Friday, December 26, 2014

New article on Academic Quarter

Here's my new article, very soon to be published on akademisk kvarter (Academic Quarter). It is titled "Creation between two minded-bodies: Intercorporeality and social cognition."

"akademisk kvarter"

I would like to thank Finn Thorbjørn Hansen and Steen Halling for their editorial work.

Monday, July 7, 2014

International Merleau-Ponty Circle 2014

Again, the time flies... More than a month has passed since I sighed over my busy situation last time…

Well, anyway, today I announce that will participate in the 39th annual conference of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle, which is going to be held in the University of Geneva. My proposal for paper presentation was accepted.

Here I post the English abstract of my paper. I heard that they would print only the French version of it in the conference material, since my original paper was written in English.

Social understanding as a creation: Intercorporeality and Aida

The purpose of this paper is to push forward the so-called interaction theory (IT) in current cognitive science with the aid of two notions: one is Merleau-Ponty’s intercorporeality (intercorporéité) and the other is Kimura’s aida (entre). What these two phenomenologists have in common is that both conceived that our subjectivity is basically action-oriented rather than static and epistemological, and that both tackled the problem of intersubjectivity from this perspective. Briefly sketching the field of social cognition, the central issue has long been the theory of mind (ToM), which is generally defined as “the ability to imagine or make deductions about the mental states of other individuals” (American Psychological Association, 2009). In addition, within the theory itself, there has been ongoing debate between proponents of the theory-theory (TT) and those supporting the simulation theory (ST), regarding the nature of our ability to understand the other mind (cf., Davies & Stone, 1995). The TT claims that we practice our understanding of another’s mind and behavior by referring to common sense kinds of theories, that is, folk psychology (e.g., Astington, 1993; Gopnik, 2009). In contrast, the ST claims that we come to understand another’s mind by self-simulating his/her situation and projecting the result (e.g., Goldman, 2006). The former takes an observational, third-person point of view, whereas the latter takes an introspective, first-person point of view (Fuchs, 2013).
     Different from both theories, the phenomenological approach reframes the question by going back to the basic experiences in the lifeworld, where we directly perceive the other person through interactions, before running an inference or simulation (Gallagher & Zahavi, 2008). In general, we directly perceive intentions in the other’s actions or emotional states in his/her facial expressions (Gallagher, 2008) and we practice embodied interactions based on this understanding in the majority of ordinary intersubjective situations (Gallagher, 2004). For example, if a friend in front of you points a finger in a certain direction, then you will look for the object in that direction. Even during such a minute, non-verbal, but embodied interaction, there are several moments of implicit social understanding (e.g., you know that your friend found something, you know that your friend wants to bring it to your attention, etc.). Thus, insights from phenomenology have brought a second-person perspective based on embodied interactions into the ToM debate, and have formed the IT (e.g., Fuchs, 2013; Fuchs & De Jaegher, 2009; Gallagher, 2004, 2008).
     In this paper, first I revisit the notion of intercorporeality (Merleau-Ponty, 1951/1964, 1960/1964) and argue how it opens up the possibility of social understanding without representing another person’s mental states. The self’s body and that of the other are intertwined through perception and action in an intersubjectively meaningful way. Second, in line with and extending this view, I introduce the notion of aida (Kimura, 1988/2000), which means “in-between” (entre) of two persons. In the process of interpersonal coordination, aida often gains an autonomy with its own rhythm and emotional tone similar to music, through which the self and the other synchronize with each other. On the basis of this notion, it is possible to describe that our practice of social understanding is a process of creation through embodied interactions.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

new article on ENCYCLOPAIDEIA

Time flies...  More than two months have passed since I updated this blog last time. And today as well, I barely manage to update just for an announcement...

Recently, my new article was published in ENCLOPAIDEIA, the Journal of Phenomenology and Education ( As the editors ran a special feature on embodiment and pedagogy in no.37, I also joined as one of the contributors. I would like to give thanks to Prof. Tarozzi and other editors for the invitation.

Here I paste the top page of my article ("The Notion of Embodied Knowledge and its Range"), where you can read the abstract. The journal is available online at Bononia University Press.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Colloquium on Autism

Perhaps it is too late to announce here... but this Wednesday we will hold an extended colloquium on autism in the University of Heidelberg. It is titled;

"New Ethical Issues on Autism"

It is not oriented to phenomenology but (neuro)ethical issues. In recent years, oxytocin injections are gaining attention as a possible therapy for Autism. Relevant research results suggest that the administration of oxytocin is effective to decrease repetitive behaviors and increase socially engaging behaviors in ASD. However, serious ethical concerns are raised around this new therapy.

No doubt that it will be a very nice opportunity to share discussions on therapy, medical treatment, early intervention, diagnosis and related ethical issues of autism!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hypersensitivity in autism

It is often said that people with autism suffer for sensory problems called “hypersensitivity”: the sensory awareness is too acute, and the taste, smell, touch, hearing, vision, etc. becomes heightened and often overwhelming, or sometimes fascinating. Have a look at this page, for example:

In the books by Donna Williams or Temple Grandin who reported their own experience of autism, we can find vivid descriptions of hypersensitivity.

“When left alone, I would often space out and become hypnotized. I could sit for hours on the beach watching sand dribbling through my fingers. I’d study each individual grain of sand as it flowed between my fingers. Each grain was different, and I was like a scientist studying the grains under a microscope. As I scrutinized their shapes and contours, I went into a trance which cut me off from the sights and sounds around me.”[Grandin, T. (2006). Thinking in pictures. New York: Bloomsbury, p. 34]

“I learned eventually to lose myself in anything I desired – the patterns on the wallpaper or the carpet, the sound of something over and over again, the repetitive hollow sound I’d get from tapping my chin. Even people become no problem. Their words became a mumbling jumble, their voices a pattern of sounds. I could look through them until I wasn’t there, and then, later, felt that I had lost myself in them.”[Williams, D. (1992). Nobody nowhere. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, p. 11]

It seems that the unity of sensations in object perception is dismantled and one specific sensation becomes heightened (tactile sensation of the sand, visual pattern of the wallpaper, sound pattern of the voice, etc.). In line with this, it also seems that the object perception loses its ordinary meaning. Sands are just “shapes and contours” to look at, the wallpaper is mere visual “patterns”, and human voices are no more than “a pattern of sounds”.

Hypersensitivity is very curious because it happens as if the perception is dissociated into “pure sensation”, which is not supposed to exist in phenomenology of perception. We always already perceive something as “something” (i.e., a certain object), and nothing appears as mere sense data such as color-data, tone-date, pressure, warmth and so on (e.g., Merleau-Ponty, 1945).

However, one specific sensation of the object becomes heightened in hypersensitivity, and the perceived object seems to lose its meaning as “something”. Furthermore, the perceiving subject is somehow “hypnotized” or “lost” in sensation. There is no ordinary distinction between the perceiving subject and the perceived object. As the title of Williams’ book indicates, there is nobody who perceives, neither the perceived object. Only the undifferentiated sensation seems to be left in the middle of nowhere.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Demonstration by Heider and Simmel

This visual demonstration was used in Heider and Simmel's classic experiment. (Video from youtube by Michael Smith-Welch. Thanks.)
[Heider, F., & Simmel, M. (1944). An experimental study of apparent behaviour. American Journal of Psychology, 13.]

According to them, most of the observers attribute some sort of "human-like agency" to the geometrical figures and imagine a story about the circle and the little triangle "being in love". And the big and "bad" triangle tries to "steal away" the circle.

Why do we naturally attribute such an agency or a sort of intentionality to these figures? Because their movements are similar to those of humans? Or, because of the whole pattern of stories? We can project a certain story onto the relation between three geometrical figures, which is accordance with human social behaviors?

Neither would be true. (1) We naturally find the intentionality to the animals' movements that are not similar to humans. (2) We also naturally see the intentionality to the infants who still cannot behave in a social way.

Then, how do you explain?

I found that Shaun Gallagher tried to give an account to this experiment, from the "interactionist" point of view;
I perceive the movement as something with which I could interact to some end. One could easily picture a larger scale virtual reality where I, as a human subject, am in the scene with the geometrical figures, and where I could intervene, play the game in a meaningful way, so to speak, for example, to prevent one figure from 'chasing' another. This possibility for intervention on my part is what I see in their movement as meaningful, and what constitutes the basis for my attribution of intentionality.
[Gallagher, S. (2012). Phenomenology. Palgrave-macmillan, p. 79] 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Translation work

My Japanese translation of "Enactive Intersubjectivity" was published.

The original article is;
Fuchs, T., and De Jaegher, H. (2009). Enactive Intersubjectivity: Participatory sense-making and mutual incorporation. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8, 465-486.

It is downloadable at Pr. Fuchs's webpage.

The Japanese translation was included in;
Ishihara, K., and Inahara, M. (Eds.) Philosophy of Disability & Coexistence: Body, Narrative, and Community, UTCP-Uehiro Booklet 2 (pp.193-221). Tokyo: University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy, 2013

The booklet is downloadable at the page below.

The original article is very insightful and exciting, trying to give a new and enactive account to the problem of social cognition and intersubjectivity.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Notes on Aida (7)

Two types of aida – the natural and the social – might be understood continuously.

For a living organism in general, the surrounding environment always contains other organisms as well. For animals or human beings, the environment involves other individuals of the same species, and thus potentially has a social aspect from the start. If we acknowledge the implicit self in the subjectivity of living organism, we can also say that the environment contains the implicit others, which corresponds to the implicit self.

The first aida (a gap in the nature) bring forth the biological subjectivity and the implicit self, and the implicit self keeps its coherence through coping with the environmental changes. But there might be a critical moment for the implicit self to differentiate itself from the implicit others, after which both the self and the other become explicit. In this manner, the second aida (the social gap) arises from the first.

As Kimura writes, transposing the idea of Gestaltkreis into the second type of aida (between the self and the other), it is possible to say that the self keeps its coherence through coping with the variable others. Originally, living organisms adapt to the environmental changes through movement, and maintains its subjectivity by that. As an example, consider a person who is running on a machine that gradually increases the speed. She will adapt to the machine by changing her running form. Living organism knows how to deal with the first type of aida through perception and movement.

Probably a similar thing happens when we deal with another individual. As we have already seen, an encounter with another individual brings forth the explicit self and the explicit other, involving the sense of difference. The self tries to cope with the other, by making approaches to the second type of aida, through communication ranging from verbal to nonverbal (music ensemble would be a suitable example for this). If the self manages to regulate the aida, it will keep the coherence as the self even though it changes its character a little.

However, if it fails to regulate the aida, the self faces a serious disorder. According to Kimura, this disorder is the essential feature of schizophrenia. He writes,

The patient narrates her experience relating it with the failure of “aida” or “ma”– “I cannot express myself, I am not myself” – this hits the essence of schizophrenia. In case that the “aida” is not actualized as “aida”, or “ma” is not actualized as “ma”, neither the self is actualized as the self – “Another person rapidly enters and occupies in me, and it becomes impossible for me to recognize another as another human being or another person in a separated manner.”
[Kimura, B. (2005). Aida. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, p.165 (translation by ST)]

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Notes on Aida (6)

Following von Weizsäcker’s view, Kimura finds the ground condition of subjectivity in the activities of living organisms in its relation with the environment; He sees the origin of the mind in life. But this notion of subjectivity does not necessarily presuppose the “self” or “self-consciousness”. How does the biological subjectivity bring forth the “self”? He explains,

The notion of “self” comes into existence only when the noetic subject distinguishes itself from the “other”-as-“non-self” in the noematic aspect of consciousness and establishes its self-belongingness.
[Kimura, B. (2005). Aida. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, p.108 (translation by ST)]

To prevent a possible misunderstanding, it is better to add that the “self” which Kimura explains in this passage is the explicit self-consciousness. When a living organism keeps its subjectivity being related with surrounding environment, the implicit self or pre-reflective self already exists there (just consider a case when we are walking without any deliberation). Kimura himself does not distinguish the implicit self from the explicit one, therefore he writes as if we could equate Weizsäcker’s notion of subjectivity with the state of “no-self”.

In any case, from the perspective of “aida”, the place between the environment and the living organism is what makes possible the subjectivity (implicit self) of every living organism. And both the “self” (explicit self) and the “other” simultaneously come into existence when occurs the difference between the self and the other subject.

So, there are two types of aida. The first one is a gap that is opened up in the nature between each living organism and the surrounding environment. And the second one is a gap between the self and the other, which has a social meaning. As I chose the word “gap”, Kimura stresses the difference between the self and the other, rather than the similarity or familiarity.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Notes on Aida (5)

Let’s continue to examine what Kimura claims about music ensemble. The important feature of the ensemble experience is that the virtual place between persons gains its autonomy through interactions. He also writes,

In an ensemble, the whole echoing music has got an auto-productive autonomy, which is independent of each individual player’s will, freely “anticipates” the subsequent sound to come by its own (virtual) noetic intentionality and each player seems to follow it realizing this “anticipation”.
[Kimura, B. (2005). Aida. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, p.55 (translation by ST)]

Thus, aida in music ensemble functions as the “inter-subject”, which coordinates each player’s performance. Since he describes the subjectivity of the living organisms in general as “the noetic”, he terms this “inter-subject” function of aida as “the meta-noetic” or “the meta-noesis”.

What Kimura claims would not necessarily be limited to the experience of music ensemble. In fact, he tries to illustrate the experience of giving a public lecture or reading a book from the same perspective.

What we can find here is the “double subjectivity” of the self. Through interactions between a person and a person, a certain context emerges (Kimura names this context as “ma”) and the context itself starts to function as the second – but virtual – subjectivity which anticipates and regulates the each subject’s action.

So, on the one hand, the self as a “subject” (the noetic) takes a certain action (e.g., creating a sound). On the other hand, the self as a part of “inter-subject” (the meta-noetic) takes a certain action, which is anticipated by the interactional context.

Notes on Aida (4)

As I wrote before, Kimura takes up the experience of music ensemble as an example to consider the function of aida, which influences both the subjectivity and the intersubjectivity.

In an ideal case, an ensemble is not guided by the score or conducted by an expert. Each player performs her own part spontaneously, but the sum of the performances forms the harmonious music as a whole. How is it possible?

Each player performs the part, according to her own “noetic” and “noematic” (see the previous note). Moment by moment, she would create a sound (“noetic”), based on the feedback from the already sounded part (“noematic” as retention), as well as the feedforward from the yet to be sounded part (“noematic” as protention). In doing so, she maintains her own subjectivity as a performer.

Such individual contribution of each player is necessary but insufficient to bring a harmony among various performed parts. They start to form “one” music, when they are well interlaced in the tempo, melody, and accent. The performed music gains its own autonomy beyond each player’s spontaneity.

According to Kimura, this autonomy which generates through music ensemble is an paradigmatic example of “aida”. Aida originally appears as the intersubjectivity between persons, but once gained autonomous, it starts to regulate each player’s performance based on its “subjectivity”, as is seen in ensemble.

In contrast to a sole play, in an ensemble a harmonious music takes place of each player’s “noematic”. And the music as a whole becomes auto-productive and starts to indicate what to be sound in the subsequent moment. In other words, the performed music gains the “noetic” of its own which regulates each player’s “noetic”, even though she feels to be performing spontaneously.