Friends and Colleagues,
I am delighted to share with you what Valeria and I have been up to. Our paper, Predictive engagement and motor intentionality, will be shortly published in the philosophical Esercizi Filosofici. We are happy how the MS turned out after the insightful comments of the anonymous reviewers, and we are also very thankful to the Lisbon Mind and Cognition Group.
We aimed to show that motor intentionality, as the underlying ground for social cognition, can be explained through the predictive engagement model. Sensorimotor processes seem to play central roles in social interaction, cognition and language, or at least this is the hypothesis that we trace here. We start by questioning the phenomenological role of the body in social cognition, to further investigate a causal neural explanation. In order to do so, we link the role of the body and intercorporeality with recent findings in philosophy of neuroscience under the predictive brain hypothesis. The living body seems to entertain a dialogical and enactive relationship with the surrounding context, as well as with neural circuits actively responding to external stimuli, which is why, in our perspective, the body, configured as a living organism, and not as mere biological substratum, offers to phenomenology and empirical sciences further confirmations of the possibility and need for a cooperation.
Have a look on the paper here, comments more than welcome.
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 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).
Jorge Martins and I are finally sitting down to write the paper for Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, for the special issue on The necessary conjunction of the Western and Eastern Thought traditions for exploring the nature of Mind and Life.
it should be out in August 2017, here is the draft abstract,
In the study of a non-reductive mind-life continuity, the first-person method has been target of many controversial claims in science. Western scientific objectivity requires, as it is said, third-person quantitative methods, such as imaging techniques, times-response, and button-pushes, applied to the study of the mind. However, If mind and conscious experience are intrinsically qualitative and first-person, and if scientific objectivity only accepts third-person data, then the attempt to explain something that is first-person by exclusive third-person methods, might not be as informative as it intends to be, and moreover might as well be committing a reductive methodological fallacy under the easy-hard problem lens. It is, though, a common procedure, in the scientific study of qualitative self-experience, to design and conduct experiments that concern solely third-person, quantitative methods. We ask whether subjective experience can be studied from a scientific viewpoint, using a combination of first-person methodology (phenomenology) and third-person measurements (molecular biology and proteomics). In this essay, we will illustrate the proposed methodology with an experiment we conducted that is focused on eastern meditative practice as an intervention protocol. We studied the subjective experience of meditation through the combination of (1) a first-person phenomenological description of the subjective experience; and (2) a third-person method, by means of molecular biology measurements collected in saliva, further proteomics techniques, and of complementary statistical and data mining designed solutions: factor analysis, PCA and Expectation–maximization algorithms. We aim to show that subjective experience, such as meditative self-experience, has a bodily expression, on functional protein networks, and, particularly that meditative therapeutic methods might relate to the inhibition of biological and mental diseases, by the neuro-immune molecular coupling. We expect this study to contribute to a further biobank, on the biological level, that identifies particular proteins with health and homeostasis.
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 complex