Publication 6662

Bitbol M. (2019) Neurophenomenology of surprise. In: Depraz N. & Celle A. (eds.) Surprise at the intersection of phenomenology and linguistics. John Benjamins, Amsterdam: 9–21. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/6662
A theory of the central nervous system was formulated recently, in general thermodynamical terms. According to it, the function of a central nervous system, and more generally of living autopoietic units, is to minimize “surprise.” The nervous system fulfills its task, and the animal maintains its viability, by changing their inner organization or their ecological niche so as to maximize the predictability of what happens to them, and to minimize the correlative production of entropy. But what is the first-person correlate of this third-person description of the adaptation of living beings? What is the phenomenological counterpart of this state of minimal suprise? A plausible answer is that it amounts to a state of “déjà vu,” or to the monotony of habit. By contrast, says Henri Maldiney, surprise is lived as a sudden encounter with reality, a reality that is recognized as such because it is radically unexpected. Surprise is a concussion for the brain, it is a risk for a living being, but it can be lived in the first person as an awakening to what there is.

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