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Encountering the Supernatural

A Phenomenological Account of Mind

Julia Cassaniti and Tanya Marie Luhrmann

In this article we compare the encounter with the supernatural—experiences in which a person senses the immaterial—in Thailand and in the United States. These experiences appear to be shaped by different conceptions of the mind. In the US, there is a sharp, natural division between one's mind and the world; in Thailand, individuals have the moral responsibility to control their minds. These differences appear to explain how people identify and sense the supernatural. In the US, it is an external, responsive agent; in Thailand, it is an energy that escapes from an uncontrolled mind. Here we approach phenomenology—the experience of experience—comparatively, identifying patterns in social expectations that affect the ways in which humans think, feel, and sense. We take an experiential category of life that we know to be universal and use it to analyze cultural concepts that influence the enactment and interpretation of feeling and sensing.

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Alec Hyslop

If there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face, how, alas, does Sartre find out that Hell is other people? Because he was looked at? By them? Not necessarily, though no doubt he was. Because he was looked at, that’s how.

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Matthew P. Romaniello

Russian imperialism continues to leave a strong imprint on indigenous cultures across Siberia, and throughout the Russian Federation and the post-Soviet republics. Imperialism is invasive and persistent, and it might be impossible to escape its consequences. In 1986, African novelist and postcolonial theorist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o published his influential essay collection, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. One of his arguments is that no postcolonial subject could be free from the constraints of imperialism until she or he succeeded in freeing the mind from the trap of an imposed (and foreign) language. Ngũgĩ’s experience was based on his own life growing up in Kenya, but his lesson is as applicable to Siberia as it is for East Africa. For indigenous Siberians, language and education are at the forefront of the ongoing postcolonial struggle to maintain their cultural identities in modern Russia.

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Edward Branigan

Contemporary film theory is noted for its sturm und drang, though in the case of the soundtrack, incompatible attitudes and methods are found mostly below the surface where theoretical presuppositions are ruled by unpredictable melodic contours and accents. This article provides a comprehensive overview of philosophical issues concerning audition. It aims to orient a diverse array of sound theories in relation to a set of core issues involving perceptual processing, language, and mind. The article sounds out various cognitive frameworks, where each type of frame projects a favored description and explanation of sonic phenomena. It argues that what is heard in a sound depends on how one listens, and with what purpose.

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Fiona Ellis

Being and Nothingness opens with the claim that modern thought has sought to overcome a certain number of dualisms which have embarrassed philosophy in so far as their acceptance provides one with no way of explaining how there can be a relation between mind and world. The dualism of being and appearance is mentioned in this context.1 Sartre contends, however, that modern thought has failed to make good its aim, for the solutions in question have been set out within a framework that presupposes the dualism which was to have been transcended. So, for example, the idealist solution – that being is reducible to appearance – turns out to assume the very conception of appearance implied by the dualistic model (BN 5.iv). By doing so, it fails to provide a genuine alternative to those forms of realism that insist, in similar vein, that there is an insurmountable distinction between being and appearance, and is thus in no better position to explain how there can be a relation between mind and world.

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T.M. Luhrmann

My proposal is that local theory of mind – what I call here the ‘infrastructures of mind’ – shapes the way people recognize and experience supernatural presence. That is, I argue that the local cultural invitation to imagine thoughts, mental images and inner sensations in particular ways – as potent, powerful and dangerous, for instance, or as the heart of an authentic self – will affect the way people recognize and experience God’s voice. I compare interview data from similar churches in the US, Ghana and Chennai, to show that there are systematic differences in the way people experience God and that these differences appear to reflect culturally different understandings of mind. The often-unnoticed infrastructures of the thing that thinks – the way we think about our thinking – alters not only our mental experience but also the very texture of our reality.

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Beata Stawarska

This article discusses experimental studies of facial imitation in infants in the light of Sartre's and Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological theories of embodiment. I argue that both Sartre's account of the gaze of the other and Merleau-Ponty's account of the reversibility of the flesh provide a fertile ground for interpreting the data demonstrating that very young infants can imitate facial expressions of adults. Sartre's and Merleau-Ponty's accounts of embodiment offer, in my view, a desirable alternative to the dominant mentalistic interpretation of facial imitation in terms of the theory of mind.

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Gal Raz and Talma Hendler

This article reviews significant developments in affective neuroscience suggesting a refinement of the contemporary theoretical discourse on cinematic empathy. Accumulating evidence in the field points to a philogeneticontogenetic-neural boundary separating empathic processes driven by either cognitive or somato-visceral representations of others. Additional evidence suggests that these processes are linked with parasympathetically driven mitigation and proactive sympathetic arousal. It presents empirical findings from a functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) film viewing study, which are in line with this theoretical distinction. The findings are discussed in a proposed cinematographic framework of a general dichotomy between eso (inward-directed) and para (side by side with)—dramatic cinematic factors impinging on visceral representations of real-time occurrences or cognitive representations of another's mind, respectively. It demonstrates the significance of this dichotomy in elucidating the unsettling emotional experience elicited by Michael Haneke's Amour.

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The Public Mind

Edward Thomas's Social Mysticism

Stan Smith

According to his biographer R. P. Eckert, Edward Thomas was unaffected by the ‘social changes that seemed to have sprung up, almost overnight, when Edward VII ascended the throne’, preferring instead the work of Thomas Traherne (1637-74), ‘of a past generation, out of place in the company of modern social theory’. Writing in 1936-7, at the height of the Popular Front, Eckert assumed that ‘modern social theory’ was a front organisation for communism. Certainly, Thomas was never a ‘party politician’ – his phrase in the introduction to Richard Jefferies’ The Hills and the Vale (1909) to contrast with Jefferies’ ‘revolutionary’ commitment to the rural poor. He professed in The South Country the same year that ‘Politics … reforms and preservations … I cannot grasp; my mind refuses to deal with them’. But he also numbered himself in The Country (1913) among those ‘not indifferent to movements affecting multitudes’, who ‘may even have become entangled in one or another kind of social net’, and the circles in which he moved at Bedales school, where his wife Helen taught, were socialist, feminist and libertarian in a distinctively Georgian mode.

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Joel W. Krueger

In this essay, I argue that Sartre's notion of pre-reflective consciousness can be summoned to offer a general challenge to contemporary functionalist accounts of mind, broadly construed. In virtue of the challenge Sartre offers these contemporary functionalist accounts and the richness of his phenomenological analysis, I conclude that his voice needs to be included in ongoing debates over the nature of consciousness. First, I look at some of the basic claims motivating functionalist accounts of mind. Next, I look at Sartre's notion of pre-reflective consciousness and discuss how this notion challenges functionalist accounts of mentality. I conclude by suggesting that Sartre's rendering of pre-reflective consciousness remains overly cognitivist. I show how this notion can be deepened to include the sensory-motor capacities of the situated body—resulting in a pre-reflective bodily self-awareness—and how this deepened formulation offers a further challenge to functionalist accounts of mind.