Saturday, December 2, 2017

a brief guide: "Ecology of the Brain"


Thomas Fuchs (forthcoming)
Ecology of the Brain: The phenomenology and biology of the embodied mind.
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

"Ecology of the brain" is a book that tries to understand the proper role of the brain as a part of the living organism. In the current neuroscience (or rather, neurophilosophy) there is a wide-spread tendency to overemphasize the importance of the brain, as if it were creating our authorship of actions, the sense of self, and the consciousness itself.

Although it is obvious that the brain plays an important role in our cognitive lives, the brain itself is originally an organ that is embedded in the living body. And the body maintains itself as a living being by interacting with its surrounding environment.

If so, as the author himself writes, the brain is to be understood as "an organ of relation and interaction: with the body itself, with the immediate environment of the organism, and with the social and cultural environment of the lifeworld." And this idea would re-explicate the relationship between "mind" and "brain." Both mind and brain would be regarded as dual aspects of the living being.

Focusing on the body itself, we notice that it originally has two properties. The body appears as a material thing on the one hand, but it appears as a living subject of experience on the other. In phenomenology, the former aspect of the body is referred to as "Körper (the material body)", and the latter as "Leib (the lived body)." In this regard, the primary locus of self-consciousness is not the brain, but the body. In terms of mind-body problem, the brain is a part of "Körper" and the mind corresponds to the functions of "Leib."

As I informed you already in this blog, I am going to organize an online reading group. In it, let us consider how the author opens up a new view on consiousness and cognition on the basis of his ecological view of the brain. Please send me an e-mail (shg.tanaka<a>gmail.com) if you are interested in joining the group.


Friday, November 24, 2017

a very important book

... will be published soon by Oxford University Press.
 
 
 
Is there anyone who wants to read this book and share discussions? I am planning on organizing an online reading group (using Skype or Google Hangout). Please send me an e-mail if you are interested in joining us. As the book will be published in December 14th, I would like to start the activity in the end of December. Send me an e-mail to shg.tanaka<a>gmail.com for further questions.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Symposium in ISTP 2017

Next month, the 17th Biennial Conference of International Society for Theoretical Psychology will be held in Tokyo.

[The 17th Biennial Conference of The ISTP at Rikkyo University, Tokyo, August 21 - August 25, 2017]

Here I share the information on our symposium scheduled on August 24th, from 11:00 to 12:30.

[Symposium]
Quest for new methods in phenomenological psychology

[Speakers]
- Darren Langdridge (The Open University, United Kingdom)
- Tsuneo Watanabe (Toho University, Japan)
- Shogo Tanaka (Tokai University, Japan)

[Discussant]
- Masayoshi Morioka (Ritsumeikan University, Japan)
 
[Aim and Scope]
Phenomenological psychology is understood as a psychological project for investigating the structure and the meanings of lived experiences of people as they are given in the Lifeworld. As its general methods, the researcher interviews participants who have a particular experience, and then, analyzes participants’ descriptions to explicate the structure of the experience (descriptive method), or interprets the narrated stories to understand the meanings of the experience (interpretative method). Diverse topics have been investigated so far including the experiences of empathy, mourning, parenting, and physical diseases, among others. Though the details of research methods are different in diverse schools, priority is given to interview data narrated by participants, because the research is oriented to understanding lived experiences from the first-person perspective. This symposium addresses theoretical problems related to this primary topic and investigates new research methods in phenomenological psychology. There are certain related questions: How can the researcher understand the experience of a participant that has a different perspective? What can the researcher do when a participant does not seem to communicate the experience as it is given, because of the influence of particular beliefs and preconceptions? Is it allowed to posit that the interview is a collaborative experience of both the participant and the researcher because they create the data together through dialogue? Is it possible to design studies in phenomenological psychology that do not use interviews? The panelists will refer to these fundamental questions, by showing examples from their own research methods.

[Abstract 1] Darren Langdridge (The Open University, UK)
“Making space for suspicion: introducing a critical narrative methodology”
Phenomenological research methods have developed with a strong theoretical and practical opposition to psychoanalytically informed methodologies. One consequence of this opposition is that practitioners of these methods have sought to distance themselves from the hermeneutic of suspicion (Ricoeur, 1970). They have instead concentrated on a hermeneutic of meaning-recollection or empathy (Ricoeur, 1970), which prioritises the expressed experience of participants. This shift in focus has provided a valuable corrective to the worst excesses of the deterministic hermeneutic of suspicion, which subjugates the participant's experience to that of the researcher. However, one of the major problems in analysing a person's experience is that it is not just expressed in language but also shaped by it. Because of this, we cannot always take what people say at face value, as a direct and faithful account of their experience. I intend to explore the possibility of applying ideas from Paul Ricoeur to the research process and in the process demonstrate how it is possible to account for power and politics within a phenomenological research methodology. To this end, I introduce a relatively new method, Critical Narrative Analysis, which accounts for the effects of language and the lived experience of participants. I argue that this theoretical perspective, which employs imaginative rather than depth hermeneutics, grounded in critical social theory, provides a way forward for phenomenological theory and practice which recognises the need for political critique without imposing deterministic frameworks of meaning onto the data and thus stays true to the phenomenological project.

[Abstract 2] Tsuneo Watanabe (Toho University, Japan)
“Phenomenological elucidation of dreams based on Intentionalities: A new horizon for Husserlian analysis of dreams”
This is a study of dream analysis based on Husserlian intentionalities. This type of analysis, or phenomenological elucidation, is an attempt not only to describe experiences but also to answer the question “why….?” For example, “why is it possible to become someone else in dreams?” Phenomenological elucidation is, nevertheless, neither a scientific explanation nor a psychoanalytical interpretation, but a process of identifying phenomenological structures behind individual examples. In this dream analysis, by comparing each “dream text” with its corresponding “real text”, fundamental phenomenological structural differences were extracted as different kinds of intentionality, which result in answers to the question “why….?” For example, the real text, “I imagine “I am Harry Potter”” is transformed into a dream text “I am Harry Potter”, because “re-presentation (Vergegenwärtigung)” in the real world is transformed into “presentation (Gegenwärtigung)” in the dream world. The reason why “re-presentations” are transformed into “presentations” will be further elucidated based on Husserlian theories of imagination and intersubjectivity. I have used examples from my own “dream-diary” website. Using the investigators’ own reports on their personal websites is expected to facilitated anyone with the ability and motivation to describe their own experiences, as well as “professionals”, to participate in phenomenological investigations, not only as participants but also as investigators. The phenomenological difference between exclusively using descriptions of investigators’ own experiences and, as is used in many studies, relying on others’ experiences will be discussed in conclusion.

[Abstract 3] Shogo Tanaka (Tokai University, Japan)
“Psychological experiments as a sort of imaginative variation”
In this symposium, I would like to consider possible connections between phenomenology and psychological experiments. Major approaches in phenomenological psychology emphasize the importance of interviews in research practice because data collected through interviews are the primary descriptions of lived experiences. However, phenomenological research does not constitute only of descriptions but of exploring the invariable structure of lived experiences. Husserl himself emphasized the importance of using the method of imaginative variation in this step. In my opinion, diverse results of psychological experiments can be utilized to expand the possibilities of imaginative variation. For example, Merleau-Ponty described how the lived body extends its sensitivity by incorporating tools into it. According to his view, using tools through dynamic interactions with the environment, in other words, incorporating tools through bodily movements, is the essence of this phenomenon. However, experiments on the rubber hand illusion show that simultaneous input of visual and tactile stimuli is the primary condition for inducing extensions of sensitivity and that movement is unnecessary. Generally speaking, psychological experiments have the advantage of controlling diverse conditions inherent in experiences as independent variables in experimental settings. They do not serve to describe lived experiences themselves but serve to elucidate conditions of certain experiences. In this sense, psychological experiments can inform theoretical investigations in phenomenology, especially in the process of identifying structures of lived experiences through imaginative variation.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

summary of an article on the sense of agency

Here I share the summary of the recent review article on the sense of agency, authored by Patrick Haggard.
  • Haggard, P. (2017). Sense of agency in the human brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. doi: 10.1038/nm.2017.14

There are 8 sections in this article excluding introduction and conclusion.

1) Defining the sense of agency
In the first section, the author confirms the definition of the sense of agency. He writes, “the sense of agency is the feeling of making something happen.” And he also adds, “it is the experience of controlling one’s own motor acts and, through them, the course of external events.” According to the author, the sense of agency requires an action, and the subsequent outcome. Through overall article, he emphasizes that the association between a voluntary action and an outcome underlies the sense of agency.

2) Measuring the sense of agency
In the second section, the author explains that there are two different methods used to measure the sense of agency.
  • One is the explicit method. In an experimental setting, the participant is shown a certain image of hand movement which could be one’s own movement or another person’s movement. After watching it, the participant is asked to attribute it to the self or the other.
  • The other one is the implicit method, so-called “intentional binding.” The participant is asked to put the key voluntarily or involuntarily by TMS and listen to the sound after 250 mili-seconds. As a result, the participants report that the timespan between the putting action and the sound feels shorter, when they perform the action in a voluntary manner. So, the extent of binding can be considered as a quantitative marker for the sense of agency.
It is important to note that the author remarks that the sense of agency measured by an explicit manner and that measured by an implicit manner are different. (Though the former is social, the latter is intra-personal). And the relationship between them are to be explored further in the future investigations.

3) Cognitive processes that drive agency
In the third section, the author explains the cognitive processes that drive the sense of agency. In the first phase of agency, there are two important aspects; volition and action selection. As we know through intentional binding experiment, the voluntary action is needed to bring forth the agency. The second aspect is the selection of action. The author refers to the sensory attenuation in this regard. When the action is selected by oneself, the prediction of the outcome becomes redundant, and that makes the sensory feedback weaker (we can recall that the self-tickling is not ticklish).
   
4) The comparator model of agency
Then the author explains the comparator model. Traditionally, the sense of agency has been explained on the basis of this model.
According to the figure, when one plans to perform a certain action, the motor command makes a prediction based on the efference copy of it. And on the other hand, there is a sensory feedback route based on the perception of the outcome of the performed action. And we know the match or mismatch between the prediction and the sensory feedback. Basically, the sense of agency is considered to be generated through the match between them. However, this model includes one difficult issue, according to the author. If there is no prediction error, the perception of the outcome becomes weak, as it is known as the sensory attenuation. This is counter-intuitive, because the same situation means that one finds precisely the intended outcome in the situation. Thus, the author claims that the comparator model cannot be the only source for the sense of agency.

5) Prospective versus retrospective agency
This contradiction included in the comparator model leads the author to the next discussion. He emphasizes that not only the retrospective signals used in the comparator model, but also the prospective signals generated through volition and the selection of action are also important. There are empirical research that shows the importance of prospective signals. For example, in the experimental setting of the intentional binding, if the probability of the key sounds is controlled such as 75% or 50%, the binding becomes stronger when the probability is higher. This suggests that the participants experience the stronger sense of agency, when they anticipate the result in more intensive manner.

6) Brain mechanisms underlying agency
Traditionally, the parietal lobe, especially the angular gyrus has been said to play an important role in detecting non-agency condition, that is, the mismatched sensory feedback from the environment. Regarding the prospective signals, the frontal lobe and the pre-frontal cortex are the important areas. The author especially names pre-supplementary motor area, mentioning that the intentional bindings are reduced when the electric stimuli are added in this part. So, the pre-supplementary motor area seems to play an important role in generating the voluntary action or its planning. Within the frontal lobe, DLPFC is also considered to correspond with the selection of action. What the author emphasizes is the connectivity of the frontal lobe and the parietal lobe. This connectivity seems to correspond to the fact that the sense of agency has the prospective aspect and the retrospective aspect. There is no evidence so far that suggests a single unit in the bran that represents the comparator.

7) Pathological sense of agency
In this section, the author refers to the pathology of agency, especially focusing on the case of schizophrenia. What is well studied among the symptoms of schizophrenia in terms of agency is the "delusions of control". The patients subjectively feel that their actions or thoughts are inserted by an external force. And this is explained based on the comparator model, that the patients start performing in a voluntary manner but the prediction route is not functioning properly, so that the sensory feedback is not attributed to the self.

8) Society, agency and responsibility
In the last part, the author discusses the relationship between the sense of agency and the legal responsibility. Generally speaking, there must be an independent agent who is responsible for his/her action, in order that the society can punish or reward him/her. And that social agent must have a sense of agency to be fully responsible in these scenes. The author introduces one interesting experiment regarding this point; the participant is asked to give a painful shock to the partner participant, but by obeying the instruction of the experimenter. And comparing the condition with or without the coercion of the experimenter, the participant’s subjective time perception becomes different. With coercion, the participant’s time perception becomes longer, suggesting that the intentional binding reduces, and the sense of agency becomes weaker. Thus, this experiment suggests that the sense of agency actually becomes weaker, when one is forced to perform an action by someone else. This finding will stimulate a discussion in the field of ethics and law.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Intercorporeality and aida (Tanaka, 2017)

My new article was just published on Theory & Psychology.

Tanaka, S. (2017).
Intercorporeality and aida: Developing an interaction theory of social cognition.

It is still available online, but will appear in a printed issue in a few months. For those who are interested, here I include the abstract and keywords. As far as I know, this is the first paper that refers to Kimura's notion of aida in the field of social cognition. I tried to develop the so-called "interaction theory" by way of this notion.

Abstract:
The aim of this article is to develop an interaction theory (IT) of social cognition. The central issue in the field of social cognition has been theory of mind (ToM), and there has been debate regarding its nature as either theory-theory or as simulation theory. Insights from phenomenology have brought a second-person perspective based on embodied interactions into the debate, thereby forming a third position known as IT. In this article, I examine how IT can be further elaborated by drawing on two phenomenological notions—Merleau-Ponty’s intercorporeality and Kimura’s aida. Both of these notions emphasize the sensory-motor, perceptual, and non-conceptual aspects of social understanding and describe a process of interpersonal coordination in which embodied interaction gains autonomy as an emergent system. From this perspective, detailed and nuanced social understanding is made possible through the embodied skill of synchronizing with others.

Keywords:
social cognition, phenomenology, interaction theory, intercorporeality, aida


Friday, February 10, 2017

March 3-4, Civilization Dialogue in Denmark

We will have a two-day international symposium titled "Civilization Dialogue," in Vedbaek, Denmark. This is the second time for us to organize this event.

Now you can see the detailed program here at the website of Centre for Cultural Psychology (Aalborg University).
In two days, we have two keynotes, two symposia, two lectures. We will also have a joint students seminar between Aalborg University and Tokai University, though it is not included in the official program.
 
This time, the event is realized by collaboration between the Centre for Cultural Psychology (Aalborg U) and the Institute of Civilization Research (Tokai U). So, this symposium means not only the dialogue between "Europe and Japan" but also the dialogue between "Culture and Civilization."

I look forward the keynote by Prof. Jaan Valsiner. It's titled, “The world is one: Through Einfühlung towards civility of human existence.” This title surely embraces "Europe and Japan" and "Culture and Civilization."

See you in Vedbaek.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

the unrealized talk

I was going to attend and talk at this event last year, but I couldn't realize my visit for my own personal problem. This is one of the most unpleasant (and also unexpected) things that happened to me in 2016. Here I storage the abstract of my unrealized talk. I hope that I have another opportunity to realize this talk in the future.
 
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[Title] Reconnecting the self to the divine: The body’s role in religious experience

[Abstract]
In this presentation, I would like to explore spontaneous religious experiences. The term “spontaneous” is used to mean experiences that can happen without religious beliefs, outside religious institutions, or away from religious traditions, but still have a religious nature. They include among others, the feeling of unity with nature when watching a beautiful sunset, the experience of peak performance in sports as if someone else were perfectly controlling our bodily movements, and the sudden ecstatic sensation aroused by listening to a harmonious chorus. Such perceptual experiences are intense enough to awaken spiritual feelings, although they are not always recognized as “religious” for lack of proper context. Thus, experiences of this kind do not seem to have a religious nature in the ordinary sense, however, they do have a religious nature in an etymological sense: These experiences re- (again) -ligare (connect) the self and something beyond the self. What is experienced as “something beyond the self” in these cases might be the primordial source of divinity underlying all sorts of religious activities. My goal is to further explore the experience of divinity from the perspective of the embodied self, especially in terms of the sense of agency. As is well known, William James (1902) listed passivity as one of the four marks of mystical experiences. The person feels as if his/her actions are guided by an “Other,” while maintaining the sense of agency for actions. In my view, this alteration in the sense of agency originates in the function of body schema, which enables us to coordinate bodily actions toward the environment. In particular, when the body is thrown into an unfamiliar situation, body schema organizes new bodily actions beyond one’s intentions and expectations. During spontaneous religious experiences as well, the body operates beyond one’s intentions and expectations, as if following the Other’s will.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

preparing for the event in March

We are going to have a two-day conference at the Tokai University European Center in Denmark, in March 3-4. As a part of the conference, I will organize a symposium on Cultural Psychology, titled "Individuality-Collectivity and Culture."

[Symposium: Individuality-Collectivity and Culture]
March 3, at TUEC
Individuality and collectivity are considered two fundamental modes of human experiences in social contexts. We feel that others cannot be held responsible for making serious choices in life, such as choosing a partner or switching careers, and therefore, we experience ourselves as individuals. In contrast, when we have a strong sense of belonging to a group, such as to our family, to the local community, or a religious organization, we tend to act as if we are conforming to the will of the group and we experience ourselves as a part of a collective. In the field of cross-cultural psychology, there is a widely held association of Western cultures with individualism and Eastern (or more generally, non-Western) cultures with collectivism. However, it is possible that humans are open to individualistic, as well as collectivistic experiences, regardless of their cultural background. In this symposium, we will combine diverse perspectives and attempt to explicate how human experiences of individuality and collectivity are related to culture.
  
Personally, I do not agree with the association of Western cultures with individualism and Eastern (or non-Western) cultures with collectivism. In the symposium, I would like to demonstrate that both individuality and collectivity are two compatible modes of human experiences from the perspective of phenomenology (especially that of embodiment). 

Prof. Luca Tateo (Aalborg University) and Prof. Gordana Jovanovic (University of Belgrade) are going to take part in the symposium. I look forward to sharing the discussion between Cultural Psychology and Phenomenology.