It is only fitting that the story of the brain should be a visual one, for the visuals had the ancients fooled for millenniums. The brain was so ugly that they assumed the mind must lie elsewhere. Now those same skeletal silhouettes glow plump and brightly colored, courtesy of a variety of inserted genes encoding fluorescent molecules. A glossy new art book, “Portraits of the Mind,” hopes to draw the general reader into neuroscience with the sheer beauty of its images.
See some pictures of the structures of the brain here
An excerpt from an interesting discussion with Shaun Gallagher:
I don’t think phenomenology is dead in any sense. You don’t have to take your phenomenological concepts just from Husserl or Merleau-Ponty, but you can also take their work and actively extend it and use phenomenological methods to make distinctions and to ask different kinds of questions. And then you can take whatever results you can gain from such analyses and use them in your own scientific experiments. Or, if you don’t get involved directly in the science, you can at least interface with experimenters and try to influence the kinds of questions they’re asking and the kind of procedures they’re using. So I don’t think of phenomenology just as the texts of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty; it’s indeed a practice – I agree with Varela on that. You practice phenomenology, and then you see if it can work to inform some experiments. Also, it’s important to see where that goes – to see whether the results of the experiments suggest further phenomenological refinement.
Read the rest here
See also this lecture from December 2000: “Phenomenological and experimental research on embodied experience”
I was teaching Hume last week and mentioned Frank Jackson’s well-known thought experiment about Mary, the brilliant color scientist from his paper, “Epiphenomenal Qualia.” David Lodge, in Thinks…, makes mention of Mary as well:
It is a picture of another windowless, cell-like room, but crowded with furniture and equipment — a desk, filing cabinets, bookshelves, computers, and a TV set. Everything is painted in black and white or shades of grey, including the young woman who sits at the desk. She wears black gloves, black shoes, opaque black stockings, and a white lab coat. The image on the TV screen is monochrome. But the room is built underground; above the surface, shown in cross-section, is a smiling pastoral landscape, full of brilliant colour. Continue reading
The NDPR has an interesteing review of Evan Thompson’s Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, which draws from Husserl and Mereleau Ponty, as well as biological theories of self-organization and systems theory.
In Mind in Life Evan Thompson aims to assemble a framework for cognitive science that will begin to harmonize biology and phenomenology so as to help close the notorious “explanatory gap” between consciousness and nature. Thompson does not claim to close this gap completely, but to “enrich the philosophical and scientific resources we have for addressing” it (p. x). It may not yet be easy to tell how much headway has been made on the problem of the gap. But we should acknowledge what Thompson has clearly achieved: a remarkable and complex synthesis, in which phenomenology as he understands it is joined with what he calls “embodied dynamicism” in a manner that helps define an important emerging vision of the place of consciousness in nature. Continue reading