Ralph Ellis received his PhD in Philosophy at Duquesne University and a postdoctoral MSc in Public Affairs at Georgia State University. He has taught at Clark Atlanta University since 1985, and is interested in integrating the social sciences with the philosophy of mind. His various books in this area are listed at the Ralph D. Ellis page on amazon.com.
Phenomenology and physiology become commensurable through a self-organizational physiology and an “enactive” view of consciousness. Selforganizing processes appropriate and replace their own needed substrata, rather than merely being caused by interacting components. Biochemists apply this notion to the living/ nonliving distinction. An enactive approach sees consciousness as actively executed by an agent rather than passively reacting to stimuli. Perception does not result from mere stimulation of brain areas by sensory impulses; unless motivated organismic purposes first anticipate and “look for” emotionally relevant stimuli, brain-sensory processing is not accompanied by perceptual consciousness. To see a soccer ball requires looking for it in the right place. The self-organizing, emotionally motivated agent instigates this looking for activity.
Ellis R. D. (2006) Phenomenology-friendly neuroscience: The return to Merleau-Ponty as psychologist. Human Studies 29(1): 33–55. https://cepa.info/7308
This paper reports on the Kuhnian revolution now occurring in neuropsychology that is finally supportive of and friendly to phenomenology – the “enactive” approach to the mind-body relation, grounded in the notion of self-organization, which is consistent with Husserl and Merleau-Ponty on virtually every point. According to the enactive approach, human minds understand the world by virtue of the ways our bodies can act relative to it, or the ways we can imagine acting. This requires that action be distinguished from passivity, that the mental be approached from a first person perspective, and that the cognitive capacities of the brain be grounded in the emotional and motivational processes that guide action and anticipate action affordances. It avoids the old intractable problems inherent in the computationalist approaches of twentieth century atomism and radical empiricism, and again allows phenomenology to bridge to neuropsychology in the way Merleau-Ponty was already doing over half a century ago.
This paper considers where contemporary neuroscience leaves us in terms of how human consciousness fits into the material world, and whether consciousness is reducible to merely mechanical physical systems, or on the contrary whether consciousness is a self-organizing system that can in a sense use the brain for its own purposes. The paper discusses how phenomenology can be integrated with new findings about “neural plasticity” to yield new approaches to the mind– body problem and the place of consciousness as a causal player in the physical world. By phenomenology, I mean simply any attempt to have introspective or reflective access to the meaning of our own conscious states, and to carefully take account of the notorious pitfalls of subjective introspection (often subsumed within the concept of “folk psychology” in the empirically oriented cognitive theory literature).
Ellis R. D. (2016) Enactive Consciousness and Gendlin’s Dream Analysis. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 425–427. https://cepa.info/2604
Open peer commentary on the article “Exploring the Depth of Dream Experience: The Enactive Framework and Methods for Neurophenomenological Research” by Elizaveta Solomonova & Xin Wei Sha. Upshot: A neurophenomenological approach to the enactive account of consciousness in general is supported by an account of how the brain functions in creating imagery of non-present objects and situations. Three types of non-sensory imagery are needed to ground our consciousness of sensory imagery: proprioceptive imagery, motor imagery, and what Eugene Gendlin calls the “felt sense” of a situation. Dreams show clearly how we image situations without sensory input, a process that is clearly enactive rather than reactive. This enactive account of imagery then supports Gendlin’s method of interpreting dreams by comparing their “felt sense” to the felt sense of waking situations.