Marek Pokropski: Practicing Phenomenology in Cognitive Sciences: Toward Theoretical Integration with Mechanism

This is one of the papers from our 2017 Annual Conference. Information and the full conference booklet can be found at www.britishphenomenology.org.uk

Phenomenology entered the field of cognitive sciences in the early 90s of the 20th century (Varela 1993). Since then, several proposals for introducing phenomenology to the cognitive sciences have been produced e.g. front-loaded phenomenology (Gallagher 2003), formalization of phenomenological description (Marbach 2010), neurophenomenology (Lutz & Thompson 2003). In my paper, I would like to propose another approach, namely non-reductive theoretical integration with mechanistic explanations.

Mechanistic explanations are applied widely in life sciences especially in biology (e.g. Craver & Derden 2013). However, in recent years there have been attempts at introducing mechanistic thought to cognitive sciences (e.g. Bechtel 2008, Craver 2007) including an attempt to mechanistically explain consciousness (e.g. Oizumi et al. 2014). I will argue that this attempt is doomed to failure due to its phenomenological naivety. However, it can be improved by incorporating a phenomenological approach.

In my paper, firstly, I will discuss the background of practicing phenomenology in the cognitive sciences. Secondly, I will characterize mechanistic explanations and show why the mechanistic naturalization of consciousness will fail if it refuses to incorporate phenomenology. Then, in order to prove that phenomenology can be integrated with mechanistic explanations, I will argue for a new reading of Husserlian phenomenology, namely that it can be read as a kind of functionalism. The main objective of Husserlian phenomenology was to give adequate descriptions of the functions of consciousness. Furthermore, phenomenologically described functions of consciousness are congruent to some extent with a mechanistic approach - they are autonomous, multi-level, and decomposable. Finally, I will argue that phenomenological practice can be inspiring and deliver explananda to researchers working on mechanistic explanation of consciousness.

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