#24 Applying 4E cognition toward the development of a non-reductive science

A Neurophenomenology of Awe and Wonder by Gallagher et al, pages 115-173

Gallagher et al’s neurophenomenological project regarding awe and wonder hinges on the idea that neuroscience and phenomenology (and other qualitative sciences) can and should be integrated to provide a fuller picture of conscious experience. They mention and prefer Sandra Mitchell’s term “integrative pluralism” as opposed to non-reductionism because it’s a more positively connoted term. I haven’t yet read Mitchell’s (2002) paper, Integrative Pluralism, so for the time being I’ll continue to refer to the combination of subjective and objective sciences as non-reductionism. 

Awe and wonder of outer space.

As I read Gallagher et al’s final chapter, I was reminded of my master’s thesis. Upon reading my thesis, you will get a strong dualism feel because I continually speak of sober states of consciousness versus intoxicated states of consciousness and in Chapter 2 discuss intermediary states of psychedelic-intoxicated consciousness. After my thesis defense, I chatted with friends about my research. A staunch post-modernist leaning friend initially completely disagreed with my approach (you know who you are!), but after some discussion with another friend he agreed that how I ordered such a chaotic topic in the manner that I did that my work was acceptable for the research questions I asked and how I dealt with them. Yes, my thesis has a dualism feel to it and I am sympathetic to and interested in mind-body dualism, however, I lean more towards 4E cognition (succinctly summarized by Gallagher et al), particularly embodied cognition which directly contrasts mind-body dualism’s claims that there is a separate mind and a separate body. The four E’s are: embodied cognition, embedded cognition, extended cognition, and enactive cognition. Some brief comments about each are as follows. 

Embodied cognition says that our minds are embodied and that we shouldn’t forget our experience of the world is from the perspective of our very fleshy vantage point. Embedded cognition more or less states that we’re in and constantly affected by social and cultural factors. We are embedded in the world and in social worlds. Extended cognition says that parts of our minds are spread across multiple media/channels, especially relevant for philosophers of technology (e.g. see Clark & Chalmers’ [1998] paper on extended mind theory). Enactive cognition says that we must consider how brain, body, and environment act upon and shape cognition: “perception is for action, and that this action-orientation shapes most cognitive processes” (Gallagher et al, 2015, 163).

Gallagher et al claim that 4E cognition theories can provide a much needed subjective/qualitative flavor to reductionistic science. Scientists must consider how the 4E’s impact their strict objective research because the first-person perspective has value. The first-person psychedelic experiencer has experiential knowledge about what it’s like to be situated in a highly disruptive and chaotic state of mind that brain scans cannot communicate or explicate. In my opinion, a scientific investigation of psychedelic Other Worlds must start with first-person reports about what was experienced. In this sense we should adopt more of an anthropological attitude toward documenting and nonjudgmentally analyzing experiencers’ reports. The how and what of actual experiences will likely shed light on objective investigations of the same phenomena. It would be preposterous to not consider and give equal weight to users’ accounts of psychedelic experiences. 

I don’t know where I’m going in this post; I simply wanted to write about 4E cognition and see where that took me. I guess the main point is this: we should inject more qualitative methods into the quantitative sciences in order to perform any kind of non-reductionist scientific inquiry. The opposite can be said as well, that we should inject more quantitative methods into the qualitative sciences. Similarly, I’m infatuated with the vesica piscis symbol; something draws me to it. I think the qualitative and quantitative sciences should remain separate entities/domains, however, the level of overlap we’ll see in neurophenomenological investigations, for example, will depend on what questions are asked and what methods are decided upon or created to answer those questions. There are really exciting times ahead regarding the investigation of consciousness, perception, and subjective experience, and, how we go about doing it. 

I’ll end this post with the last lines of the book because I think it sums up nicely what has been discussed in this blog post and in Gallagher et al’s (2015, 173) book in general: “An integrative cognitive science attempts to grasp as many of these non-neural factors as possible, without ignoring the important role of brain processes. Even to understand what the brain is doing, however, we need the broader picture that involves experiential, embodied, socially and culturally situated factors that contribute to make each person’s experience what it is.” 

Gallagher, S., Reinerman-Jones, L., Janz, B., Bockelman, P., & Trempler, J. (2015). A Neurophenomenology of Awe and Wonder: Towards a Non-Reductionist Cognitive Science. Palgrave Macmillan. 

Mitchell, S. D. (2002). Integrative Pluralism. Biology and Philosophy, 17(1), 55-70.

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The Extended Mind. Analysis, 58(1), 10-23. 

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