ALIUS Workshop 2018
Methodological Issues in Consciousness Research
Organized by David Dupuis, Matthieu Koroma & Raphaël Millière
26-27 October, Ecole Normale Supérieure, 45 rue d’Ulm, Paris
ALIUS is an international and interdisciplinary research group dedicated to the investigation of all aspects of consciousness, with a specific focus on non-ordinary or understudied conscious states traditionally classified as altered states of consciousness. The group fosters a unique interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers, involving anthropologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers of mind and psychiatrists, towards the development of a systematic and scientific model of consciousness supported by both theoretical work and experimental studies. This interdisciplinarity also aims to facilitate the investigation of consciousness states at different scales, at different levels of analysis, and with different methodologies. Neuroscientific, philosophical and anthropological approaches to the study of hallucinations, for example, are likely to be mutually informative. However, this plurality of approaches has been a source of criticism between disciplines. While neuroscience is often deemed reductionist, anthropology is sometimes taken to be unduly relativist, and philosophy is routinely suspected of being disconnected from empirical research. Our position is conciliatory rather than antagonistic: we see disciplinary diversity as a resource in the collective effort to achieve a scientific understanding of consciousness. Nonetheless, this interdisciplinarity raises important questions: which methodological approaches allow for a fruitful dialogue between disciplines in the investigation of consciousness? This question is the starting point of this workshop, which will present recent developments on methodological issues in consciousness research across disciplines. This event is intended first and foremost as a collective reflection on the methods used by ALIUS researchers, in order to understand their strengths and limitations. The workshop revolves around three axes, each of which will be discussed over half a day. The first session, coordinated by Matthieu Koroma (ENS-IJN), will focus on how studying the diversity of conscious states questions dominant paradigms in neuroscience of consciousness. The second session, coordinated by David Dupuis (Durham University), will provide a reflection on the contribution of field survey methods as they are conducted in social anthropology in the study of consciousness. Finally, the third session, coordinated by Raphael Millière (University of Oxford), will discuss new methodological development bridging first-person and third-person approaches to the scientific study of consciousness.
Friday 26 october 9h30 - Salle des Actes
Neuroscientific perspectives (chair: Matthieu Koroma)
Matthieu Koroma | Equipe Cerveau et Conscience - Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, DEC, ENS (CNRS UMR 8554)
Taking inspiration from Barett's work on emotions (Barrett, 2017), I will introduce how constructivism can be applied to consciousness. I first present some basic tenets of constructivism, then explain the framework of Lisa Barrett and discuss its application to consciousness. I will draw the implications for some relevant questions for our research group : is consciousness better cast as a unitary phenomenon or multiple constructs ? How is the conscious phenomenon shaped by our mental practice or lifetime experience ? how can the diversity of paradigms studying consciousness be integrated ?
Matthieu Koroma is a PhD student in Neuroscience at Ecole Normale Supérieure with a strong interest in philosophy of mind. He is doing his PhD under the supervision of Sid Kouider on the type of cognitive activity present in human sleep, both when conscious abilities are diminished during NREM sleep or present differently than during wake during REM sleep.
Oussama Abdoun | MEng, PhD | Equipe Dynamique de la Cognition - Centre de Recherche en Neurosciences de Lyon (Inserm UMR 1028 / CNRS UMR 5292)
New theoretical frameworks for meditation research
The neurocognitive study of meditation states and practices is a nascent but booming field of research that has already yielded a wealth of experimental findings. However, their interpretation remains delicate and is often based on the presumed phenomenology and mechanisms underlying contemplative experience, revealing a deep theoretical gap. We propose two theoretical tools to guide the design and interpretation of empirical research on meditation: a phenomenological model as a heuristic to generate new hypotheses, and the theory of predictive coding as a unifying approach to the processes involved in the practice of meditation. I will discuss how these two conceptual frameworks can be articulated in the context of meditation research, and their relevance for other altered states of consciousness.
Oussama Abdoun is a trained engineer from Ecole Centrale de Lyon. During his PhD at the University of Bordeaux, he studied the electrophysiology and pharmacology of the developing nervous system using large-scale in vitro recording devices. After a one-year sabbatical dedicated to the study of Buddhist philosophy and meditation, he transitioned to cognitive neuroscience and joined Antoine Lutz' research group as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Lyon, where he develops theoretical, experimental and computational tools for the study of meditative states. He has recently developed an interest in the predictive coding theory as a candidate framework for bridging first-person and third-person accounts of the variety of meditative practices and experiences.
Jean-Arthur Micoulaud-Franchi (Services d'explorations fonctionnelles du système nerveux, Clinique du sommeil, CHU de Bordeaux)
& Guillaume Dumas (Institut Pasteur, Human Brain & Behavior Laboratory)
Psychiatry: a Crash Test for Integrative Neuroscience
This presentation will address the role of integrative neuroscience in modern psychiatry from nosographic and semiological perspectives. It attempts to compare the need for multidimensional approach with a multi-scale understanding of the mechanisms involved in the emergence of mental disorders. The first part discusses the place of neuroscience in the classification of mental disorders, notably in the delimitation of the normal and the pathological, then the definition of the various psychiatric disorders. The second part focuses on the place of neuroscience in the semiology of mental disorders, more particularly on latent variable and multi-scale approaches.
Jean-Arthur Micoulaud-Franchi is a psychiatrist, neuroscientist and sleep doctor at the sleep clinic of the CHU of Bordeaux and at the University of Bordeaux. His work ranges from the symptomatology of schizophrenia and its associated electroencephalographic biomarkers, the development of recently developed therapies in psychopathology and an epistemological outlook on the place of physiology in the epistemological definition of psychiatric illness.
Guillaume Dumas is a faculty researcher in the department of neuroscience of the Institut Pasteur in Paris and has been working on the neural basis of human social cognition in interactive context. He co-founded ARTEMOC, a research group initially dedicated to the study of ASCs such as hypnosis, meditation, and transe states within a neurophenomenological framework. He is now focusing on the relationship between ASCs and psychiatry, especially regarding the articulation of categorical-dimensional and physiological-phenomenological approaches.
Friday 26 october 14h30 - Salle des Actes
Anthropological perspectives (chair: David Dupuis)
Arnaud Halloy (LAPCOS - Université Côte d'Azur)
Ethnographic immersion: an added value in the study of the diversity of states of consciousness?
It is generally accepted in anthropology that the objectivity of the ethnographic approach is based on the "right distance" or "distant look" established by the ethnographer towards his hosts. Such a posture, always in the name of the objectivity of scientific knowledge, also tends to reject any data resulting from an introspective attitude of the ethnographer on his own experience.
In this presentation, I will present a methodological alternative to these two epistemological assumptions. From my own immersion in an Afro-Brazilian cult of possession, I will question the conditions for the production of ethnographic knowledge "in the first person" as well as the potential heuristic and epistemic added value of such knowledge in the vast field of research on the diversity of states of consciousness.
Arnaud Halloy is a Belgian anthropologist, assistant professor at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis (France) since 2007. He received his PhD in 2005 from the EHESS (Paris-France). After studying an Afro-Brazilian cult in Belgium during his graduation, he traveled to Brazil where he conducted extensive fieldwork in the Afro-Brazilian Xangô Possession Cult of Recife, in the North-East Region of Brazil. Arnaud Halloy’s main interest goes to the mutual influence between contextual and cognitive dimensions of religious transmission, exploring the tight links between cognition, emotion, perception and cultural environments. He is now focusing his research on emotions and the senses, and their specific role in possession learning process, oracular systems, “empowerment” of artifacts and “traditional” transmission. He emphasizes the necessity of a closer collaboration between cognitive and social sciences in order to elaborate a cognitive ethnography of cultural learning. He has been member of Alius Research Group since 2016.
David Dupuis (Durham University)
Ethnographizing the hallucinated consciousness. Contribution of the ethnographic method to the phenomenology and the interactional etiology of hallucinations.
Participant observation is at the heart of the ethnographic method and contributes significantly to the identity of the discipline. Based on an ethnographic experience conducted in one of the main shamanic centres of the Peruvian Amazon, I would discuss the difficulties and interest of using this method in the study of social practices involving the use of hallucinogenic substances. I would thus seek to define the specific contribution of the ethnographic method to the understanding of the phenomenology and interactive etiology of hallucinations.
Co-founder and president of ALIUS, David Dupuis holds a Phd in Social Anthropology (EHESS-Paris/LAS). He is now post-doctoral research fellow at the Department of Anthropology of the University of Durham, funded by the Fyssen Foundation. Since 2017, he collaborates with the Hearing the Voice team (Durham University), focusing his research on the modes of induction, socialization and control of acoustic-verbal hallucinations ("voices") in the context of Amazonian mestizo shamanism practices, as ritualized use of hallucinogens and retreats in the jungle. He is currently working on building an anthropological approach of the hallucinations and on comparative approach to what he has called the modes of "socialization of the hallucinations".
Samuel Veissière (Mc Gill University)
Thinking through other minds: a variational approach to consciousness, cognition, and cultural affordances
The processes underwriting the acquisition of culture remain unclear. How are habits and norms learned and maintained with precision and reliability across large-scale sociocultural ensembles? Is there a unifying account of the mechanisms involved in theacquisition of culture? Notions such as 'shared expectations', the 'selective patterning of attention and behaviour' and 'situated learning' are the main candidates to underpin a unifying account of cognition and the acquisition of culture; however, their interactions require greater specification and clarification.
In this talk, I report on our current work that aimes to integrate these candidates using the variational (free energy) approach to human cognition and culture in cognitive neuroscience. We argue that human agents may learn shared expectations through the selective patterning of attention by the developmental construction of sociocultural niches that afford epistemic resources (i.e., cultural affordances). We call this process "Thinking through Other Minds" (TTOM) - in effect, the process of inferring other's expectations via ecologically specified, sensorimotor interactions. The integrative model has implications that may advance theories of enculturation, adaptation, and psychopathology.
An anthropologist and cognitive scientist by training, Dr. Samuel Veissière is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and co-director of the Culture, Mind, and Brain program at McGill University. He specializes in social and cultural dimensions of cognition, attention, and mental health from evolutionary and ecological (niche construction) perspectives. His current research spans various topics from cultural factors in hypnosis, suggestion, and placebo therapeutics, hyper-sociality in smartphone addiction, social polarization, gender and men’s mental health, variational (free-energy) approaches to the evolution of cognition and culture, and agent-based modeling of joint-intentionality and complex social processes.
Maddalena Canna (Northwestern University)
How to integrate anthropology and neuroscience in a natural context? Proposals for a reflexive bio-social anthropology
This talk explores the methodological and epistemological issues concerning the integration of biomedical technologies and natural context ethnography. My empirical focus will be a project in progress at Northwestern University. Its core hypothesis is that paradoxical injunctions induce specific alterations of consciousness fostering the transmission of counter-intuitive beliefs. By integrating methodologies and theoretical frameworks from anthropology and cultural neurosciences, I aim to give a bio-social account of the psychophysiological modifications induced by the use of different kinds of paradox across societies. Empirically, the project is based on two inquiries: 1) a doctoral fieldwork on pathogenic trance among the Miskitos of Nicaragua; 2) a postdoctoral fieldwork on meditative trance in US Ramakrishna Ashrams. By using portable field-friendly devices I will search for distinctive bio-markers of dissociative states associated to counter-intuitive beliefs. Also, this methodological option allows for exploring reflexively how neuroscientific practices and ideologies are appropriated in local contexts according to different conceptions of the Self. This research is part of a general sketch of a neurocognitive-informed, contextualized anthropology of consciousness.
Maddalena Canna holds a Phd in Social Anthropology (EHESS-Paris/LAS) and has been appointed Postdoctoral Researcher at Northwestern University from 2019. She is affiliated researcher at the Social Anthropology Laboratory (LAS) and Laureate of the Martine Aublet Foundation, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. She has been member of Alius Research Group since 2016.
Saturday 26 october 10h - Salle des Actes
Bridging first-person and third-person approaches
(chair: Raphaël Millière)
Raphaël Millière (University of Oxford)
Multidimensional approaches to consciousness
In this talk, I will discuss the claim that consciousness is best characterized as a multidimensional construct. This claim has been recently advocated in reaction to the mainstream account of consciousness from the clinical literature on disorders of consciousness, according to which global states of consciousness can be ordered linearly along a single dimension corresponding to alleged levels of consciousness. I will start by examining the notion of global states of consciousness (typically contrasted with local states or contents of consciousness), and suggest that it can be defined in two different ways. I will subsequently consider methodological issues in the project of mapping out global states of consciousness within a multidimensional state space. In particular, I will discuss new avenues of research to bridge first-person and third-person approaches to global states of consciousness in controlled experiments. I will conclude with a few propositions for future research.
Raphaël Millière is a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. His philosophical interests lie mainly within the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of cognitive science, although he also has a strong interest in the philosophy of perception and metaphysics. His research focuses mainly on the notion of self-consciousness. In his dissertation and in recent works, he disambiguates the claim that self-consciousness is necessary for consciousness, and challenge the resulting versions of the claim through conceptual analysis and the study of a variety of empirical cases, including states of consciousness induced by psychedelic drugs, meditation and sensory deprivation.
Chris Timmermann (Imperial College London)
Novel approaches in the bridging of first person reports and neuronal activity in transitions of conscious states
Experimental manipulation of states of consciousness fosters an inclusive approach in the study and modelling of conscious experience by including dreaming, meditation as well as a range of altered states. The use of second-person approaches provides a unique opportunity to understand the trajectories the mind-body systems may take when undergoing transitions of conscious states, such as wake-sleep, image formation, hallucinations, as well as important changes in self-related processing commonly associated to contemplative practices and psychedelic states. A review of second-person approaches used in neuroscience contexts will be presented with the aim of developing an experimental framework for the study of transitions of consciousness.
Chris Timmermann obtained a BSc in Psychology in Santiago, Chile and a MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Bologna in Italy. He is currently completing a PhD in Imperial College London, leading a project focusing on the effects of DMT in the brain and human consciousness.
He is mainly interested in the use of methods bridging the relationship between the phenomenology evoked by the psychedelic experience and changes in brain activity using diverse neuroimaging tools.
Enzo Tagliazucchi (University of Buenos Aires / INSERM)
From molecules to consciousness: towards an integrative neuroscience of psychedelics
Suppose someone consumes a typical dose of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). The molecules are absorbed by her body and cross the blood-brain barrier, finally interacting with proteins located at the cell membrane (receptors). Depending on the receptor and the type of interaction with the LSD molecule, different intracellular second messengers are recruited, which in turn modify the biophysical properties of the cell and influence its activity. The next two facts we know about are that the contents of her consciousness are deeply modified, and that such modifications are related to changes in brain activity, as measured with tools such as fMRI, EEG and MEG. But what happened in between? Currently, we have knowledge about the two ends of the process, but how can we connect both ends?
In my talk I will move between theory and experiment to propose a way to link scales based on the following assumptions: 1) That it is possible to map the state of the brain (measured at different resolutions) into a space with a distance function or metric (i.e. there is a notion of the proximity between two states), 2) That it is possible to map the contents of consciousness into a similar space, and 3) That it is possible to investigate how the distance functions from both spaces relate to each other, e.g. does “being close“ in one space imply “being close“ in the other?
Enzo Tagliazucchi studied physics and mathematics at the University of Buenos Aires and obtained a PhD in physics at the Goethe University Frankfurt. Currently, he is leading the Consciousness, Culture and Complexity Group (www.cocuco.org) at the Buenos Aires University. He is a Professor of Neuroscience at the Favaloro University, and a Marie Curie fellow at the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris. His main interest is the study of human consciousness as embedded within society and culture. The members of his research group represent different disciplines, including physics, engineering, biochemistry, psychology, computer science and ethnobotany. Their ongoing projects aim towards linking the phenomenology of non-ordinary states of consciousness to neurophysiological and neuropharmacological data. They are also interested in how cultural diversity influences consciousness and vice versa. They use tools ranging from natural language processing, to chemical informatics and molecular dynamics, and to whole-brain neuroimaging and computational modeling of brain activity.
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