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Michel Bitbol is Director of Research at CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique). Alex Gomez-Marin is a neuroscientist running his lab, The Behavior of Organisms Laboratory, at the Instituto de Neurociencias in Alicante. We discuss phenomenology as an alternative perspective on our scientific endeavors. Although we like to believe our science is objective and explains the reality of the world we inhabit, we can’t escape the fact that all of our scientific knowledge comes through our perceptions and interpretations as conscious living beings. Michel has used phenomenology to resolve many of the paradoxes that quantum mechanics generates when it is understood as a description of reality, and more recently he has applied phenomenology to the philosophy of mind and consciousness. Alex is currently trying to apply the phenomenological approach to his research on brains and behavior. Much of our conversation revolves around how phenomenology and our “normal” scientific explorations can co-exist, including the study of minds, brains, and intelligence- our own and that of other organisms. We also discuss the “blind spot” of science, the history and practice of phenomenology, various kinds of explanation, the language we use to describe things, and more.
- Michel’s website
- Alex’s Lab: The Behavior of Organisms Laboratory.
- Twitter: @behaviOrganisms (Alex)
- Related papers
- Related events:
- The Future Scientist (a conversation series)
0:00 – Intro
4:32 – The Blind Spot
15:53 – Phenomenology and interpretation
22:51 – Personal stories: appreciating phenomenology
37:42 – Quantum physics example
47:16 – Scientific explanation vs. phenomenological description
59:39 – How can phenomenology and science complement each other?
1:08:22 – Neurophenomenology
1:17:34 – Use of language
1:25:46 – Mutual constraints
Michel 00:00:04 This problem has been, uh, raised, uh, times. And again, and I, to my knowledge has never found a set sub factory answer. Even though you find plenty of interesting answers, there is not one answer that satisfied everyone,
Alex 00:00:25 But everybody would agree that unless we <laugh>, unless we really think that animals and ourselves are zombie machines, that we are dealing with subjects. Nevertheless, we only know how to study them scientifically as if they weren’t subjects
Michel 00:00:43 In a society in which the extreme objectification that is a condition of possibility of science would not have been invented and, uh, imposed on on many communities. Then synergy would have been a matter of course,
Alex 00:01:02 When it comes to mind or consciousness, we neuro scientists often ask how does the brain generate or produce consciousness, but then I start asking whether it does, but this is a taboo question.
Speaker 0 00:01:21 This is brain inspired.
Paul 00:01:34 Hi everyone. I’m Paul. I hope you’re doing well on this episode, we’re taking a step back. You could say, and discussing phenomenology, which in the Stanford encyclopedia philosophy is defined as the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first person point of view. One of the things phenomenology reminds us of in science is that all of our measurements and observations are necessarily experienced by us through our personal perceptions. So in a strong sense, our interpretation of the world and of our scientific findings begins with our first person experiences. However much we want to claim that what we’re describing and explaining is objective and not dependent on us as living experiencing beings. Michelle bit bull is an exsist turned philosopher of science. He’s the director of research at CNRS, which is the Centra, no Del research CFI. And I’m sure I butchered that. So apologies.
Paul 00:02:36 And he has written extensively about how the phenomenological perspective resolves many of the paradoxes of quantum mechanics that arise. When we treat quantum mechanics as an interpretation of what’s real later, he studied with Francisco Varela who championed the phenomenological approach in the life sciences and Michelle continues to apply the phenomenological approach to the philosophy. Mind. Alex Gomez ma runs the behavior of organisms lab at the Institute. The neuro and ante, Alex is also an ex physicist, uh, who turned to biology into neuroscience. And he has come to appreciate the phenomenological approach. So we discuss phenomenology itself, how both Michelle and Alex came to appreciate it. Some of the ways it helps us interpret quantum mechanics and science in general, what role it has to play as perhaps a compliment to the training. Many of us have received to perform objective science and we discuss a lot more show notes are at brain inspired.co/podcast/ 136. If you value these kinds of conversations, consider supporting the podcast through Patreon, thank you to my Patreon supporters, or if you want something that goes a little deeper, consider signing up for my neuro AI course all about the conceptual foundations of the intersection of neuroscience and AI, which is now available through the website. Whenever it strikes your fancy to check it out, you can go to brain inspired.co to learn more about that. Okay. I hope you enjoyed the discussion.
Paul 00:04:10 I always have trouble, uh, figuring out where to start in these kinds of conversations. And I think that this is the most trouble I’ve had speaking with with both of you. So first of all, welcome Michelle. Welcome Alex. And thanks for being here.
Michel 00:04:24 Thank you. That’s that’s a promising start <laugh>
Paul 00:04:28 But there’s so much that we can talk about. I thought maybe a, a good place to start would be what’s called the blind spot of scientific endeavors. Would you guys agree? Would that be a good place to start? And if so, Michelle, would you want to describe the blind spot and then Alex, you can correct Michelle, of course
Michel 00:04:46 <laugh> okay. So in fact, I have a lot to say about the blind spots <laugh> yeah, even though precisely because it cannot be seen by definition, by construction. It is, uh, the, the item, which, which, uh, is completely absent from the visual field and yet is absolutely crucial. And the fact that it is missing can trigger havoc in, in the whole of knowledge, you know? Okay. So what is this blind spot after all? And, and is it something, um, new in, in the history of knowledge? First of all, I would like to say that it’s by no means new is it is, um, known at least from the time of ancient India, you know, from the time of the Hab or maybe even earlier. And, uh, I like to put a certain sentence from one of the, of the oldest <inaudible> in which it is said it is not seen, but it is the fear.
Michel 00:05:58 It is not heard, but it is the hear, it is not felt, but it is the one who feels. So, um, the idea is very simple. What is missing from our visual field as speak? Einstein would have it it’s no nothing else than the eye itself. Okay. The eye cannot be seen, cannot be seen in the visual field. Um, our body is pres by any action we can take in the laboratory, but we don’t care for it. And even deeper, our experience is that through which everything is given and shown to us, but we don’t see it, we don’t even bother, uh, about it. So, um, there is something, something which is not a thing from which everything is known and is ignored by knowledge because the, from which cannot be seen by the, on, on, on the screen of the objects of knowledge, the, from which any object is seen, known, uh, appreciated, cannot be known by itself.
Michel 00:07:23 It can, can be known only by a sort of, um, uh, you know, deduction in the reverse way, namely from the known to the source of knowledge. And this I think was, uh, said very beautifully by, uh, Emmanuel counts, the famous, uh, German philosopher of the 18th century. Uh, you know, he was confronted with, uh, what he called speculative metaphysics in which, um, people try to get through appearances through phenomena to, uh, identify what is really real, what is more real than appearances, what is behind appearances. But when they do that, they use a tool of their mind called reason. They deduce things and they try to elaborate a theory about what is hidden behind the appearances from their knowledge of appearances. Okay. They do that, but usually they do that with little success. Metaphysics has always been very difficult to, to, um, carry on and can says, oh, it’s very simple.
Michel 00:08:51 Why, uh, you have so little success it’s because you use your reason to get through appearances to reality, but you don’t even try to, uh, question your own reason. You don’t reflect on your own reason. You use it, you use it as if it were a window, a transparent window through which you can see reality. And you, you don’t really try to set the conditions for your reason to be able to go through appearances through reality. Since you don’t know your reason since you don’t bother about this condition of possibility, then of course you, you are going Asray so reason here was the blind spot of metaphysical knowledge, according to count. Okay. So maybe I can stop here because I can, I could, uh, speak for house about that and, um, give Alex the opportunity to ask questions about this.
Alex 00:10:06 When I talk, when I talk to Michelle and also today, I feel like going cycling and, uh, and I just need to be drafting behind him because, you know, <laugh>, he’s just, um, so knowledgeable about those things. Maybe I’ll, I’ll just rephrase what Michelle said in, in my own way of putting it. Um, so to meet the blind spot, well, it’s like a fractal that there’s like a fractal structure of blind spots. There are many, Michelle mentioned many, but to me the main one is lift experience and that’s very relevant to neuroscience. And so it’s that very simple idea that we don’t see the very thing that allows us to see. And, but, but this is not very popular, right? Because to begin with, as Michelle just said, it’s not new. Uh <laugh>. So where’s the novelty, <laugh> the editor may ask, but also it’s somewhat obvious, although non-trivial, and it’s, it’s hidden in plain sight.
Alex 00:11:04 So it has all these qualities of, of something that we would systematically miss. Um, the problem that I see with it is that, well, we may not see it, but if you, if we choose to ignore it or deny it, the moment we’re confronted with it, then it’s a whole different problem. And, and this has happened. We can talk about, I mean, this has to do with the foundations of, of science and it has happened in quantum mechanics and in Godel’s, um, CRM and also today in consciousness studies. So it’s like the replicas of these, of these awareness that there’s something very fundamental that we are taking for granted and systematically missing. And, well, I think our effort is to just say it again, just say again, that there’s something upon everything is based, and then not only we forget about it, that we, we even tried to explain it away. So it’s a very strange situation to talk about the blind spot because of what we do with it. And lemme just add, add one more thing. We can talk about the blind spot with respect to the scientific world view. Um, I’m gonna already start putting the ISNS out, but it’s, it’s even worse within the mechanistic reduction, materialist doctrine, cuz other approaches to science and philosophy may be more sympathetic to acknowledging that there is a blind spot, even if we fail, um, to the justice to it, that Michelle was saying,
Paul 00:12:33 Since you mentioned neuroscience and this podcast is focused a lot on, on neuroscience, you know, learning more about the blind spot. I one notion is that, uh, as scientists we go on about our business completely unaware of this fact, but then I also have a, then I have to question my own history and how I, you know, my intellectual thoughts have developed. Uh, and another way to approach it is to say, well, like you said, Alex, it’s obvious and that it’s implicit and assumed by many scientists, um, what, whatever field of study they’re in, uh, whether they explicitly acknowledge it or not. Um, and so you talked about the novelty and, and I don’t know if you’ve had, uh, editors comment on this. It sounds like maybe you have with manuscripts, where’s the novelty, but is how much of it of it do you think is sort of implicit and not so much explained away, but just implicit, uh, as if it’s background knowledge for all of us, do you think in, in the, in the world of researchers and how much we are ignorant of it or the field is ignorant of it?
Alex 00:13:41 Well, uh, the way I like to put it, and I don’t wanna start saying we should be doing these or we’re doing this wrong, but at least we do a kind of a magic trick slide of hand. I like to put it this in this way. Neuroscience is usually about having two subjects, starting with two subjects and ending, ending very quickly with one object. So it’s a very strange trick. Let’s say myself and a mouse or myself and the human subject I’m studying. Like we are both living minded organisms. Um, but very quickly the animal is treat as an object that I’ll study and the scientist pretends he, or she’s not there. So in a way we’re trained to do that. I call it the kind of the yoga of objectivity. We we’re, we, we are like very, very precise sorts, like visually all our training is to be able to do, to, to Excel at doing that.
Alex 00:14:38 But here we are. There’s a moment on where you realize, especially in the life and mind sciences, you realize that perhaps we’re missing something really fundamental. And so there’s a, there’s a process of untraining and that’s unlearning maybe. And that’s why I started to draw on phenomenology, uh, as perhaps Michelle will explain later, cuz he really knows phenomenology. I’m really a beginner student of it, but I realized that there’s this thing missing. And so how can, how can we bring it back? Uh, um, it’s, it’s a whole new process of learning. Uh, another yoga you could say, not of objectivity but of subjectivity, but of course that easily falls into dualities, the objective, the subjective, the isms. And then because neuroscientists, at least we need to publish paper, write grants and, and so on. Um, there’s no time for this anymore. So we are back to square one, but, but everybody would agree that unless we <laugh>, unless we really think that animals and ourselves are zombie machines, that we are dealing with subjects, nevertheless, we only know how to study them scientifically as if they weren’t subjects. And, and so that there’s kind of a intersubjectivity, um, kind of blind spot there as well.
Paul 00:15:53 Michelle, when you began speaking, you used the word crucial that crucial is a lot of what is interesting to me why this is a huge question. Why is it crucial?
Michel 00:16:04 It’s because, uh, you know, ignoring the, the blind spots or just, uh, saying that it’ll be reduced, uh, in the, in the next future is generating a lot of, uh, difficulties and products that are literally impossible to solve in the framework, which is, um, put by this ignorance. And I can just read you, um, a, a sentence by VIN Schrodinger in, at the end of his book in nature and the Greeks in which he put the problem very nicely. He said, okay, um, there is a feature less clearly and openly displayed, but of equally fundamental importance. It is this that science in its attempt to describe and understand nature simplifies this very difficult problem. The scientists subconsciously almost inadvertently simplifies his problem of understanding nature by disregarding or cutting out the, of the picture to be constructed himself, his own personality, namely the subject of conce inadvertently, sorry, here, here, again.
Michel 00:17:27 It’s the blind spot cause it’s inadvertently the thinker steps back into the role of an external observer. This facilitates the task very much, but it leaves gaps. Enormous Lany leads to paradoxes and anes where whenever unaware of this initial renunciation one tries to find oneself in the picture or to put oneself one’s own thinking and sensing mind back into the picture. So you see that, um, uh, is a alluding to paradoxes and the, the principle he identifies for these paradoxes is trying to find yourself in the picture. Whereas you have withdrawn from the picture in order to make the picture possible. You, you want to make an objective picture of the world in order to do that. You withdraw from this picture and then you say, oh, now I want to understand myself in this way, namely in the objective way. And you, uh, you fail because it’s just impossible. For instance, you want, there are, there is a list of examples. The, the first, uh, the first example of course is the one, uh, Alex was mentioning. Namely, you want to understand subjectivity in objective terms.
Michel 00:19:04 I, I intentionally, but it’s that in, in this way, in order for you to see the problem, or you want to explain of consciousness, uh, from an objective process that you describe, for instance, in the brain of someone, and you forget that in order to describe this objective process, you have had to withdraw with your own experience from the ver from the process you are describing. And then you want to come back to this experience by a sort of, uh, strange loop. I would say trying to, to figure some sort of mirror of yourself and going back to, to where you started, but this is impossible because you withdrew yourself with the most, uh, characteristic feature of all, which is precisely that you are seeing, but not seeing that you are understanding, but not understood and so on and so on. And therefore you of in this case, you have the famous heart problem that was, uh, this described and formulated nicely by David Chama.
Michel 00:20:22 But you have plenty of other cases, which are exactly the same, uh, which have exactly the same origin, for instance, the measurement problem in quantum mechanics technically is exactly the same origin. Not that you ignore your experience, but that you ignore yourself as an agent, as, uh, for instance, Christopher folks who would, uh, would tell you are an agent trying to organize a certain, uh, experimental setup and predicting the result of your intervention and, uh, then perceiving the outcome of the experiment. Okay, fine. But then you want to withdraw the agent from the process and say, when does the event, the, the, the measurement outcome occur? Is it when, when a certain interaction between, um, uh, one particle and the first particle of the experimental setup arises, or is it when a certain complex demo process in the Apptus, uh, takes place or is it when you observe it, um, by your eyes or, or even by your consciousness?
Michel 00:21:48 This problem has been, uh, raised, uh, times. And again, and I, to my knowledge has never, uh, uh, found a set sub factory answer, even though you find, uh, plenty of interesting answers, there is not one answer that satisfied everyone. So the, the reason for that is precisely as a blind spot, namely, that you withdrew from the process, what is the condition of possibility of the process, namely an embodied agent, capable of experience and of prediction. Since you have done that, you have extreme difficulties to recover the so-called phenomenon that is observed in the laboratory. And this is one more example, but I have a list of at least 10 examples. Um, most of them from physics, I
Paul 00:22:50 Must say that’s. Yeah. So I was about to ask, um, whether we should, or I, I think it would be useful actually to step back because you both have a physics background and then, and Michelle for a long time now you’ve been doing philosophy of science as well. A lot of it focused on physics. Um, so by way of background, I suppose I’d love to know how you both came to appreciate phenomenology as an alternative, uh, perspective or viewpoint to grapple with science in general. And then, you know, we’ll get on to talking about consciousness, but a lot of it like Alex were, you know, did this, um, creep up in your mind first in terms of physics and quantum mechanics, or was this after you tra transitioned to neuroscience, how did you both come upon, uh, this as a, a, what seems to be a useful perspective?
Michel 00:23:38 Hmm. I don’t tend to have stories worthwhile being the introduction of a chapter as, as
Alex 00:23:44 We in all these popular science books. Like when I was seven, I wondered, no, I was really naive and I studied physics because I loved it, uh, perhaps in search of environments, but maybe that’s a psycholytic insight of mine. Um, and I was happy doing pen and paper calculations and so on. Then by chance, I, I got to work in this neuroscience lab <inaudible> in Barcelona. He, he was a, a portal for me to make this transition, but he was really, really by chance. And, and there, there I, there I am, um, starting food flies and this observing these little creatures making decisions and so on, and really nothing of what I had learned from physics would work there. I mean, I was hired as a physicist, so, you know, because I have a quantitative background and I could program and, and we think differently and so on, so, okay.
Alex 00:24:40 Increases diversity and brings new tools. That’s great. But then I started having trouble just with these little creatures, the foot flies. So I would say my first step towards phenomenology was coming across this, um, notion this word, the Al the, this German world, the Al which encapsulates, um, the idea of the recognition that the fruit flies and worms and so on, they have their meaningful worlds, well belt in, in German means world. So they have this meaningful environments and Voki who coined this concept zoologist, um, a century ago, contrasted it with the physical surroundings. So I was puzzled. So, so here we have physical surroundings, what we are good at measuring and thinking about physi physical chemistry stuff around the, the magnet, but then, but then he’s saying this guys have their own meaningful worlds. And so that was the first step. Okay. So they have it.
Alex 00:25:41 So how are we gonna possibly study it or at least how are we gonna honor it, not just take it out of the picture, which has to do with the blind spot, because I could say, who cares? I’m gonna just imagine they’re like this cybernetic robots, and you can still learn a lot thinking there’s cyber robots for many reasons. And you’ve had great, great scientists in your podcast talking about the inside out perspective and so on, and the importance of action perception, loops and so on. But in any case, the Unal and biology was my first step. But then if you go to LA from life sciences to mind sciences, because you may want to understand behavior or neurobiology, but I suspect many neuroscientists getting neuroscience because they think, we think we’re gonna understand the mind, whatever that is. And then I started realizing about the other, the other member of the equation, which was myself and, and this in inability to grasp, grasp other creatures, UN belts.
Alex 00:26:39 And also the problem that I had recognized from physics to close the circle that we, we practice very well, this idea of a view from nowhere, but it seemed that what was required was a view, a very concrete embodied view for the foot fly itself. And also the recognition that I was another creature starting the foot fly. So it was slow cooking. It was that I, it wasn’t like I had a realization. Um, and I’m, I’m still, it’s still ongoing. I’m still discovering. Um, and the many tricks that, uh, that fool myself in this path. And I think now neuroscience, just to say it again, what I said so minutes ago, I think now neuroscience of consciousness, many people still hate it, but offers another opportunity as Michelle was saying to come across this kind of dead end and, and then decide what we’re gonna do with the dead end.
Alex 00:27:33 We’re gonna say, oh, give us more tools and money. We’ll just, we’ll just dig a tunnel through the wall of this, of this, um, one way street, for instance, or this, um, this dead end street. Or we may actually go forward by pausing. Uh, I call this the halting problem. We can talk about it later. Oh, geez. Just pausing. Yes. Let’s pause and see what the fuck is going on. Why, why aren’t we making sense? Maybe, maybe examine if the questions we’re posing are, are correct or not forget about the answers and then maybe go backwards, but this will lead us into other topics which has to do with our notion of progress and so on, like always forward and faster. Right. But, uh, at least that, just to say, I’m still puzzled by it. Uh, it’s not that I’ve solve it or like, I know it now. I’m constantly, <laugh> catching myself in that loop.
Michel 00:28:23 Mm
Paul 00:28:24 Michelle do do, do, did you have a, I think, I remember you telling a story about you coming to some realization through meditation, is that, uh, do I remember that correctly?
Michel 00:28:36 Yes, but my, my interest for pH was much earlier than that. And so I had the, you know, for instance to come back to the time of my studies when I was studying, um, in fact medicine and physics, but especially physics, uh, I was absolutely fascinated, fascinated by, you know, the working of the mathematics that brought us amazing conclusions about the world. And yet I was, um, you know, there was a, a little taste of dissatisfaction because I thought, okay, this is fine. And this is beautiful. This is what I like really to, to get through something that is, uh, really behind, uh, all, all the phenomenon and all the appearances to, uh, to the reason of, for all, all the display. But, um, I realized exactly what I was saying about camps. Namely, all these things are made by our reasoning. It is our minds that are working in this direction.
Michel 00:29:45 It is our minds that are constructing, uh, you know, um, a certain mathematical theory. And, uh, from time to I, I was saying, okay, but let’s come back to the concrete condition of that. Uh, let’s come back to what, where I am now at the moment where I am doing painful calculations on, on paper. And, and, and I, I was more and more interested in, in, in this imediacy of, uh, of the doings of someone who is, uh, constructing scientific thought. And one day I read, uh, ed moon hu. And I was just, uh, 25. And I read the, the Cian meditations of ed moon. And, you know, I read only the three first pages and I had an amazing experience, you know, uh, Huel was speaking of the famous, uh, reduction of the famous AK, namely bracketing, namely suspension of judgment, any projection you can make with your mind and come back where you are at this very moment.
Michel 00:31:01 And suddenly I realized something, I realized that all the, you know, the conception of the world I had was just a thought, and I saw the thought and I saw the appearances as if they were on, on the flat screen, you know, no longer on, in 3d, uh, going through it and finding something behind it, just 2d. Okay. So it was really a very strong experience. Just reading a few pages of who self, not everyone is doing this experience. I must say when reading, who said, some people think, oh, it’s complicated abstract. And so on. In fact, it’s not, it’s just speaking of yourself at this very moment. Not so not, not anything else. So later, you know, much later I had a very similar experience, which is maybe even easier to explain and to, and to tell you, it was, uh, uh, in, in Finland, I was in a conference of about the foundations of quantum physics and, um, in a, in a class with a Blackboard, there was some, someone I don’t remember who it was, maybe it was David Albert, and he wrote long, uh, a long, long formula on the Blackboard.
Michel 00:32:31 It was just a quantum super position, you know, um, uh, wave, uh, function or state vector, which is written in, in the form of a sum of terms. And the sum of terms is called a superposition. And then the, the guy said, look, this is world one in which, uh, the observer sees, uh, spin, uh, minus one. And this is world two, when the observer sees the spin plus one, and you see the world, he and was puzzled. And I raised my arm and said, no, I don’t see worlds. I see just, uh, white marks on the black board. And, you know, it was, it was a silly remark in some way, but it was my experience. My experience was that our reason tends to go through itself to see something that is completely, uh, beyond any reach for, for our usual intuition or our usual perception. And if we are little bit about that, it’s just a work of reason that can be written in the form of white marks on the Blackboard. And this is exactly, you know, I think it’s, it’s a process of pH reduction. Certainly you reduce all this extraordinary discourse about the world, or maybe the multiverse to the fact that someone is saying that, and someone is writing marks on a Blackboard.
Paul 00:34:23 How did the instructor, uh, react to your comment slash question?
Michel 00:34:27 Oh, it, there was, no, it was puzzlement. I think she
Paul 00:34:32 Move up, move on. Yeah,
Michel 00:34:34 Exactly. So something like deflation, certain deflation of, you know, of a huge speculation towards a concrete flat non-interesting fact, in fact, but I think this, um, this, um, remark, uh, then pushed me to, to go in a completely different direction. I no longer, uh, insisted in studying for instance, many worlds interpretation of quantums and went back to much more concrete, much less speculative interpretations of which one of the best example, uh, nowadays is quantum BA is in which the, for instance, the state vector is nothing, uh, is no description of the world, but it’s just a tool that we use to bet about measurement outcomes. So here you, you, you come back, you know, in the, in the most trivial environment, you can think of namely a laboratory with an agent, someone who is trying to guess something to guess what will be the outcomes of the next experiment. So it’s very, very down to earth, you know, and I think this down to earth, uh, attitude is type of phenomenology, but energy is even more than down to earth than that because you come back even earlier than, than just, you know, gesturing in the laboratory in the experience you have of all that. So you, you come to the flattest possible world. You, you can imagine namely just here and now,
Alex 00:36:30 But when you talk it, it always sounds to me like a contemplative state of mind. Um, that seems, well, it seems incompatible with laboratory work. I mean, I struggle with it myself and I Al I was also wondering how abstract, what we’re saying. How does that sound to Paul? Because actually we, we are trying to convey something which is the opposite, which is concrete. Um, the immediate felt presence of experience and so on, but it, it may sound super speculative. And I, I wonder whether people listening to this may say, what are they talking about? And at the same time, I think we’re trying to talk about the, the very thing that’s at reach, right? So there’s another contradiction there. Um, and I’m not sure we’re doing it. Are we doing a good job or, or, um, how does that sound for, how do you think this, this sounds for the very practical mind who’s thinking about mechanisms and processes, and, and when we talk about phenomenology in this sense, what do you think,
Paul 00:37:35 Sorry, are you asking me or Michelle,
Alex 00:37:38 Well, you, you, you specifically and,
Paul 00:37:41 Well, I I’ve been swimming in your waters now for some time and, and these concepts aren’t new to me. So, uh, um, I’m comfortable with the descriptions that seem, uh, well, still somewhat abstract, but I, um, grasp onto them as well. And this goes back to me saying how much of this is implicit in a scientist’s mind while they’re working, and then you do the work anyway, because this, this comes back to something I wanna ask you both of how much the science changes with this perspective. If you take this on board and, and contemplate it seriously, maybe that might be, uh, jumping the gun a little bit in our conversation. Um, I don’t know if either of you wanted to add anything to that because I was gonna go back and, and, and talk about, um, maybe an example from quantum mechanics. Um, you just talked about the, uh, the Beigian, uh, aspect, Michelle, but, but this phenomenological, uh, perspective changes, and Michelle, you, you use a lot of examples in this and we don’t need to go through all the examples changes the interpretation of quantum mechanics and namely it switches it from a view of what’s real in the world to, uh, a view of what of probabilistic, um, measuring based on the mathematics.
Paul 00:38:58 I don’t know if you wanna elaborate that more, or if that derails us in a direction we don’t want to go.
Michel 00:39:04 Yes, of course. Uh, yes, indeed. When you, when you, um, adopt this attitude, you, you are back into the situation of a scientist who tries to, to, to orient himself or herself into, uh, a completely unknown landscape. So it’s when, you know, the problem of the beginning of quantum mechanics is that scientists and especially physicists had a prejudice about what they were exploring, but they saw that this prejudice, namely that the world is made of particles having trajectories and, and, and intrinsic properties that are modified across time, according to a certain low of nature. And so on all of these prejudice, uh, could not be maintained against, uh, the, in the case of, uh, of, uh microphysics. So they had to withdraw from that. And this withdrawal was already there at the very beginning of quantum mechanics. When, for instance, when, uh, Heisenberg in 1925, uh, said that I cannot, uh, maintain the idea of a trajectory of an electron, uh, across, uh, space time, namely around nucleus of the atom.
Michel 00:40:33 And I have to come back to observables. And when he did that, he suddenly completely reformulated quantum mechanics in terms of discreet, uh, values that could be directly observed. What, what were these values? They were just the, the frequencies of a certain spectrum, uh, and electromagnetic spectrum. Okay. So according to Berg, it was necessary to do this move in order to find the next step of name, what he calls, what he called for the first time mechanics at that time, then there was, uh, you know, discussion, uh, for instance, um, shredding reformulated the same theory in terms of the famous wave mechanics. And according to shredding here at that time, um, in the, the wave function was describing a real wave out there. And so apparently we came back from the very reflective attitude of Heisenberg to, uh, referential and real attitude of threading. But then again, threading realized that the wave function could not be said to, to describe a real wave out there that it was in the 1950s.
Michel 00:42:05 He even said that it could be used only, uh, as, um, a complex tool to calculate probabilities. And there was a sort of, you know, cyclic movement in the interpretation of quantums in which from time to time, people tried to rebuild a picture of the world out of quantums. And from time to time, people withdrew from any picture of the world and say, okay, I cannot draw a picture. And I just, I can just bet about what will be the reaction of what I am exploring to the type of actions I am doing in it. I’m doing. And then you have people like, uh, try to overate in to find the reason for which we cannot represent a world independently of us. And we can only bet about the, the reaction of what we are exploring to our actions. And he said, the reason might be that, you know, the, the world is so packed that we cannot disentangle ourselves from, from it. And therefore we cannot get a, a picture as if it were completely external to us. So this attitude of withdrawing to the elementary actions and the movements of our minds in a laboratory is maybe the, the indirect revelation of our situation of extreme implication and entanglement with the world we are trying to explore. So there is something that can be drawn from that and, and, and which is not only, uh, deflationary, you know, you can do a sort of inflation of speculation outta the, of deflation in order to understand quantum can.
Alex 00:44:20 Now your question Paul is, is hard and it’s very important, and I don’t have a good answer because as much as I profess all of this, when it comes to, how does that change? What I actually do. Um, I still don’t know. And it’s really hard to put in terms of a protocol as in, as in a, as in a methods section of a paper. Um, but what it does is, is kind of creates me a, a strange feeling of ignorance, a, a new feeling of ignorance. Um, it it’s refreshing, but it’s also taunting a little bit because it it’s like there are these big, what ifs that suddenly appear to my, like, what if physics is nested in biology? It’s like, oh, I always thought it was the other way around, but now, now I’m starting to entertain this seriously. And, and that just turns everything upside down that with respect to biology, but then when it comes to mind or consciousness, well, we, we neuro scientists often ask how does the brain generate or produce consciousness, but then I start asking whether it does, but this is a taboo question.
Alex 00:45:27 And so then I start looking for people with whom I can talk about those things within the scientific or philosophical community. And, and that then leads me. It’s like a treasure hunt that leads me into sort of archeology of concepts. Like if I really want to take this seriously and nest physics in biology, and even question that the brain is not producing consciousness as it, there was some sort of smoke or epiphenomenon of a machine, then I need some theoretical guidelines. And, and so one starts looking for them. I usually, I usually don’t find them in the current literature. So one needs to go to dead people often. Um, if one is lucky, one comes across somebody like Michelle and I every now and then ask him for a kind of private session, uh, and so on. And, and then, then I realized, start having started as a theoretical physicist and then jumped into the, the waters of experimental and computation and neurobiology.
Alex 00:46:23 I find myself again, being a kind of theoretical biologist, but not a theoretical biologist in stem in terms of simulating a differential differential equations to model a phenomena, which is great, but trying to ask, well, what are the foundations of these new house? Because it’s, it’s this realization like it’s not about refurnishing the living room or rearranging the kitchen. It’s like, oh, the, the foundations of this house that I was living on in, um, seem to be shaky and therefore one must do something about it. <laugh> so that doesn’t sound like very good news, but it’s very exciting because at the end of the day, if the house falls, I’m not gonna die. I mean, scientists, we don’t have skin in the game in that sense. And actually this feeling of all one could say, it’s not even curiosity. This feeling of all is super energizing.
Paul 00:47:15 Yeah. I mean, there’s so many different ways that we can go, um, maybe maybe one way to move forward here, because since we’re talking about, and I asked about, you know, how this would actually affect doing science so we could make the distinction between what I understand. And you guys can correct me between phenomenology, which is in the business of describing, uh, our subjective experience and science, which is supposedly in the business of explaining and slash understanding. And so there is the question which is directly related to how, how to use this, um, new perspective to move forward. If you can, and Alex, you were just talking about how you, you know, this is a, a struggle for you. I, I come back to, I, that’s what I keep coming back to is, okay. Let’s say I buy in 100%. What does that change about what I am doing in terms of trying to explain whether it’s brain function and, or embodied cognition and, or, you know, some external, um, you know, whatever consciousness is, if it’s a relation between body and brain and environment and so on. Yeah. Um, so, so is there, you know, is there a way to move forward to, to join the descriptive aspect? If I explain that correctly, if I, uh, sorry, describe that correctly. And the explanatory push of science.
Alex 00:48:37 Hmm. Well, I just quote GTA here and then hand, hand it on Michelle to dead people,
Paul 00:48:43 The
Alex 00:48:43 Dead
Paul 00:48:43 People.
Alex 00:48:44 No, but, but he says something very provocative and beautiful. Uh, he says something like the phenomenon is itself. The explanation, and like the, the problem is, is that you should do proper phenomenology. And perhaps here we should pause and, and make a distinction between the words phenomenon, because phenomenon sounds second class in biology, right? Because mechanism travels in first class and phenomenon is that thing that you more or less are gonna describe account and then nail down with, with the mechanism. But in that phenomenology is not talking about phenomenon in that, in, in, in that sense only, uh, as I understand it. So, so getta would say that that if, if you can grasp, I mean, it all sounds very romantic. I must admit, like there are other ways of doing science, maybe they didn’t flourish or were so popular throughout history, but this way of doing science, where you get kind of a direct perception, which is another taboo idea into nature, right?
Alex 00:49:40 You don’t need to submit it to the kind of bacon and the Francis bacon project of the new Atlantis 400 years ago. You don’t need to chain it in the lab and just force it to speed its secrets. Um, it’s like, you can have a, a conversation with it. So it’s a more ecological sensibility. And I know all that sounds like, blah, blah, blah. But at least that’s the promise that, that sure you can, and you can, and you should try to explain things through mechanisms, but there’s an another understanding that’s untapped if, and that you can practice whereby it’s not only about what I call the M and Ms. Manipulate and measure. Um, it’s about new, new ways of perception even. I mean, I could also mention rule of Steiner to add more freaks to the list, but, um, these are the compasses I tried to see. And again, Paul and Michelle, I don’t know to what extent these insights can be copied and pasted into current neuroscience. I, I don’t know if that’s even possible, but, but so, so I would not put it as a, as a, as a exercise where you first describe, and then you, and then you explain maybe these are parallel roots that can feed back from one to the other. What, what, what do you have to say, Michelle? Cuz I, I may be confusing things more here.
Michel 00:51:00 Well maybe, you know, people think that as you say, uh, explanations in terms of mechanisms is first class, namely it’s more fundamental is something deeper and so on than phenomena by themselves. Mm-hmm <affirmative> uh, yet when you, you look at the history of science and the history of the concept of explanation, you find that the concept of explanation has varied has, uh, changed a lot across history and therefore theologist could be interested in describing the way in which something can convince you that it’s a good explanation. So you see here that pH in fact is deeper than explanation because it shows what is the kind of feeling you must have in order to be convinced by an explanation. Now let’s come to the history of explanations, uh, in Aristotelian times, uh, an explanation was something very deep. You have to find the ultimate cause of every process, the first cause as Aristotle would would say, and that was interpreted by, by Christian, uh, interpreters of Aristo as God, or you, you had to find the essence of things beyond the, the, beyond the accidental, uh, appearances, but then, you know, this idea of finding the ultimate goals and the essence of things was very much criticized from the 17th century onwards.
Michel 00:52:47 Uh, for instance said, oh no, you, uh, saying that you can explain a certain phenomenon by the essence of things is just pure, uh, you know, pure hand waving. And we have to find special events that connect to each other, uh, in time. And that connect to the process you want to explain. And this is called a mechanism. Mechanism comes from that, you know, comes essentially from a cast and, uh, also, uh, robot boy, all this idea that you have to find something like cogs and wheels, uh, moving across space that explained by collisions the Mo the movement of something else. This is the idea of, of Mees and then came Newton. And for Newton, this kind of explanation was no longer, uh, something that he, he, he thought was possible to reach at all. And he said, in fact, what you have to do is only one thing is to connect phenomena by a mathematical low and nothing else.
Michel 00:54:07 All the rest is speculation. We call that, uh, hypothesis, you know, uh, in Latin hypothesis, non finger. And they, I don’t conceive, I don’t, uh, speculate about hypothetic hypothesis about the mechanism of the world. And I just connect phenomena by a set of mathematical laws from that point on explanation, for instance, uh, in, in ham terms was the so-called neurological deductive, um, type law, namely connect phenomena, mathematical Lawon tical law. Then you say explained. So the concept of explanation is changing, and we have to be aware of this Chan. And I think in quantum mechanics, it’s even worse. I would say we don’t explain why a phenomenon follows another one, because there is a famous indeterminacy. We just explain why we are prone to, uh, predict this phenomenon by a certain probabilistic Eva valuation. So we explain probabilities, we don’t explain phenomenon. Okay. So the concept of, of explanation is to be explored and it, it is to be explored, explored, uh, descriptively. We have to describe how scientists explain. So description is deeper than explanation.
Alex 00:55:54 And let me add to this a personal note, when I transitioned from physics to biology, uh, and I was in Costa’s lab, uh, with his ball generosity towards what I wanted to, to do that. I constantly heard these words, necessity and sufficiency in lab meetings. Look, I was a PhD in physics already, and I never heard of them. You see like the, the different species of humans that we inhabit lab. And I was wondering kind of like a, a person that goes to a remote island, like, why are, are, are they so concerned with this? And they are started realizing, okay, this is the game here in neurobiology. It’s ne to finding this necessity and sufficiency equals causality equals explanation, equals understanding that’s the formula, but, and there’s some, some part of, you know, truth and benefit to it. But then the intellectual F is much greater because as, as Michelle was saying, we have effective cause, but then there’s also formal causes.
Alex 00:56:55 Like what what’s Newton’s law, ethicals M times a, that’s not a mechanism, right? So again, I always live kind of in with this split mind because I go back to when I was a physicist and I’m, I don’t feel I’m ever really a biologist. So, I mean, no one’s planned. So I realize, okay, there are least these two causes, okay, final cost. People are so afraid. And so that was, they got rid of it in the end of the 19th century. But then apart from causation there, eight causal principles, and this is not just mental masturbation, there’s a little bit of it, but, but these things have actual empirical consequences and look, there’s all these different ways of explaining things or accounting for things. And we are only using one. We are only using a spoon and we are not willing to use a fork or, or a knife.
Alex 00:57:44 That’s one thing. And then the other thing that I would add to this is that as scientists, we have always this kind of totalizing aspiration, like, okay, we explain this and then we explain that, and then we will explain that and that, and ultimately we’ll explain everything. It’s like, it’s like a sequence that, that pushes you and pushes you, but how are you gonna explain BA or how are you gonna explain a sunset again? It sounds very, it sounds very romantic, but perhaps the best way to explain certain things is through literature, for instance, um, not to explain, but to grasp, right, to understand it’s through literature or, um, through actual experience with your partner, whatever. Right. And, and so fine with explanation, but by two points to summarize it, it, it’s, there’s a variety of flavors of explanation. They, they should all be pursued.
Alex 00:58:35 And there’s a moment where sign starts scratching. Let’s say the Riam of the humanities. And it’s very arrogant to say, look, we’re gonna use only the, the, the spoon. And we’re gonna just, we can eat the whole world with the spoon. Cuz there, there are all these places where I don’t think what’s what we really gained by saying, well, this molecule accounts for what, for, for love, for, for depression, for joy, I mean we learned something, but is, is that really what we wanted to learn in the first place when we started this endeavor? And so it’s like, Anness is like, oh, that doesn’t give me what I really wanted. Um, it’s something to be valued. But again, there was kind of a promise at the beginning that we could understand mind or life and, and I just see that it can becomes narrower and narrower and narrower. And we Excel at necessity and sufficiency in neuroscience. But then again, the big questions remain, not just an answer, but, but ill post.
Paul 00:59:39 Okay. So this comes back to, um, so you used the word, there was a promise in the beginning and my worry is that and, and something I come back to in my own mind, first of all, I, I think the phenomenological approach can be personally transforming right. And open your eyes to experience the world in a new light. Um, that has nothing to do with my science though. And I, what I worry is that a lot of, so whenever you, uh, create something like a podcast, it’s easy to tear it down and criticize it right. And that that’s much easier than creating something anew from what I glean. Um, and this goes back to your halting problem, Alex. Um, so far the vast majority of the work of a phenomenological perspective is to deconstruct rather than generate. And there’s a, a promise that it is going to generate, but as you’re saying yourself and, and you guys correct me if I’m wrong, that, that promise, I’m not sure if it’s gotten off the ground or am I misinterpreting?
Alex 01:00:41 I asked the same question to Michelle a few weeks ago actually. Like I I’m all for it, but where, where I asked you, Michelle, where do you see the future of phenomenology and has it really failed or did it take off, but what happened with it? So I’ll ask you that too now.
Michel 01:00:59 Yes. Well, I, I think, um, phenomenology cannot fail because it’s a, a permanent need of, uh, of, you know, human beings who is seeking knowledge. For instance, you were giving a, a good example, uh, Alex, that, um, well, you can, you can, uh, imagine someone who would say, please teach me something about love. I want to know something about love. And then you can, uh, you know, as a scientist you would say, okay, love is about, or citizen or love is about, uh, you know, uh, hormones and so on. And so you have a feeling that you have told this person, something about love. Now this, this person might be a little bit puzzled, but by your answer, because maybe it was not exactly the kind of answer he or she was expecting. And then you, you, um, you offer her a novel, uh, a novel about, uh, a love story.
Michel 01:02:13 And then, then this person reads the book and, um, comes across the situations that are described by the, by the novel and feels emotions by herself feels emotion that are, um, triggered by the description and that, so to speak simulate the characters of the novel, and then the person this person could say, oh, now I have learned something important about love. Why? Because she has gone through those type of emotions that are topical outflow. So you see that there are here two types of knowledge, the, the knowledge by uming observing manipulating and the knowledge by acting, by being, by going through, by being, uh, implied. And this, this kind of knowledge is the, I, I would say the primary knowledge because in, in order to get the second type of knowledge and the, the, the objectifying knowledge, you have to be implied somewhere. You have to be enthusiastic about science.
Michel 01:03:41 You have to be, uh, happy about discovering something about the world. So the, the initial type of knowledge is knowledge by implication by, by self commitment, by commitment, by being committed into something. So in this, if this is true, then cannot be a sort of old fashioned subject, because it’s exactly about commitment. It’s about going through all these states and perhaps trying to describe them to other people in order for them to share some, some of these lived knowledge. So no pH is at the same time. Um, you know, a strange knowledge because people tend, tend to go through it without really paying attention to it. Uh, they tend to, um, to forget it. And at the same time, it’s absolutely crucial because it’s where you stand at this very moment and that you, you necessarily need it.
Alex 01:04:54 I, I see Paul. I, I see Paul when I, I think I see where, where your question is coming from. And I also share the feeling that when, at least I’ll talk to, I’ll talk about myself. When I, when I say you’re right about these things, and some colleagues of mine tell me, like, this sounds very destructive, but what do you bring forth? John kow does this to me all the time. I appreciate it. You know, he’s kind of sweetly sharp remarks. Like, that’s great, but what are you gonna bring to the table? And often, I don’t know what I’m gonna bring to the table, but I think this effort of cleaning, cleaning up some mess can be positive. And even though it looks negative and, and, and another thing, if I can use a metaphor, it’s not really about even, it’s even not about getting rid of stuff.
Alex 01:05:39 It’s the opposite. Like I think we have this kind of monoculture imagine like a vast field of genetically modified corn, you know, acres and acres and acres of necessity and efficiency. And, and we just saying, well, perhaps we could have other things planted here. If the weather allows and flowers and maybe insects, polling and so on. So actually it’s, it’s to go from a monoculture to, to something that’s, that’s richer. And also with respect to concepts and theoretical biology, it’s also about enlarging the kind of the mind space having more, more, even more metaphors, for instance, more metaphors to think about the brain, um, a wider range, the, the role of imagination in science and so on. So yes, it has a side that looks like tearing apart. Things that I admit I didn’t build. So it, it, it may sound easy like, oh, here comes the, the new kid and just criticizes the city.
Alex 01:06:29 But it’s also an invitation, I would say to, to a more, a richer and more plural way of thinking and doing and doing experiments. And, and in that sense, back to Unal, the moment you realize what Unal means, uh, even if, even if you apply a cybernetic approach, then behavior that, let me say something concrete. At least I hope it’s concrete. I think you gain by studying behavior empirically because you don’t see behavior animal behavior, for instance, the outputs of, um, organisms, what the mouse did, but what the mouse is trying to perceive. It’s, you know, behavior, this idea of behavior as the control of perception, and that’s still far, far away from granting them subjective experience or consciousness. But now, because you have this animal centric perspective, I think you can do better research. So that’s something tangible. And now in consciousness studies, I know many people are critical of integrated information theory, but look, what happens when you start your theory of consciousness from phenomenology?
Alex 01:07:32 And as, as far as I know, is virtually the only modern attempt to do that. All the rest start with a, what I say, like a metaphor turn into mathematics, and then with some covert metaphysics, they all start from abstraction. So, so what I’m saying is they’re concrete examples of trying to implement that phenomenological path. And, and one can see whether one agrees or not, it’s a different thing, or it has to be tested and so on, but their concrete fruits along the way. And, and again, I think it’s a more joyful trip than kind of a train crossing this gray monoculture that can, I mean, you may love eating corn, but come on, <laugh> not for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, knowing that we live in Spain and we have Hamon and tortilla. So that that’s that’s way what I’m trying to say.
Paul 01:08:22 Michelle, did you wanna add something up?
Michel 01:08:24 Yes. Also, also of course, I, I can bring, uh, the, the issue of neuro in this discussion because, um, because, you know, from the very beginning of, uh, the discipline of neurobiology, the issue was not only to find about, and physiology was also the, of thes of, and the functions of the brain were supposed to, to have something with, to, to have something to, to do with, uh, the mind. So how can you find the, uh, mental functions of parts of the brain, if not by, uh, asking people what they feel or what they experience when, uh, they have this area of the brain cut off or when they have the, this area of the brain, uh, stimulated. So the, you know, the input of say, uh, cognitive psychology and other disciplines that try to, uh, make some sense of what people do and live in their experience, uh, is absolutely crucial for neurobiology. It, it’s not something that can be neglected. And the idea of, of the virals idea of neuro was just an amplification of this method that has been, uh, used, uh, since the very beginning of neurobiology, namely. Okay. Since you use to ask people what they experience, when they have such a brain area stimulated or cut off, then try to ask them in a very detailed way, the same kind of detailed way as phenomenology is using in its description of lived experiences.
Paul 01:10:29 But when, so I’m sorry, this, if this is a very simplistic or naive notion that has been defended in neuro phenomenology, but isn’t that subject to the same constraints of the, uh, phenomenological viewpoint. When I ask someone and they tell me something never mind, whether they’re confabulating or their language, isn’t up to par to communicate that it’s, it’s, it’s my experience of it. That is, um, foremost and the third person objective experience of scientific endeavor, uh, still fails to, to then, um, there there’s still a, there’s still a primary failure of phenomenology. There’s still a primary phenomenology, uh, that it cannot be overcome because it is my subject, my subjective experience. So it’s the same thing as when you look at a brain. Yeah. Uh, it’s no more than your perception. Well, your subjective experience is, is primary of the brain. And so my, you know, not to belabor the point, but Alex, I, I think if I was still running a neuroscience lab, this in some sort in some sense would, uh, stop me. And you said it invigorates you in some sense, it would stop me wanting to, to proceed with, with my experiments because every experiment would then be subject to be interpreted as my subjective experience of, um, measuring those observables. And so I wouldn’t feel as though I was actually moving forward in explanation and understanding, even though I know we’ve already covered those topics.
Alex 01:12:05 Yes. I don’t think we are advocating for subjectivism. This is not a form of subjectivism. I’m not saying you’re saying that, but just to, to beware in the same way that you could say, like, I understand relativity is not about relativism. We’re not talking about everything goes or like, let’s see what people have to say, but at the same time, we’re saying, um, in the same way that you look, we, we spend so much money and so much engineers and, and, and funding agencies to build better measurement tools. I, I think what Michelle and I, I try to convey here is that there’s also scope and to build better observation tools, which is precisely as, um, observation of our own experiences. And I think that is that’s where neuro phenomenology comes into play. Like imagine we could have, well, Christoff calls it the mind scope, right?
Alex 01:12:59 Well, <laugh>, it’s really a brain scope, but imagine we also had a mind scope and now we put them together and then we ask the brain scope. What, what, what do we see with the brain scope? And, and what do we see with the mind scope and then each other constraints, the other, um, so it’s a dance and it’s a difficult dance between first person and third person, because they seem their build to kind of an emulate each other. But there’s this feeling that well, we tried introspection in the 19th century and it failed. And, and so come on and gut feeling, and also there’s this propaganda, let me say it this way. Like our senses constantly deceived us. And, and we should just distrust anything that has to do with our own experience. Well, yes and no, because at the end of the day, abstractions are equally dangerous, if not more.
Alex 01:13:48 So I don’t wanna, um, lay down this as if it was a battle and see whether first person or third person wins or mechanism or description wins again. It’s like, there’s this huge, um, field that’s, that’s not very ex uh, explored or exploited that has to do with taking first person experience more seriously. Now in physics, if you’re starting throwing stones or electromagnetism, I guess you could do with, you could do away without that for, for decades or centuries. Uh, it, it was only when, as I understand when we went to look at these kind of micro, energetic scales of quantum mechanics or these really, really like there, there we, we kind of come, then we realize like in instruments in, in, in what is in Truman’s show, like when he’s swimming with the boat, it’s like, oh, swim, swim, and then growing, sorry. And then he discovers, there are this painted walls, right?
Alex 01:14:42 That’s the sky. So that, that in a way happened in physics now, again, when, when we do biology and, and psychology and neuroscience, if we really want to understand the mind and consciousness, I think this, these kind of paradoxes come, come across more, more vigorously and, and sooner, and, and then we are perplexed and the usual way forward is the way forward is more technology, more resolution, more, connectomics more big data and so on. And I’m not saying let’s not do that. I’m saying, what about the other thing, perhaps it’s more needed than, than ever before, um, this dense and, and just one more thought here and, and very core, but like the foundations of science 400 years ago, where about this business of saying, well, let’s concentrate on, on these first, which is what we can make sense of objectively. And let’s postpone that other thing for later, but then the later never arrives.
Alex 01:15:38 And, but it keeps up popping again. And, and that’s what phenomenology tries to, to bring to the table. The fact that the, the subjective aspect, um, it, it is gonna always gonna be, there’s always gonna be popping its head and we can just kind of bang it again, but it will pop up somewhere else. Um, so we better take it, take it more seriously and, and embrace it. It’s not a nuisance, it’s not noise, um, to get rid of, um, it’s a treasure. I think it’s fascinating. Um, and it connects us again, it connects us with, with human being a human being like you, you are saying before, Paul, that, um, something like, well, when I’m at work in the lab, I want to do some things. And then, and then maybe later, well, you weren’t saying that, but something of the, sort of when it’s time to do experiments, let’s do it.
Alex 01:16:31 And then maybe we can think about those. But, uh, it’s hard for me to live in this kind of split mind where, um, you know, when we have a pet at home, but then we sacrifice animals in the lab routinely, you know, it’s very strange or where we look for mechanisms in the lab, but then, but then in the weekend, we, we, we look, we look at, at children play and we wonder about, you know, love and joy. Uh, we, we live with in a split mind and I’m rambling here, but what’s the future of science. I wonder, is it a future where it becomes more and more technical, more and more, um, technological and less and less disembodied and less and less human in a way, which is some of the topics that you explore brilliant brilliantly in your podcast with respect to AI. And, oh, is that the future of science that’s coming? Is that the future of science that we want, or we can recover kind of the human aspect, um, and insert it in science and still have the enterprise working.
Paul 01:17:35 I don’t know if it’s orthogonal, but, uh, to what you were just saying, Alex, but you know, a while back, you mentioned, and Michelle described when you read a passage in a novel, let’s say, and Alex, you made the push. Of course there’s a modern, I don’t know if it’s fringe push to connect science and humanities, but there’s a lot of, um, people saying, well, we need to like look at novels because that is how you understand in this example love, right. Um, however, I inherently distrust language, I, of course, language is one of the crucial factors that makes humans. So quote unquote, successful. And for us to be able to comu to communicate, I know that my own language, I’m not thinking about what I’m saying before. I’m saying it it’s sort of tumbling out of my mouth, right? And through some subconscious, uh, process, but everything that we’ve been, you know, this whole, the podcast is based on language and everything we’ve been communicating is language.
Paul 01:18:31 And a lot of the phenomenology descriptions are in, are based on language. And of course there can be a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding about the terms that we use, but somehow love is still communicated. Right. And to go back to that example, but I’m wondering if you see language, uh, as a barrier or since I mistrust language as the best way to describe, uh, and, and yet language is necessary for a phenomenological descriptions, unless we go back to mathematical equations, which seems antithetical to the phenomenological approach. So I’m just wondering what, how, how you see language interacting or where you situate language.
Michel 01:19:14 In fact, uh, you know, um, I, I would like to quote, uh, little, a little, very short sentence by Viv Stein in his book, uncertainty, uh, he says, doubt, presupposes, certainty, doubt, presupposes certainty, namely, you cannot not doubt everything because in that case, you would even doubt, uh, what you are saying about doubt. You cannot doubt all of your lived experience, because if it were the case, you would also, uh, doubt the conviction you have. That experience is unreliable. No, there is a sort of, uh, of, uh, feedback loop in this case. So you have to rely on something, you have to rely on, you know, your present conviction, or you have to rely on the faithfulness of language to convey your, your thoughts or emotions and so on. And then when, when you have done this work of trust, then distrust can come. But only secondarily as, uh, a way to, to, um, uh, you know, discriminate between what can be trusted and what cannot be trusted.
Michel 01:20:40 But universal distrust is impossible because you would not even trust your distrust in this case. You know? So what about language? What about language? I think, um, you know, language has many functions, the function of, you know, making, uh, descriptions, making reference to things that are objectified and that you can, to other, what you convey to other is the following idea. If you do the same as I’m doing now, then you will see something that is similar to what I’m seeing. You know, this is exactly that what that you wanna say. Um, and in language has a very different use. You don’t refer to something that everyone can see, but you, you try to take people back to where, where they’re, it’s very, almost, productal usually in language, you, when you evoke something, you want to push someone far from where, uh, he or she is doing.
Michel 01:22:06 Now, for instance, when you, when you say, um, please think of a rose, this rose is not present. And yet when you are pronouncing the word rose, you are suddenly evoking something that is far away and that the person can, uh, evoke in her mind. For instance, now, when you try to make a fun description, the process is the other way around. You don’t want to push someone far from where she stands, but you want to bring back this person at, in the very situation in which she is at this very moment and suddenly recognize in your words, something she’s living at the very moment in which she’s reading you, it’s something exceptional. The usual language, the usual use of language is completely different from this one, but this, this is an alternative use of language, which is, uh, very interesting because alternative and which, uh, can be added, you know, to the, to the functions of language, which were, um, listed by, uh, by John, for instance, and of the function of, uh, referring to something that can be seen Ary the function of, uh, doing things with words.
Michel 01:23:54 Namely, for instance, when I ask you, when I tell you here is, uh, here is money. You don’t know that this is money, but because I have said that you can recognize this piece of paper as money. This is, and also there is per namely, you know, showing, showing someone what she should do in order to satisfy your, uh, expression that you are emitting at this very moment. For instance, when, if I tell, if I ask you, please, can you bring me a piece of paper and a pencil? Then I use language to, to, uh, invite you to do something for me, this is a famous per location, uh, function of language. Now, what I described the language of is a fourth type with respect to this three types, I call it auto or self Ary because it brings you back where you, I, I do not tell you, uh, fetch me a pencil. I do not tell you this is a piece of money, but I tell you, you know, realize where you are now at this very moment, realize the flavor of what you are feeling, realize the, the, the tastes of, um, of the sounds of my words and so on. And so, so I want to bring back where you are instead of pushing you far from where you are. And this is why I called this function of language, which is technical of the self, uh, function.
Paul 01:25:47 Let me finish then with this question, but I know that any question I ask could, you know, take a long time. So you both have a background in the hard third person, objective sciences, uh, and you’ve come to appreciate, uh, the phenomenological approach. And I’m wondering to what degree you ascribe that your developed appreciation to for phenomenology, I’m wondering what role the, that original, if you, I don’t know, what’s original when we come out of the womb, but our, you know, our original, um, training for third person, objective science, is that necessary to truly appreciate the phenomenological aspect. And do they serve as mutual constraints in your minds, or what role does that for lack of a better term, original third person, objective science play. Mm
Alex 01:26:39 Ah, <laugh>, well, one needs to unlearn it, uh, or, or unlearn the other skill. At least that’s how I feel about it. It’s not that you’ll learn and you forget the objective method, but it’s like another sport that uses your lack in a different way. Right. Um, it takes some time and then I’m not sure whether you’re so good at practicing both. So I’m not sure it actually learns, but maybe if I can use kind of a hard analogy, it, it would be like one person doing drugs for a long time. And then being able to appreciate much better what it is not to drink. Right. Um, and, and even allowing oneself to drink or take psychedelic substances from time to time, it’s like the ability to switch from one part to the other well, being, being well immersed and even a true believer in the view from nowhere. Um, at least in my case allows me to appreciate much better what this fundamental logical approach is offering, but not rejecting. I want to convey also an I integrative vision, not rejecting or dismissing the view from nowhere, but just like a tool being more mindful as to where it can be used and why and where it fails. And what can we, when do about it?
Michel 01:28:00 Mm-hmm <affirmative> yes. I, I entirely agree with, uh, Alex actually, um, I, I think that, uh, in a society in, in which, uh, you know, the extreme objectification that is a condition of possibility of science, uh, would not have been invented and, uh, imposed on, on many communities of, uh, of, uh, workers, Anders then would have been a matter, of course it would not even have been, uh, uh, a special issue, a special topic, a special philosophical discipline. And so on it would’ve been just life, you know, ordinary life, but in a civilization in which, uh, objectification has become a value in which it has sometimes claimed exclusivity for itself, pH can be a compensation or just a, you know, a counterweight, a necessary counterweight, not to, to challenge the necessity of objectification, but to complete it, to, to make it, uh, you know, to complete it with its very background condition of possibility, the famous blind spot we were speaking of before, the, the thing that we no longer see when we see too much, uh, you know, the objective, uh, side of, uh, of appearances.
Michel 01:29:36 And so phenomen is a cure to the excess of objectification. It’s also a counterweight. It’s also also an exercise as Alex told, told us, it’s an exercise of mindfulness. We have just have to be mindful about where we started the inquiry, where we tried to begin something that was objectification. Objectification is a process that was imposed on our minds. And therefore we have to be clear about where it started from and what are, uh, its uh, what is its source and its source is in experience. And I think the second ingredient, an ingredient that is also an experience is desire desire for, for something more than we have at this very moment, desire for understanding desire for possession desire, for everything that is beyond us. But, but you know, uh, here again, there must be an antidote to an excessive desire and S success of desire and can be
Alex 01:30:55 Paul there, there is a, there, there is a converse version of your question, which is in a way <laugh>, I’m sorry, but I’m, I feel I’m taking the role of the, of the interview, but we said that wasn’t an interview. That’s, that’s more a conversation, but like we could also ask, um, is it important or to what extent learning first person perspective first, um, can be revealing or insightful about the, the objective approach and, and there is a real world experiment running right now, I would say, um, led by his holiness, the Dai Lama, whom as I understand, um, is, is having Buddhi monks like the real deal, the real Buddhi monks, not mindfulness from six to seven on Tuesdays, but the real deal have, have them also be fluent with, with the scientific, uh, approach. And so I’m very curious to see what, what, what that leads to in terms of new insights and new ways of doing science, because this is the other way around. Um, so whatever it’s, it’s a very interesting cross-pollinization, um, that can be, can take place in both directions.
Paul 01:32:07 Well, guys, this has been a, a very pleasant experience for me and I desire that we do it again sometime, or at least that you, uh, have great evenings and continue, uh, to live great lives. So thanks for taking the time. And, uh, I’m sorry, we didn’t get to 200 other questions.
Alex 01:32:23 Thank you. Thank you so much for doing this, Paul. I really, I really like listening to your, to your episodes and I think you’re doing a, let me just say in ending, you’re doing a great service to the neuroscience community with large, because well, now it’s more popular to have these forums, but, um, we need, we need arenas where, where these ideas can be aired and beyond the, the lab meetings and, and laboratory discussions. And I think you’re doing a great service to, to neuroscience. Thank you.
Paul 01:32:54 Thanks Alex.
Michel 01:32:55 Thank you.