Monday, 22 July 2013

INPP 2013 travelling symposium

Zipping up on the west coast line after an informal meeting with few people at Bill Fulford's house in London to mull over broadening the intellectual resources for philosophy and psychiatry, I am thinking a bit about what might happen to academic conferences in a recessional period. This year, there might have been a single INPP conference in Italy but for understandable reasons (“It’s the conomy, Stupid!”) it didn't happen. In the UK at least, we have benefitted from a travelling symposium (Durham, Kings College London, Oxford) and I like to think that, although I didn't lift a finger to help with the organisation, I had something to do with its conception (over a coffee or two with Werdie van Staden, Grant Gillett, Derek Bolton and Angela Woods at the INPP meeting at Otago, Dunedin last year).

I really enjoyed the Durham day on the future of phenomenology. (My own paper attempted to address phenomenology and how bridges might best be built between analytic philosophy and phenomenological accounts: how 'we' might borrow 'their' results and the familiar worries that any such accounts of psychopathology raise.) I got a chance to talk to Angela Woods about the use of twitter but also Nev Jones (who put the first version of the fifth, I think, part of her talk under erasure; if I had done that my irony would have been ironic whilst hers, more powerfully, wasn't), author of the consistently interesting Ruminations on Madness blog (note to self: I will list the blogs I read which are, unlike my own, somehow serious and grown up. Three spring to mind as quite brilliant.)

I am skipping Kings sadly because I have too much work to do to attend it but will pop down to the Oxford session. In a future world where big conferences are too much of a financial stretch, I rather like this Cricket test series reworking.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Notes for a talk on Sass and Parnas ‘Explaining schizophrenia: the relevance of phenomenology’

Sass and Parnas argue that:
1: That phenomenology can offer explanation as well as description in virtue of the connections (of phenomenological implication) between mental aspects.
2: That the connections charted in phenomenology cannot be captured within analytic philosophy of mind.
I will examine 2. (On a suitably relaxed conception of explanation, 1 seems fine.)

Sass and Parnas’ basic account of schizophrenia
[T]he core abnormality in schizophrenia is a particular kind of disturbance of consciousness and, especially, of the sense of self or ipseity that is normally implicit in each act of awareness... Ipse-identity or ipseity refers to a crucial sense of self-sameness, as existing as a subject of experience that is at one with oneself at any given moment... This self or ipseity disturbance has two main aspects or features that may at first sound mutually contradictory, but are in fact complementary.
The first is hyper-reflexivity -which refers to a kind of exaggerated self-consciousness, that is, a tendency to direct focal, objectifying attention toward processes and phenomena that would normally be ‘inhabited’ or experienced as part of oneself.
The second is diminished self-affection -which refers to a decline in the (passively or automatically) experienced sense of existing as a living and unified subject of awareness.
These mutations of the act of awareness are typically, perhaps necessarily, accompanied by alteration in the objects or field of awareness – namely, by disruption of the focus or salience with which objects and meanings emerge from a background context... disturbed perceptual or conceptual ‘grip’ or ‘hold’ on the world. [68-9]

Why explanation in addition to description?
The features of the basic account connect to other features: a kind of holism.
Two sorts of relation: synchronic and diachronic.
Within the first or synchronic realm, we discuss three kinds of relationship: equiprimordial, constitutive, and expressive - all of which involve not causation but a kind of phenomenological implication. [63]

Overview of the views they reject
They reject the restriction of relevant connections to i) rational reason relations and ii) psychophysical laws. They also reject the constitutive principle of rationality.
It should be evident from the above that discussion of mental causation in recent analytic philosophy has focused largely on the question of the rational coherence and potential explanatory significance of individual mental contents, eg., the belief that there is an Italian restaurant on the corner; the desire that one eat an Italian meal. Only phenomena that can be said to contain (or be describable in terms of) this sort of ‘propositional content’ are capable of serving the kind of rationalising or justificatory function that is required by the practical syllogism... It is here that the distinctness of the phenomenological perspective becomes important. [76]
This constitutive type of relationship does not, incidentally, conform to either of the two types of explanation that are countenanced by many recent Anglo-American philosophers: it is neither ‘a psychological link holding between states of affairs or events’ nor ‘a relationship of making intelligible holding between sentences’ ... - the latter being the only form of mental causation accepted by many analytic philosophers...[79-80]
Many Anglo American philosophers have been persuaded by Davidson’s claim that mental explanation, or the very possibility of the ascription of mental states in the course of interpersonal understanding, simply requires that one be able to assume that the essential rationality of the person being understood or explained, and that, when such an assumption cannot be made..., the only alternative is to resort to explanation of a physicalistic sort. [75]
The argument for phenomenology as explanation as well as description turns on the nature of phenomenological implication. Could the various forms of phenomenological implication be understood within a broader notion of Anglo-American philosophy?

Phenomenological implication does not fir Anglo-American philosophy
Consider, for example, our concepts of diminished self affection, hyper-reflexivity, and loss of cognitive perceptual ‘hold’: these are not reasons nor are they causes, at least of a physicalist kind. [76]
In our view, the three facets..., and also the form and emblematic content of experiential life, are linked together in relationships of necessary implication rather than contingent correlation or causal interaction. The implications in question are not, however, logical (like the practical syllogism) but, rather, phenomenological in nature... [81]

Three sorts of synchronic relation
The connection between hyper-reflexivity and diminished self affection is equiprimordial. Why?
Indeed, it might be argued that these two disturbances are really one and the same phenomenon, the very same distortion of the intentional arc that we are merely describing in different words. Whereas the notion of hyper-reflexivity emphasizes the way in which something normally tacit becomes focal and explicit, the notion of disturbed ipseity emphasizes a complementary aspect of this process, the fact that what once was tacit is no longer being inhabited as a medium of taken-for-granted selfhood. Thus neither is more basic than the other; they are equiprimordial aspects of a fundamental (noetic) disturbance of the act of awareness.
A clear theoretical grounding for this view is provided by the philosopher Michael Polany’s... account of the vector of conscious awareness as a continuum stretching between the object of awareness (what he calls the ‘distal’ pole), which is know in a focal or explicit way, and that which exists in the ‘tacit dimension’, ie. which is experienced in what Polanyi terms a more subsidiary, implicit or tacit manner. A tacit or subsidiary awareness of kinesthetic and proprioceptive sensations serves as the medium of prereflective selfhood, ipseity, or self-awareness (the ‘proximal’ pole of the vector of analysis) , which, in turn, is the medium through which all intentional activity is realized. [78]
The connection between these and disturbed perceptual or conceptual ‘grip’ or ‘hold’ on the world is constitutive.
In emphasising the foundational role of hyper-reflexivity and diminished self-affection [a diminished sense of existing as a subject of awareness or agent of action], we are not suggesting that they exist independently of or prior to the noematic disturbance: they are not the cause but the condition of possibility for the disturbance of cognitive-perceptual hold. [79]
(This constitutive type of relationship does not, incidentally, conform to either of the two types of explanation that are countenanced by many recent Anglo-American philosophers: it is neither ‘a psychological link holding between states of affairs or events’ nor ‘a relationship of making intelligible holding between sentences’ ... - the latter being the only form of mental causation accepted by many analytic philosophers...[79-80])
These look like transcendental arguments.
If one’s attention turns from the distal world to the proximal ‘sensibles’ of one’s sensory fields it seems impossible that one also has the world in focus.
The third kind of synchronic relation is expression.
Take, for example, a delusion about dissolving, being controlled by an influencing machine, or being constantly recorded by video cameras. This sort of delusion may be understandable, not because it plays a role in a logical syllogism, but because it actually expresses or emblematizes, in relatively concrete form, more general or formal features of the prevailing state... of ipseity disturbance. [80]
Clearly expression need not fit any kind of psychophysical law. But it is presupposed by ‘a relationship of making intelligible holding between sentences’. That is, if we cannot assume relations of meaning, we cannot assume this kind of relation.

Diachronic relations
Primary hyper-reflexivity:
Here we use the label ‘operative hyper-reflexivity’ to denote a process afflicting the more fundamental levels of intentionality – a process in which the normally transparent field of experience becomes increasingly disrupted by unusual sensations, feelings, or thoughts that would normally remain in the background of awareness but that now pop into awareness and come to acquire object-like quality...
A failure of self-affection necessarily disrupts the flow of affective and conative processes, largely because the condition of altered auto-affection and disturbed tacit-focal structure does not furnish a sensitive milieu in which affection by the object can elicit spontaneous response or channel the intentional flow into purposeful or willed activity. [82-3]
Consequential hyper-reflexivity:
Primary ‘irritation’ and ipseity disturbance do, however, attract further attention, thereby eliciting processes of scrutiny and self-exacerbating alienation...Thus a more primary ipseity-disturbance seems to allow, perhaps to inspire, and more reflective turning-inward and self-alienation of a mind that comes to take itself as its own object.[83-4]
Compensatory hyper-reflexivity:
The primary disturbances of ipseity do not merely elicit fairly automatic consequences; they also inspire defensive compensatory forms of hyper-reflexivity. Patients may attempt, for example, to reassert control and re-establish a sense of self by means of an introspective scrutinising... ‘I hold fast to my spot and drown myself in it down to its very atoms’ [84]
The fourth is closely related to the basic account whilst the fifth and sixth are – apparently – causal consequences of it. But these look like rationalising explanations. Eg ‘attract further attention, thereby eliciting’ and ‘Patients may attempt to reassert control by means of scrutinising’. They look like rational reason explanations.

Intermediate conclusion
Having said that psychological links between events intelligible relations between sentences do not exhaust the possibilities, Sass and Parnas quote Taylor. What of Taylor's point?
[I]t is often just taken for granted that if a relationship involves conferring intelligibility, it must hold between sentences or at least representations of some sort... But the way in which my form of embodiment makes, for example, ‘lying to hand’ or ‘too unwieldy’ intelligible descriptions of some object is utterly different. The first term is not a representation or made up of representations. It is a really existing agent in the world... ‘Knowing our way about’ is not a capacity that can be analysed into a set of images on one side and a reality portrayed on the other. [Taylor 1993: 326-7]
Embodiedness makes the world available. But we can reject ‘representationalist’ accounts of mindedness without rejecting the transcendental arguments which may articulate the necessity of embodiment. For example, Strawson’s Kantian argument that the ascription of mental predicates presupposes a bodily subject.
Phenomenal implication need not be incompatible with the resources of Anglo-American philosophy. What’s more, the latter may help shed light on different kinds of ‘implication’.

But a familiar worry returns...
Polanyi plays up role of body in the form to structure. But could think of the space of physical sensation and visual experience.
If one attends to the visual field / sensations, it seems one cannot attend through them to the world beyond. (Not entirely clear what the modal status of this is. Consider the example of the structure applied to words and meaning. But let’s assume that the locus of attention can only be in one place (cf McDowell’s discussion of Sellars)).
The tension: the basic account draws plausibility from the everyday cases of the from... to structure but this does not seem to capture a fundamental disruption of subjectivity. Eg the Preston station example. So cases which make focal normally tacit aspects of the visual field or bodily sense do not seem to go far enough. There need be no disruption of subjectivity.

What of a disruption of a more fundamental sense of self (‘Ipseity or vital self-affection may verge on ineffability’ [2003: 230]) eg., the transcendental unity of apperception? Suppose in some sense a breakdown of the tacit connections to bodily identity threatens the ‘I think’ that can accompany all my representations? The problem is that this swapping of the tacit and the focal goes beyond what we can get a hold of. What kind of disruption of the bodily would have this effect on the unity of thought?