17th-19th of October 2018, University of Porto

Join us in a three days interdisciplinary conference and workshop in the beautiful city of Porto to discuss the impact of (dis)embodiment on our sense of self and social connectedness!


Recent years have seen a resurgence of philosophical and scientific interest in the foundations of selfhood with particular focus on its bodily roots. Famously pioneered by Varela and colleagues in 1991, the Embodiment/Enactive approach typically refers to:

  1. the anchoring of subjectivity in bodily experiences;
  2. the importance of sensorimotor abilities and bodily situatedness for our mental life;
  3. the developmental role that the body has in shaping the mind and the social connectedness with others.

In everyday life we are constantly immersed in a dynamic flow of sensory information arising from both within and outside our bodies and involving various sensory modalities (vision, audition, touch, smell, interoception, etc.) which we need to integrate in order to obtain an accurate sense of self, world and other. Moreover, successful navigation in a complex, social world, crucially depends on how we understand and differentiate between our own and other people’s minds, behaviours and emotions.

We typically experience a “real me” situated in my body. Self-awareness, the feeling that our experiences are bound to the self – as a unitary entity, the “I” – is a fundamentally first-personal subjective experience and is considered to be one of the most astonishing features of the human mind. But what happens when the “me” inside gets disconnected from its bodily roots?

Disembodiment is a fascinating and intriguing phenomena which typically manifests as a disruption of bodily self-awareness which induces a disturbing feeling of detachment, “depersonalisation” or estrangement from both one’s bodily self and others. People experiencing disembodiment and depersonalization report feelings of being estranged or cut-off from oneself and the physical and social world, which leads to a persistent and highly disturbing sense of alienation. Depersonalization and self-detachment feelings are the third most common psychiatric symptom after anxiety and low mood. Yet, despite its high prevalence in the general population, the impact of this phenomenon is still poorly understood and relatively understudied.

The aim is to bring together world leading specialists in philosophy, neuroscience, and experimental psychology in order to address crucial issues related to the following two overarching questions:

  • How to characterise the relationship between atypical embodiment/disembodiment, selfhood, and interpersonal (mis)understanding?
  • What does atypical self-awareness and disembodiment teaches us about our typical sense of self and more generally about conscious experiences?

Against this background, our conference’s main goal is to contribute at raising awareness on the impact of mental health issues on societal factors such as stigma and isolation.  In order to do so, we will take an innovative step forward by building upon the skills and expertise of world leading scholars in philosophy of mind and cognitive science with focus on different overlooked senses such as: taste, touch, interoception. We will then address also the issue of the link between disrupted perceptual experiences and atypical social interactions. Finally, we will incorporate and connect these approaches with the important question of subjective conscious experiences from a broader philosophical perspective.

The conference will be followed by the Second Interdisciplinary Workshop “Self-Dissociations”, as a part of the Bial funded project ‘Estranged from Oneself-Estranged from Others – Investigating the Effect of Depersonalisation on Self-Other Mirroring’ awarded to Dr. Anna Ciaunica – Principal Investigator (PI) and Dr. Harry Farmer, co-PI.


Photo credits: © Alejandro Galvez-Pol