‘Thinking at the edge opens up new perspectives into the amazing fabric of meaning‘

At the European Summer Research Institute 2017, held in Germany in August, Donata Schoeller led the ‘Thinking at the Edge’ sessions. By following simple steps participants explored the tacit dimensions of the very issue they research. ‘For me as a philosopher, ‘Thinking at the Edge’ opened up new perspectives into the amazing fabric of meaning, which inspires my thinking continuously.’

Current science, social policy and human relations tend to exclude the intricacy of the individual’s experience. ‘Thinking at the Edge’ (TAE)  is a way to think and speak about our world and ourselves by generating terms from a “felt sense”.[1]

During Donata’s sessions ESRI participants followed the simple TAE steps to attend to their felt meanings, experiential backgrounds and intricate contexts involved. This opened up a way of thinking that can account for meanings that emerge from their lived experience, real life situations and context.

Train to think in different ways
‘This way of thinking is a training for a non-reductionist thinking, or at least, a practice that is able to complement reductionist moves. I think we must train to think in many different ways: logically, conceptually, systematically, empirically, but also experientially. For the latter, we need to learn to take the complex backgrounds of experience into account and not lose them through habituated abstraction-mechanisms. This means tapping into an embodied know-how that holds such complexity and spelling it out in order to reflect with its kind of precision. This is a crucial for overcoming what Whitehead famously called the “bifurcation of nature”. Today the hardest theoretical and also methodological problem of the cognitive sciences is still how to account for experiential meaning.’

Deep and unexpected insights
‘During the sessions, I was surprised what deep and unexpected insights were possible within the time we had. It was especially moving to see the discoveries by some of the young researchers at the sessions.

I hope that they took away from the sessions that the unclear dimensions of a problem offer a promising start to establish new and rich connections. I really also hope they got a taste for the precision of the responsive relations of experiential backgrounds and the language they used.’

About the European Summer Research Institute
The European Summer Research Institute (ESRI) is an annual event bringing together around 120 scientists and practitioners in a unique retreat setting on an island in lake Chiemsee, Germany. The 2017 ESRI edition was devoted to the theme of ‘Exploring Experience’ and delved into the question of lived experience: how do we recognise and mobilise it to deepen our understanding of mind?

About Donata Schoeller
Donata has completed her Habilitation at the uinversity of Koblenz. It was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and by the ETH Zurich. The book which is about to appear is called: Close Talking: Speaking of Backgrounds. In this book she develops an interactive understanding of experience in its relation to language. A thoroughly embodied approach to language emerges in the course of her work, based on hermeneutical, phenomenological and pragmatist perspectives, as well as on the cognitive sciences.


[1] http://www.focusing.org/tae.html

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