The recursivity of experience

I’ve been labouring under a false apprehension about how I have to think about this, but the wonderful Consciousness and Experiential Psychology conference on neurophenomenology disclosed for me just how I can move forward. One of the most interesting things to note about this process of disclosure is that it is, and continues to be, a recursive experiential process.

The context of these thoughts is that I am hoping to bring about some neurophenomenological work with some folk in the Alexander Technique (AT) community, and they speak of the formation of coincident or correlating ‘neurological sets’ in their intersubjective practice.

So, at the conference I presented a haiku version of my thoughts:

felt co-sensuous relations


neurological union

But as soon as I found this formulation I felt uneasy. There was something about ‘enact’ that suggested a temporal precedence and consequence, and that wasn’t quite right. So, I went back to my thoughts about radiating and inviting – in all interaction we affectively radiate and invite or distance (which is a less obvious form of rejection, though I’m not sure why I’m being cautious). In enkinaesthetic, felt co-sensuality we radiate and invite or distance, and in so-doing we are co-determining our worlds. This co-determination is better understood as co-constitution because it removes the suggestion that things could not be otherwise. Together – and this togetherness includes the rest of our temporal and spatial universes and no justification will be given for this claim at this point, though it is in my papers – we co-constitute our affective worlds.

What has this to do with AT?

Well, my suggestion is now that the felt-co-sensuous (enkinaesthetic) experience recursively ensures the presence and adaptation of the corresponding neurology, and the neurology recursively ensures the presence and adaptation of the enkinaesthetic experience. So, the resonances we feel with some circumstances, people, technologies, and even visual, auditory, gustatory, haptic, and olfactory objects, is as a result of the recursive nature of this process and, I hazard a guess, the neurological-enkinaesthetic correlation.

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Recursive time consciousness – in our being is our becoming

I’m trying to work out the recursive nature of time consciousness. I’ll try out some thoughts here and look forward to feedback.

First-order languagings have an integral co-immersive affective character and, crucially, occur within an always-differentiating recursive process. We have shown how the enkinaesthetic nature of languaging is reciprocally and plenisentially affective in a complex co-immersive, dialogical way; now we emphasise the recursive nature of enkinaesthetic languaging, without which pre-reflective, preconceptual experience would be without significance for the agent.

Luria’s writing on kinaesthetic melodies echoes Merleau-Ponty’s earlier thinking that “internal articulation and as a kinetic melody gifted with a meaning [carries within itself] an immanent intelligibility” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). In our dialogical context “internal articulation” refers to the pico-scale dynamics of whole-body inter- and intra-actional attunement and co-ordination. They are ‘articulations’, not just of musculo-skeletal systems, but of affectively-laden tonalities which underpin the formation, strengthening, fracturing, and breaking of social bonds and which, in their enkinaesthetic articulation, have their own intelligibility. This intelligibility is formed within the feelings of anticipation, of the sensed familiarity (we might once have referred to this as ‘repetition’, but now know true somato-sensory repetition is impossible) and sensed unfamiliarity (which we might think of in terms of ‘change’ or ‘difference’ whilst not being limited by them static temporality), and most importantly, how these at once draw us back and propel us forward. One might think here of the notion of ‘width’ in the “living-present” of Husserl’s phenomenological structure of time consciousness. The “living-present” extends beyond the now of the primal impression, into the retained just-past, and the protended yet-to-come, and, so, our temporal experience spreads out across time, and is not a matter of a single, discrete punctuated event. (Husserl 1964; see particularly §11.) But this highlights only one – albeit manifestly significant – element of the “always livingly present”; the other element is the processually recursive.

Sensed familiarity has balance; its articulation is smooth, its intelligibility immanent, but it is never still, and never discrete. Our livingly present is always co-livingly enkinaesthetically active; drawing us within ourselves and forward anticipatingly. There is, at one and the same time, a linear (explicit) order, a story we can tell, and an implicit forth-coming, but the coming-forth is only possible because this is a process of feedback into the already-changed and feed-forward into the anticipating; and this is a perpetual process. We might express this as a recursive ‘synchrony’ of being and becoming expressed. In our being is our becoming. We are, so to speak, immersed anticipatingly, livingly with our world.

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Spilling over into the bodily experience of others

The boundaries which seem to separate us from our worlds open us up to those worlds and reveal to us our inseparability from them. Those boundaries which can appear, at first, rigid and fixed are often malleable and semi-permeable. We need think only of the skin with its surfaces within surfaces (Hoffmeyer 2008, pp.17 – 38), the biological membranes of stratum corneum, epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue, and our sense receptors and nerves; then there are the hairs that respond to temperature, which can stand erect if we are suddenly fearful, and which can be brushed by a sleeve or touched gently by a breeze; and then there are the non-biological membranes of clothes with their textures and degrees of translucency, and our personal and social boundaries which vary in relation to our moods and emotions, our confidence, our company, our feeling of well-being and health, and so on. Our natural assumption is to see the boundary of the body as the limit of our experiential world, but it is precisely its semi-permeable nature its breach which provides us with the possibility of experience in the first place. The skin, overrun with an abundance of receptors – sixty kilometers  of nerve fibres, fifteen kilometres of veins, with millions of sense receptors for pain, temperature, pressure and touch (Hoffmeyer 2008, p.18) – opens us up to the world and discloses it through our inescapable engagement with it, and then, of course, the skin is supplemented by the plenisentience of visual, proprioceptive, kinaesthetic, auditory, gustatory, and olfactory senses which open us up in their own way, are affected by change or motion within our world and which, with internal feedback, can bring about affective change within themselves. [p.306]

Agential bodies are co-affective sensory-kinaesthetic systems which spill out into the world and the lives of others. Embodiment may be a nomological condition for agency [Dobbyn & Stuart 2003] but it is ‘embodiment’ broadly [and radically] conceived, for it is the agent’s capacity to transgress its boundaries, to spill over into the bodily experience of others, which establishes the community and reciprocity of felt co-engagement, and it is this felt co-engagement which is fleshed out in the expressive, meaningful and cognitive bodily dynamics which are, in themselves, the necessary precursor to effective affective social, cultural and linguistic communication in the human agent. [pp. 306-7]

Published in “Enkinaesthesia, biosemiotics, and the ethiosphere”, in Signifying Bodies: Biosemiosis, Interaction and Health, (2010) The Faculty of Philosophy of Braga, Braga, ISBN 978-972-697-191-7, pp.305-30


Dobbyn, C. H. & Stuart, S. A. J. (2003) “The Self as an Embedded Agent”, Minds and Machines, 2003, 13 (2) pp. 187 – 201

Hoffmeyer, J. (2008). Biosemiotics: An examinations into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs. Trans. J. Hoffmeyer & D. Favareau, University of Scranton Press, Scranton and London.

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enkinaesthesia and metaphysics

I wrote this to some friends last week, but it’s worth publishing more broadly because it challenges some current metaphysical assumptions.

When we taxonomise and name our world we do a certain violence to it; we rip it apart, as Plato would say: carving nature at its joints (Phaedrus, 265d-266a). This became an ideal of the European Enlightenment, see particularly Carolus Linnaeus’ binomial naming and nearly all scientific endeavour. But what this does is take an artificial set of patterns – in this case language – and assume that, as we find things which fit our linguistic descriptions, we are finding things out about the real world, that is, a world that exists independently of our experience.*

Now experience isn’t innocent here because what we experience is partly shaped and structured by our somatosensory system (all the stuff I mentioned in my previous email); it is also partly shaped by our experiential history, and also by what the world presents to us. [Working out the exact proportions of each would be a fool’s errand.]  What it means is that the end product, the experience, is an artefact of who and what we are.

So, let’s say, we describe the elements of our experience as, for example, green or red, malleable or rigid, mental or physical, and then we look for things which fit our taxonomy or conception. Then we find that ‘minds’ are mental and ‘bodies’ are physical, and never the twain shall meet within that dualistic metaphysics.    But what we forget is that we’re using one set of patterns, an invented language, to frame another set of patterns, what we present to ourselves through the interplay of sensing body and world and what we claim to be sharable (Are my pains the same as your’s? Is my experience of red the same as your’s, and so on.)

But the Alexander Technique (AT) and Gene’s Focusing (F) adopt a simpler and more natural approach. They both start from a non-divisive enkinaesthetic (E) foundation in which experience is embodied involving a rich affective interplay with innumerable other organisms and objects.

In all three cases, AT, F and E, it is the affective interplay which is fundamental. We co-exist co-affectively. Our sensing bodies act, or rather they co-act, with these other things and organisms, and in this affective co-action our sensing bodies probe (interrogate) our experiential worlds. Experience feeds back to affect the organism and alter the direction of their ongoing enkinaesthetic enquiry.

Starting with enkinaesthesia, in which we affect and are affected by other organisms and objects, we are able to understand ourselves within a community and reciprocity of being, where each action engenders affect and that affect engenders action, not just within ourselves but within all life. In that active being is our becoming; they are temporally synchronous – in just the way Michal Segal (my Alexander Technique teacher in Glasgow) has of saying “one after the other and all at the same time”.

The enkinaesthetic approach has the great advantage of being non-violent metaphysically and hermeneutically.

*[Nietzsche writes very well about this in On Truth and Lie in an Extra Moral Sense (attached). So does Borges in his wonderful collection of short stories, ‘Labyrinths’.]

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Hello world!

‘Enkinaesthesia’ describes the way in which we are experientially entangled, affecting and being affected by other organisms and objects. In this way we are able to understand ourselves within a community and reciprocity of being, where each action engenders affect and that affect engenders action, not just within ourselves but within all life. Fundamentally this means that organisms and their environments are affectively co-constituting. 

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