Action in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: an Enactive Psycho-phenomenological and Semiotic Analysis of Thirty New Zealand Women's Experiences of Suffering and Recovery
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This research into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) presents the results of 60 first-person psycho-phenomenological interviews with 30 New Zealand women. The participants were recruited from the Canterbury and Wellington regions, 10 had recovered. Taking a non-dual, non-reductive embodied approach, the phenomenological data was analysed semiotically, using a graph-theoretical cluster analysis to elucidate the large number of resulting categories, and interpreted through the enactive approach to cognitive science. The initial result of the analysis is a comprehensive exploration of the experience of CFS which develops subject-specific categories of experience and explores the relation of the illness to universal categories of experience, including self, ‘energy’, action, and being-able-to-do. Transformations of the self surrounding being-able-to-do and not-being-able-to-do were shown to elucidate the illness process. It is proposed that the concept ‘energy’ in the participants’ discourse is equivalent to the Mahayana Buddhist concept of ‘contact’. This characterises CFS as a breakdown of contact. Narrative content from the recovered interviewees reflects a reestablishment of contact. The hypothesis that CFS is a disorder of action is investigated in detail. A general model for the phenomenology and functional architecture of action is proposed. This model is a recursive loop involving felt meaning, contact, action, and perception and appears to be phenomenologically supported. It is proposed that the CFS illness process is a dynamical decompensation of the subject’s action loop caused by a breakdown in the process of contact. On this basis, a new interpretation of neurological findings in relation to CFS becomes possible. A neurological phenomenon that correlates with the illness and involves a brain region that has a similar structure to the action model’s recursive loop is identified in previous research results and compared with the action model and the results of this research. This correspondence may identify the brain regions involved in the illness process, which may provide an objective diagnostic test for the condition and approaches to treatment. The implications of this model for cognitive science and CFS should be investigated through neurophenomenological research since the model stands to shed considerable light on the nature of consciousness, contact and agency. Phenomenologically based treatments are proposed, along with suggestions for future research on CFS. The research may clarify the diagnostic criteria for CFS and guide management and treatment programmes, particularly multidimensional and interdisciplinary approaches. Category theory is proposed as a foundation for a mathematisation of phenomenology.
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