Complexity and hermeneutic phenomenology

Collender, Michael (2008-12)

Thesis (DPhil (Philosophy))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


This thesis argues that the study of the brain as a system, which includes the disciplines of cognitive science and neuroscience, is a kind of textual exegesis, like literary criticism. Through research in scientific modeling in the 20th and early 21st centuries, anong with the advances of nonlinear science, and both cognitive science and neuroscience, along with the work of Aristotle, Saussure, and Paul Ricoeur, I argue that the parts of the brain have multiple functions, like words have multiple uses. Ricoeur, through Aristotle, argues that words only have meaning in the act of predication, the sentence. Likewise, a brain act must corporately employ a certain set of parts in the brain system. Using Aristotle, I make the case that human cognition cannot be reduced to mere brain events because the parts, the whole, and the context are integrally important to understanding the function of any given brain process. It follows then that to understand any given brain event we need to know the fullness of human experience as lived experience, not lab experience. Science should progress from what is best known to what is least known. The methodology of reductionist neuroscience does the exact opposite, at times leading to the denial of personhood or even intelligence. I advocate that the relationship between the phenomenology of human experience (which Merleau-Ponty explored famously) and brain science should be that of data to model. When neuroscience interprets the brain as separated from the lived human world, it “reads into the text” in a sense. The lived human world must intersect intimately with whatever the brain and body are doing. The cognitive science research project has traditionally required the researcher to artificially segment human experience into it pure material constituents and then reassemble it. Is the creature reanimated at the end of the dissections really human consciousness? I will suggest that we not assemble the whole out of the parts; rather human brain science should be an exegesis inward. So, brain activities are aspects of human acts, because they are performed by humans, as humans, and interpreting them is a human activity.

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