Workshop in tribute to Martin Fortier
Organizers: Jérome Dokic & Raphaël Millière
Friday 17 December 2021
10:00 AM - 6:15 PM
salle de réunion de l'Institut Jean Nicod, ENS
Presentation: In 2020, Martin Fortier, a doctoral student at EHESS attached to the Jean-Nicod Institute, died prematurely, on the verge of defending a thesis of nearly 600 pages. With his two initial training in philosophy and anthropology, his research has a strong interdisciplinary dimension, at the crossroads of social sciences and cognitive sciences. His published works focus on the epistemic and ontological status of hallucinations, on feelings of reality and hyper-reality, on spiritual experiences and shamanism, on altered states of consciousness and more generally on the diversity of consciousness.
This workshop honors the memory of a remarkable young researcher by addressing some of his favorite themes.
The presentations are in English, and the round table will be in French and English.
10h15-11h15 Joëlle Proust (CNRS, IJN), “From socio-cognitive habits to metacognitive diversity”
11h15-12h15 Juan C. González (UAEM, Cuernavaca), “Classification, reality and epistemic value of psychedelic hallucinations”
14h00-15h00 David Dupuis (Quai Branly Museum, Paris), “Can really psychedelics change the world ? Hallucinogenic substances and cultural evolution”
15h00-16h00 Raphaël Millière (Columbia University), “Dimensions of Consciousness”
16h15-17h15 Jérôme Dokic (EHESS, IJN), “The varieties of feelings of reality”
Joëlle Proust (CNRS, IJN)
"From socio-cognitive habits to metacognitive diversity"
Martin Fortier and I organized the first international conference on metacognitive diversity, meant to explore how cultural practices influence the evaluation of uncertainty about one’s own cognitive goals and subsequent decision-making (in cognitive actions such as learning, remembering, discriminating what is real). In the wake of the conference, we edited and prefaced a collective book, including proposals from anthropology, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and neuroscience (Metacognitive Diversity, OUP, 2018). My talk will concentrate on how the anthropological evidence that Martin collected has extended our understanding of social metacognition.
Juan C. González (UAEM, Cuernavaca)
"Classification, reality and epistemic value of psychedelic hallucinations"
In this talk I will first delve into Martin Fortier’s idea that a strong link can be established between the phenomenology of psychedelic hallucinations and their neuropharmacological bases. I will pursue this idea in order to clarify the kind of link this could be, and whether it provides in principle a solid ground for classifying ––or perhaps even explaining ?–– psychedelic hallucinations. In the second part of the talk I will discuss the ontological status of psychedelic hallucinations and their epistemic value, if any (a subject Martin Fortier was very much keen on). I will argue that 1) the ‘real’/’unreal’ divide is not apt to capture the essential attributes of psychedelic hallucinations nor, therefore, able to illuminate the nature of psychedelic experience ; 2) our habitual conceptual resources get modified during a psychedelic experience, which in turn modifies the habitual match between our perception and semantics. This constitutes a genuine cognitive change, for good or ill, not only making notions like veridicality ill-suited for assessing the ontological status of the hallucinogenic episode or its content, but also 3) leaving open the question of whether a hallucinogenic state is or can be a truly cognitive state, providing thereby knowledge to the subject of the experience.
David Dupuis (Musée du Quai Branly, Paris)
"Can really psychedelics change the world ? Hallucinogenic substances and cultural evolution"
Since the 1960s, psychedelics have been thought of as powerful tools for transforming societies. In the context of the renewed interest in these substances by the general public and the scientific community, these claims have found new echoes in recent years. Recent studies suggest, for example, that these substances are likely to transform users’ political positions, metaphysical beliefs or relationship with nature. Without denying the fact that psychedelics have their own affordances embodied in their neuro-pharmacological properties, the hallucinogenic experience remains strongly shaped by the norms and values of the social groups of those who use them. Rather than opting for a seductive but angelic approach – seeing psychedelics as substances capable of “healing the world” – or a repressive approach based on the fear of seeing these substances become tools for “brain washing”, I will propose in this talk to focus on what makes these substances unique among the large family of psychotropic drugs : their great sensitivity to extraphamarcological factors. Continuing here debates held with Martin Fortier over the last decade, I will show that rather than tools of social transformation, psychedelic substances appear in the light of anthropological analysis as powerful vectors of cultural transmission.
Raphaël Millière (Columbia University)
"Dimensions of Consciousness"
In recent years, a debate has emerged regarding the adequate characterization and taxonomy of global states of consciousness, a notion that loosely refers to “ways of being conscious” by contrast with specific conscious contents. Examples of global states of consciousness include the ordinary wakeful state, post-comatose disorders of consciousness, and the dreaming state associated with rapid eye movement sleep. The traditional view in clinical neuropsychology is that global states of consciousness can be ranked on a scale corresponding to levels of consciousness, from the “least conscious” to the “most conscious” state. This view has recently been criticized on the grounds that global states of consciousness differ from each other in more than one respect, and thus cannot be easily ranked from least to most conscious. Building upon some ideas outlined in Fortier-Davy & Millière (Neuroscience of Consciousness, 2020), I will raise a number of outstanding questions regarding the multidimensional account of global states of consciousness, and offer some suggestions to address them. In particular, I will draw from dynamical systems theory to explore the idea that global states can be modelled as attractors in a multidimensional space.
Jérôme Dokic (EHESS, IJN)
"The varieties of feelings of reality"
We certainly have the sense that the things we perceive are present, both in a spatiotemporal sense (they are there, right now, in front of us) and in a modal sense (they are actual, or real). On a natural view, the sense of presence of perceived things is itself internal to perception. In philosophy, there are two ways of cashing out the natural view, depending on whether the sense of presence is claimed to result from perceptual content (what is perceived) or the mode of perception in contrast to other psychological modes, such as sensory imagination. Referring to both joint work with Jean-Rémy Martin and critical discussion by Martin Fortier, I claim that the natural view is wrong. Drawing on a variety of case studies (including virtual reality, sensory substitution and the derealization syndrome), I argue that the non-perceptual phenomenology of presence is affective and has at least three aspects : bodily presence (the sense that we can grasp and manipulate objects in our immediate environment), interactive presence (the sense of sensorimotor contingencies), and presence to oneself (the sense of being acquainted with the things we perceive). These aspects are intimately connected but relatively independent from each other, and from sensory perception. In particular, the feeling of presence can be experienced in the absence of any genuine sensory relation to the world.