Monthly Archives: August 2009

Philosophy as peering

Paul Ennis on contemplative gaze, the purest form of conscious speculation. I concur. The best and most satisfying way to confirm one’s own phenomenological suspicions is to take a good look at the world around you. However, the act of confirmation constitutes the necessity of keeping a philosophical mind towards consciousness itself instead of pretending it isn’t there. Julian Jaynes outlined this nicely in 1976 ( brackets mine):

The most extensive possible solution [to the problem of consciousness] is attractive mostly to physicists. It states that the succession of subjective states that we feel in introspection has a continuity that stretches beyond into a fundamental property of interacting matter. The relationship of consciousness to what we are conscious of is not fundamentally different from the relationship of a tree to the ground in which it is rooted, or even of the gravitational relationship between two celestial bodies. The view was conspicuous in the first quarter of this century. What Alexander called compresence or Whitehead called prehension provided the groundwork of a monism that moved on to a flourishing school called Neo-Realism [now called speculative realism?]. If a piece of chalk is dropped on the lecture table, that interaction of chalk and table is different only in complexity from the perceptions and knowledges that fill our minds. The chalk knows the table just as the table knows the chalk. That is why the chalk stops at the table.

This is something of a caricature of a very subtly worked out position, but it nevertheless reveals that this difficult theory is answering quite the wrong question. We are not trying to explain how interaction with our environment, but rather the particular experience that we have in introspecting. The attractiveness of this kind of neo-realism was really a part of an historical epoch when the astonishing successes of particle physics were being talked of everywhere. The solidity of matter was being dissolveed into mere mathametical relationships in space, and this seemed like the same unphysical quality as the relationship of individuals conscious of each other.

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Zizek speaks

I hate Twitter, but this is awesome.

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The Problem of Consciousness

O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries! And the privacy of it all! A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden hermitage where we may study out the troubled book of what we have done and yet may do. An introcosm that is more myself that anything I can find in a mirror. This consciousness that is myself of selves, that is everything, and yet nothing at all – what is it?

And where did it come from?

And why?

-Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, pg. 1

Finally, a true English translation of Being and Time!

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The Excess of Immediate Experience

Experience is a finicky beast to pin down and examine. Understanding is through analogy but what in experience is like experience besides immediate experience itself? Nothing can be like immediate experience, for if it were, it would simply be experience. We are thus in a loop, so to speak. When attending to the “things themselves”, how then to understand it? What metaphors can we employ to tame experience into intelligibility? Phenomenology is, of course, an attendance to the things themselves, and thus a reflection on what is given immediately. Or is it? Some time ago Janicaud accused some Frenchmen of going beyond this immediacy and into what is excessive: the theological. But is this the end of the story? To hold onto our phenomenologist card must we maintain our attention wholly on what is given in an instant or can we conceptualize beyond this and into the excess? How could experience be excessive if it is a continuous succession of “bumps” against the given? Does not the bumping happen continuously in the now?

I think not. It was Husserl afterall who maintained that experience is not purely in the now, for otherwise, we could not enjoy a melody. We would not even be able to comprehend a spoken sentence if it were not for the “bunching” effect of memory inherent to all perception! For do we not retain onto what was in the past in order to make sense of the present? Does not the expection of the future influence how we retain and hold onto the now? The art of defensive driving is in fact a steady adherence to the future in anticipation of idiocy. Most of our life is in a similar way. The now is a myth suitable only for the zen masters; the common man has loftier goals which stretch into the excess, towards the not-yet but soon-to-be. It is in relation to memory that perception sees the spinning fan as a circular blur. But this should be obvious. All perception is a perception of the past because the speed of light is finite. This was Bergson’s insight. We do not perceive reality but an image of reality for what we perceive is light reflected. This is the ambient optic array of Gibson as well. A structured reflection but a reflection nonetheless. A reflection which contains much significance for it is only through the reflection of my lover that I can see her face.

But see it I do. With more meaning than meets the eye! Within that perception, in addition to the past, I see the future. I see how I will love her tomorrow and the next. The perception is excessive in that I can see her as the mother of my child. I look at the given phenomena of my lover playing with other children and I can see beyond the given and into the future, our future. For perception is not just related to expectations but interpretations, self-interpretations. What I see is excessive beyond the given because I shape the given and respond to it reflexively. My mood orients me towards the world and structures my interpretation. A christian looks at a cross in an altogether different manner than does an atheist! I see wood and misery; they see blood and salvation. It is in accordance with our history that we see the present and the future. And thus we go beyond the immediate, into the excess. The now is a myth. A useful myth, but a myth nonetheless. It defies our immediate experience for what we experience immediately is not just the present but the past and future. The excess is not theological but immanent. Immanent in a different fashion but immanent nonetheless. God is not to be found in our experience but history and possibility should suffice.

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Bill Moyers interviews David Simon of The Wire

Watch it here.

Very insightful interview; interspersed with scenes from The Wire. Takes a critical look at the status quo of social policy concerning drugs, policing, and the political landscape. A lot to think and to become depressed about.

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What is philosophy?Preliminary thoughts on Badiou

I am starting a Badiou class this semester with John Protevi. The first book we are reading is Badiou’s “Manifesto for Philosophy”. From what I have read, I really dig his conception of philosophy proper (that is, if I understand it); this post is merely a preliminary attempt to briefly paraphrase what I interpret to be central to his conception of what philosophy qua philosophy is.

What is philosophy?

Philosophy is a reflection on the conceptual “breakthroughs” which arose from the interaction between developing edifices of human culture (science, politics, art, love) and the individual humans for whom such culture was self-constituting. The very nature of the “philosopher” qua philosopher is then reciprocally co-determined by his agentive activities and the cultural frameworks which provided him a lived world in which to act as an free agent (a new occurrence in human history). The a priori workspace of philosophy is then an anthropological invention which occurred at a definite time in our human history. The conceptual landscape of philosophy then can be said to have partially arisen from an intra-action between individual human beings and the “generic” procedures of human culture which sought to establish various forms of “correctness” relations between themselves and the world at large. Human agency qua subjective agency then co-developed reciprocally in relation to human civilization and should not be seen as a purely a priori structure that is transcendent to all historical contingencies. However, this dependency relation should not be seen as a limiting factor akin to postmodernist critiques of rationality, but rather, as a stepping-point into the “logical space of reasons” which provides philosophers with their conceptually reflective vantage point. The acknowledgment of philosophical contingency is only a starting place given we embrace the agentive freedom granted to us from our cultural-linguistic heritage. As Alan Watts put it, “Man has freewill to the extent he knows who he is.”

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Alan Watts is God for Ten Minutes

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