The Embodied Mind – Thomas Fuchs – IPP #02

Hello everyone! I’m very fortunate today
to have with me professor Thomas Fuchs. Professor Fuchs is a psychiatrist,
philosopher and Karl Jasper professor for philosophy and psychiatry at Heidelberg
University in Germany. His research areas lie at the
intersection of phenomenology, psychopathology and cognitive
neuroscience with a main emphasis on embodiment and enactivism
temporality and intersubjectivity. He is coordinator of several international
research projects and he has authored over 300 scientific papers, book chapters
and several books, among which I want to mention “Ecology of the brain. The
phenomenology and biology of the embodied mind” Professor I have
some questions on the embodied mind. First of al,l what is the embodiment? Well, embodiment is a very pervasive term at the moment where everybody understands
something different. So in my view, we should start with a short look at the still dominant Western dualism, which goes back to well even to
Descartes. So, dominant Western dualism sees the body as something which is a
mechanistic whole and which is outside of our of our embodied experience. So that is one part of the dualistic side. The other dualistic pole is the subjective
experience of the body and this subjective experience of the body is
completely inserted into the brain. So to speak so on the one hand our current
paradigm sees the body as a mechanistic system on the other hand my bodily
experience is something that is completely, well, contained in the brain.
Embodiment would see both presuppositions completely different:
the body is not just a mechanistic system, the body is a living system. The
body is a living whole and the organism is not just composed of parts but it is a self-reproducing autopoietic whole which is the basis of my embodied experience.
And the other pole is completely different and they can’t saw
it. It is not just a kind of body model in the brain but it is my embodied
experience, which builds upon the holistic system of the organism. So embodiment in the end means that being a subject I’m not within my brain but I’m
an embodied subject which is extended over my whole body, which is well moving
and feeling with my limbs and acting with my limbs and it is not something
that is done externally by commands of the brain. I’m this living body and this
embodied organism. Now to put it a bit more precise there are two major aspects
or dimensions of this embodiment: first we have to think of the body and the
organism as the basis of our feeling of being alive, I would say.So the basic
self awareness is something that emerges from the whole body in interaction with
the brain of course and the brain is necessary to integrate bodily
bodily afferences and bodily states, but in the brain is in constant interaction
with the body and only through this homeostatic regulation our embodied
self-awareness emerges. So if we are conscious beings we are already embodied
conscious beings. The other major dimension is the
sensorimotor dimension so here we transcend our organic body to interact
with the environment while in the senses by the limbs by connecting ourselves
with objects, by transcending the body when we deal with objects or by
transcending the body when we deal with other subjects whom we attach to
our body, we have a kind of mutual embodiment here right now when we look
at each other, and I see you nodding and you see me talking, then we are kind of
extended bodies that interact with each other. So also here we do not stop here
at the skin or at the skull what we are is extended in space, so to
speak. So that is the second major dimension of embodiment. Thank you very much. Okay… What is human being according to this embodied science? Well, the human
being is often taken to be something that I am as a subject, that I am as a
self conscious being, and somehow reduced to a psychological
state or psychological entity that continues over time. But from an embodied
point of view I’m of course not only a subject when I’m aware of myself but I’m
still continuous, I’m living on when, for example, I fall asleep. So I’m not just vanishing when I fall
asleep but I’m still a living being. So the continuity of myself essentially
rests on the continuity of the life of my organism, on the life of my
body. And that means that we cannot reduce the human being, the human self or
the human person to something psychologically, to something
psychological which is then somehow embrained, or somehow localizable in the brain.
But the human being is always the embodied person that I am, whether I’m
conscious or not conscious during sleep. It doesn’t play the decisive role, so the
continuity of my self is the continuity of an embodied being and that is what we
usually call in Western philosophy and in Western thought “the person”. Because
the person is not something that we can localize within the organism. The person
is always the human being as a whole. Do you think that the Self is a good
concept to organize these ideas about the human being? Yes, to a certain extent, if
we see the Self not just as a kind of property of
consciousness or a property of the psyche, but if we see the Self as an Embodied
Self that means, as I said before, the organism already is a kind of a Self
consider a self-reproducing system, a self-reproducing living being. And on this
level of life we already have this self-delimitation from the environment, so to
speak, which is necessary for the organism to reproduce, to sustain itself
But on the other hand this self-sustainment is dependent on the
environment and we are interacting with the
environment through metabolism, through sensory motor exchange. So, already on
this level there’s the Self of the organism but the self in contact and
relation with their environment, and this is the basis for my Self or for our
selves to be conscious, to become conscious of themselves, to be in
constant exchange with the environment as well, and to be in constant exchange
with others. So it wouldn’t be quite right to think of the Self as just a
mental or psychic entity. I think we should also embody the Self in that
sense. Ok, the last question is mental illness from a phenomenological starting-point? Ok, well, mental illness is nowadays
often seen as lead at least in psychiatry as being a disease of the
brain as some kind of dysfunction that we have to search for and by
neuroimaging or other methods of neuroscience. Again I would accept that
mental illness is certainly somehow dependent on the brain as well, but brain
dysfunctions are never the whole story. Brain dysfunctions are components of
overarching cycle of relations to the world that are somehow disturbed.
So from an embodied point of view mental illness is some kind of disturbance in
interactive cycles, again sensory-motor cycles. When we meet people with
hallucinations we would say that there is a disturbance of the usual sensory
motor cycle that creates real objects in which we can interact with, but here
obviously there is a disturbance in this interactive cycle which makes
hallucinations possible, but of course the major interactive cycle that is
disturbed and mental illness is the intersubjective cycle. So our relations
with others, in all kinds of mental disorders we have some kind of
communicative disorder, inability to interact with others in a way that is helpful for me, that is adequate, that gets me in contact with others and of
some kind of interactive disturbance is characteristic for any mental illness. So
in a sense we should again not localize the illness within the patient, somewhere
within the body or within the brain, but we should rather say that the patient is in the illness, so to speak, in a changed world in a changed interaction.
The illness surrounds the patient, so to speak, instead of being inside him. In his relation with world and with others? Exactly, and if we look a bit
closer at these interactive cycles you could also say it’s an a kind of
ecological approach to mental illness, because then the the environment is what
is important for really understanding the disorder. And if you look closer at these disturbances you find that there usually involve some
kind of feedback or a feedback loop that runs in the negative way, some
kind of of devil cycles or dysfunctional feedback loops So to take an example of depression, for example, usually depression is accompanied by a
lack of social resonance and emotional resonance, that will be observed by the relatives the acquaintances of the patient and they will first try
to interact with the patient in a normal way and to help him to be pitiful and so
on, but then they realize that it doesn’t work somehow and they get somehow
disturbed or irritated or even angry and that is something the patient realizes
and he is aware of not being able to interact with others in the usual sense
and that again increases his self devaluation and and and increases the
depression.This again leads to more interactive disturbances and so on in
the same sense you could say there’s self-fulfilling prophecies going on in
depression I have these automatic thoughts that I don’t want achieve
anything and that I’m not worthy of contact and that will lead to increasing
withdrawal this increasing withdrawal again leads to a loss of reinforcement
and again reinforces or in increases the depression. So all these are when you
look closely at it you are interactive dysfunctional cycles so to speak and
what we do in therapy is that we somehow try to counter these negative spin,
so to speak, and to create positive cycles that lead to an interaction that
gradually enables increasing contact with the world. Again, the the brain is
involved in all these cycles but of course the brain doesn’t create these
cycles the brain doesn’t create the stigmatization, for example, that the
patient experiences. The brain doesn’t create the social interaction, but the brain is integrated as part of these cycles and
it has also changed by these cycles. As we know today your plasticity shows that there is both a negative adaptation of the brain but there’s also a positive
adaptation of the brain, if the functional cycles of interaction work in a positive sense in a positive way as for example in our successful
psychotherapy then the brain again adapts to this
situation and creates and enables more positive experiences. So, in a sense the brain is always integrated and mediates these cycles but
it is not the creator of mental illness. Okay, you talk about
psychotherapy, one last question: what do you think about body oriented psychotherapy in a
phenomenological way or in a phenomenological approach? Well, phenomenology of the body, and also from a point of view of embodied cognition, we should regard bodily
experience as integrated holistic experience that is usually multimodal, so
integrates different senses integrates the situation as a whole, integrates my
bodily feelings which are the basis of emotions, all emotions, all moods have
their bodily resonance. So in my view psychotherapy should pay much
more attention to this holistic bodily experience because that is how a deeper
and also pre reflective and non-explicit experiences can be created, that help to
overcome the disorder gradually. Psychotherapy should not be something
only on a reflective or explicit level of insight and and understanding
that is all important! But we know today that much more is happening underneath,
so to speak, in our embodied interaction, in the mood and the atmosphere that is
created during the meeting during the session, and we should pay much more
attention to this pre reflective implicit or also non-verbal level of
interaction. okay thank you very much Ok, thank you very much professor for sharing your ideas with us! You are welcome. Cheers you all!

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