on evolution and evolutionary reality (me and you)

Archive for September, 2016

Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception or Shaking off the Dualism of Descartes.

 

 

        Writing about the cogito Merleau- Ponty says: “Insofar as, when I reflect on the essence of subjectivity, I find it bound up with that of the body and that of the world, this is because my existence as subjectivity (= consciousness) is merely one with my existence as a body and with the existence of the world, and because the subject that I am, when taken concretely, is inseparable from this body and this world.” Phenomenology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

         It sounds so benign: “cogito ergo sum”. But it sounds benign for a reason- it actually sums up the intellectual grounds of humanity, the way humans feel the reality in its core- “this is me, my small subjective world, and that is the huge, marvelous, but separate, if not mine, then whose, objective world.” All philosophies are built with that automatic assumption at the core.

While fighting with each other, the theists and the atheists, Plato’s idealists and Stephen Hawking’s scientists, nobody messes with the subjectivity versus objectivity divide concept.

It feels beyond philosophy; it feels like linguistics.    

       I think this is the reason, from my paltry readings, both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty sound so, so… painstaking. As their new approach, their method would require this extremely honest and disciplined explanation of the philosopher’s personal experience. They had to explain the nuances in the meaning and explain the process of the concept development because the history and “the establishment” of traditional thought was so old and enormous.  They, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, sound as if they were trying first and foremost to convince themselves of some odd truth, actually creating it as they proceeded. This truth or this method would attempt to put our intuitive feeling about reality upside down. If proven scientifically, it would be more ground-breaking than Nietzsche’ s killing of  God. These concepts combine perception, movement and intentionality in one conscious experience of a being engaged into the world.

“ How the body inhabits space ( and time, for that matter) can be seen more clearly by considering the body in motion because the movement is not content with passively undergoing space and time, it actively assumes them, it takes them up in their original signification that is effaced in the banality of established situations.” Merleau-Ponty, The spatiality of one’s own body and motricity, p.105.

     Amazingly, modern developmental neuroscience follow the steps of Merleau-Ponty, the philosopher. It was found that the motor neurons are the origins of the sensory and the thinking neural systems. Also motor activity precedes, sometimes by 0.1 second, our decision to make that move. The newborn baby’s body schema, as far as we know, is not subjective or objective, there is no duality, similar to the animals. The process of attachment, which will in the future decide whether one will hate one’s own body and be ashamed of one’s deepest emotions is a perfect example of the intentional arc. “The life of consciousness- epistemic life,  the life of desire, or perceptual life- is underpinned by an “intentional arc” that projects around us our past, our future, our human milieu, our physical situation, our ideological situation, and our moral situation, or rather, that ensures that we are situated within all of these relationships. This intentional arc creates the unity of the senses with intelligence, and the unity of sensitivity and motricity. “ ibid p. 137. Perception embodies the child and the mother, food, touch, love and the level of stress, all mixed together. It doesn’t occur in the baby’s brain, or in the mother’s brain or in between. The meaning of experience is being built and interpreted with the brain and the environment working in one spatiality and movement of feeding, sleeping, getting satisfied and happy… or not. This very real and crucial for future life event occurs in time and space that can only be called the baby’s world, not subjective, not objective, but nondual and phenomenological, baby’s world.

  Evolutionary ethology confirm similar mechanisms occurring in primitive animals. Their behavior, like seeking food or escaping a predator are directed by the “old” brain (the only brain available, in, for example, a lizard) This part of the brain, the medulla, the hindbrain nuclei, like amygdala, in the human corresponds with the “feeling” brain, with subjectivity, but for the animal these behavior occur obviously “out there”, in the animal’s non dual, only real world – out there is the food , out there is danger, out there is escape.

   Because of going beyond such a basic assumption, phenomenology has had to become first and foremost the method, the way of analyzing the conscious experience without the subjectivity versus objectivity divide, the way where embodied consciousness inhabits the world, not my world, not the nobody’s world, just the world, all the reality that any human has to play with.

    And if we accept that as humans this is the only world we have, this ceases to be only the method ( or the historical footnote), this becomes a huge responsibility and the unified force for the mankind.

 

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Is Philosophy Dead? What Would Husserl Say?

(reading Husserl for my phenomenology class)

 

                    “Dead? Yes, he is dead… But not completely dead.”-

                            The Sorcerer about Wesley from “Princess Bride”.

 

                       “The entire universe of science is constructed upon the lived  world. And if we wish to think science rigorously, to appreciate precisely its sense and scope, we must first awaken that experience of the world of which science is the second-order expression.”

                             Maurice Merleau-Ponty “ Phenomenology of perception” p.9

 

     The future of philosophy is tricky. Science will continue its march into realms traditionally occupied by philosophy- the structure of the Cosmos and the nature of the Mind. But reading Husserl’s discussion on science’s shortcomings one can get a glimpse of the future philosophy as (as always) the queen of the human knowledge, with phenomenology providing absolutely necessary grounding for all human endeavors.

    Stephen Hawking, arguably the smartest scientist on the planet, in his book The Grand Design, declares that philosophy is dead. Obviously, the killer is supposed to be triumphant science. But if one reads this book further, very soon one realizes that the very same author washes his hands like Pontius Pilate and abandons the murderous plot. Hawking is interested exclusively in the building the model of the universe which agrees  with the maximal spectrum of the empirical data in the broadest possible spectrum of domains. He excludes from “his science” the big questions: what is, why, and what is the human place in this model.

   So I am not worried about Stephen, smart people are not a threat for philosophy. I am worried about the Trumps of the world, the stupid, scared and insecure people are the threat. They create and thrive in a shallow, greedy consumer culture fed by countless forms of fear and violence.  People do not read books, they don’t have the  skills and habits of conversation and dispute. The critical thinking and self-inquiry are rare.

One would say then , that Husserl, in his writings about the live world and the pre-given world of science is barking at the wrong tree. Well, maybe he is not so useless…

  Kant and after him, Husserl, both made a distinction between the noumenal world- that what really is, and the phenomenal world – that what we experience. But for millions of years animals and later humans used neither. They used a system of behaviors which helped them survive, i.e. the pragmatic “what works” world. By and by, they developed the senses,  perceptions, instincts, memory, and the motivation mechanisms of pain/fear vs pleasure. The behaviors became rules, laws, and commandments, the system became the science, and humble in-between noumenal and phenomenal space mushroomed enormously and became, well, the Universe.

Husserl, himself a mathematician and treating himself as a scientist, points out that in this magnificent world of science, the human experience comes first.  He writes:” In this world, we are objects among objects in the sense of the life-world, namely, as being here and there, in the plain certainty of experience, before anything that is established scientifically, whether in physiology, psychology, or sociology. On the  other hand, we are subject for this world, namely, as the ego-subject experiencing it, contemplating it, valuing it, related to it purposefully.” E. Husserl, The way into phenomenological transcendental philosophy. P.152. He investigates the world which can be experienced and can be shared through intersubjectivity: “ Thus in whatever way we may be conscious of the world as universal horizon, as coherent universe of existing objects, we, each “I-the-man” and all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through “living together”.  Ibid , p154. This world existed always, way before the era of science and should the basis for our thinking and especially feeling.

   So, science operates in the pre-given world, disregarding that its nature and origins might be not so obvious. It presumes its ultimate reality and bulldozes forward leaving humans with their unique conscious, transcendental experiences, behind. In Husserl’s words: “ Science is a human spiritual accomplishment which presupposes as its point of departure, both historically and for each new student, the intuitive surrounding world of life, pre-given as existing for all in common.” ibid, p. 163. And: “ If we made it clear for ourselves, the obviously an explicit elucidation of the objective validity and of the whole task of science requires that we first inquire back into the pre-given world.” ibid p. 163.

   Husserl proposed his new type of philosophy as the solution. Fantastic, phenomenal! (pardon the pun). “ There has never been a scientific inquiry into the way in which life-world constantly functions as subsoil, into how its manifold pre-logical validities act as a ground for the logical ones, for theoretical truths. And perhaps the scientific discipline which this life-world as such, in its universality, requires is a peculiar one, one which is precisely not objective and logical but which, as the ultimately grounding one, is not inferior, but superior in value.” ibid p.165. He argues that the study of the intuitive, pre-given world of our experiences can ground  science. And without it, without philosophy (in the Husserl’s case, without the transcendental phenomenology) scientific results will lack the experiential connection with human existence.

   In general, I agree, but I see two problems with his solution.  First, scientists don’t seem to worry about their science lacking life-world, intuitive, experienceable grounding. They actually abhor subjectivity and  are trying to be as “dry” as possible. Neither does general public: “If planes fly and the ATM pays cash, everything is fine.” Secondly, speaking from personal experience, phenomenology has little chance to become a worldwide popular movement or a Facebook’s darling. It carries all the foes that philosophers have grappled with for millennia- nobody listens to them, nobody cares about them, they are lonely and mostly forgotten. It is because phenomenology is intricate, difficult and without everyday applications.

 And here is the trick, I was talking about at the beginning – Houdini escape from the cold academic halls and dusty libraries straight to the 21st-century mass media.

There is a small chance that there is a trend in the evolution, which together with the complexity and explicitness of communication also increases the  organism’s individuality. This trend might be augmented in humans by mirror neurons, by culture, by democracy, education, and by the internet. So far it has shown up in the individualized shopping, weird hairdos, and tattoos. But maybe, just maybe, as the world population grows older, more lonely and more confused, more people will ask big philosophical questions. The personal worldview is something that everybody has, in his guts, in his heart, and in his dreams. This is the implicit worldview.

        But, what if a personal, experience-based philosophy can help a person with work on what until now has been a subconscious set of opinions and worries? Then these opinions and worries, as old and primordial as the humanity, and as important as birth and death, can be transformed. This personal worldview can be made into the explicit form, into the language, conversation, and written form. This can help a lot of people and save philosophy.