Breaking Into The Circle: a philosophical justification for a first-person approach to the science of consciousness
In line with Gendlin, Varela, Bitbol and others, this thesis argues that first-person experience is primary. Despite the fact that mainstream cognitivist approaches to the science of consciousness assume the primacy of third-person frameworks, I demonstrate that they are in fact derived from first-person experiencing. Third-person frameworks therefore do not underlie or determine the qualitative fact of conscious experience. Presupposing third-person frameworks before any investigation of experience is conducted does not only fail to bridge the epistemic gap of Chalmers’ (1995) Hard Problem of Consciousness, but elicits the gap. As a consequence of the mainstream cognitivist position, lived experience disappears from view, hidden by the “ancient” assumption that sense-percepts constitute the basic model of all experience (Gendlin 1997b: 406). If it is true that first-person experience is primary, it motivates a methodological shift that does not propose to solve the Hard Problem by asserting yet another theory or formula as primary, but dissipates the tacit expectation in third-person approaches that there exists a final formulation to be found. While my thesis focuses on establishing this claim, central to making it is the additional assertion that a genuine science of consciousness is possible if “we change the entire framework within which the issue is discussed.” (Varela 1996: 331) Third-person frameworks are not rejected, but become a reflective focus generated within the experienced world, without foreclosing prematurely on the pre-schematic possibilities of lived experience, recognising that: “Lived experience is where we start from and where all must link back to, like a guiding thread.” (Varela 1996: 334) The full import of deriving third-person frameworks from the originating world of lived experience will come to bear in a new methodological approach. This thesis thus constitutes further justification for why a first-person starting point for a science of consciousness is needed.