Schizophrenia and intersubjectivity. An enactive approach to psychopathology

Thomas Fuchs, University of Heidelberg


An embodied and enactive approach to psychopathology regards mental illness not as a malfunctioning process occurring in the individ­ual brain but as a disturbed way of enacting a world, in particular, to co-con­stitute a shared world through adequate interaction with others. I will use schizophrenia as a paradigm case for this approach. Current neuropsychological theories attribute the core disturbances in schizo­phre­nia to higher order cognitive proc­esses such as “theory of mind” or “meta-representation”. In contrast, phe­nomenol­ogical approaches locate the main disorder in schizo­phrenia on a lower level, regarding it as a fundamental dis­turbance of the embodied self, or a disembodiment. This in­cludes (1) a weak­ening of the basic sense of self, (2) a disrup­tion of implicit bodily functioning, and (3) a disconnection from the intercorporal­ity with others. As a result, the pre-reflective, practi­cal immer­sion of the self in the shared world is lost. This approach offers therapeutic options that are based on a re-embodiment and on intercorporality.

Getting ‘involved’: The problem with psychological phenomena

Vasu Reddy, University of Portsmouth


That there is a mutuality between knower and the known – we accept, at some level. That the knower has generally to be in an embodied relation to the knowledge sought is also accepted, though less so. Yet, in most psychological investigations we do our level best to disconnect from our knowledge, seeking to deny, limit or avoid our influence on it. We are committed to a meta-theory in which mutuality is a total pain – an unnecessary evil. One reason for such a meta-theory is the starting point of doubt and scepticism which we seem to be committed to.

Can we build an alternative in which we start from a position of trust in perception rather than of doubt? Being in the world and in dialogue requires trust in perception/knowing. Is it possible to extend this requirement to science in order to achieve a more genuine grasp and understanding of phenomena? Can we build a phenomenological psychology which stops pretending not to know?

The only way in which we can tackle these questions is tangentially, through examples. In this talk I will open for discussion some cases of research in developmental psychology with different levels and types of involvement and distance between the scientist and the phenomena. The problems and decisions that come up in these cases may inform the (young and more courageous!) psychological investigator at least about where the problems lie if not about where the solutions should be sought (or the battles fought).

The philosopher’s body

Shaun Gallagher, University of Memphis, University of Hertfordshire


I’ll discuss my own experiences and what I learned from visiting clinics and participating in experiments in various labs.  I’ll talk about the alien hand experiment, the rubber hand illusion, Olaf Blanke’s full body displacement experiment, wearing prism glasses.  I’ll talk about some of the experiments I’ve helped to design, and the messiness and difficulty of experimentation and clinical experiences.

Contentless perceiving – New arguments for embodied/enactive cognition

Dan Hutto, University of Hertfordshire


Radically Embodied/Enactive accounts of Cognition (REC) propose a fundamentally shift in the way cognitive scientists think about the basic nature of mentality. Focusing on the sophisticated but unplanned character of human manual activity enables such accounts to address a standard worry about the scope and reach of Enactive/Embodied accounts. A counter proposal for handling such cases by defenders of Conservative Embodied/Enactive account of Cognition (CEC) is examined and found wanting. It is argued that naturalistically inclined defenders of CEC face a crippling dilemma – which I call the Hard Problem of Content. A possible way of responding to this challenge is to insist that we only find truly contentful minds where we find full-blown perception and perceptual experience. After eliminating certain popular ways of defending this thesis (on the grounds that they fail to address the Hard Problem of Content), I argue against the best and most plausible – maximally minimal – intellectualist proposal on offer from Burge (2010). It too is found to offer no serious grounds for rejecting the conclusion that perception and perceptual experience is inherently contentless. As a coda, I consider what this acceptance of this view might mean for the way we conduct research in cognitive science.

Walking circles around a problem: The parallax epistemology of enactivism

Ezequiel Di Paolo, Ikerbasque, University of Sussex


The enactive approach to life and mind has seen some major developments since the turn of the century. It amounts to a radically novel approach to the sciences of the mind, in contrast with traditional and extended forms of functionalism. Enactivism provides the foundation for a new theory of social understanding: participatory sense-making. According to it, we are primarily participants in social encounters where social norms become inscribed in our bodies through processes of interactive coordination and breakdown. Only secondarily do we find ourselves as detached observers of social situations. This is the exact opposite starting point of what guides all of the current research in social cognition and social neuroscience.

I will sketch some of the key ideas of this perspective and highlight why they provide a fruitful framework for investigating  embodied intersubjectivity, but the underlying thread of my talk will be a different sort of contrast. I will argue that understanding the intersubjective embodied mind is impossible from within any single discipline. Impossible from a purely phenomenological perspective, from a purely neuroscientific one, or from a purely psychological or sociological one. Impossible also from the perspective of embodied practices on their own. We cannot avoid a criss-crossing of disciplinary boundaries akin to the surveying of a new terrain that has no obvious all- encompassing vantage points.

The resulting epistemology is strictly enactive in character. We must ‘move’ in order to know, displace our sight and re-position ourselves from one domain to another in order to understand how things are dynamically reconfigured in the very act of moving. The parallax effect and the epistemological co-variations that are uncovered reveal new sources of knowledge inaccessible from within any static perspective.