Day 1: 25 October 2012

We’re delighted to announce the *FINALIZED* programme for Day 1 (Thursday 25 October, 2012) of ‘Experimental Entanglements in Cognitive Neuroscience’. See the earlier post for an overview of the workshop, and for more information regarding individual speakers.

09:00 – Introduction to the workshop: Felicity Callard, Des Fitzgerald, Simone Kühn, Ulla Schmid

09:45 – ‘Dialogue and Interaction in dynamic experimental systems’, featuring:

  • 09:45 – Charles Fernyhough: If thinking is dialogic, who’s doing the talking?

ABSTRACT:  My work on ‘thinking’ – and we have to start by trying to be more specific about this rather fluffy term – has drawn on influences from a range of disciplines, including Bakhtin (from literary studies) and the interdisciplinary writings of Vygotsky. I will try to trace these entanglements by asking specifically about the social dimension of thinking as it is manifested in the phenomena of private and social speech. Developmental studies of self-directed speech point to it having important cognitive functions. Improved methodologies for studying these phenomena in children and adults support Vygotskian/Lurian conceptions of inner speech as constituting a functional system, whereby initially independent neural systems are ‘wired together’ in new ways by social experience.

I will present some recent findings relevant to this account, and consider prospects for a cognitive neuroscience of inner speech that is sensitive to its development and phenomenology. In ongoing work that forms part of our Wellcome Trust-funded ‘Hearing the Voice’ project, we are particularly interested in using experience sampling methods such as DES (Descriptive Experience Sampling) in describing phenomenological variation in these experiences. Methods such as these will help with the phenomenological ‘front-loading’ of experimental (particularly neuroimaging and neuromodulation) designs, thus moving us closer towards a phenomenologically sensitive cognitive neuroscience of inner speech and ‘thinking’.

  • 10:00 – Leo Schilbach: Can there be such thing as social cognition outside of specific social interactions?

ABSTRACT:  Spectatorial accounts of social cognition suggest that understanding others is primarily a matter of reading out the mental states from their behaviour as detached observers, either adopting a first- or third-person stance. Social neuroscience has been guided by these theoretical accounts and has found it difficult to investigate the neural basis of social interaction, in spite of the fact that the study of ‘interacting minds’ constitutes a primary research objective. On the second-person view, understanding others is primarily a matter of interacting with them, and recent studies in social neuroscience have attempted to investigate real-time social interactions. Results of these studies suggest commonalities between the neural correlates of social cognition from an observer’s and from an interactor’s point of view, which raises the question of the relationship between the ability to engage in social interaction and the ability to adopt an observational stance and think about others persons’ mental states. In this respect, the case of high-functioning autism will also be discussed, characterized by impairments of social interaction, but an ability to learn to consciously think about others’ mental states.

  • 10:15 – Lisa Blackman: What could an engagement with controversies add to the dynamism of experimental systems that figure the inside and outside?

ABSTRACT:  This provocation piece will speak to an ongoing collaboration that I am having with a cognitive scientist and an anomalistic psychologist in relation to phenomena that historically have been aligned to automaticity. Automaticity as a concept has a particular history within the psychological sciences, and takes us back to early psychological experiments that took form within psychological laboratories across Europe and the USA during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. These laboratories, such as William James’ laboratory at Harvard, enacted particular forms of experimentation in relation to phenomena that appeared to breach the boundaries between the self and other, material and immaterial, inside and outside, and the physical and metaphysical. The phenomena in question included automatic writing, mediumship and telepathy, hypnotic suggestion and voice hearing, for example. All of these phenomena were aligned in different ways to the concept of automaticity; that is to the experience one might have of being directed by someone or something else; in the present, many contemporary scientists and psychologists refer to automaticity as the feeling of doing (see particularly the work of the cognitive scientist David Wegner), and automaticity brings together cognitive and neuroscientists with perhaps slightly more uncomfortable bedfellows, parapsychologists. That is, psychologists who are interested in phenomena that have become the subject matter of a perhaps less reputable sub-discipline of psychology, with its focus on experiences that have been aligned with the supernatural, spiritualism and the occult.

My interest in these phenomena is twofold: firstly I have argued in my recent book, Immaterial Bodies, that the forms of experimentation enacted within early psychological laboratories are of interest in the present, and particularly add to debates and ways of thinking about the performativity of experimentation. I find in this work important antecedents to more contemporary work on this subject, including the arguments of Karen Barad, the quantum physicist who has opened up experimentation within the humanities to insights from quantum mechanics, and whose concepts of intra-action and the agential cut have been hugely influential in approaching the peformativity of matter. My approach to these early forms of psychological experimentation are also very informed by arguments from science and technology studies (STS), and particularly analyses of the historicity and dynamism of psychological experimentation that we find in the work of Henning Schmidgen, who takes the important arguments about experimentation and ‘experimental systems’ made by the biologist, Hans-Jorg Rheinberger to bear on 19th century neurophysiological experiments. His focus is particularly on the human and non-human actors that produced particular effects and affects within laboratory settings. This work pays attention to the importance of the experimental apparatus approached as a ‘history of machines’ (Schmidgen, 2005: 211); that is as a material-semiotic apparatus that connects and mediates a heterogeneous range of spatially and temporally circumscribed objects, which include the experimental subject, the experimenter and material and immaterial processes (including paying some attention to subjectivity and embodiment), allowing us to understand more of the material performativity of science.

  • 10:30 – Plenary Discussion, with Thomas Stodulka (Chair) and Amanda Taylor Aiken (Rapporteur)

11:00 – Coffee

11:30 – Where is the introspective self?’, featuring:

  • 11:30 – Russell Hurlburt: Can introspection be separated from interaction? 

ABSTRACT:  Implications of Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) for cognitive neuroscience

‘Inner experience’ includes thoughts, feelings, tickles, anything that appears directly ‘before the footlights of consciousness’ at some moment.  Despite its ubiquity, many people, perhaps especially philosophers, neuroscientists, and psychologists, are often ignorant about important aspects of their own and others’ inner experience.  There are three overlapping reasons: people have no frame of reference (they encounter only one set of experiences, their own); it is very difficult for the linguistic community adequately to shape the talk about inner events; and communities develop powerful but perhaps incorrect presuppositions about the nature of inner experience.  All three have social interactive significance—each is the result of an underactive or overactive social interaction.

As a partial result, reports about inner experience have fallen into a century of disrepute.  There has been a resurgence, but most often the new reports have been of the simple ‘tell me about your inner experience’ variety.  Such reports fail to take seriously the interactive reasons for the failures of the previous century.

I believe that it is possible to obtain high fidelity reports about inner experience, but doing so requires the use of a method adequately designed to overcome the interactive failures of the past century.  Inquiring about inner experience requires efficacious method and high skill – good intentions are not enough.  I’ve developed one such method/skill, Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES), but there may be others that are parallel or superior.

DES is fundamentally interactive: it involves Sam’s interviewing Billy about Billy’s experience.  It requires Sam’s developing a way of effectively limiting Sam’s and Billy’s presuppositions about experience.  Such presuppositions are delusions, often widely shared and intransigent.  For DES or any method to be scientifically useful, the scientific community will have to overcome its delusions about inner experience.

  • 11:45 – Jan Slaby: Who is the self of the ‘self-report’ in cognitive neuroscience?

ABSTRACT:  In my talk, I will plea for a more rigorous critical stance towards experimental practice in neuroscience by taking up a familiar challenge in a new way. Much of cognitive neuroscience – and of cognitive science in general – is in fact constructing its subject matter by framing a specific type and style of subjectivity through experimental design, subject instructions, and subsequent interpretation of data. I will undertake to show that the ‘self’ that is reckoned with and counted on in the use of ‘self-report’ measures is in part ushered into being by the very experimental practices that are designed to reveal its nature. The experimental self is a product of the science and its enabling cultural surround, not some inevitable structure belonging to ‘human nature’. Cognitive neuroscience is thus in danger to function as a powerful enforcer of a specific style of subjectivity and personhood and as a means of legitimization for culturally predominant ways of framing subjectivity, prescribing normative ideals of mental and social functioning.

The ‘self’ championed in self-report-heavy cognitive neuroscience tells us more about contemporary culture than about a timeless layer of ‘human experience’ or subjectivity, and likewise about the ways in which types of distributed corporate and political power operate through the human sciences to tacitly enforce normative standards and imperatives. My line of critique is deliberately rigorous, even partly destructive, in order to provoke thorough responses and to shake up the all too complacent consensus of recent years to the effect that cognitive neuroscience works more or less well and promises ‘exciting new insights’ into human reality.

  • 12:00 – Plenary Discussion, with Ulla Schmid (Chair) and Joel Krueger (Rapporteur)

12:30 -Lunch

14:00 – ‘Where is the external observer?’, featuring:

  • 14:00 – Katerina Fotopoulou: Can the presence and empathy of an observer be adequately simulated by fMRI designs?

ABSTRACT:  The talk will attempt to address this question from three standpoints. First, from a psychoanalytic-attachment theory standpoint, I will consider what ‘ the presence of an observer’ and the ‘empathy of an observer’ can mean subjectively for the ‘observed’ individual in a fMRI room or elsewhere. I will argue that the subjective meaning of both relates to (1) an individual’s genetic and empirical priors of social relating and embodiment, (2) the identity, characteristics and relation kind with the observer, and lastly (3)  the context and content of the on-line interaction (the task, the fMRI setting and design, the physical presence, attitude and motivation of the researchers and other contextual factors). Second, from a cognitive perspective, I will try to discuss some of the above variables in relation to the concept of theory of mind and mentalisation. Third, from a neuroscientific and practical perspective, I will aim to show how the physical or mentalised presence and empathy of an observer can be simulated in lab and fMRI designs.  I will use pain and some existing data as an example, i.e. the ‘observed’ will be a sufferer. All three factors outlined above (i.e. individual differences in social relating and embodiment; observer’s characteristics and relation type and quality characteristics; and on-line interaction) will be accounted for.

  • 14:15 – Jill Morawski: What would it mean for psychology fully to think the presence of an observer who disturbs the observed event?

ABSTRACT:  Throughout experimental psychology’s relatively short history, prescient psychologists have recognized the impossibility of observer-object independence, interrogating either the reflexivity of human science inquiry, the complex and often hierarchical social interactions transpiring in even the most antiseptic psychology laboratories, or the observer’s inescapable, non-neutral commitment to a particular conception of the world.  Most of these earnest critics have sought solutions in further refinement of empirical methods (a solution exemplified by Robert Rosenthal’s life-long project to eliminate intersubjective acts from experiments). Other alternatives to the faculty presupposition of observer-object independence include: political solutions proposing research proceed as a participatory democracy, not a hierarchical one (examples are participant action research and Haraway’s ‘situated knowledges’) or psychological solutions proposing observation be grounded in particular affects, like empathy, or inter-species communication.  Aiming to restructure power relations and social-relational dynamics of experiments, these recommendations still presuppose the independence of participants as sovereign actors and the observational world pre-exists investigation and is not substantially changed by it (non-reflexivity).

I propose returning to the work of one of the earliest appraisers of experimentation, William James: ‘The knower is an actor, and co-efficient of the truth on one side, whilst on the other he registers the truth, which he helps to create.  Mental interests, hypotheses, postulates, so far as they are bases for human action – action which to a great extent transforms the world – help to make the truth which they declare’.   James’ radical empiricism affords a starting point for developing a new empiricism that builds upon understandings of non-sovereign agency, enactments and assemblages, all of which take entities (observers, subjects, institutes, and the like) as actively existing in relation to one another; entities emerge, connect, and cohere within systems or networks of world making.  This evolved empiricism would, as well, build upon performance theory’s appreciation of the ways we make worldly objects – the ways that the world is generated in the laboratory. This new empiricism connects matters of ontology and epistemology in ways that render obsolete the idea that the observer ‘disturbs’ the observed for disturbances not only would be assumed but also valued in the sense that such disturbing constitutes the very core of observing and knowing.  Observers ‘disturb’ through shared performance that makes as it discovers the psychological phenomena. They would acquire practices not of ‘God tricks’ (distant and disinterested objectivity) but, instead, those of reflexive involvement, self-conscious interestedness, and appreciation of all actors’ non-sovereign agency.

  • 14:30 – Plenary Discussion, with Josephine Lenssen (Chair) and Elisa Filevich (Rapporteur)

15:00 – Coffee

15:30 – Figuring interaction’, featuring:

  • 15:30 – Daniel Margulies: What’s the relationship between my connectome and your connectome – and what might that tell us about the identities of ‘me’ and ‘you’?

ABSTRACT:  Bumping rhizomes: Second-person heraclitian connectomics and the challenge of the functional connectome

‘I am my connectome,’ says Sebastian Seung, during a recent TED talk. ‘You are your connectome,’ say the people to Sebastian Seung. ‘No,’ Sebastian Seung chides, ‘I am your connectome.’ The people pause. Sebastian Seung starts up again, having dropped his register a couple keys: ‘You are my connectome.’ There is general confusion in the audience.

But what is this ‘connectome’, this new –ome for a new era? What are the methods employed for the connectome’s description in humans? And what are the limitations and possibilities implicit in such approaches to the totality of connections in the brain? Functional connectivity, based in the correlation of intrinsic brain activity, has achieved recent prominence as an advantageous method for non-invasively investigating the connectome in humans. Using this approach, much research has addressed inter-individual variance in connectome–behavior relationships; but behavior is not static, and neither is the ‘functional’ connectome. The field has only recently begun developing questions and methods targeting the dynamic aspects of ever changing brain organization. This paper will present current challenges to the relating individual phenotypes to functional connectivity-defined connectomes, and discuss possibilities for dynamic models of a connectome that we never step into twice.

  • 15:45 – Jonathan Smallwood: Can the ‘constrained’ methods of cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience adequately address the mind’s ‘unconstrained’ activity?

ABSTRACT:  Balancing the magic with the mundane: how internal and external accounts of cognition can exist within a single theoretical framework

Understanding the basis of internal thought is a challenge facing the science of the mind in the 21st century. This talk will argue that there are two dangers that research in this area should avoid. One is assuming that internal processes reflect nothing other than ‘noise’ in experimental data; the second is assuming that internal thought processes are a fundamentally different quality of cognitive process from those that are known to operate in the control of external behavior. This talk will argue that rather than adopting either of these extreme positions, studies of internal thought should be used to test existing models of external cognition and identify any limitations of these accounts. At the same time, the detail that accompanies theorization on external behavior should be used as a template to inform theories of internal thought and identify where these accounts lack the necessary rigor. This ‘third way’ will allow the development of theories of cognition in which both self-generated and externally-generated thought play equally important roles, ultimately leading to a more ecologically valid account of what the mind does.

  • 16:00 – Andreas Roepstorff: Will the methods of neuroscience ever be adequate to the interaction of minds?

ABSTRACT:  After social cognitive neuroscience, interactive neuroscience is ‘the new black’. The dream seems to be that if we can only get at interaction online, here-and-now, as we press buttons together, we will finally get at what it takes to be human and interacting and one and all that. But is that really what human interactions are all about?

  • 16:30 – Plenary Discussion, with Tim Hahn (Chair) and Angela Woods (Rapporteur)

16:45 – Short break

17:00 – Transitioning into Day 2: Felicity Callard, Des Fitzgerald, Simone Kühn, Ulla Schmid

17:30 – Close of Day 1


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