Prisca Bauer, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Freiburg)
What do first-person accounts of consciousness add to medicine?
Modern medicine strictly divides body and mind. As a consequence, neurological conditions are reduced to conditions of the brain, yet they have a profound impact on the experience of people affected by them. Phenomenological accounts are not considered in neurology. Here I will show the potential of using a systematic phenomenological approach to improve care in people with epilepsy. Seizures are the main symptom of epilepsy, a condition affecting 1% of the population. Seizures are notoriously unpredictable which is why they severely impact people’s lives. It has been hypothesised that people with epilepsy can learn to recognise subjective seizure “warning signs” through systematic interviews. The recognition of these subtle changes in consciousness may help people to increase their safety around seizures, and to regain a sense of control over their unpredictability. I will present preliminary data from (micro)phenomenological interviews with people with epilepsy, and explorative analyses of the neural correlates of these subjective seizure “warning signs”. The combination of phenomenological and neural data has the potential to help to improve data-based seizure prediction algorithms and is a clinical implementation of the neurophenomenological paradigm proposed by Francisco Varela. It shows how phenomenological and biological data can be used complementarily, and greatly advance our understanding and management of neurological conditions. But is the field of medicine ready to include first-person accounts in diagnosis and treatment? I will close on a short exploration of why it may (not) be.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Fuchs (Heidelberg University)
Metaphors in the phenomenological psychopathological interview
Metaphor plays a central role in the articulation of extraordinary experiences, as they are examined especially in phenomenological interviews on schizophrenia. Everyday language terms that allow to communicate the pre-reflexive experience of, for example, abnormal bodily sensations or foreign influences are not readily available. For this reason, patients often resort to metaphors in order to linguistically approach the primary quality of their experiences. These metaphors are usually derived from normal basic bodily experiences and are used in the "as-if" mode to articulate the abnormal experience. However, different problems occur in the process:
(1) The adequacy of the metaphor must be tested in a back and forth movement between linguistic articulation and remembered primary experience. This requires a high degree of introspection and verbalization on the part of the patient, and a special empathy and psychopathological experience on the part of the interviewer.
(2) The more unusual the metaphors, the more abnormal the still inarticulated experience as a rule; however, this also pushes metaphor to its limits, both for the patient with regard to his or her self-articulation and for the interviewer with regard to his or her understanding.
(3) The more the "as-if" of metaphor gives way under the affective pressure of psychotic experience, the more the metaphorical becomes a concretistic or delusional statement and thus acquires a new status compared to the articulation of primary experiences.
These problems of a first-person description of psychopathological experiences will be examined more closely in the lecture and illustrated with examples.
Prof. James Morley, PhD (Ramapo College of New Jersey)
The idea of a phenomenological psychology: history and prospectus.
This presentation will offer a general introduction to the field of phenomenological psychology. We will briefly survey its philosophical origins in 19th an early 20th century and its post-war renewal in American humanistic psychology and its institutionalization at Duquesne University from the 1960’s to the 90’s. Then, we will historically position phenomenological psychology vis a vis the recent appearance of qualitative methodologies within contemporary psychology. The main part of the talk, however, will be about the methodology itself and how the existential disciplinary needs of psychology necessitated a modification of Husserlian philosophical method. While maintaining fidelity to the core epistemological foundations of phenomenology, i.e. the principle of direct intuition, phenomenological psychology proceeds with different goals and concerns. Here, philosophy will be positioned as an essential foundational discipline to a human science psychology but not one of disciplinary sovereignty over psychology. The role of the epoche’, the psychological reduction and eidetic variation will be discussed in terms of the unique needs of the social sciences as compared to philosophical phenomenology. Finally, the twin methodological features of description and interpretation will be presented as congruent actions mutual to one another depending on the setting and sequence within the research process. Time permitting, models of concrete methods and research results will be briefly presented.
Prof. Claire Petitmengin, PhD (Institut Mines-Télécom, Paris)
Enaction as a lived experience
In this talk I will distinguish two interpretations and implementations of "neurophenomenology": a light or "mild" neurophenomenology, which aims at building correlations between first-person descriptions and neural recordings, and tries to evaluate the validity of first-person descriptions through objective criteria; and a deep or radical neurophenomenology, which aims at investigating the process of co-constitution of the subjective and objective poles - that Francisco Varela called "enaction" - within lived experience, and tries to evaluate first-person descriptions through processual criteria. I will argue that while mild neurophenomenology does not solve "the hard problem of consciousness", radical neurophenomenology solves it by dissolving it.
Prof. Joëlle Proust, PhD (Institut Jean-Nicod, Paris)
On the predictive and motivating roles of metacognitive experiences
Our subjective experiences of thinking are generated when we try to learn, to perceptually discriminate, to remember, to solve problems, etc. Based on experimental work on metacognition, it has been claimed that conscious noetic feelings (such as the feeling of knowing, of being right, of understanding) have the function of evaluating the feasibility and correctness of an ongoing cognitive action in order to guide cognitive decision-making. Another type of subjective experience entertained while acting mentally, cognitive goal indexing, might have the function of keeping executive attention focused on the present task until it is completed. These two forms of cognitive phenomenology will be compared and discussed as to the specific role that consciousness might have in cognitive decision-making in each case. It will be defended that consciousness is associated with key elements in the semantic structure of predictive affordance sensings.
Prof. Dr. Christian Tewes (Alanus University, Campus Mannheim)
Categorial Phenomenal Concepts: A Transcendental Approach to Cognitive Phenomenology
In contrast to other research fields, Cognitive Phenomenology is mainly concerned with the question of whether phenomenal mental experiences exist which are not reducible to the sensory realm. Proponents of Cognitive Phenomenology refer, for instance, to such experiences as suddenly understanding a passage of text, a mathematical proof or the punchline of a joke to argue for the existence of non-sensory mental content. This and similar approaches have given rise to a number of counterarguments. Opponents often try to explain away any constitutive effect of concepts on phenomenal experience, indeed explain away experiential-based access to such entities altogether. In the first part of my talk, I argue that these counterarguments do not get off the ground, for logical and phenomenological reasons. Purely sensory features or subpersonal processes are not the right sort of entities to explain our cognitive understanding and insights, which on the contrary are based on our use of concepts and propositions at the personal level. In order to show this, a transcendental and phenomenological approach to categorial thinking is presented to justify my claim. I close my talk with an outlook on how a further understanding of categorial thinking could profit from a microphenomenological exploration of the categorial conceptual realm.
Prof. Max Velmans (Goldsmiths University of London)
An Inclusive Paradigm for the Study of Consciousness
To understand the ontology of consciousness one has to start with an accurate description of its phenomenology. However, substance dualism and materialist reductionism adopt shared theoretical presuppositions about the phenomenology of consciousness that do not correspond to that phenomenology, which is viewable only from a first-person perspective. Consequently, the age-old dualist vs. reductionist dispute about the ontology of consciousness can never be resolved. Conversely, an accurate description of conscious phenomenology leads to a very different, reflexive understanding of how consciousness relates to the mind and the physical world, with consequences for how first- and third-person perspectives relate to each other in the study of mental processes, and how to understand the causal interaction of consciousness and brain. A full analysis of the consequences also leads to reflexive monism, a more inclusive paradigm for the study of consciousness that is as different from classical dualism and materialist reductionism as they are from each other. In this talk, the basic steps required to arrive at this paradigm and some of its major consequences are described.