Symposium I – Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences 23.03.2017

Dan Zahavi (CFSR, University of Copenhagen) Predictive coding, neo-Kantianism, and transcendental idealism

Recently, a number of neuroscientists and philosophers have taken the so-called prediction error minimization theory to support a form of radical neuro-representationalism, according to which the content of our conscious experiences is a neural construct, a brain-generated simulation. There is remarkable similarity between this account and ideas found in and developed by German neo-Kantians in the mid-19th century. Even more importantly, some neo-Kantians eventually came to have serious doubts about the cogency and internal consistency of the model. In my talk, I will first argue that this criticism has implications for our assessment of the contemporary theory as well and the show how Husserl’s transcendental idealism can be seen as an effort to avoid the empirical idealism of the neuro-representationalists.

Respondent: Uldis Vēgners (Riga Stradiņš University) Predictive coding and experience

Neuroscience of predictive models works based on assumption that the brain implements some form of Bayesian inference whereby the brain is able to predict the probable causes of sensory input. The models advanced in neuroscience are open to philosophical interpretations about how and to what extent the brain is related to the body and the world. According to one interpretation the brain is strictly cut off from the rest of the body and the world and have to make probabilistic inferences by decoding sensory inputs. According to another, the brain is a part of a larger system of brain-body-environment.  The interpretation that argues for a strict separation between the brain and the rest of the world is commited to a form of internalism and representationalism, while the interpretations that argue for reciprocal interaction among brain-body-environment work in association with embodied, enactivist approaches.

The representationalist interpretation of predicitve models, which posits two worlds, the real one and one that is a simulation of the brain, is what Zahavi finds especially problematic. However, one can ask whether, looked from the phenomenological (Husserlian) perspective the embodied, enactivist interpretations are not as problematic as the representationalist one? Because, while the philosophial interpretations of predicting models revolve around the relation between the brain, on the one hand, and the body and the world, on the other, in the phenomenological context a more important question concerns the relation of experience (consciousness), on the one hand, and brain-body-environment, on the other. In other words, the question is not whether the brain can access the rest of the world and whether it is an element in a larger system, but rather how experience relates to both the brain and the world? What is the relation of brain-body-environment as experienced and acceccible to phenomenological investigation with physical brain-body-environment? As it will be argued, when Husserl criticizes representationalism and maintains that the world that appears is the only real world, it is not the idea of the brain representing the world that he puts in doubt, but rather the idea of experience representing the world.

Symposium II – Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis 24.03.2017

Jagna Brudzińska (IFiS PAN) Vom deskriptiven zum relationalen Unbewussten. Zur Phänomenologie der Grunddimensionen psychoanalytischer Erfahrung und des sozialen Ursprungs menschlicher Individuation

Sowohl in der phänomenologischen als auch psychoanalytischen Tradition hat der Begriff des Unbewussten viele verschiedene Bedeutungen und bezieht sich auf verschiedene Dimensionen subjektiver Erfahrung. In meinem Beitrag will ich drei wesentliche Dimensionen jener Erfahrung und dementsprechend drei Begriffe des Unbewussten voneinander unterscheiden: den deskriptiven, den dynamischen und den impliziten bzw. relationalen.

Auf diesem Hintergrund, ausgehend von den Ergebnissen der Psychoanalyse und unter Anwendung der phänomenologischen Methode der genetischen Intentionalanalyse werde ich insbesondere die Rolle des impliziten relationalen Unbewussten im Individuationsprozess, d.h. im Prozess der Selbstwerdung der Person diskutieren.

In diesem Zusammenhang wird ein besonderes Augenmerk auf die frühe intersubjektive Erfahrung gelegt, und zwar auf ihre elementare Form der sympathetischen Partizipation. Neben den Einsichten Freuds wird es dabei vor allem auf die Resultate der Neo-Psychoanalyse und der modernen psychoanalytischen Forschung ankommen.

Respondent: Daniel Tkatch (KU Leuven) A Husserlian Account of the Hysterical Unconscious: Making a Case for Passive Noematic Synthesis

In this paper, I focus on Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, a collection of Edmund Husserl’s renowned lectures on “passive synthesis” given between 1920 and 1926, and on Studies on Hysteria (1895), a book Sigmund Freud co-authored with Josef Breuer, in which psychoanalysis and, in particular, Freud’s theory of the unconscious emerge.
The Studies is one of Freud’s first works he wrote after his psychological re-orientation: he stopped treating hysteria exclusively on physiological and anatomical grounds and approached it primarily from a psychological or metapsychological standpoint, based primarily on the concepts of “idea” (Vorstellung) and “affect”. These concepts also play a central role in Husserl’s phenomenological analysis of passive synthesis, which he conceived of as his own way to approach Freud’s discovery of the unconscious.
I argue, however, that Husserl’s account still suffers from Friedrich Herbart’s and Franz Brentano’s legacy of linking idea and affect too strongly, which results in an overly static idea of unconscious. I thus attempt to incorporate Freud’s theoretical separation of idea and affect into Husserl’s account of passive synthesis. I do that, among others, by interpreting Husserl’s idea of sedimentation as accounting for Freud’s idea of hysterical conversion and investigating whether Freud’s claim that “hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences” is compatible with Husserl’s account of association.
I conclude that it remains doubtful whether Husserl’s noetic synthesis alone can offer a theoretical framework for conceptualizing the complex and dynamic unconscious synthetic processes on the passive level, as Freud would understand them, or how such processes would unfold according to that framework. Moreover, I argue that, in order to combine the two, Husserl’s rigid hierarchy between intention and hyletic data – his apparent assumption that hyletic data simply constitutes the “material” for intentional apprehension (noesis) – would need to be reconsidered.
While, according to Husserl, hyletic data is never primary but always already mixed and enriched by intentional and sense-based apprehension, this seems to undermine his insistence on the noematic–noetic separation of synthesis along the passive–active division lines. Since unconscious processes, such as the ones Freud observes in hysterics, are examples of noematic synthesis, they too should be treated phenomenologically within the framework of passive synthesis. Hence, I argue, one needs to extend Husserl’s theory of passive synthesis with an analysis of passive noematic syntheses.

Symposium III – Phenomenology and Gender 25.03.2017

Sara Heinämaa (University of Jyväskylä) Embodiment, Personhood, and Sexual Difference

The concept of gender has a central role in contemporary social and human sciences. It covers wide areas of theoretical discourse on human sociality and intersubjectivity, both empirical and philosophical. As distinguished from the concept of sex, the concept of gender is one of the main tools with which we interpret, explain and organize human behavior and life.

The aim of this paper is to offer an alternative to this dominant articulation of human existence on the basis of classical phenomenology. I will argue that Husserl’s phenomenological inquiries into the structures of embodiment offer a very different starting point for the investigation of sexual difference than the ideas of gender and sex. Whereas gender-theories aim at explaining observed differences between men’s and women’s behaviors, dispositions, actions, accomplishments and positions by the interplay of social, cultural and biological forces, phenomenology studies how the sense of sexual difference is established in personal and interpersonal experiences in the first place.

The paper consists of two major parts. The first part (sections 1–4) offers a set of systematic and historical clarifications of the conceptual distinction between gender and sex. The aim is to get clear about the senses in which these concepts are used in contemporary social and human sciences. The latter part (sections 5–6) shows how the phenomenological account of human embodiment differs from the dominant paradigm of sex-gender interaction. It argues that female and male bodies – as thematized, theorized and explained by the biosciences, and as distinguished from gendered roles and gendered performances in the social sciences – are themselves results of complicated processes of objectification that rest in their sense on two fundamental types of experiencing bodies: (a) living bodies as instruments for intending material things and (b) living bodies as expressions in communicative interaction with others.

This does not mean that the human body would be a mere social construct or cultural artifact. Even if the bio-scientific articulation of the human body is an outcome of complicated scientific practices of objectivization and idealization, the body itself is fundamentally a prescientific object that is co-given to us in action and communication and is not something that we make, fabricate, or invent.

Respondent: Agata Bąk (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid) From exclusion to difference. Considerations about The Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir mentions in The second sex that whereas the man is usually conceived as the Subject, the woman is on the contrary meant to be the Other, and so to say excluded from the condition of ego. The whole project of The Second Sex can be in fact resumed as an effort to show who woman is, rather than to set the problem of sexual difference aside and leaving it to biology or sociology.

We agree with prof. Heinämaa´s statement that de Beauvoir´s approach to the femininity is influenced by Husserlian philosophy rather than by Sartrean, which whom she disagrees in the matter of embodiment and personhood. Rather, and this is what we want to highlight, a person, woman or man, is determined by a set of embodied practices from which the biological and the sociological facts can be abstracted; yet, sexual identity cannot be reduced to any of those dimensions, as it is more similar to stylistic unity rather than to any particular feature, biological or not.

The purpose of the present speech is to insist in one of the aspects of the sexual difference, that is, in its embodied and intersubjective context and I will do so by appealing to Husserlian notions of normality and anomality. These notions are for Husserl not only descriptive, but also normative, and refer to the normal and embodied course of one´s experience, in the first place, but then they expand to embrace the whole community of subjects (not exclusively human). We believe that the interplay of these notions enables us to speak properly about the difference rather than privation and exclusion.

Speaking about normality will then serve a twofold purpose: on the one hand, it will make more clear why de Beauvoir accuses philosophy of setting femininity aside as “the absolute Other”. On the other side, we believe that the reflection about normality with its nuances enables us to raise important questions in the areas where the feminine could be still considered as “other”. That is the case, some authors claim, of some branches of traditional medicine. The stigma of “otherness” then still seems to hover over female patients that are not granted proper care. That is why the “phenomenology offers valuable resources for approaching issues concerning the lived experience of marginalization, invisibility, nonnormativity and oppression (Käll and Zailer, 2014, 1).