Monday, July 7, 2014

International Merleau-Ponty Circle 2014

Again, the time flies... More than a month has passed since I sighed over my busy situation last time…

Well, anyway, today I announce that will participate in the 39th annual conference of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle, which is going to be held in the University of Geneva. My proposal for paper presentation was accepted.

Here I post the English abstract of my paper. I heard that they would print only the French version of it in the conference material, since my original paper was written in English.

Social understanding as a creation: Intercorporeality and Aida

The purpose of this paper is to push forward the so-called interaction theory (IT) in current cognitive science with the aid of two notions: one is Merleau-Ponty’s intercorporeality (intercorporéité) and the other is Kimura’s aida (entre). What these two phenomenologists have in common is that both conceived that our subjectivity is basically action-oriented rather than static and epistemological, and that both tackled the problem of intersubjectivity from this perspective. Briefly sketching the field of social cognition, the central issue has long been the theory of mind (ToM), which is generally defined as “the ability to imagine or make deductions about the mental states of other individuals” (American Psychological Association, 2009). In addition, within the theory itself, there has been ongoing debate between proponents of the theory-theory (TT) and those supporting the simulation theory (ST), regarding the nature of our ability to understand the other mind (cf., Davies & Stone, 1995). The TT claims that we practice our understanding of another’s mind and behavior by referring to common sense kinds of theories, that is, folk psychology (e.g., Astington, 1993; Gopnik, 2009). In contrast, the ST claims that we come to understand another’s mind by self-simulating his/her situation and projecting the result (e.g., Goldman, 2006). The former takes an observational, third-person point of view, whereas the latter takes an introspective, first-person point of view (Fuchs, 2013).
     Different from both theories, the phenomenological approach reframes the question by going back to the basic experiences in the lifeworld, where we directly perceive the other person through interactions, before running an inference or simulation (Gallagher & Zahavi, 2008). In general, we directly perceive intentions in the other’s actions or emotional states in his/her facial expressions (Gallagher, 2008) and we practice embodied interactions based on this understanding in the majority of ordinary intersubjective situations (Gallagher, 2004). For example, if a friend in front of you points a finger in a certain direction, then you will look for the object in that direction. Even during such a minute, non-verbal, but embodied interaction, there are several moments of implicit social understanding (e.g., you know that your friend found something, you know that your friend wants to bring it to your attention, etc.). Thus, insights from phenomenology have brought a second-person perspective based on embodied interactions into the ToM debate, and have formed the IT (e.g., Fuchs, 2013; Fuchs & De Jaegher, 2009; Gallagher, 2004, 2008).
     In this paper, first I revisit the notion of intercorporeality (Merleau-Ponty, 1951/1964, 1960/1964) and argue how it opens up the possibility of social understanding without representing another person’s mental states. The self’s body and that of the other are intertwined through perception and action in an intersubjectively meaningful way. Second, in line with and extending this view, I introduce the notion of aida (Kimura, 1988/2000), which means “in-between” (entre) of two persons. In the process of interpersonal coordination, aida often gains an autonomy with its own rhythm and emotional tone similar to music, through which the self and the other synchronize with each other. On the basis of this notion, it is possible to describe that our practice of social understanding is a process of creation through embodied interactions.