philo carpenter title image.jpeg.001Ethnography, especially as an anthropological method, has borrowed much from philosophy. Clifford Geertz started his career in philosophy but later switched to anthropology. His concept of thick description explicitly owes much to the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s work in the essay “The Thinking of Thoughts What Is ‘Le Penseur’ Doing?” . It is difficult today to read a paper or monograph in the social sciences without references to notable philosophers such as Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Karen Barad, Martin Heidegger and so on. However, such a cross-pollenation from anthropology into philosophy is less commonly seen. I suspect this is because as practitioners, philosophers spend most of their time analyzing arguments as logical structures. They tend to start from ‘intuitions’ that is to say, their own experience, and then argue and deconstruct the language they use to convey those ideas. This is not to say that all philosophy does is identify contradictions in arguments. But it does suggest that other sources of propositions might be valuable to identify live philosophical questions. One example is Joshua Knobe’s work on experimental philosophical (X-Phil) which builds on studies drawn from the social science discipline of psychology.

Cultural anthropology derives much of its results from ethnographic research. Typically, ethnographers define a site (an area, a community, or a practice for example) then they embed themselves, writing as deeply as possible about their observations. These observations must include their own reactions and responses while in the field. This self-reflexivity is similar to the use of ‘intuitions’ in philosophical research.

I’m going argue that both first and second hand ethnographic accounts would be a good source for philosophical propositions. This is because these are live accounts. There is no possibility of unbelievable or abstract accounts in a well-done ethnography. It is possible that a germane point is missed, or even mis-interpreted. But properly done, an ethnography resides in the lived world. This ‘live’ character lends itself to believability, which some examples, such as Philippa Foote’s infamous Trolley Problem seem perhaps less than likely. I hasten to add, that this is not to denigrate the sharp logic to be found in philosophy’s use of sentential logic, but rather, use of live, real-world data  drawn from other fields of study offers additional depth to the discipline.

The concept of “liveness” is drawn from Henry James’ lecture “The Will to Believe”. He argued that hypothesis can be accounted as:

  • Live–meaning a hypothesis is believable. This places the quality of liveness in the viewer, not the phenomena.
  • Forced–meaning a hypothesis is a logical disjunction. It is not possible for the hypothesis or its negation to both be true, nor is it possible for both the hypothesis and its negation to be false.
  • Momentous–meaning the decision resulting would be unique(“Once in a lifetime), of great significance(“life changing”, and/or irreversible (“life or death”)

The college professor, Gerry Lavallee, who taught the first philosophy course I ever took, argued these could be defining characteristics for a philosophical problem. While I am not certain these are exhaustive or exclusionary, I’m willing to accept them as sufficient to define a hypothesis as a philosophical problem, at least for now. Let us consider ‘liveness’ in relation to philosophy and ethnography.

Ethnographic research should provide information that is intrinsically ‘live’, following from this definition. Indeed, that is the whole point of ethnography: to provide deep, thoughtful interpretation of how people live. This accounts must be believable stories of people and their communities. This clearly provides fecund ground for research into ethics, but I would suggest that epistemology and hence ontology and metaphysics are also suggested. The reason is that if human behaviour is part of the world, then any ontology or metaphysics should be able to account for it.

If a phenomena exists, that is to say, it has at least objective recognition, then any argument that argues for its non-existence can be challenged strongly on the grounds that it is ‘forced’, as it exists. Conversely, we can observe that if it has other possibilities than a simple disjunction, then the hypothesis must be abandoned or revised. James illustrates this with the negative example “Choose between going out with your umbrella or staying in” is not a forced choice as you could leave without the umbrella. His positive example is “Accept this truth or do not accept this truth”. Anything but acceptance is ‘not accept’. Such a hypothesis is forced. It is also perhaps the most technically philosophical of the three criteria. A hypothesis that doesn’t form a logical disjunction would require refinement or restatement if not out-right rejection.

A momentous hypothesis would require that it describes something of great significance in life. Thus it would well be revealed in the lived experience of those involved as participants in ethnographic research.  Most ethnographic accounts attempt to discover patterns that are momentous in the lives of their participants. Generally, birth, marriage and death rituals, as well as how work and play are performed are of great import to those involved. Other specific activities may be great relevance to one’s place in a community. Unique events may be described, but also ones that are mark a significant change and irreversible change is one’s life. To be sure, not all accounts in ethnographies are entirely momentous. Much of such account may describe distinctions that are trivial. The choice of colour of a car isn’t likely to make a significant difference in one’s life. On the other hand, when one is considered an adult in the eyes of their community is an example of a significant and irreversible change in a life. The privileges that accrue with that entail new responsibilities. Take for example the granting of a driver’s permit in Canada. This allows a range of new freedom’s but also responsibilities to drive safely, follow the rules of the road and so on. One may take a job farther away, or explore sexual relationships away from parental surveillance. On the other hand, the suspension of these privileges can curtail job opportunities, create a huge social gap due to shame, or initiate other strife within families, for example.

We can easily believe an Canadian man whose driver’s permit is suspended for DUI may lose his job, as he can’t get to work. He may be humiliated by his transgression. His partner and family may be extremely angry or upset with him, leading to family break up. Such reactions are entirely believable, are built around a forced decision(being intoxicated, one decided to drive rather than deciding not to drive while intoxicated). The care required with stating the hypothesis so that it is a true disjunction is perhaps  the most critical argument for considering this a philosophical problem. But this question “Should you decide to drive while intoxicated, or not?” can be discussed in terms of the live and momentous characteristics which are conveyed in ethnographies. Thus a philosophical problem can benefit from ethnographic accounts.


Pamela Tudge ” What we waste: Subverting domestic food practices with experimental creation-based methodologies” Workshop at COLLEEX 16 July 2017


This blog post arose from my reflection on the first COLLEEX workshop on experimental ethnography, which I attended last week in Lisbon. I benefitted from the responses to a specifically philosophical presentation I gave on the relationship between making objects and the philosophical possibilities that this offered, and to a joint presentaion I did with a colleague from our group who are studying Canadian women who drive long-haul trucks. The breadth of issues being examined gave me much food for thought


Aryana Soliz presenting The Vibrant Gallery: An Experiment in Remaking Ethnographic Praxis “Elizabeth White and Aryana Soliz” . One of two that Aryana gave over the duration of the workshop.

and inspired me to begin to make a broader argument for philosopher’s benefitting from ethnographic studies, or indeed, making their own.

“How can we physically identify
another mind-in-action
while in a playful situation?”

Of Minds, Brains, Bodies

Theories of mind attempt to explain how we ascribe states of mind- desires, perceptions, knowledge beliefs and intentions– to ourselves and others. Different theories of mind use different understandings of the relationship between body and mind(Jaworski1.). Broadly, there are three approaches to this question. One approach, ‘idealism’, describes all activity as mental and our experience of the physical as a misperception of the world. A second approach, physicalism, characterizes all mental phenomena as emerging from physical phenomena. A third approach puts forward the view that mental and physical phenomena are fundamentally different and co-exist in their own realms. Within each of these approaches, many different and often conflicting arguments have been advanced to explain why and how we can have both a mind and a body and experience consciousness. As yet there is no adequate explanation for, or conceptual description of, the relationship between the brain and the mind. One attempt to resolve these questions is known as the enactive approach(Wilson2). This falls under the heading of a physicalist approach, but insists that our current description of the physical world requires a broader understanding of what we mean by physical and material. It insists that consciousness arises from action, but is not necessarily or essentially deterministic. The enactive view explicitly argues that cognition takes place in the body, not simply
the brain3.


Players and Bodies

I became interested in how players lose themselves in play and play with each other 4. How we account for our understanding of our own consciousness is intertwined with how we account for consciousness in others. Perhaps the most poignant instances of this is when we physically engage with another as I-Thou. Shaking hands, hugging, a pat on the shoulder all convey our sense of the presence of another. One interpretation refers to this as the ‘lusory attitude’5. Colleagues and I began making digital controllers to help explore this6.

Variations on Tug o’ War

The practicum of my dissertation involves a series of playful, interactive experiences, designed to elucidate our awareness of another’s consciousness. Aside from a conventional version of tug o’ war, variations using electromechanical sensors, and Kinect motion capture cameras will be deployed to create variations of the game having differing experiences of tug o’ war. In the more electronic versions, the experience may be subtly changed by the computer referee skewing the game. When and why this becomes apparent will be a critical point as this may point to cues of how we identify consciousness in physical interactions. I will also put this in context with contemporary art and game practices that inspired my research.
Interviews with players will allow me to develop accounts of the physical experience of play. This method, derived from phenomenology, emphasises careful and rigorous reflection of personal experience7. These accounts will be the basis of my analysis and conclusions.

End Game

I have two goals in this work:
The first is to examine how we understand that there is another consciousness through our bodies rather than through language. In this case, toys and technologies act as media that communicate a sense of another mind being present.
The secondary element of this research discusses the potential for interactive technologies to serve as “objects to think with” (Turkle et al 2007) in explorations of fundamental questions of philosophy. I make the argument that the production of expressive objects, like paintings, films and games offer a means to generate innovative questions and conversations in and between fields of inquiry such as the Humanities, the Social Sciences, and the STEM disciplines.

Serious Play

If the nature of consciousness is one of the big three questions that remain(the other two being how life emerges and why the universe exists), then any success in conceptualizing consciousness would lead to better understanding of the fundamental nature of the world that lets consciousness arise. Moreover, our conception of mind- our sense of other’s needs, wants and intentions- influences every human interaction we have. Despite much success answering specific questions about the brain and our observed psychology, we still cannot explain how mind comes about. This playful research will help to better conceptualize these concerns.


1Jaworski,William  Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction (Chichester, West Sussex ; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

2Wilson, M. (2002). “Six views of embodied cognition.” Psychonomic bulletin & review, 9(4), 625-636.

3 Noë, A. (2009). Out of our heads: Why you are not your brain, and other lessons from the biology of consciousness. Macmillan.

4 van Sertima, Adam. Digital Dionysians: Nietzche, Rock Band and Ekstasos. Conference paper, ISSEI 2010

5 Suits, Bernard. The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia (Toronto ; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1978).

6Penzendorfer, Leif & Adam van Sertima. Poetic Thought: Making and thinking for transdisciplinary innovation. Conference paper DIGRA, Luneberg, Germany 2015

7Giorgi, Amedeo. The Descriptive Phenomenological Method in Psychology: A Modified Husserlian Approach(Pittsburgh, Pa: Duquesne University Press, 2009).

8Turkle, S. (2007). “What makes an object evocative.” Evocative objects: Things we think with, 307-326.

With great Thanks to Prof. Lynn Hughes, TAG/ Concordia University

Interaction is a noun. Vaguely, it can be used to mean some force affecting another. The cue striking the eightball would be an example. But this could also be described as a reaction. in that sense, we could consider one use of ‘reaction’, as in a chemical reaction. There, chemicals react predictably. To act is to perform some action, but also initiate some action. Thus,  intentionality seems to be implied in the word ‘interaction’.

“Inter” means between. While this could be the action of one body towards another, it is better captured by the sense of two or more bodies acting upon one another. Thus while one pool ball may be deformed when it impacts another, this is not the same category as when a person gestures at another. The struck pool ball has no intentionality towards the first. The change in the first pool ball is due to its motion and conveys no intentionality. In the second case, the act of waving (a gesture) may change the person waving. They may anticipate a smile or a wave back.

So, my brief account here defines interaction and its various conjugations as describing a change in the initiator of the interaction as much as the object. Indeed, it would be a mistake not to consider both (or more) parties as subjects.

One attempt to think about the relationship between spectators and interactive art is presented by Carlos Castellanos.

“Symbiogenic experiences are those that give rise to a sense that we are co-emergent, that is, that we exist in mutually influential relationships with our increasingly technological environment.” Castellanos 2016

Castellanos, Carlos. “Co-evolution, neo-cybernetic emergence and phenomenologies of ambiguity: Towards a framework for understanding interactive arts experiences.” Technoetic Arts 14, no. 3 (2016): 159-168.


Phenomenology, as the philosophical attempt to account for the structure of experience, has some methodological relationship with craft, or ‘making’ as it has come to be called. Heidegger’s(1954) phenomenology of silversmithing a chalice provides an example. He describes the experience and significance of wielding a hammer, and of the object that is being made. It is important to phrase the last clause in the passive voice. Heidegger was not a silversmith or practitioner of any other material craft, as far as I know. The contemporary ‘maker movement’ offers philosophers a renewed opportunity to engage with the “things themselves”. As van Manen(2014) notes, much phenomenology entails reflecting on a pre-reflective experience. Often those experiences are not all-consuming. He gives the example of driving home, and skillfully operating the car, with no clear memory of the drive. On the other hand, making an object also involves concentration in- the- moment, but the process is ostensive, rather than performative. The object bears the marks of the process by which one made it.
By making objects intended as subjects of reflection, we can develop new thoughts abductively, which can then be subject to inductive or deductive analysis. While I do not think this is the sole way to do phenomenology, I think this allows a means for engaging with the things themselves with both creativity and wonder.


Words to think on:

imaginative variation (is this not ‘art’?)

Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology (1954) in Basic Writings David Farrel Krell, ed. Harper Collins, 1993

Hatch, Mark. The Maker Movement Manifesto.2014

Van Manen, Max. Phenomenology of practice: Meaning-giving methods in phenomenological research and writing. Vol. 13. Left Coast Press, 2014.

Precis of my Research

The tree stump refuses to budge. It is substantial, but the judicious application of a shovel blade, an axe, and a chain saw, all lubricated by choice language, has severed most of the root structure. It should be moveable with a strong back. Now with a length of rope secured round it, I am still cursing its parentage, its probable future and itsself. I tug vigorously, and for long moments it seems to tug back. My opponent says nothing (when stumps start talking to you, you’ve been too long in the sun). It occasionally creaks, then as it seems about to give way, it springs back. Eventually, my adversary is extracted from the ground, I wipe the sweat from my eyes, and give it a final curse, before turning my attention to the next chore.

Alfred Gell, in his book Art and Agency(1998) discusses at length how people grant agency to inanimate objects. One familiar example is how drivers ascribe betrayal to their cars, when the vehicle suffers a breakdown. The actual facts in the situation, that normal wear and tear, or more bitingly, lack of maintenance has caused a part to fail is often not acknowledged. It is perhaps more satisfying to berate that “stupid car”. Ascribing agency to objets d’art is another facet of this behaviour, in Gell’s view. “Guernica”, Picasso’s response to atrocities from the Spanish civil war, as moved many people. Other works can be said to have an effect. Yet, we understand that the agency of an art object is not the same as that of a human. After all, unlike objects, humans move, speak, gesture……………hmmmm.

The way we understand that we are subjectivities has been described as folk psychology by some philosophers. People, and recent research has shown, many animals, exhibit a theory of mind. That is to say, we interpret other’s behaviour based on the assumption that it is driven by another mind. Yet the nature of our own subjectivity is still poorly described, questioned by psychology and critiqued by such philosophers as Daniel Dennett. He argues that there is no such thing a subject. He has developed a theory where what he describes as mental fields interact creating in humans the false impression of a subject. Our experience of agency, that we choose and intend towards the world around us, is an error according to Dennett(1993). I will refrain from discussing exactly what his arguments are for his position, at this time. However, I do not accept this position.

What I do accept, is that explaining consciousness is difficult. Philosopher’s have conjectured about it at least since Descartes, with is cogito ergo sum. Contemporary philosopher’s, especially Alva Noe, Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi argue that subjectivity need not reside in a metaphysical soul, but actually relies on the fleshy bodies of human beings. In that respect, they reject the mind/body duality espoused by Descartes, and instead try to accommodate human consciousness in a material world. I take as axiomatic that we are subjects. This subjectivity is important because the fact of its existence, I believe, has potential for important insights into ontology. Currently, modern science cannot account for consciousness. It cannot clearly explain how matter generates consciousness. But the current absence of a adequate theory does not seem to require that we abandon the quest. Galen Strawson recently wrote “The mistake is to think we know enough about the nature of physical reality to have any good reason to think that consciousness can’t be physical.”(Strawson 2015). He has also said more pithily that we must use math to describe the physical universe because we understand it so little, that math is all we have.

My three research proposals, intertwined as they are:the exploration of consciousness through playing physical games, phenomenological analysis of that play, and demonstrating the utility of abductive logic in research endeavours, such as my doctoral research.

We can explore consciousness,(the Other Minds problem) through physical play. This play can be refined somewhat by means of structuring it as game, which allows us to select our variables. Indeed, examining variations is considered vital to most approaches to phenomenological analysis. It seems to me that artistic variations offers a means to that. Another element of phenomenology is the concept of bracketing, or attempting to temporarily examine phenomena separate from the greater social and historical context in which it occurs. This sounds remarkably like the accounts of a “state of play” that theorists such as Huizinga describe.

Considering playfulness as an aesthetic experience opens up new research methodologies. These methods deploy abductive logic, which might be considered the logic of art, to complement the humanities and the sciences. Thus my research reflects on why these methods should be deployed as opposed to more conventional approaches. Thus I want to not only use playful, artistic methods to explore the nature of human consciousness, but I intend to make an argument as to why I should use these methods, and how they can be deployed to complement methods found in the Humanities and the Sciences, both social and physical.

I began this precis with an account of pulling a stump with a rope. By contrasting this with the experience of playing various instantiations of tug o’ war against fleshy human bodies, I home to make progress toward explaining how we come to awareness of our own subjectivity through the movement of fleshy bodies, and in the specific experience of play. The theoretical arguments for this approach I will only nod to here. Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological methods and subsequent refinements by other scholars are significant. Artistic practices, such as the early work of Chris Burden provided inspiration. The discussion of research-creation by Kim Sawchuk, Owen Chapman and Andrew Murphie initiated my interest in exploring the nature of art-as-research and its potential affordances. An elaboration as to how exactly to consider the ramifications of this research lies ahead in conversations with my committee members, and other scholars.

Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness explained. Penguin UK, 1993.
Gell, Alfred. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Clarendon Press, 1998
Strawson, Galen.”Consciousness myth”. Time Literary Supplement, 25 February 2015

“Lacking any idea of how sensors, algorithms, and databanks could be deployed to serve a non-neoliberal agenda, radical technology critics face an unenviable choice: they can either stick with the empirical project of documenting various sides of American decay (e.g., revealing the power of telecom lobbyists or the data addiction of the NSA) or they can show how the rosy rhetoric of Silicon Valley does not match up with reality (thus continuing to debunk the New Economy bubble).” -Evgeny Morozov

And how could the ontological questions of how we interact with our tools, and so with each other, help provide answers to this broad question?

The Individualized Program, at Concordia University in Montreal, is a multidisciplinary program for Masters and PhD level students. As a Phd Student who positions himself as a philosopher who makes things, it is a natural fit, for a rather oddly shaped intellect searching for an appropriate discipline. My supervisor’s disciplinary backgrounds, in Studio Arts, In Philosophy and in Intermedia and Design, reflect my interests. But at the core, I’m interested in art and games, as an expression of technology and play and how that let us conceptualize theories of mind. The questions that draw my attention is the problem of other minds and how we can have ‘mind’ in a material world. So if the existence of mind, or intentionality, is a hard nut to crack, I would rather use a playful set of tools, than the exquisitely focussed methods of neuroscience. hence, my interest in developing techniques out of artistic and craft practices. Yet any theory I develop I think must respond to and accommodate modern science without reducing itself to the ontological assumptions that are generally ignored by scientific principles.

In a recent article, Galen Strawson quotes Bertrand Russell:

“Physics is mathematical, not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover. For the rest, our knowledge is negative”

This is not to deny physics or maths, but to understand they are very good at explaining much phenomena but rather less successful at others. Earlier in his article, Strawson observes the conceptual problem is enunciated by Leibniz ““consciousness . . . is inexplicable on mechanical principles” and concludes his article by arguing that there are no good reasons to think that things can’t have thoughts.

My notions, which have developed considerably over the past three years, still focus on making(hence Research/Creation) especially with playful digital interfaces, and analyzing them from a phenomenological perspective. Perhaps my primary question is how do we differentiate responses from reactions(Sha 2013, p79) and explore intentionality and agency in the second person(myself and you, as opposed to myself and her/him). The implicit inclusion of empathy in these relationships has bearing on the playful elements of how we respond to one another, but also has methodological significance, which I intend to touch on in a future post. For now I’m just going to nod to it in this outline.

This is theorized by contemporary philosophers who explore the enactive approach to cognition: scholars such as Alva Noe argue, partially from neuroscience, partially from phenomenological accounts of perception, that rather than passive sensors, our eyes, ears, skin, tongue and nose actively seek and interpret some phenomena. Moreover, philosophers of biology such as Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela argue from scientific evidence, that the boundaries of the body and the world are much more porous than we normally consider them(1998). So rather than longing to reach the moon by trying to climb ever higher trees, I decided that I should look elsewhere for methods of how we can can of our own mind and others.

Pierce’s discussions of abductive logic, and how this can generate new and interesting questions underlies my research focus on research creation. To be clear, abductive logic doesn’t guarantee results, but it does generate questions that can exceed existing paradigms(Magnani 2013, Oh 2012, Hoffman 1999). This is why as a philosopher (whose discipline generally prizes deductive logic) who appreciates the success of the STEM disciplines (which favour deductive logic) I look to the Arts Plastiques(which I argue utilize abductive logic) to help develop new paradigms in other disciplines. This is a research goal unto itself, but partially arises as a way to theorise my philosophical work on philosophy of mind, by means of playful interfaces, and why I would make devices (electronic toys) rather than deploy FmRI machines, or simply conduct thought experiments.

IMG_3033My specific questions arose from a tug o’ war game controller I constructed with Leif Penzendorfer and Dr. Amanda Williams in 2011(with a big shout out to Prof. Cindy Poremba, who organised the Bizarro Game Controllers workshop along with Amanda). We built the device, to see what happens. it was from there that I began to think about the role of intentionality between two players, and the assumptions that are implied in the relatively simple rules of tug o’war. My question was how do we respond to tug o’ war with a human, versus the anthropomorphism we intend toward say, a stubborn tree stump we are trying to extract from a field?


Hoffmann, Michael. “Problems with Peirce’s concept of abduction.” Foundations of Science 4.3 (1999): 271-305.

Maturana, Humburto, and Francisco Varela. “The tree of knowledge, revised edition.” Shambala, Boston (1998).

Magnani, Lorenzo. Model-based Reasoning in Science and Technology: Theoretical and Cognitive Issues. Vol. 8. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.

Oh, Jun-young. “Understanding scientific inference in the natural sciences based on abductive inference strategies.” Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012. 221-237.

Sha, Xin Wei. Poiesis and Enchantment in Topological Matter. MIT Press, 2013.

Strawson,Galen. “Consciousness myth”. The Times Literary Supplement, 25 February 2015 online accessed6 April 2015

This article discuss the work of linguist George Lakoff (at the University of California at Berkeley) and the philosopher Mark Johnson (now at the University of Oregon) and subsequent research:

It made me think is there a way bodily movement, such as gesture, an be considered metaphorical in a way analogous to linguistic, verbal metaphor?

7 Tutorials To Start Working With Kinect and Arduino

Using an Arduino with a Kinect device might be a simpler option than building an app for my laptop. It would also be a good project for me to become more familiar with Arduino and Processing(the language).

Thanks to

Sean Gallagher writes extensively about phenomenology and together with Alva Noe, Kevin O’Reagan and Dan Zahavi, Gallagher’s work informs both the theoretical basis for my question- “How do we know there are other minds?” and a methodology of using embodied and digitally mediated interactions to playfully explore this question. It is a bit too general to add to my list for my comprehensives, but it seems a good resource, all the same.

Gallagher, Shaun (2013): Phenomenology. In: Soegaard, Mads and Dam, Rikke Friis (eds.). “The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed.”. Aarhus, Denmark: The Interaction Design Foundation. Available online at