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Kyoto Conference 2015—Beyond the Extended Mind: Different Bodies, Dolls, Female Soul and Eastern Spirit

by Kokoro Research Center, Host

Kyoto University, Japan
20-21 June 2015
Symposium website: http://www.kyoto-u.ac.jp/en/research/events_news/department/kokoro/events/2015/150620_9.html.

Reviewed by Kyoko Tadaoka
Transtechnology Research, University of Plymouth


The mind is called "kokoro" in the Japanese language. It's a word that encompasses the meaning of heart, mind, body and spirit, and it is at the heart of Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University where the conference was held. This conference was jointly organized by two of the government-funded projects for Scientific Research (KAKEN) in Japan, "The Ecological Turn of Knowledge--The Ecological Phenomenology for Reconstructing the Human Environment," led by Tetsuya Kono from Rikkyo University, and another, "Embodied Human Science: Vision and Future Development," led by Shogo Tanaka from Tokai University. The hosting organization, Kokoro Research Center, also a KAKEN project, is one of the leading groups to have an active conversation between psychologists and religious scholars, representing the unique Japanese contribution to the understanding of kokoro, the philosophy of mind. The aim of this conference was to deconstruct the Cartesian and colonial notion of the mind or the self, and present the alternative understanding of the mind, kokoro, by looking at the theoretical and practical inquiries from developmental psychology, robotics, cognitive neuroscience, phenomenology, Buddhism, Kyoto school of Japanese philosophy, Confucianism, arts, women's studies, gender study as well as psychiatry.

The conference was overall, dispersive but well represented in the diversity of speakers, overloaded with content, but very exciting. Each session was a collection of snap shots from different fields of study where the speakers dealt with the notion of mind in different degrees and in philosophical traditions, the density of the diversity sometimes left me totally overwhelmed. It appeared to me that one of the barriers in the exchange related to the different degrees of understanding with regard to what causes ideas to cross-pollinate. On the other hand, what was exciting was that I could see great enthusiasm in bringing new dimensions to the philosophy of mind from Japanese academia. This was reflected through the titles of each session, "Dolls", "Emerging Minds", "Eastern Spirit", and "Female Soul" implying the dichotomous understanding between body/machine, mind/soul, body/spirit, eastern/western and male/female. Although there was a disagreement amongst the organizers about the choice of words, they went ahead to use them anyway since the titles included "symbols to relativize the old framework of philosophy of mind and psychology." [1] The way I have organized my review below does not strictly follow the chronological order of the sessions. All the key speakers presented themes that were important; such as how Mirror neuron system illustrates the ambiguous boundary between self and other in the dynamics in neural representations; how the attribution of the enacted mind can be found in the developmental transition of gaze of infants or kinetics such as posture; how the artifacts, such as self-portraits, can be a material in examining the workings of the mind; or how focusing on the issue of gender can reveal the social and political issues which surround our lived body. However, for the purpose of writing this review, I have only selected some presentations that I thought were particularly unique as Japanese contributions, and arranged them by the way in which their key inquiries could relate to each other.

So leading inquiries included: What is the alternative model of mind in the era of post-colonial, post-ethnocentric, post-androcentric and post-anthropocentric? Where is the mind situated if it is not in the brain? How can we better understand and relate to one another in this alternative model of mind?

Throughout the conference, the notion of ambiguity and incompleteness emerged as a theme in relation to some of the key terms in psychology such as intersubjectivity and intercorporeality, in the process of embodiment and enactment. The example of the relationship between technology and human interaction was presented. The practice of Michio Okada from Toyohashi University of Technology demonstrated how human interactions can be enhanced through a mediation of technology by leaving the function or design incomplete which therefore invites human assistance to complete the task or triggers cooperative behavior amongst the users. Hiroshi Ishiguro from Osaka University gave a provoking example in which he illustrated how the use of androids can facilitate better interface between people such as through classroom tutorial, as a shopping guide or even as an actor at the theatre. He touched upon the effect of design for theatrical use, concluding that simply designed androids were more affecting for the audience than humanoids whose appearance resembles actual human beings.

The keynote presentation by Shaun Gallagher from the University of Memphis was symbolic. His concept of the theory of the socially extended mind does not define cognition as something that resides in our head, but rather it is in our process of interaction with social and cultural institutions. In the presentation, he did not go into much detail about what the socially extended mind is, rather, he focused on the elements of what constitutes a cohesive pattern of a group as the ascription of a socially extended mind. He gave examples such as "rationality, reflection, narrative competency, attentional dynamics and some aspect of affect" [2] and suggested that this narrative competency of a group might be the "glue" which connects and allows coherence. This raised the question from the audience as to whether the socially extended mind can be defined without individual minds. Although Gallagher's response did not quite satisfy me and left me wondering, I still find his new move on this emphasis quite refreshing since it might help us to avoid the dead-end discussion of the boundary of the mind of individuals or society, or the ontological claim of subjective awareness where it carries the philosophical difficulty of possibly dismissing the embeddedness of minds.

Perhaps one of the key contributions to the philosophical grounding of an alternative model of mind at the conference was presented by Shogo Tanaka from Tokai University. While Gallagher focused on the ability as an element of attribution of the socially extended mind, Tanaka's phenomenological approach focused on what goes on in the relationship in the process of enactment in the embodied interaction. Tanaka emphasized that through the embodied interactions, the self and other not only perceive and react to each other's way of being, but also to enact one another to facilitate this reciprocal interaction (which is what Merleau-Ponty called intercorporeality) that can result in emerging autonomy. This can appear to have a life of its own. This is where Tanaka introduced the phenomenological psychiatrist, Bin Kimura's concept of "aida" where he refers to this spacious and timely aspect of "betweeness" (or "in-between" by Fuchs and De Jaegher) within enactors rather than their pure distance. Kimura used a music ensemble as an example to illustrate where each interactions feeds itself to create an "opening of self and other" [3] where it enables each interaction to form a harmony as a whole, and he called this the autopoietic mechanism of "ma." Tanaka furthered this approach by arguing that the quality of the emerging autonomy from the shared intersubjectivity arises from malfunctioning aspects of embodied interactions such as mismatches and de-synchronizations. This is due to what Tanaka calls normativity that is involved where the minimum scale of what participants project onto each other, such as expectations, appropriateness, desire, suitableness and acceptability, can be the driving factors of the autonomous interaction. He concludes: "[t]he other's mental states are not hidden or private; they manifest themselves through the malfunction of embodied interactions." [4]

Some presentations from Session 3 on "Eastern Spirit" were an attempt to add another layer to what was suggested by Gallagher and Tanaka. What is to be noted about the so-called Eastern tradition of the philosophy of mind, the split of body/mind problem, was treated as an opportunity for moral acquisition in those traditions. The emphasis therefore is more on transforming the quality of an individual awareness. Tomoaki Kitsukawa from Toyo University illustrated the mechanism of established Buddhist epistemology and ontology in Yogacara thought (Consciousness-only Buddhism) where it describes the fact that it is the cultivation of the purified awareness or wisdom. This can overcome the problem of the mind, such as misconceptions, attachment and addiction, and this can be done through the process that is often described as the emptying of self-nature, which transforms the awareness therefore cognition. Tadashi Nishihara from Kyoto University presented this ambiguous and contradictory notion of the emptying of self-nature as being at the heart of the later philosophy of Kitaro Nishida, one of the prominent philosophers from the Kyoto School in Japanese philosophy. According to Nishihara, Nishida approached the idea of emptiness through the ambiguous and interchangeable objective and subjective aspects of the body, both the body that sees and the body that is seen. From this perspective, when one is to empty their ego, it alters one's awareness to be absorbed in the observing object, therefore it appears as if things comes towards oneself or, in Nishida's words, things illuminates oneself. In Nishida's later philosophy, he proposed the notion, "the identity of absolute contradictories," as a philosophical base to emphasize that it is in the acceptance of this tension in contradiction that enables the ambiguity that forms the inherent relationship between mind and body.

After attending the conference and witnessing the process of exchange, I was left with the question; is it ok to assume that the mind is the same in different disciplines and traditions? What could be lost in translation or is there any other philosophical concept in which we don't have to worry about what get lost? Gallagher's focus on the narrative and its competency of a group seems to suggest looking at what makes the coherent pattern of a group as an attribute of mind. However, the leap from the individual to the socially extended mind still raised the question of how one can be defined without the other, which might be an indication of a philosophical gap. The conference was ambitious, and indeed I found some concepts ambiguous and incomplete. However, I was very impressed by all the hard work that went into to bringing the program together, and excited to witness the germ of possibility of the dialogue between the different philosophies of mind in Kyoto where the ancient moss still breaths


[1] Kono, T., Introduction to the Conference: "Beyond the Extended Mind: Different Bodies, Dolls, Female Soul and Eastern Spirit" In: Proceedings of the Kyoto Conference 2015 "Beyond the Extended Mind: Different Bodies, Dolls, Female Soul and Eastern Spirit", Kyoto University, 2015, p.14.

[2] Gallagher, S., Narrative and the socially extended group mind. " In: Proceedings of the Kyoto Conference 2015 "Beyond the Extended Mind: Different Bodies, Dolls, Female Soul and Eastern Spirit", Kyoto University, 2015, p.102.

[3] Tanaka, S., Embodying the other mind. In: Proceedings of the Kyoto Conference 2015 "Beyond the Extended Mind: Different Bodies, Dolls, Female Soul and Eastern Spirit", Kyoto University, 2015, p.93.

[4] ibid, p.99.


Proceedings of the Kyoto Conference 2015 "Beyond the Extended Mind: Different Bodies, Dolls, Female Soul and Eastern Spirit", Kyoto University, 2015.

Last Updated 2nd September 2015

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