This is the first of our Philosophy Forum Presents events for 2017. Philosophy Forum Presents are regular talks on philosophy given by guest speakers. The talks are aimed at those new to philosophy and all are encouraged to attend and participate. The details for the first event are as follows:
Speaker: Prof. Marc Slors, Professor of Philosophy of Mind (Radboud University, The Netherlands).
Title: Farewell to Free Will?
Date: Wednesday 1 March 2017
Venue: LHA Research Hub (Building 19, Room 2072).
Philosophy Forum here.
The Philosophy Program and The Narrative Practices in Therapy Initiative, in the University of Wollongong, Australia, hosted a two-day workshop. The main topic of discussion were narrative approaches to health and illness, focusing on the subjective experience of well-being, and the ways in which illnesses and their treatments can impact on self-experience. Such accounts raise a variety of philosophical questions. To what extent can features of phenomenology and narrative be used to characterise different disorders? What problems do we face in relying on such first-person accounts, and what insights can we gain? Can such characterisations be integrated with naturalistic accounts of health and illness? How should we understand the role of phenomenology and narrative in treatment, as in narrative therapy?
Wednesday, February 22nd
13:00-14:30 Shaun Gallagher (Memphis/UOW), “Empathy: Pain, trial and tribulation”
14:30-15:30 Philip Gerrans (Adelaide), “Keeping reality at bay, the role of narrative in mental health”
16:00-17:00 Jeanette Kennett (Macquarie), “Narrative and agency in addiction”
Thursday, February 23rd
10:30-11:30 Marc Slors (Radboud), “Bodily continuity, narrative autobiographical coherence and therapy”
11:30-12:30 Dominic Murphy (Sydney), “Can the sea eagle make you sick?”
14:30-15:30 Jonathan Cole (Poole General Hospital, UK), “Narrative approaches to neurological impairment”
15:30-16:30 Roundtable discussion on the role of phenomenology and narrative in medicine: Claire Hooker (Sydney), Jonathan Cole (Poole General Hospital), Shaun Gallagher (Memphis/UOW)
Thanks professor Patrick McGivern for putting such a great event.
Qualitative perception of Gestalt has more recently gained an increased interest in the area of cognitive science, particularly by virtue of its non-reductive metaphysics against strong neurocentred and artificial intelligence models. This work on the structures of cognitive and perceptual experience is today being rediscovered and potentially provides immediate relevance to physiologically oriented cognitive science. The theory of Gestalt is, of course associated with the members of Berlin School such as Max Wetheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, and with the members of the Austrian school, Graz School, such as Benussi and Kanizsa, but its roots date back to the remarkable work of Brentano and his students, Christian von Ehrenfels, Edmund Husserl and Carl Stumpf, whose work we shall investigate here, particularly in what concerns the genesis of the concepts of complex and Gestalt.
1. Ehrenfels “On Gestalt Qualities”
The seminal paper by Ehrenfels “On Gestalt Qualities” (1890), is concerned with the reflections on the question “what complex perceived formations such as spatial figures or melodies might be”. The answer to this question requires the doctrine of intentionality by Brentano and the works on the ontology of the mind by Husserl. As it is well known, for Brentano, there are both simple and complex mental acts between the intuitive and the non-intuitive components of psychic phenomena of different sorts, between the various different sorts of phenomenally give boundaries and continuity.
The essay on “Gestalt qualities” consists in a conceptual proposal. Ehrenfels suggests that the German term ‘Gestalt’ which means ‘shape’, ‘figure’, ‘form’ should be generalized in a certain way. In his and Brentano’s view a spatial shape or Gestalt is perceived ⎯ is given a in visual presentation ⎯ on the basis of a complex of sensations of individual elements having ‘distinct spatial determinations’. In seeing the elements and their spatial determinations, one is able to apprehend the shape as an additional object (quality, attribute) as it were side by side with its associated elements. Our total experience is, therefore, something distinct from the experience of a mere sum or complex of sensory elements. What Ehrenfels proposes is that wherever we have a relation of this sort, between a complex of experienced elements on the one hand and some associated unitary experience of a single invariant structure on the other. This ‘structure’ should be conceived as the Gestalt. The unitary experience is structurally analogous to the experience of a spatial shape.
The Gestalt concept is then generalized further to embrace also complex objects of experience founded on inner perceptions ⎯ one’s presentations of one’s own elementary feelings, acts, or mental states. Sensory data from different sensory modalities may, according to Erenfels, combine together in such a way to provide the foundation for mixed Gestalt qualities of specific sorts. Having identified spatial shapes, melodies, chords, and complex taste as first order Gestalt qualities founded on given elementary sensations, Ehrenfels recognizes that these qualities, too, may combine together in such a way as to found new, second orer qualities which are themselves capable of founding third order qualities, and so on, in principle without limit (Smith, 1988).
As it is now explicit, Gestalt qualities, for Ehrenfels, are not wholes embracing their fundamenta ⎯ tones, colours, tastes, smells ⎯ as parts. Rather, they are additional unitary objects, existing alongside the unitary elements with which they are associated. The Gestalt quality is not a combination of elements but ‘something new in relation to these, which exists together with [their] combination, but is distinguishable from it’. It is a special sort of structure, a ‘positive content of presentation bound up in consciousness with the existence of complexes of mutually separable elementary presentations’. For Ehrenfels there are also unitary entities at successively higher levels, what one might call relative elements or ‘quasi-substances’, objects which, even though they do not belong to the ultimate wordly furniture, are yet given to consciousness in an unitary way and have to be recognized as such by any adequate theory. The quality in question here is associated with, but not reducible to, complexes of points, lines, symptoms and events, apprehended direct and immediately.
Ehrenfels asks about the specific contents of the presentation, Is content a real entity? Something individual and spatio-temporal? Or is it rather an ideal or abstract universal, multiply exemplified in the acts of different subjets towards the same foundational elements? What is the structure of the “complex of presentations” that serves as the foundation or carrier of Gestalt quality?
Are we to acknowledge both Gestalt qualities and sui generis complexes, which they would be qualities of? And how is a complex of mutually separable elementary presentations related to those complex fusions of elements, which Ehrenfels also recognizes?
For Ehrenfels, so also for Husserl, we grasp the configuration and its quality in one glance ⎯ not by collecting together in intuition a sum or a sequence of objects or relations, as occurs in those higher order articulated acts of counting and calculating which are the main subject-matter of Husserl’s early work. Husserl explains this through the notion of ‘fusion’, a notion he takes from Stumpf, signifying the absence of phenomenal discontinuities or boundary lines, as for example when one perceives an array of colour in which there is a gradual transition from red to blue or a glissando in which one musical tone passes continuously into another ⎯ the relations between these relevant parts become thereby fused together (in a figural moment, in Husserlian’s terminology). Husserl ontology plays an important role to reflections raised in Ehrenfels paper. The Gestalt problem is, in effect, a problem of unity, and Husserl suggest there are two ways in which the unity can come: either objects are such that they don’t need additional objects to glue them together into a whole; or they are such that they are in themselves not sufficient to make a unity and require the presence of some additional object to glue them together. Such additional objects may be of two sorts: independent objects (like a mass of glue), or dependant objects, capable of existing only in consort with the objects they serve to unify (moments of unity or figural moments).
The moments of unity in Husserl’s phenomenology are important because they serve to bridge the ‘phenomenological’ and the ‘objective’ spheres. The subject and the object do not simply co-exist but are in fact related together in a single unified whole.
Carl Stumpf: phenomena of ‘fusion’
Ehrenfels’s dichotomy between complex of experienced elements on the one hand and some associated unitary experience of a single invariant structure on the other, can be further understood through Carl Stumpf’s central ideia of ‘fusion’ implies a anti-reductionist, descriptive attitude that represents an attempt to produce what we might call a natural philosophy of complex experiences, including not only the phenomena of fusion and purely aggregative phenomena, but also a range of different sorts of Gestalt phenomena considered to be lying between these two extremes.
Stumpf draws the very important distinction between complex and Gestalt. Complex is a whole of sense contents; and the latter, the relational attribute, the network of relations between those contents. This network is somehow unitary because when we hear a chord or a melody we hear a relational attribute, not a complex or succession of dyadic relations. The network has a structural dimension because it can be transposed, transferred from one complex of relata to another.
For this psychological mechanism to happen, Stump remarks, there must be something cognitive in our awareness. For to grasp a Gestalt is to grasp not merely an individual as such, but also the abstract net of transferable relations which is its essence (Stumpf, 1939/40, p. 229, 242). Thus, Gestalt can never be perceived of themselves but always only in and of some given formed material ⎯ a tone or phoneme or timbre are founding elements that may involve physical or physiological complexity, but it is phenomenologically non-articulated and therefore has no Gestalt. Because Gestalt phenomena are primarily given, we often see Gestalten without recognizing parts, in fact, it sometimes takes effort to delineate figures with their ground, to discriminate constituent parts (p. 247). A Gestalt is a whole of relations, but under certain circumstances only part of this whole may be perceived ⎯ and this part may be a Gestalt in its own right.
One can apprehend the Gestalt of a melody only when one has heard the entire sequence of tones in such a way that a total impression has been gained through a discursive process (see also the post Gestalt and Qualitative Relations)
But the effect of the melody on our feelings does not begin only after it has been completed: we follow it through in its development from the very beginning, accompany this development with expectations, surprises, tensions, releases, for which foundation is provided by repetition, similarities, and so on.
Smith, B. (1988). Foundations of Gestalt theory. Munich and Vienna: Philosophia.
Stumpf, C. (1939/1940). Erkenntnislehre, 2 vol., Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 873 p.; 2nd ed., Lengerich: Pabst Science Publisher, 2011.
von Ehrenfels, C. (1988). On “Gestalt qualities.”. Foundations of Gestalt Theory. Munich: Philosphia Verlag.(Original work published in 1890).
For an amazing adventure of 4 years of study. This is possible by virtue of the great generosity of the University in offering me a full scholarship to develop a project on Mind and Cognition.
Couldn't ask for more, nor be more excited!
This is Wollongong,
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she. . .
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
As daylight doth a lamp; her eye in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
Your brain visualizes words contained in sentences in this screen. The eye takes the words as physical stimuli of light rays and transduces them into electrical and chemical signals that can be interpreted by the brain to construct physical images. Light waves enter through the cornea, processing through the pupil to the center of the iris and retina. The neural signals initially processed by the retina travel via the axons of the ganglion cells through the optic nerves, dividing and partially crossing over into the optic chiasm and then travelling via the optic tracts to the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus. Finally ending up in V2, V4, V5 and V6. These are then mapped onto a word form and the corresponding semantic representation within a syntactic framework.
The reason why, sometimes, a salty fluid chock full of proteins, water, mucus and oil is released from the lacrimal gland in the upper, outer region of your eye when one understands some passages of very good literature, is, however, still to be comprehended. The human ability to interpret and apprehend the imaginative vision of Shakespeare’s keenness expressed in this passage of aesthetic mental energy is very difficult to be accounted for the physicist’s objective. In fact, if those very same words were written in a foreign language to the reader, she would be able to read the words, without the understanding, since there would be visual stimulation and the cognitive function of reading without the elicitation of subjective experience.
The reader might argue that perchance if the physicist had broader understanding than he has about the anatomy, physiology and function of the nervous processes involved in reading, she might be able to explain such qualitative phenomena. Well that is fair enough, but let us further consider for instance the aesthetic experience of perceiving Michelangelo’s frescoes in Sistine Chapel. Subjective experience is beautifully described by James Joyce’s as aesthetic arrest, that is, “[t]he instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition called the enchantment of the heart” (Joyce, 1993). Why would visual stimulation be accompanied by aesthetic experience and inspire Joyce’s insight on it? Such conditional experience remains yet unknown explanandum among the sciences of the brain and the mind. Can the study of neurons help us to understand what art creation is? Can the study of acoustics help us to understand Beethoven’s music? Truth is even if we were able to explain how perceptive sensory information is discriminated, integrated and reported, we would not be able to explain how it is experienced since those seem to constitute two different problems. Besides, “[t]here is no cognitive function such that we can say in advance that explanation of that function will automatically explain experience” (Chalmers, 2010, p. 7).
In fact, what does challenge the venture of the understanding of the qualitative aspects of experience through an exclusive neurophysiological filter is possibly the conspicuous fact that we still don’t know how to bridge, the easy problem of for instance, the cognitive function of reading, with the hard problem of, for instance, the ability to interpret pragmatic cues. In fact, why is the performance of cognitive functions, such as attention, perception, memory, language, accompanied by experience? Gretel Erlic’s vision acutely describes the well-known dichotomy between the easy and the hard problem,
“bodies of thoughts swim in the synaptic lake, sliding over receptors . . . How odd that we walk around with this bodies, live in them, die in them, make love with them, yet know almost nothing of their intimate works . . . Up to this point my living and breathing had been an act of faith. I existed but I didn’t know how (2010).
Likewise, we do not know what is the relationship between subjective experience and sensory stimulation. In Chalmers’ words, we do not know “[w]hy is it that when electromagnetic waveforms impinge on a retina and are discriminated and categorized by a visual system, the discrimination and categorization are experienced as a sensation of vivid red” (Chalmers, 2010, p. 6). Furthermore, truth is after decades of concerted effort on the part of our neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers, we yet have not a clue on how the brain gives rise to sensation, feeling, subjectivity, such as the feeling of redness of red (Noë, 2010).
Our place in the universe seems to rest someplace between the material world of trees and sound waves and light radiation, and the mental world and its subjective experience, such as the one we commonly have while interpreting and engaging in a literary text, listening to a masterpiece of music, or perceiving the colors of a painting. In fact, as John Eccles understood it, “[t]he more we discover scientifically about the brain the more clearly do we distinguish between the brain events and the mental phenomena and the more wonderful do the mental phenomena become. Promissory materialism is simply a superstition held by dogmatic materialists” (Eccles, 1994).
In the material world, there are shapes, sizes, surfaces, and textures that obey Euclid’s and Galileo’s laws, and those are commonly designated as the primary qualities. However, it is also true that we do not objectively perceive according to those geometrical laws, since, objects illicit in our perception conscious experiences. In fact, the reader does not see words written over a plain white paper, but subjectively interprets Shakespeare’s words. Nor do we hear independent auditory stimulus as notes, but we perceive the whole song.
We do perceive qualities subjectively that seem to result from what can be seen as conjunction between the physical properties and our modes of perceiving. For example, the colors shapes, sizes, surfaces, and textures in Michelangelo’s ceiling, --however clearly related to the primary qualities inherent to the physical stimuli that elicit our qualitative perception--, seem to differ both from the Euclidean rules that the physical stimuli obeys and from the anatomical and functional rules the visual system obeys, while agreeing with the aesthetic qualitative experience. This seems to be so because we certainly do not see those physical properties in isolation in the Sistine Chapel, but we do perceive Micheangelo’s masterpiece. In other words, we do not plainly see fragmented colors and geometrical measurable shapes, sizes, surfaces, and textures, but we do integrate those colors, shapes, sizes, surfaces, and textures subjectively in a qualitative experience that is meaningful to us. If this is correct we shall ask then, where to locate the qualities of experience?
It seems, on first sight, very tempting to localize them in the brain. However we do have to acknowledge qualitative experience as distinct in nature from physical processes. The ontological actuality of the mind might somewhat shelter qualitative aspects of subjective experience. Although mind and brain are distinct in nature, subjective qualities are a product of the physical ones. Therefore, the mind has to maintain intimate relations with the physical world and, consequently, with the brain. What comes promptly to mind is how can such qualitative phenomena be scientifically attended. Does subjective experience belong within the domain of science? Are observable physical objects and properties only those things that are measurable on well-defined physical variables such as length, duration, wavelength, mass, and energy? What is the place of experiential phenomena within the realm of science? What are the best methods to study it?
In this systematic thesis we take as a starting point that:
Empirical observation and philosophical thinking should be combined to address both components.
The idea that science and philosophy are dichotomous realms with their own methods and criteria is questionable. Science is not discontinuous with broader human concerns. Nor is philosophy a free-for-all of opinion. In fact philosophy and science share a common aim: understanding (Noë, 2010). The conditions of the lifeworld can, for instance, seduce us into thinking that only the measurable is the real.
Fantastic Workshop on Realism, Biology and Social Sciences, followed by a great conference. Tata institute does know how to put together an extraordinary event, and how to welcome you into its academic community. Definitely learnt a great deal and had a tremendous great time. I hope I can see you all in a near future!
Thanks to all the participants of our event, organized by Jorge Gonçalves, João G. Pereira and I, Schizophrenia and Common Sense, who made excellent contributions to the discussion of difficult questions in todays philosophy of psychopathology, for instance,
how relevant is the loss of common sense in schizophrenia?
How can the study of schizophrenia contribute to the study of common sense?
How to understand/explain/interpret this loss of common sense?
What is the relationship of practical reasoning and logical formal reasoning with schizophrenia?
What is the relationship between the person with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and social values?
Now let's work hard on the follow up book, to be issued by Springer, Studies in Mind Brain.
As the happy recipient of a grant to be a visiting student here, I really enjoyed meeting everyone and the time I spent here. Go BSMB!
Never mind the gap!