllable. Relevance: The publication explores the dimension of intersubjectivity in phenomenology (starting from Husserl) and personal construct theory, and its relevance in psychotherapy and research.
Upshot: We respond to three main challenges that the commentaries have raised. Firstly, we clarify our misunderstood intention of introducing a newcomer to the neurophenomenological family. Rather, we situate our approach under the broader umbrella of phenomenology. Secondly, we argue that from our empirical position it is questionable that the strategy we pursued in the target article left the black box of consciousness completely closed. Thirdly, we argue that the subjective fluctuations that may appear as outcomes in an experimental paradigm are not to be considered with a resigned attitude but as valuable information to work with. We conclude our response by agreeing with the concerns of two of the commentators about extending the perspectives and plurality of the methods to investigate the explanatory gap problem.
The course on nature coincides with the re-working of Merleau-Ponty’s breakthrough towards an ontology and therefore plays a primordial role. The appearance of an interrogation of nature is inscribed in the movement of thought that comes after the Phenomenology of Perception. What is at issue is to show that the ontological mode of the perceived object – not the unity of a positive sense but the unity of a style that shows through in filigree in the sensible aspects has a universal meaning, that the description of the perceived world can give way to a philosophy of perception and therefore to a theory of truth. The analysis of linguistic expression to which the philosophy of perception leads opens out onto a definition of meaning as institution, understood as what inaugurates an open series of expressive appropriations. It is this theory of institution that turns the analysis of the perceived in the direction of a reflection on nature: the perceived is no longer the originary in its difference from the derived but the natural in its difference from the instituted. Nature is the “non-constructed, non-instituted,” and thereby, the source of expression: “nature is what has a sense without this sense having been posited by thought.”\\The first part of the course, which consists in a historical overview, must not be considered as a mere introduction. In fact, the problem of nature is brought out into the open by means of the history of Western metaphysics, in which Descartes is the emblematic figure. The problem consists in the duality at once unsatisfactory and unsurpassable – between two approaches to nature: the one which accentuates its determinability and therefore its transparency to the understanding; the other which emphasizes the irreducible facticity of nature and tends therefore to valorize the viewpoint of the senses. To conceive nature is to constitute a concept of it that allows us to “take possession” of this duality, that is, to found the duality. The second part of the course attempts to develop this concept of nature by drawing upon the results of contemporary science. Thus a philosophy of nature is sketched that can be summarized in four propositions: 1) the totality is no less real than the parts; 2) there is a reality of the negative and therefore no alternative between being and nothingmess; 3) a natural event is not assigned to a unique spatio-temporal localization; and 4) there is generality only as generativity.
Excerpt: Inthe French language, the verb vivre means both “to be alive” (Leben) and “to have an experience, to feel something” (Erleben): it is neutral with respect to the distinction between the transitive life that we call consciousness, and the intransitive life of organisms that merely keep themselves alive. In this text, we put forward the hypothesis that this neutrality, far from being a simple accident of language, is highly revealing as to the primordial status of life; it thus indicates the direction that a phenomenology of life should take. The question that a phenomenology of life has to confront is thus the following: what is the primordial meaning of life such that it precedes the distinction between intransitive and transitive life, and thereby makes this distinction possible? In other words: what is life such that the possibility of consciousness is grounded therein? From the moment we consider that consciousness is basically characterized by intentionality, primordial life must already contain the germ of a fundamental transitivity where intentionality can be grounded; it follows from this that the question of the Being of intentionality, and that of the mode of Being of life, are one and the same question.
In his 1996 paper “Neurophenomenology: A methodological remedy for the hard problem,” Francisco Varela called for a union of Husserlian phenomenology and cognitive science. Varela’s call hasn’t gone unanswered, and recent years have seen the development of a small but growing literature intent on exploring the interface between phenomenology and cognitive science. But despite these developments, there is still some obscurity about what exactly neurophenomenology is. What are neurophenomenologists trying to do, and how are they trying to do it? To what extent is neurophenomenology a distinctive and unified research programme? In this paper I attempt to shed some light on these questions.
Context: Direct realism is a non-reductive, anti-representationalist theory of perception lying at the heart of mainstream analytic philosophy, where it is currently generating a lot of interest. For all that, it is widely held to be both controversial and anti-scientific. On the other hand, the sensorimotor theory of perception (which is a specific development of Gibsonian approaches to perception) initially generated a lot of interest within enactive philosophy of cognitive science, but has arguably not yet delivered on its initial promise. Problem: I aim to show that the sensorimotor theory and direct realism complement each other, and that the result is a philosophically radical, but fully scientifically realised, theory of perception. Method: The article uses (non-reductive) philosophical analysis and discussion. It also draws on empirical evidence from the relevant cognitive sciences. Results: Direct realism can be augmented by sensorimotor theory to become a scientifically tractable alternative to the mainstream, representationalist research programme within cognitive science. Implications: The article aims to further clarify the philosophical importance of the sensorimotor approach to perception. It also aims to show that the apparently radical claim that we perceive objects themselves is amenable to normal scientific study. Constructivist content: Objects are analysed as a kind of collaboration between the world and the perceiver. On this account, we can never perceive outside the categories of our own understanding, but we do perceive genuinely outside our own heads. Thus, the approach here is not exactly constructivism, though it shares many goals and results with constructivism.
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.