Saturday, December 22, 2012

The meaning of having a body

The ‘Brain-in-a-vat’ thought experiment (Putnam, 1982) tells us the meaning of having a body. If a brain surgeon removes someone’s brain from the body, place it in a vat full of life-sustaining liquid and connect it to the computer providing electrical impulses through wires that are identical to those a brain normally receives…then what happens?

Of course it is important whether the brain will have the ordinary conscious states or not. But even if so, the brain-in-a-vat (removed from the body) still includes bodily dimensions that cannot be eradicated. According to Legrand (2010), there are four kinds of such dimensions.
[Legrand, D. (2010). Myself with No Body? Body, Bodily-Consciousness and Self-consciousness. In S. Gallagher and D. Schmicking (eds.) Handbook of Phenomenology and Cognitive Science. Springer.]

1. EXPERIENTIAL Dimension: If the surgery does not alter the conscious experience, this means that the subject would experience the body equally after the surgery. The body is eliminated but the bodily-consciousness is not.

2. ANATOMICAL Dimension: The vat is full of necessary nutriments, which allows the brain’s life-regulation. The life-sustaining liquid substitutes the roles of physiological functions and anatomical structure of the body.

3. SENSORIMOTOR Dimension: The computer connected to the brain would create perceptual and kinesthetic experiences. That would substitute the sensorimotor dimension of the real body.

4. NEURONAL Dimension: Corporeal representation in the brain (body representation, body map, body image, etc.) would be still present in the brain after the surgery.

Thus, the thought experiment totally contradicts the experimenter’s original intention of disembodiment. The brain-in-a-vat as a ‘disembodied brain’ paradoxically affirms the being of the various bodily dimensions.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Communication Experiment

In our research lab. we are carrying out an experiment on nonverbal communication, using spontaneous drawing. Participants are asked to communicate with each other, not by language but by free drawing.

It's interesting to observe how the drawing process unfolds, of course, but what is more interesting is to know how two bodies interact with each other through nonverbal signals: facial expressions and eye gaze, hand movements, postural changes, etc. Bodies are silent but talkative.

I've edited a sample movie of a trial run. Please have a look at it.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Access Problem

About the Theory of Mind debate, it is known that both theories (theory theory and simulation theory) share the same assumptions despite their differences. One of them is the "Access Problem", that is, both TT and ST set the central problem as that of gaining access to other minds that are hidden behind the observable behaviors.

How should we deal with the access problem? Shaun Gallagher says:

[T]he basic claim that I will defend is that in most intersubjective situations we have a direct understanding of another person’s intentions because their intentions are explicitly expressed in their embodied actions, and mirrored in our own capabilities for action. For the most part this understanding does not require the postulation of some belief or desire that is hidden away in the other person's mind, since what we might reflectively or abstractly call their belief or desire is expressed directly in their behavior.
[Gallagher, S. (2005). How the Body Shapes the Mind. p.224]

This is true. However, if we stress too much the impact of direct social understanding, we are easily inclined to conclude that it is able to remove the access problem from the research agenda. This cannot be the "solution" to the problem of other minds. The experience of the other person does NOT always provide us with a FULL understanding of that person's mind. A comprehensive account of social cognition, even though it admits the possibility of direct understanding of the others based on the direct social perception, should address to and give an account to the access problem.
[cf., Miyahara, K. (unpublished). Direct social perception and the problem of access to other minds.]

How is it possible? Going back to the experience itself, there are even cases that the deeper experience of the other I have, the more undecipherable she appears...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

IHSRC 2013

Yesterday, I received the newsletter of International Human Science Research Conference from Prof. Steen Halling of Seattle University.

If you are interested, please follow the link below to read it. IHSR Conference is one of the major international conference oriented to phenomenological research in psychology, education, nursing and other related fields.

In 2013, the conference will be held in Aalborg University (Denmark), from August 13-16. The conference theme is "Creativity in Human Science Research, Methodology and Theory".

See you in Denmark!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

direct understanding of other minds

Today, at the annual convention of Japanese Psychological Association, there was a lecture on mirror neurons by Prof. Giacomo Rizzolatti. The title and the summary of his talk was as follows:

"The Mirror Neuron Mechanism and Its Role in Understanding Others"
Mirror neurons are a set of neurons that discharge both when the monkey executes a specific motor act and when it observes another individual doing a similar act. In the first part of my talk, I will review the basic functional properties of monkey frontal mirror neurons. I will describe first their motor properties. I will show that, as most neurons in the premotor cortex, mirror neurons code the goal of a motor act. I will review then their visual properties showing that mirror neurons represent mechanism that allows a direct understanding of what the agent is doing. I will present then evidence that also humans possess the mirror mechanism and that the anatomical location of mirror networks of the monkeys and of humans closely coincide. I will conclude discussing some clinical and social implications of these findings. (p.35 of the JPA2012 program)

As he quoted a related passage from Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception, after the lecture I personally asked him about the possibility of direct understanding of other minds. As far as I understand, Merleau-Ponty seems to think that we understand other minds based on the direct perception of others' behaviors such as goal-oriented actions, or gestures and facial expressions in certain situations.

In today's lecture, Rizzolatti pointed out that the mirror neuron mechanism of humans serves not only for understanding intentions of others' actions, but also for understanding the others' emotional states such as pleasure, disgust or pain. He suggested the possibility of understanding the others 'from inside'. That's why I asked him about the direct understanding of other minds. His answer was very positive.

As is well known, about the understanding of other minds, there has been a debate between theory-theory and the simulation-theory and the mirror neuron mechanism has been interpreted as a kind of implicit or subpersonal simulation. He was negative to this kind of interpretation. He suggested the possibility of direct understanding of other minds, not being mediated by theoretical inferences or inner simulations, but by 'mirroring' through neurons. "It is not my idea", he said, "neuron says so".

I was so satisfied with his answers!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Workshop Information

I made an independent page for our workshop information.
Please see the "Embodiment and Intersubjectivity" page.
I am sure that it will be a very exciting event.
If you are in Tokyo on 7th October, please participate in our discussion!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

CW of Yasuo Yuasa

This is the volume 14 of the collected works of Yasuo Yuasa.
It's pretty heavy and thick like a brick, but worth reading yet!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Current Concept of the Social Cognition

I have been reading an article on intersubjectivity today.

>>> Fuchs, T., & De Jaegher, H. (2009). Enactive intersubjectivity: Participatory sense-making and mutual incorporation. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8: 465-486.

They appropriately point out and summarize the theoretical problems included in the current concept of social cognition. There are four points as follows:

1. 'Inner world' hypothesis
Theory of mind approaches (including both theory theory and simulation theory) conceive of the mental as an inner realm separated from others.

2. Missing interaction
ToM approaches focus on one-way, removed social situations and lack interactions in the second-person perspective.

3. Missing embodiment
Current social cognitive science largely assumes a disembodied sender-rceiver relation between two Cartesian minds. (That's really funny but true)

4. Missing development
There is increasing evidence that the neuronal systems develop only through social interactions. However, the current explanation of social cognition by brain modules or mirror neuron systems remains static.

In the end, we need to describe and explain the intersubjectivity based on embodied interactions. We need an 'embodied theory of mind', so to speak.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Baby's Intercorporeality

While reading "The Philosophical Baby" by Alison Gopnik, I found the following passage on an interesting experiment.

The psychologist Susan Johnson endowed a very clearly nonhuman thing, a sort of brown robotic blob, with the ability to react contingently to a baby. When the baby made a noise, the blob chirped, and when the baby moved, the blob lit up, and so forth. A second identical blob made the same chirps and lit up the same way but did so in a way that was entirely unrelated to what the baby did. The events were the same, but the statistical relations between the events were different---the chirps were correlated with the babies’ actions in one case but not the other.
   Then each blob turned so that one end of it faced away from the baby and toward an object. The babies turned to follow the "gaze" of the reactive blob but not the unreactive blob. They seemed to think that the reactive blob could see. And the babies babbled and gestured more at the blob that interacted with them than at the blob that didn't.
[Gopnik, A. (2009). The Philosophical Baby. New York: Picador, p.98.]

It seems that the babies tend to differentiate people and things, based on the possibility of interaction. The baby was able to establish the circular relation of interaction with the 'reactive' blob, but not with the 'unreactive' blob. The baby acts and the blob reacts, then the baby reacts and the blob reacts again.... Here, the perception of the blob's action solicits the baby's action, and vice versa. Clearly, there is the intercorporeality between the baby and the 'active' blob.

Differentiating the animated beings from things in general is a question whether we are able to establish the intercorporeal relation with them. It's not a question whether they have the minds or not.

Monday, June 4, 2012

ISTP 2013

A few days ago I received the information on the ISTP conference. They accept proposals for discussion frames (symposia, workshops, etc.) until July 30th. If there is anyone who wish to make a proposal with me, please e-mail me!


C a l l   f o r   P a p e r s


The International Society for Theoretical Psychology (ISTP)
will hold its 15th Biennial conference in Santiago, Chile.

Dates: May 3-7, 2013
The conference will be hosted by two universities in Santiago, Chile:
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Universidad Alberto Hurtado.

Keynote speakers
Eugene Matusov (University of Delaware)
Pablo Fernández Christlieb (UNAM)

Deadline for submission of discussion frames: July 30th, 2012.
Deadline for submission of presentation proposals: November 30th.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Susan Stuart's "Enkinaesthesia" is a very attractive notion. Let's check the outline of her idea.

Enkinaesthesia emphasizes two things: (i) the neuromuscular dynamics of the agent, including the givenness and ownership of its experience, and (ii) the entwined, blended and situated co-affective feeling of the presence of the other(s), agential (for example, human, horse, cat, beetle) and non-agential (for example, cup, bed, apple, paper) and, where appropriate, the anticipated arc of the other's action or movement, including, again where appropriate, the other's intentionality. When the 'other' is also a sensing and experiencing agent it is their - in this case, the pair's - affective intentional reciprocity, their folding, enfolding, and unfolding, which co-constitutes the conscious relation and the experientially recursive temporal dynamics that lead to the formation and maintenance of the deep integral enkinaesthetic structures and melodies which bind us together, even when they pull us apart. Such deeply felt enkinaesthetic melodies emphasize the dialogical nature of the backgrounded feeling of being.
[Stuart, S (2012). Enkinaesthsia: the essential sensuous background for co-agency. In Z. Radman. (Ed.), Knowing without Thinking, Palgrave Macmillan, p.167]

The self and the other has its own agency respectively, however, there is the background dimension that makes each agency possible. This dimension is mainly kinaesthetic and affective, since we mutually understand the intentionality of actions through our motor capacity. Enkinaesthesia is so-called and opposed to the word ‘Interkinaesthesia’ because it emphasizes the direct and non-dual experience of the other.

As Stuart also recognizes, Husserl’s theory of the Other, especially the theory of “Pairing” (Paarung), tried to describe that kind of dimension but his attempt was not enough successful.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Disembodied Cognition?

Our cognition can be disembodied? There is a common thought experiment of this kind.

"Let's start with a fully cognizing human being who is complete in body and mind, and ask what we could subtract while still retaining a cognizing mind."

What do you think?

Getting rid of the legs, the arms, the trunk, the neck... We often come to the 'brain-in-a-vat' conclusion.

Given that "we can directly stimulate the parts of the brain responsible for registering sensory information and thereby, supposedly, have exactly the same experience we would have if our sensory organs were delivering that information."

In fact, however, we can go one step forward to the pure functionalist view: "not only is the body unnecessary for experience and cognition, but we don't even need the brain, as long as we have the program and information running on the right kind of hardware."

Quotations are from:
[Gallagher, S. and Zahavi, D. (2012). The Phenomenological Mind (2nd edition). New York: Routledge, pp.147-8.]

But we should notice that there must be another kind of body and world in either case.

The brain needs the nutrition water to be kept alive, the electrodes which gives the sensory inputs, and the vat to float on. The brain is embodied with electrodes and situated in the vat.

The computer program or artificial neural network also needs to be installed on the appropriate hardware, and the hardware needs to be placed in the real world.

They both need to be embodied and situated, in the same manner as our mind is embodied and situated, in order to realize the cognition.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Imaginative Self-Transposal

I wrote on this blog before about the similarity between Husserl's notion of Empathy(Einfühlung) and the simulation theory of mind.

Husserl's theory of the Other (4)

There is another Husserlian term called "sich Hineinphantasieren"(imaginative self-transposal), which is parallel to the notion of simulation. Let me quote the following passage by Natalie Depraz (2001).

Imaginative self-transposal deals with the cooperative encounter of our embodied psychic states, as Spiegelberg named this second stage of empathy after Husserl (Spiegelberg, 1971; 1995).
     Again, Husserl has a name for such a second stage. He calls it sich Hineinphantasieren. I am here and I imagine I am going there to the place where you are just now; conversely, you are here (the there where I am going to) and you imagine you are going there, to the place where I am (my here). Literally, we are exchanging places at the same time: through imagined kinaesthetic bodily exchanging we are able to exchange our psychic states. Such a second stage is highly embodied, because it relies upon a concretely dynamical spatializing of imagining.
[Depraz, N. (2001). Husserlian theory of intersubjectivity as alterity. in E. Thompson (Ed.), Between Ourselves: Second-person issues in the study of consciousness, p.173]

You perceive the world, have the variety of feelings and think what to do next, being there (my 'there'). In the same way, I perceive the world, have the feelings and think what to do next, being here (your 'there'). The exchangeability of my here and your here is the ground condition of imaginative self-transposal.

Imagine when you are playing chess with your friend, for example. You will easily understand what Husserl meant by the term "sich Hineinphantasieren". You play chess with partner by virtually exchanging the spatial position and also virtually perceiving, feeling and thinking as your partner does.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Merlau-Ponty on Synesthesia (2)

Merleau-Ponty thinks that we perceive the meaning of the object, where the senses communicate with each other. Through this communication, we hear the sounds with tactile qualities ("soft sound") or we see the objects with softness, warmth or weight ("fragile looking glass"). He says;

By opening up to the structure of the thing, the senses communicate among themselves. We see the rigidity and the fragility of the glass and, when it breaks with a crystal-clear sound, this sound is borne by the visible glass. We see the elasticity of steel, the ductility of molten steel, the hardness of the blade in a plane, and the softness of its shavings....In the movement of the branch from which a bird has just left, we read its flexibility and its elasticity, and this is how the branch of an apple tree and the branch of a birch are immediately distinguished.... Likewise, I hear the hardness and the unevenness of the cobblestones in the sound of a car, and we are right to speak of a "soft," "dull," or "dry" sound....If they are taken as incomparable qualities, then the "givens from the different senses" belong to so many separated worlds - each one, in its specific essence, being a manner of modulating the thing - then they nonetheless all communicate through their meaningful core.
[Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/2012). Phenomenology of Perception. New York: Routledge. p.238-9]

This description is true, but as far as it tries to describe the synesthetic nature of our ordinary perception. But I don't think its true, if it tries to explain the experiences of synesthesia reported by innate synesthetes. Their synesthesia does not seem to be mediated by any meaning but is the direct perception of the objects. The letter 5 looks green, the phone rings sky blue!

Friday, March 2, 2012

paper uploaded

I've uploaded my paper on the embodied knowledge at
It's now available at the URL below.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

new translation

At the end of the last year, new English translation of Merlau-Ponty's "Phenomenology of Perception" (translated by Donald A. Landes) was published.

PP is a must-read for those who really want to understant the embodied mind, the embodied cognition, the embodied knowledge. Merleau-ponty's work is more classical than that of Lakoff and Johnson or James Gibson.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Merleau-Ponty on Synesthesia (1)

For Merleau-Ponty, synesthesia is a phenomenon which requires us to reconsider the paradigm of sensation and perception. He writes;

From the perspective of the objective world with its opaque qualities, or from the objective body with its isolated organs, the phenomenon of synesthesia is paradoxical. The attempt is thus made to explain it without touching the concept of sensation: it will be necessary, for example, to assume that stimulations ordinarily circumscribed within a region of the brain (the optical zone or auditory zone, for instance), become capable of intervening beyond these limits, and that in this way the specific quality is associated with a non-specific quality. Whether or not there are arguments in cerebral physiology for this explanation, it does not account for synesthetic experience, which thus becomes a new opportunity to put the concept of sensation and objective thought into question. For the subject does not tell us merely that he has a sound and a color at the same time: it is the sound itself that he sees, at the place where colors form. This formula is literally rendered meaningless if vision is defined by the visual quale, or sound by the sonorous quale. But it falls us to construct our definitions in such a way as to find a sense for this experience, since the vision of sounds or the hearing of colors exist as phenomena. And they are hardly exceptional phenomena. Synesthetic perception is the rule and, if we do not notice it, this is because scientific knowledge displaces experience and we have unlearned seeing, hearing, and sensing in general in order to deduce what we ought to see, hear, or sense from our bodily organization and from the world as it is conceived by the physicist.
[Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/2012) Phenomenology of Perception. New York: Routledge. p.237-8]

According to Merleau-Ponty, we have to learn to see, hear, and sense once again, by thinking of the meaning of synesthesia.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

unique synesthesia?

I met a student who seemed to have a special kind of synesthesia.

Synesthesia is a mixture of sensations in which stimulation of one sensory system arouses automatic and involuntary sensations in another. There are two popular forms: colored-hearing synesthesia and grapheme-color synesthesia. In the former, sounds are experienced with colors when they are heard (e.g., seeing sombody's voice green), while in the latter, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored (e.g., the number 5 is red). There are also other forms of synesthesia but what is common to all forms is that there occurs the secondary sensation that is not supposed to be aroused physiologically.

In my student's case, a sight of static objects (people, animals, plants and things in general) induces the visual sensation of geometrical figures. For example, one photograph that I presented as a stimulation aroused him the figures like below.

Most of the figures he 'sees' are abstract and geometrical. There seems to be no similarity between the shapes of objects and the figures he sees. His case is as strange as the case of 'the man who tasted shapes', reported by Richard Cytowic.
[Cytowic, R. (2003). The Man Who Tasted Shapes. MIT Press.]

Moreover, I've never heard of the synesthesia of this form. I am even not sure that this could be the synesthesia or not. If you have any information related to this phenomenon, please let me know. I hope to know if there is a case similar to his.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Interpersonal Coordination: Matching and Synchrony

People in conversation highly mesh their bodily movements with each other. For instance, turning their gazes on the same object to share attention, showing similar postures or facial expressions when conversing in tune, synchronizing the speed of speaking or voice inflection, mimicking unconsciously the others' gestures. Conversation is not only the exchange of verbal information but also is the embodied interaction. Nonverbal behavior as embodied interaction probably underpin and facilitate the verbal communications.

Bernieri and Rosenthal conceptualize this kind of behavior meshing as 'interpersonal coordination'. Interpersonal coordination is "the degree to which the behaviors in an interaction are nonrandom, patterned, or synchronized in both timing and form". It can be categorized into two basic types: (1) behavior matching and (2) interactional synchrony.
[Bernieri, F. J. & Rosenthal, R. (1991). Interpersonal coordination: behavior matching and interactional synchrony. in Fundamentals of Nonerbal Behavior. Cambridge U. P., pp.401-432.]

1. Behavior matching
Congruence and similarity of physical behavior between interactants. Two people conversing may posture similarly, lean forward and back, or have their arms or legs crossed in the same way. They may appear to be mirrored reflections of each other.

2. Interactional synchrony
Timing aspect of interaction such as shared rhythm, simultaneous movement, and smooth meshing of interaction. Some interactions occur in a rapid fashion, others are slower or more fluid. Based on the shared rhythm, the interactants are entrained to a certain behavioral cycle and show the simultaneous movements in body orientation, postural change, gaze, vocal activity, facial expressions and so forth. This synchronization enables to mesh interactions of each other.

From the phenomenological side, interpersonal coordination in communication might be re-interpreted from the viewpoint of intercorporeality.