divendres, 26 de desembre de 2008

Xmas First Person Time

[English]
In order to have better first person experiences during holidays, we keep this blog silent untill the 8th of january or so. Enjoy your Christmas and have a very neurophenomenological 2009!

[Español]
Para poder tener mejores experiencias en primera persona durante las fiestas, vamos a mantener este blog en silencio hasta el 8 de enero o así. Pasad unas buenas navidades y que tengáis un 2008 bien neurofenomenológico.

dimecres, 17 de desembre de 2008

Getting things done the neurophenomenological way

[English]
David Allen is a guru on productividad, and he is world-known thanks to a coherent and practical system developed to organize ourselves and being really able to get things done. A key piece in his system is to avoid those loops like "I should be doing this instead of that" or "heck!, the deadline for that is only a week away..." "instead of playing with the PS3 I should replying to that email", and instead to organize everything in a system, in such a way that while we are working on something we can concentrate on that, because we know that this is exactly what we need to do, there is no need to do anything else instead.
I believe that a big deal of the success of Getting Things Done -tens, maybe hundres of thousands of people use his system around the world, some even swear for that book like it were the Bible- resides in the fact that it is not a pure analythical method, but looks forward to create a mental state instead. Allen refers to Zen and the idea of a "mind like water". However, the mind of a zen master is quite different from the mind of someone that just got her tasks into a GTD system, no doubt about it. Nevertheless, I think that Allen is putting the basic elements for a phenomenology of productivity. Being productive is not simple about having acces to rules to state to to arrange materials, a well sorted agenda. Being productive is -above all things- a mental state. As Allen argues in his book , we know that his method really works when we find ourselves in such a fantastic mental state of "I'm writting this post in the blog because there is nothing more urgent right now" or, even better, "I can still playing Spore another hour, because I've already done the things I had to do for today.

[Spanish]
David Allen es un guru sobre productividad, mundialmente reconocido por un método coherente y práctico para organizarnos y conseguir realmente hacer las cosas. Una pieza clave de su método es salir de los loops del "debería hacer esto" ,"huy, si sólo queda una semana para que se acabe el plazo de..." "en lugar de estar jugando con la PS3 debería estar contestando ese mail..." y en lugar de eso tenerlo todo organizado en un sistema, de manera que mientras trabajamos en algo, podemos estar concentrados en ese algo, pues sabemos que ese algo es lo que toca hacer ahora mismo, no hace falta nada más.
Creo que buena parte del éxito de Getting Things Done -decenas, quizás centenares, de miles de personas usan su sistema en todo el mundo, algunas hasta juran por ese libro, como si fuera la Biblia- reside en que no es un método puramente cerebral sino que busca crear un estado mental. Allen apela al Zen y la idea de "la mente como agua". Sin duda el estado mental de un maestro zen es bastante diferente del que conseguimos una vez tenemos todas nuestras tareas metidas en un sistema GTD, pero sin duda Allen está apelando por una fenomenología de la productividad. Ser productivo no es simplemente disponer de reglas de ordenación de materiales, una agenda bien ordenada; ser productivo es sobre todo, un estado mental. Y como argumenta Allen en su libro, sabemos que el método realmente funciona cuando nos encontramos en ese estado mental tan fantástico de: "Estoy escribiendo este post en el blog porque no hay nada más urgente ahora mismo"o "todavía mejor, puedo seguir jugando a Spore una hora más porque hoy he hecho todo lo que tocaba hacer."

divendres, 12 de desembre de 2008

Phenomenology of Landscape/Fenomenología del paisaje

[English]

Signaling cultural heritage is becoming more and more common. We just pass around an archeological site and we are delivered hundreds of informations. From scientific data we can learn to interpret the remains and “visualize” them the way how the site was organized. However,we can also close the eyes, listen to the noise of the wind and smell the typically Mediterranean vegetation of the zone and receive exactly the same sensory stimulus that the prehistoric inhabitants of that place got. In the same way, we can open the eyes and observe attentively the environment to discover the same orographic cross sections, the same rocks, even the same vegetation and fauna. This will not be possible if we observe the site through a metal screen or surrounded by panels of great dimensions that they treat to explain what we might know easily through other ways by ourselves. The deployment of information in situ blocks the access to the rest of experiences.
It is necessary to find a system which allows to approach the experience of the discovery of the patrimony without conditioning this experience. We have to decide if we need to have a big deal of static information or a tool which allows us to discover, and that stimulates our curiosity and interest in what we discover. Which,
beyond to name things, introduces this concept of interconnection among all elements that form a whole which we call heritage. A system that has as a goal to put in touch people of the territory with their heritage, and facilitates the identification with these elements. Constructing this identity from the direct relation
between people and what describes them.
Plinus the Young, in the first century, in a letter in which describes his home of the Toscana, says: “When you contemplate the set of the region from the mountain, it will invade you a great pleasure, since what you will see. it’s not some simple lands, but a picture of a landscape of great beauty”. And it describes later the emotion that he feels in the face of “the charming show of the vineyards” that he sees from his window.
We can imagine as well a roman citizen of Roses observing from some lifted point a show comparable to what describes Plinus the Young in the Toscana. The plain from the lap of the mountain range of Verdera and the sea, and the houses of Roses at its feet. He could see the same sunset we can see today, hear the singing of the same birds and smell the same smells of plants and flowers. Visual, sound and olfactory landscape.
We have to imagine the ancient settlers touched by the observation of the landscape that surrounds them, breaking the exclusively analytic or documentary vision that we have of the persons that have lived before us. We have
to understand them as our neighbors of past periods, that have been born, learned, played, worked, traveled, and die in the same fields that now we cultivate, or walk through. Searching the link between us and them will make us understand the remains of the past as our own inheritance. It is not a field exclusive to experts and scientists: it is our reality, our environment, our past connected directly with our present and future. And we have to be able to stimulate the research in some ways to make these bonds visible.

[Spanish]

Señalizar el patrimonio cultural se está volviendo cada vez más común. Paseamos por un recinto arqueológico y se nos bombardea con centenares de informaciones. A partir de los datos obtenidos por los científicos podemos intentar interpretar los restos y "visualizar" cómo el lugar debía ser en el pasado. Sin embargo, también podemos cerrar los ojos, escuchar el sonido del viento y oler la típica vegetación mediterránea de la zona y recibir exactamente el mismo estímulo sensorial que los habitantes prehistóricos de la zona obtuvieron. De la misma forma, podemos abrir los ojos y observar las mismas secciones orográficas, las mismas rocas, incluso la misma vegetación y fauna. Ello no sería posile si tenemos que observar el sitio a través de una reja metálica o rodeada por paneles de grandes dimensiones que intentan explicarnos lo que fácilmente podríamos haber averiguado por nuestra cuenta. La presentación de información in situ bloquea el acceso al resto de experiencias.
Es necesario descubrir un sistema que nos permita acercanos a la experiencia del descubrimiento del patrimonio sin condicionar la experiencia. Hemos de decidir si necesitamos una gran cantidad de información estática o una herramienta que nos permita descubrir, que estimule nuestra curiosidad y el provocar el interés en aquello que descubrimos. Así, además de nombrar las cosas, introducimos este concepto de interconexión entre todos elementos que forman una relación directa entre las personas y aquello que las define.
Plinio el Jovene, en el primer siglo después de Cristo, en un carta en la que describe su casa de la Toscana afirma: "Cuando contemplas el conjunto de la región desde las montañas, te invade un gran placer por lo que ves. No son simples terrenos, pero una imagen de un paisaje de gran belleza." Seguidamente describe la emoción que siente frente el "la encantadora visión de las viñas" que ve desde la ventana.
Podemos imaginarnos igualment un ciudadano romano en Roses, observando desde un punto elevado algo comparable a lo que Plinio describe en la Toscana. La meseta desde la montaña de la Verdara, el mar, las casas de Roses a sus pies. Si vamos hoy allí podremos ver el mismo atardecer que él veía, escuchar cantar a los mismos pájaros y oler las mismas plantas y flores. Un paisaje visual, auditivo y olfactivo.
Hemos de imaginarnos a esos antiguos pobladores emociones por la observación del paisaje que los rodea, rompiendo con la visión exclusivamente analítica o documental de las personas que vivieron antes de nosotros. Hemos de entender a nuestros vecinos de épocas pasadas que nacieron, aprendieron, jugaron, trabajaron y murieron en los mismos campos que ahora cultivamos o por los que paseamos. Buscar un enlace entre nosotros y ellos que nos permita entender los restos de un pasado como nuestro propio patrimonio. No es un campo exclusivo de expertos y científicos. Es nuestra propia realidad, nuestro entorno, nuestro pasado, conectado directamente con nuestro presente y nuestro futuro. Y tenemos que poder estimular la investigación de forma que haga que estos enlaces sean visibles.

dimarts, 2 de desembre de 2008

Phenomenology and Neuropharmachology:

It's a matter of fact that currently we think of drugs or pills as a theraputic tools as well as a way to enjoy some kind of activities like parties. However, we don't usually think how scientists got to know about this kind of substances and their effects for the human mind. The usual way to do research in this kind of stuffs is make animals as rats to try this kind of pills and see the effects produced by them in the animal behaviour. Scientists suppose this kind of modifications can be supposed to be similar to the modifications these pharmacs can produce in human brain, maind, behaviour and organism all together. Nevertheless, sometimes this method and the results produced by it are neither reliable nor enough.

Between 1930-1940, Alfred Hofmann worked in Sandoz Pharmaceutics studying the ergot (a fungus that grows in the cereals). He didn't find any interesting property when he tried this fungus with different kind of animals. However it was, Hofmann decided to get back to study with one of the compuunds extracted out of the ergot. Instead of trying with animals anymore, he took himself the compound: "An uninterrupted series of phantastic images, extraordinary forms with an intense and kaleidoscopic range of colors" (Hofmann 1981). He suspected he didn't take enough, so he tried again. After some experiencies with this compound, he discovered that just with a little of this substance he felt incredible disabling changes in brain functions, as visual phenomena, or the feeling of being an integrated ego (he felt he was "lazy, loose").

We can discuss if he was responsible or sensible, but the important thing here is that we couldn't know anything about LSD today if Hofmann never had tried the compund he almost ruled out because it had no effect in animals. It was his phenomenological experience the crucialpoint to start to do research about this compound seriously and, later, to know its mechanisms to understand its effects in the mind. Phenomenology, as well as neuroscience and chemistry, was an essential factor for the discovery and research on this compound.

Hofmann, Albert (1981): LSD, My Problem Child. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-029325-2

dissabte, 29 de novembre de 2008

Cooking as neurophenomenology













(Picture by Francesc Guillamet)

Yesterday, in the Catalan TV program "En clau de vi" which introduces the complex world of wine to the general public, we had the fortune to see and hear Ferran Adrià, 4 times considered by the critics "the best cook in the world" and the chef of the world-known restaurant El Bulli.

When asked "what is gastronomy" he replied in a very elegant and neurophenomenological way, holding a glass of water. He said that we usually just drink the water and don't pay attention to it. But, when we consider water from a gastronomic perspective, things do change. First we take a look at it and observe that it is transparent. And that, Adrià stated, is quite amazing, there almost no ingredients that are transparent. Next we smell it, and we can't find any specific smell, again something quite unusual in the culinary world. When we drink it, besides not noticing much flavor, our mouth will be full with the texture of water, that sort of "acquous" property that liquids like water have. So, Adrià concluded, water is something quite remarkable, a very special experience in gastronomy.
In the end, gastronomy is not about expensive ingredients or amazing technological instruments; it's just about paying proper attention to your inner experiences.

If you understand Catalan, you can see the whole program here.

dilluns, 17 de novembre de 2008

Consciousness as dancing

Brain can't explain consciousness as we are not only the brain. Consciousness is more like dancing. That is, to experience something is not something that happens to you. It is something you do. Hear more about this and lots of more powerful ideas from this video interview to the philosopher Alva Nöe. via The Edge

dissabte, 15 de novembre de 2008

Neurophenomenology and taste

Sometimes it is considered that the "neuro" in "neurophenomenology" is just a way of reselling an old word in a new package. Something akin to: "We won't get any fundings if we use an old fashioned word related to XIX Century philosophy, we need to make it scientific." But this misses the point completely. You can call it "neuro", "physio" or whatever you might like, but in order to construct a meaningful and scientific theory of what the mind is we need some feedback back and forth between the first person dimension and the third, between the mind and the brain, in order to make some sense of the epistemological circle in which neurophenomenology is embebbed.
Let’s consider how we understand the phenomenological process of taste. More specifically, I’d like to take into consideration the “fifth taste” or umami. Despite the fact that it is well known in the East, in the West, untill recently we talked just about four flavors. Why did we accept the existence of a fifth one? A key reason was descovering the detectors for glutamatic acid that we all humans have in our tongue. The reason was not -as some people have speculated- that we didn’t have that flavor in our cooking. We do have it. Glutamatic acid is present in meat, cheese (parmesan seem to be particularly rich) in anchovies…
So the problem is not the lack of qualia, but a misrepresentation of it, not having a taste perception subtle enough to be able to distinguish umami from the other four tastes. In a pure phenomenological dimension this would probably lead to a problem impossible to resolve. The japanese person says that she notices umami in that piece of cheese, but the European one can’t find more than some combination of sweet, sour, salyt and acid tastes.
When we include physiological and neurological elements, like finding the detectors for umami in the tongue, we are generating a new type of discovery action, which helps to revise our own judgements on how many tastes there are.
And then just finding these new receptors and the chemicals they can trace is not enough. Otherwise it would be just neurological knowledge. Now we need to do an important phenomenological work of reclasifying our landscape taste, seeing also umami when we formerly saw only sweet, sour, salty and acid.
And we still have a lot to do. For example, the description on how to phenomenologically classify wines according to its taste still uses the four basic tastes. Very few wineries or wine experts talk about umami when describing wines. I could only find Randy Caparoso and Tim Hanni. We certainly need more iniatives like the Umami Information Center, trying to understand and make umami more known.

diumenge, 9 de novembre de 2008

The neurophenomenology of affordances

We have started our seminar meetings on the subject of space and cognition, and a big deal of the debate will be centered in the concept of affordance. On theoretical issues, we plan to combine research in neurophenomenology with the experimental tradition in philosophy of science, as well as the paradigm of distributed cognotion. Practically we'd like to establish a set of principles which could be used to analyse how the spatial distribution of research instruments and objects can be improved in order to facilitate the cognitive process in scientists.
To do so, a key concept is affordance. And our first discussion will deal with the basic ambiguity this term has in philosophical and psychological literature. Are affordances physical or relational? According to the creator or the Term, J.Gibson, we should consider affordance as physical properties that object can have, and humans can perceive them. However this does clash with a more phenomenological approach, from the cognitive readings of Heidegger by Dreyfuss to what emerges from system theory and the way it is been used, for example, by Norman.

This entry from the Encyclopedia at Interaction-Design.org presents a brief but excelent explanation of the main differents between the two conceptions.

Here you find some notes from Gibson himself on how affordances can be classified, showing again the more physicalist approach to the subject. You can also check the notes of Gibson on a reclassification of affordances, as well as this interesting reflection on the differences between perception and proprioception.

My own view on the subject is clearly towards a relational position. First of all, affordances only makes sense as long as there is a user who can find the affordance useful for something. Secondly, from an embodied mind framework, the mind makes the thermometer as well as the thermometer makes the mind.

dimecres, 5 de novembre de 2008

Quote of the week

It is our contention that the rediscovery of Asian Philosophy, paticularly that of buddhist tradition, is a second renaissance in the cultural history of the West, with the potential to be equally important as the rediscovery of Greek thought in the European renaissance.

Varela, Thompson and Rosch: The Embodied Mind.

dijous, 30 d’octubre de 2008

Video Interview to Rodolfo Llinàs

This is certainly worth watching (via Mindhacks)

The realm of neurophenomenology

Extremes tend to meet. No matter if you are a hard monist or a emergent/dualist, your solution to the hard problem of consciousness is usually to deny the possibility of a scientific analysis of the subjective qualities of consciousness. On the surface they might look quite different: the hard monist denies that there is such a thing as the "first person view" and the dualist does insist on how nothing is more important than that. But if you make something important but at the same time push it into a realm which does not admit intersubjective discussion then the final result is quite close to a plain denial.
Is it possible to take into account the first person approach to mind; introspection, qualia and the like from a scientific point of view? I think there is, and one possibility is the field of neurophenomenology which argues that the study of consciousness from a first person approach is not only possible, but necessary if we really want to have a science of mind (as opposed to a mere "science of the brain").
In neurophenomenology -as well as this blog devoted to the subject- you will find analytic philosophy hand in hand with phenomenology; neurologists working together with buddhist monks, and lots of combinations that nobody considered possible just 20 years ago.

I'm sure we will all learn something during the way