Already available online my paper co-authored paper with Jorge Martins, on "Mind-life continuity: qualitative study of conscious experience", published by Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology.
We focused on the mind-life continuity thesis and the autopoietic account, which requires a reciprocal influence and determination of first- and third-person accounts. In this paper, we studied phenomenal data as a crucial fact for the domain of living beings, which, we expect, can provide the ground for a subsequent third-person study.
We are very thankful to the special contributions of Teresa Rodrigues from IMM, Faculty of Medicine, University of Lisbon, Portugal; Nuno Rosa, Maria Jose Correia, and Marlene Barros from the Institute of Health Sciences (ICS), Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Health (CIIS), Universidade Católica Portuguesa, (Viseu, Portugal); and Mário Simões from LIMMIT lab, Faculty of Medicine, and Mind-Brain College, from the University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal. The authors also wish to thank Michael Kirchhoff for his insightful comments on the paper, and the Lisbon Wide Minds Group for the fruitful discussion during the presentation of the project at Nova University of Lisbon. The authors would like also to thank the important comments of the reviewers, and the patience of the editors. Inês Hipolito would like to acknowledge that this paper was made possible by an International Postgraduate Award from the University of Wollongong, Australia.
There are two fundamental models to understanding the phenomenon of natural life. One is the computational model, which is based on the symbolic thinking paradigm. The other is the biological organism model. The common difficulty attributed to these paradigms is that their reductive tools allow the phenomenological aspects of experience to remain hidden behind yes/no responses (behavioral tests), or brain ‘pictures’ (neuroimaging). Hence, one of the problems regards how to overcome methodological difficulties towards a non-reductive investigation of conscious experience. It is our aim in this paper to show how cooperation between Eastern and Western traditions may shed light for a non-reductive study of mind and life. This study focuses on the first-person experience associated with cognitive and mental events. We studied phenomenal data as a crucial fact for the domain of living beings, which, we expect, can provide the ground for a subsequent third-person study. The intervention with Jhana meditation, and its qualitative assessment, provided us with experiential profiles based upon subjects' evaluations of their own conscious experiences. The overall results should move towards an integrated or global perspective on mind where neither experience nor external mechanisms have the final word.
Empedocles is the first to bring forth a theory of color. In color vision, he says, the eye somehow takes in, or physically ‘ingests’ material effluences emitted by the distal object. Demokritos further attempted to explain the characteristics of particular colors by reference to the characteristics of the atoms constituting them. Like Demokritos, Plato also reckoned with self-radiating objects; but Plato thought that their rays meet and mingle with the pure fire (rays) placed in all human eyes by the gods. In the Timaeus, Plato states that particles coming from other bodies fall upon the sight. Thus seeing (or not seeing) depends on the size, strength and speed of the rays emanating from the objects, while perception of the various colors depends also on that process (see Benson, 2000).
Aristotle rejected the notion that a fiery ray emanated from the eye and reflected back from the objects to create sight—on the grounds that if this were so, night vision would be normal. By the same token he objected to the theory of emanations from objects, since the eye does not perceive them when the objects are pressed against the closed eye. He postulated the necessity of a medium between the eye and its percept, and reached back to the Presocratic translucence (diaphanes), which exists in water, air and translucent objects. Light is the agent (energeia) that reveals translucence as an incorporeal state ranging from bright to dark. Insofar as this flows into objects it ceases being mere light and reveals color as well as their substantiality. The color of the object in turn puts the medium itself in motion and this is transmitted to the eye. Obviously, the role of light is to make this process possible, but Aristotle attributes no movement to it, whereas the resulting color is an activator (kinetikon) of the medium (Benson, 2000). Aristotle’s theory of color contrasts thus with Empedocles and Plato, in the sense that “the assimilation of the sensible form without the matter of the perceived object” is how Aristotle defines perception: “color is a power to move, or alter, what is transparent”. He draws a clear distinction between the physiological activity in the eye and the sensory presentation of color to the perceptive part of the soul. Aristotle conceives of light as incorporeal activity. It is a state of a potentially transparent medium, a state akin to, or equivalent to, a state of illumination.
For Aristotle, a substance together with its accidents forms a certain whole. The whole would seem to be such that substance is the first part, after which come quality, quantity, and the other accidents (Metaph. XII, in init.) (Brentano, 1981, p. 82). Aristotle is convinced that whole and part can never be actual simultaneously. At the root of his theory of categories is a theory of the relation of whole and part. If the whole is actual, then the part is merely potential. How does this applies to a thing extended in space? Conceptually, the accident always contains the substance, hence the real unity of the accident. Concept red contains, in Aristotle’s view, the concept colored, and the concept colored contains the concept sensibly qualitative. What is in question in Aristotle’s theory of categories is thus that it is not the plurality of individual parts; rather all attributes entering into the definition determine one and the same individual. Like any other scientific terms, “category” as undergone several changes of meaning in the course of history, Brentano himself disagreed in several arguments with Aristotle (see Brentano, 1981, part II pp. 81-89). Nevertheless, “this much is certain: he [Aristotle] thought that there was a sense of the term being for each category; and in making the classification, he wanted to distinguish as many different senses of being” (Brentano, 1981, p. 90). Thus, to arrive at the true understanding of perception, we must see the distinction between a subject and that which the subject underlies, such as sensible, quality, place, real time, extension, shape, – in fact, substantial determinations.
 For a detailed analysis, see Kalderon, M. E. (2015). Form without matter: Empedocles and Aristotle on color perception. OUP Oxford.
Aristotle, (1998). Metaphysics translated with an introduction by H. Lawson-Tancred. Penguin.
Benson, J. L. (2000). Greek color theory. Greek Color Theory and the Four Elements, 6. Art, Architecture & Art History at ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst.
Brentano, F. (1981). The Theory of Categories. Melbourne International Philosophy Series, Vol. 8. London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
The idea that the brain of the neonate begins as a “tabula rasa”, and that the complex precepts of the adult can be traced back to a history of learned associations made from the time of brith, originated in empiricism, sets the foundational ground to modern neural network or connectionist theories, whereby individual sensations are related to the activation of individual neurons, or neuron assemblies in the brain expressed by Hebbian learning.
It is, however, hard to understand why we do not see the world as na assembly of dots
but as extended areas and volumetric bodies. Wolfgang Metzger (1936), identifies this problem, and develops a careful description and unbiased analysis of the phenomenological properties of visual perception. In his view, although there seems to be some sort of influence of experience on vision, the organization of the visual field occurs essentially without our involvement. It is, in fact, not to up to us to decide what and how we see. Rather, we already find the visual world ready-made before us: stimuli organize themselves in the simplest, most symmetrical, and balanced manner. Perceptual constancies (or invariances) is what warrantees that the same object in our environment changes little in perception even when physical conditions under which the stimuli occur vary: Perceptual constancies or invariances are the focus os experimental phenomenological analysis, which has fruitfully developed the Gestalt laws (see also the post on Gestalt and Qualitative Relations).
The world we see is not the world itself. Metzger, in his Laws of Seeing (1936), justifies such claims with three major observations:
As Metzger remarkably explains (1936, xv),
On a more recent account of this problem, I present the methodological issue on the post Special issue Quantitative Approaches in Gestalt Perception, a review).
Metzger, W. (1936). Gesetze des Sehens. 2., erw. Aufl. Frankfurt a. M.: Kramer.
Metzger, W. (2006) Laws of Seeing. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press (original work, 1936).
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.
I am finally sitting down to write a paper I am for long aiming for. Hopefully, It will appear in a forthcoming book João Pereira and I are editing for Vernon Press. The basis ideia is to explore and attempt to overcome the fact that both the traditional and the contemporary understanding of schizophrenic condition manifest what one might call the two main tenets of neurobiological reductionism. The assumption, of an exclusively brain-to-mind direction of causality, implies that cultural or social factors can be no more than merely “pathoplastic” importance (see Kleinman, 1987; Sass, 1992, p. 358). While the assumption of lowered mental level implies that the subjectivity of such patients lacks real complexity and can readily be described in quantitative and pure deficit terms: as a mere dimming of diminishment of higher or more reflective forms of conscious life.
What seems problematic is the often unreflected-upon ways in which the underlying nature and experience of these symptoms are being conceptualized, and in which their pathogenic role is being conceived. Too often, psychiatric discussion of schizophrenia and culture has taken place in a kind of phenomenological and theoretical vacuum⎯ without careful consideration of the qualitative specificity of schizophrenic experience or a sufficiently focused and coordinated appreciation of the sociocultural order. Here we shall claim the importance of taking the patient’s subjective experience of the disorder into account ⎯ acknowledging the limitations of a reductive explanation of such experiential dimension, we should attempt to open an effective dialogue with psychopathology and the sociocultural environment, and the means by which the later affect the former. Cultural forms and practices, understood as “patterns of meanings embodied in symbols”, seem to set of control mechanisms guiding experience and behaviour within a certain culture. To partake this cultural framework means thus, to sense solidarity or trust in others, or to speak, think, and gesture with that easy synthesis of spontaneity and convention that identifies one as a member of a given social group. Such developments may have, thus, consequences on everyday cognitive functioning.
Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) was a well known Portuguese poet, who lived closely the industrial turn, and whose work is a valuable poetic contribution to the Futuristic poetry in Europe. As it is known, Pessoa was diagnosed with dementia praecox, and in his poetry, he indeed manifests the lived dilacerations of self-experience,
I don’t know how many souls I have.
I’ve changed at every moment.
I always feel like a stranger.
I’ve never seen or found myself.
From being so much, I have only soul.
A man who has soul has no calm.
A man who sees is just what he sees.
A man who feels is not who he is.
Through the heteronym phenomenon, Pessoa creates a plurality of biological narratives, that I shall explore, in the upcoming paper, to illustrate that our capacity to understand intentional actions in terms of reasons has a decidedly sociocultural basis.
The seminal article of Gestalt Theory, by Christian von Ehrenfels (1890), Über Gestaltqualitäten, begins with a review of Mach’s Beiträge zur Analyse der Empfindungen (Analysis of Sensations, 1886). Mach asks, “what constitutes a melody?” The relationships of the sound to one another, he answers. Although it seems empirically odd, the melody, he says, is not constituted out of its sounds, for different sounds can construct the same melody. Providing relationships remain the same, the recognition of the structure is possible. For Mach, this process is at the basis of all perception. Mach uses the term Gestalt to indicate the characteristics of a whole that depend on the specific configuration of its parts. Gestalten, for Mach, appear thanks to an equality (Gleichheit) in the sensations, which can be noticed directly, not deduced or abstracted. This, along with the discussion in the school of Brentano, constituted the starting point for Ehrenfels. Moreover, Meinong, Ehrenfels’ teacher, has dedicated a work to theory of relations (Meinong, 1882), and he is also very influential by explicity pointing out that relations are themselves nothing but Gestalt qualities. At the same time, Husserl also had used the term Gestalt and Gestaltmoment to indicate higer-order quasi-qualities.
Despite these parallels (see Albertazzi, 2001), it was Ehrenfels who tematized the topic. By asking “is a melody (i) a mere sum of elements, or (ii) something novel in relation to this sum, something that certainly goes hand in hand with but is distinguishable from the elements.” Like Stumpf (1890), he concluded that it is much more than the sum of the parts. “the qualities are not in the least changed … but a new relation is introduced between them, which establishes a closer unity than that between members of a mere sum (Stumpf, 1890, p. 64). In line with this theoretical background, and rejecting a simplistic approach to perception, Ehrenfels explains Gestalt as follows,
By Gestalt quality we understand a positive content of presentation bound up in consciousness with the presence of complexes of mutually separable (i.e. independently presentable) elements. That complex of presentations which is necessary for the existence of a given Gestalt quality we call the foundation of that quality (Ehrenfels, 1890; Smith, 1988, p. 93).
Ehrenfels foci Gestalt qualities in its relations (Ehrenfels, 1890; Smith, 1988, p. 101), in which the movement of going from an unintuitive to the corresponding intuitive presentation gives rise to a Gestalt quality,
Thus anyone confronted with, say, a complicated description of a work of architecture will first of all form a merely indirect presentation of it, which will then be rounded out by gradual execution or fulfilment of the various merely intended components, to yield an intuitive total picture. But this process of formation of the intuitive presentation directly from the indirect presentation is something that happens, a process of change, which serves as the foundation for a specific temporal Gestalt quality (Ehrenfels 1890, tr. Smith 1988, p. 104).
Given the Gestalt nature of relations, Gestalt qualities can be compared to one another and give rise to increasingly higher order Gestalt qualities. Ehrenfels adds to this the “intimate unity with which we combine presentational contents of physical and psychical occurences” (Ehrenfels 1890, tr. Smith 1988, p. 107).
Psychic phenomena are essentially distinct from ‘physical phenomena’, which for Brentano are immanent and intentional objects of the presentations themselves. A physical phenomenon is, thus, composed by two nondetachable parts, i.e. phenomenal place, and quality (Brentano, 1874/1995, pp. 77-80). Interlocked perceptual appearances, like colour, shape, and space, are in fact the initial direct information presented to us in awareness. They are not the primary properties of what are commonly understood as physical entities, even though they are correlated with stimuli defined on the basis of physics (Albertazzi, 2015). Appearances, in visual awareness, are not simply representations of ‘external’ stimuli; rather, they are internal presentations of active perceptual constructs, co-dependent on, but qualitatively unattainable through a mere transformation of stimuli (see Mausfeld, 2010).
Thus, the goal that should be pursued in the study of Gestalt qualitative relations is, the discover and analysis of necessary functional connections among visual phenomena, identification of the conditions that help or hinder appearance or the degree of their evidence, in other words: determination of the laws which the phenomenological field obeys. And this without leaving the phenomenological domain; without, that is, referring to the underlying neurophysical processes . . . The influence of such processes and activities certainly cannot be denied, but they must not be identified with seeing…The experimental phenomenology of vision is not concerned with the brain, but with that result of the brain’s activity that is seeing (Kanizsa, 1991, pp. 43-44).
The study of Gestalt qualitative relations does not obviously deny the existence of stimuli, nor the correlation between the physical stimulus and the behavioural response, but stimuli are seen as the triggers to the perceptual experience. For that reason, the phenomenological method distinguishes between what concerns psychophysics of brain analysis, and what concerns qualitative analysis of the phenomena.
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.