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: We are presently witnessing a revival of introspective methods, which implicitly challenges an impressive list of in-principle objections that were addressed to introspection by various philosophers and by behaviorists. Problem: How can one overcome those objections and provide introspection with a secure basis? Results: A renewed definition of introspection as “enlargement of the field of attention and contact with re-enacted experience,” rather than “looking-within,” is formulated. This entails (i) an alternative status of introspective phenomena, which are no longer taken as revelations of some an sich slice of experience, but as full-fledged experiences; and (ii) an alternative view of the validity of first-person reports as “performative coherence” rather than correspondence. A preliminary empirical study of the self-assessed reliability of introspective data using the elicitation interview method is then carried out. It turns out that subjects make use of reproducible processual criteria in order to probe into the authenticity and completeness of their own introspective reports. Implications: Introspective inquiry is likely to have enough resources to “take care of itself.” Constructivist content: It is argued that the failure of the introspectionist wave of the turn of the 19th/20th centuries is mostly due to its unconditional acceptance of the representationalist theory of knowledge, and that alternative non-representationalist criteria of validity give new credibility to introspective knowledge.
From the Introduction: Our aim is to show that, irrespective of its alleged theoretical “impossibility”, introspection is a living reality. We will focus on one of the currently available methods that we ourselves practice: the elicitation interview method.
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.
Context: Despite the fact that pain and body awareness are by definition subjective experiences, most studies assessing these phenomena and the relationship between them have done so from a “third-person” perspective, meaning that they have used methods whose aim is to try to objectify the phenomena under study. Problem: This article assesses the question of what is the impact of a widespread chronic pain condition in the bodily experience of persons suffering from fibromyalgia. Method: I used an interview methodology stemming from a phenomenological approach called the “elicitation interview.” Results: The results indicate that the intensification of fibromyalgia pain does in fact affect different aspects of body awareness: in particular, experienced body size, weight and localization, as well as the experience of owning one’s own body. In addition, these disruptions in patient’s body awareness have as a result, a modification of the experience of pain, leading to the apparently paradoxical experience of being in pain while not feeling it. Implications: The elicitation interview approach made it possible to gather and analyze descriptions of the bodily experience of persons suffering from fibromyalgia. This approach allowed the consideration of the hypothesis that the disruption of implicit knowledge of the topography of patients’ bodies prevents them from referring to the pain sensation in terms of its localization and intensity, transforming the sensation in a way that is experienced as paradoxical. Further studies should be conducted that focus on the interplay between attention, pain and body perception. Constructivist content: The study presented in this article is framed within the perspective that the study of conscious phenomena should consider a first-person perspective, which is in line with constructivist approaches.