Phenomenological Methods in Neuroscience and Consciousness Research

Thursday, April 28, 2022, 18:30 - 20:30, University of Zurich, KOH-B-10 (PLEASE NOTE DIFFERENT LECTURE HALL)

Prof. Thomas Metzinger and Prof. Claire Petitmengin

Enaction as a lived experience – towards a radical neuro-phenomenology
The founding idea of neurophenomenology is that in order to progress in the understanding of the human mind, it is indispensable to integrate a disciplined study of human experience in cognitive neuroscience, an integration which is also presented as a methodological remedy for the “hard problem” of consciousness.

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 the 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, radical neurophenomenology solves it by dissolving it.

Claire Petitmengin is currently Professor Emerita in Philosophy at the Institut Mines-Télécom and member of the Archives Husserl, Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Her research focuses on the usually unrecognized dynamics of lived experience and “micro-phenomenological” methods enabling us to become aware of it and highlight its essential structures. She studies the epistemological conditions of these methods, as well as their educational, therapeutic, artistic and contemplative applications. She currently devotes herself to exploring the links between the ecological crisis and our blindness to our lived experience. She has written numerous scientific articles and two books: L’expérience intuitive, and Le chemin du milieu: Introduction à la vacuité dans la pensée bouddhiste indienne. She also edited Ten years of viewing from within: The legacy of Francisco Varela, which commemorates the tenth anniversary of the publication of The View from Within, wherein Francisco Varela designed the foundations of a research program on lived experience.

The Puzzle of "Pure" Consciousness – Minimal Phenomenal Experience: An Introduction into a new Research Initiative
This talk will give an introduction into a new approach to consciousness, trying out a “minimal model explanation”. Can the experience of “pure awareness” in meditation serve as a new empirical entry point? Phenomenological and psychometric data show that consciousness can exist without time-representation, without spatial self-location, without a weak first-person perspective, and without any form of egoic self-awareness. One important advantage of the minimal model approach is that it prevents unnecessary details from detracting us from a deeper understanding of our phenomenon of interest. What we call the “first-person perspective” is precisely one such detail: Consciousness is not a subjective phenomenon.

Thomas Metzinger
(*1958 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany) was Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz until 2019. He is past president of the German Cognitive Science Society (2005-2007) and of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (2009-2011). In the English language, he has edited two collections on consciousness (“Conscious Experience”, Imprint Academic, 1995; “Neural Correlates of Consciousness”, MIT Press, 2000) and published one major scientific monograph (“Being No One – The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity”, MIT Press, 2003). In 2009, he published a popular book, which addresses a wider audience and discusses the ethical, cultural and social consequences of consciousness research (“The Ego Tunnel – The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self”). Important recent Open Access collections (2015) are Open MIND at and Philosophy and Predictive Processing at (2017). In 2018 Metzinger has been appointed as a member of the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence.