My doctoral research examines the process by which a reflexive neonate develops into a reflective child. However, what does it really mean to “reflect” or to be “reflective”? Is reflection a kind of personality trait or disposition that can be trained? Is it an epistemic perspective that one brings to bear in certain contexts or situations? Or is it a cognitive process or mechanism that can drive other developmental changes such as symbolic competence?
A couple of days ago we, the Network for Woman in Philosophy, organized a conference at the University of Copenhagen in a cooperation with a similar network in Bergen, Norway. The aim of the conference was to pay attention to women philosophers. All speakers were women and presented work including women philosophers. The two keynotes were Sabrina Ebbersmeyer from University of Copenhagen and Anne-Marie Søndergaard’s Christensen from University of Southern Denmark and they were followed by student as well as senior researchers presenting on a great variety of topics (e.g. Iris Murdoch on moral visions, on the question of whether there is a female way of composing (which made me think of the paper ”Throwing Like a Girl” by Marion Young), on universal basic income and Hannah Arendt, on Anne Conway’s metaphysics, etc. etc.). The variety of topics is fun and interesting, since it provides an inspirational platform, where you most likely hear about something that you did not expect or knew of before, but it also might have it’s backside. Because the main focus on the conference was female philosophers (rather than a focused topic) the conference did not attract many male students/researchers (in fact there were only a couple).
An article that I co-authored with Thomas Szanto and Dan Zahavi on emotional sharing and the extended mind has been recently accepted for publication in Synthese. Emotional sharing and the extended mind are two research domains that have attracted quite a lot attention in the past years, but their interrelations have remained considerably unexplored. While research on the extended mind has focused on the extent to which an individual’s mind can extend beyond the boundaries of the biological body, one central concern of recent research on emotional sharing is how can emotions be shared in a way that goes beyond the summation or aggregation of the emotions that different individuals may have. The article argues that shared emotions are socially extended emotions that involve a specific type of constitutive integration between the participating individuals’ emotional experiences.
Thomas Szanto, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CFS, on collaborative irrationality, self-deception and emotion regulation biases
In times of ‘post-truth’, when ‘alternative facts’ circulate widely not just on social media but even in the most elite political arenas, one may wonder about the nature of practical and theoretical irrationality and self-deception.
How can one believe that two propositions A and B are contradictory or incompatible, have sufficient evidence or reason to believe A, indeed acknowledge those evidences and reasons as warranting one’s belief in A, and yet, believe B? Moreover, how can two or more people collaboratively engage and in such forms of self-deception and thus reinforce each other’s irrational tendencies? And what role do emotions and emotion regulation (i.e. strategies to select and adjust the situations of affective import, or modulate our attention and behavioural responses to them) play here?
Merleau-Ponty famously held that minds are embodied. On this view, I am not just causally connected with my body, or somehow lodged inside it; rather, ‘I am my body’ (Merleau-Ponty 2012, pp. 151, 205). Merleau-Ponty believes that doing full justice to this point entails rethinking a host of traditional philosophical themes, including language, the self, nature, freedom, and time, to name but a few. In a recently published paper, I explore the impact of the notion of embodiment on the so-called problem of other minds.
In a few days’ time, on the 27th January 2017, I will be defending my PhD dissertation at the University of Copenhagen; just a few days after then, I will be bringing my period as a researcher at the Center for Subjectivity Research to a close. While I look forward to the former event with nervous excitement, having by now shed most strivings to infinitely rework the dissertation into an ever inaccessible state of perfection, my feelings about leaving the CFS are certainly more apprehensive. Having spent most of the last five years in the midst of the initially exotic ‘Subjektivitetsforskning’, its heady blend of, amongst many other virtuous traits, philosophical openness, resistance to entrenched boundaries, fascination with the mysteries of sociality and selfhood, and high scholarly standards, all now feels entirely natural. I will sorely miss participating in such a unique and engaging research community. Rather than eulogising the closing chapter of my life spent at the Center, however, the present post will rather outline the product of that period of time, namely, the contents of my doctoral dissertation.
“The world is there prior to every analysis I could give of it, and it would be artificial to derive it from a series of synthesis that would first link sensations and then perspectival appearances of the object together, whereas both of these are in fact products of the analysis and must not have existed prior to it. Reflective analysis believes it moves in the reverse direction along the path of a previous constitution and meets up with – in the “inner man,” as Saint Augustine says – a constituting power that it itself has always been. Thus, reflection carries itself along and places itself back within an invulnerable subjectivity, prior to being and time. Yet this is a naïveté, or, if one prefers, an incomplete reflection that loses an awareness of its own beginning.” (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception)
100 years ago, Rudolf Otto’s influential study The idea of the holy was published. It may be worthwhile to revisit some of his ideas.
It is often said that the achievements of the phenomenologist Rudolf Otto prove more sustainable than those of the Kantian theologian that he also was. In this perspective, the most interesting part of The idea of the holy is probably constituted by Otto’s detailed descriptions of ‘the numinous’. By this he means the peculiar affective quality of religious life without which the various ‘rational’ meanings and doctrines related to it could not be properly understood.
Some three months have passed since I left beautiful Copenhagen and the lively research atmosphere at the Center for Subjectivity Research. In the meanwhile a couple of newsletters indirectly reminded me of my promise and my wish to write a short contribution for the blog. Today might finally be the right day, not only because I have some more time between one seminar and the next, but also because, after some reworking, I have finally labeled the paper I wrote during my stay at the Center as ‘final version’. While revising it, I became more and more aware of how much I profited from the discussions and exchanges I had with colleagues at the Center.
My main question in this paper (entitled Experiencing Reality and Fiction: Discontinuity and Permeability) concerns our participation in the experience of fiction. I understand ‘fiction’ here in a rather large sense, including playing a game of make-believe, being the spectator of a theatre pièce, reading a novel, etc. As I hope to make clear in the paper, what all these experiences have in common is that they are grounded in a specific kind of imaginative experience, which Husserl called ‘perceptual’ or ‘bound’ phantasy.
In his effort to keep a “Diary of a Body”, Daniel Pennac defined this peculiar description as «(…) not a treatise on physiology, but my secret garden, which is in many ways our most shared territory» (Pennac 2012, 13). A shared territory continuously exposed to the gaze of others, and at the same time a performative dimension that allows us to pay attention to the world, while becoming almost transparent in experience. How do I move in the environment without explicit attention to my movements? How do I get to catch the joy in your smile? And how is it possible for us even to interact prior to any linguistic communication? Thanks to a pre-reflective embodied dimension, our experience tells us that “mind-reading” is in most cases not needed. However, if our body is the very source of empathic grasping of basic emotions and intentions through expressions and movements, we need first of all to investigate the terms of embodiment. In order to ground my PhD thesis about empathy on a solid basis, I decided to focus on the phenomenological concept of Leib and on the debate concerning the body schema and body image. The Center for Subjectivity Research has been the perfect place to learn more about the topic and to discuss it in an international and open-minded environment.