[A slightly edited extract from my paper "Nature's Dark Domain: an Argument for a Naturalised Phenomenology". Royal Institute Of Philosophy Supplement [serial online]. July 2013;72:169-188 with audio!]
Most listeners will readily distinguish an eight second sequence from Xenakis’ pioneering ‘granular’ composition Concret Ph.
and a loop that repeats the first one-second slice of it for eight seconds.
This is discernible because of the obvious repetition in pitch and dynamics.
Telling the looped sequence from the non-looped sequence is not the same as acquiring subjective identity conditions that would allow us to recognise the extra structure distinguishing the non-looped from the looped sequence in a different context (e.g. within the entirety of Concret Ph). What is discerned here is arguably a fact about the shortfall between type-identifiable phenomenology and non type-identifiable phenomenology (“unintuitable” or “dark” phenomenology).
As an illustration of this, the mere awareness that there is missing structure in the loop does not help settle the issue between virtualist and occurentist construals of that structure. It is plausible to suppose that the perceptual awareness of the missing structure in the Xenakis loop consists of virtual contents – a representation of tendencies in the developing sound rather than something like a constantly updated encoding of discrete sonic facts . Indeed the virtual model would be consistent with the widely held assumption that our representation of temporal structure is accomplished via recurrent neural architecture that modulates each current input by feeding back earlier input. But whether the contents of representations of temporal structure are virtual or occurrent in nature has no direct bearing on their conceptual or intuitive accessibility.
Tim Van Gelder, ‘Wooden Iron? Husserlian Phenomenology Meets Cognitive Science’, Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 4, 1996.
Étienne Balibar presents an illuminating synopsis of debates between French humanists and anti-humanists culminating in Foucault’s diagnosis in The Order of Things (Les mots et les choses) here.
Balibar sees Foucault’s book as a synthesis of two initially disparate critiques of philosophies founded on a conception of Man as the subject and object of philosophical reflection: Heidegger’s analysis of human finitude (stemming from his anthropological reading of Kant) and the formalist account of agency and indetermination in the structuralist anthropology of Levi-Strauss.
Link to an eText of Kant’s logic here.
For Balibar the central chapter is l’homme et ses doubles (‘Man and his doubles’) where Foucault criticizes the sublimation of data in the social sciences like psychology and history into attributes incarnated in each singular human individual. Balibar suggests that this position is formally akin to Marx’s criticism of anthropological essentialism – as in the sixth thesis on Feuerbach – with the difference that Foucault is interested in the projection of an abstract conception of a reflective ‘I think’ onto ‘quasi-transcendental’ conceptions of man as a living, labouring and speaking being. Finally, Balibar argues that Foucault’s text implies that Marx’s identification of the human with ’the open system or ensemble of all social relations’ can be critically re-engaged through confrontations with madness (psychoanalysis) and the non-European ’other’ (ethnography). Thus the death of man (qua abstract universal) does not imply the impossibility of a ‘critical anthropology of relations’.
Patrice Maniglier’s response makes some connections between the 60′s anti-humanism debates and Anglo-American interest in a teleological forms of ethics predicated on conceptions of humanly distinctive capacities (e.g. Nussbaum, Sandel, Kymlicka,etc). However, in view of claims made in my post on the ‘Category’ of the human, the most interesting claim is that Foucault’s project in OT derives from Ernst Cassirer’s assertion that transcendental philosophy is ‘conditioned by . . . transformations within empirical sciences’.
Maniglier claims that Foucault was attempting to neutralize the distinction between a naturalistic critique of transcendental thinking and a speculative history of being on the Heideggerian model by a) objectifying the structures (the epistemes) that putatively constitute our anthropological self-understanding and b) exhibiting the incompleteness of this frame. Thus anthropology is re-conceived as a method of soliciting the limits of humanist discourse.
Now, I find it hard to buy into the metaphysical project that Maniglier sketches here: in particular, it seems predicated on the doubtful claim that the difference between the human and the non-human falls out of a historical synthetic a priori which can then be subjected to some kind of deconstructive operation. There’s a covert anti-realism here that has tended to be passed over in most discussions. Moreover, there’s the ethical and political danger that those points of ‘otherness’ which solicit the limits of the human become mere figures of transcendence. Still the logic of the debate is of more than museological interest, if only because a similar line of argument actuates debates around the nonhuman and the posthuman in contemporary theory.
Luke Robert Mason with fascinating presentation on the past, present and future of human perceptual augmentation.
Here’s a great talk by philosopher of cognitive science Mike Wheeler entitled Science Friction: Phenomenology, Naturalism and Cognitive Science.
Wheeler’s basic claim (if I understand him) is that we can reconcile Heidegger’s historicized transcendental with naturalism by employing a McDowellian distinction between constitutive and enabling explanations. Phenomenology and philosophy give us constitutive explanations that describe the structural conditions of possibility of phenomena. Science can provide enabling accounts of the mechanisms required to generate these phenomena.
However, yoking these together within a naturalistic cognitive science requires a twist in the notion of the transcendental. Wheeler argues that even if science has transcendental preconditions these are not and need not be explicitly referred to in the regional ontologies of theories in the special sciences. This anti-foundationalist position receives its imprimatur in Division 1 of Being and Time where Heidegger discusses the relationship between fundamental ontology and the social sciences:
Since the positive science neither ‘can’ nor should wait for the ontological labours of philosophy to be done, the further course of research will not take the form of an ‘advance’ but will be accomplished by recapitulating what has already been ontically discovered, and by purifying it in a way that is ontologically more transparent (Heidegger 1962, p. 76)
The standard assumption made by all anti-naturalists is that because science presupposes transcendental X (substitute your preferred transcendental invariant here), X must be science-proof because any naturalistic explanation of X will have to presuppose X. Thus X will always precede any scientific theory in the order of justification.
However, the disconnect between the local ontologies of special sciences and their transcendental conditions means scientific progress does not require correlative progress in fundamental ontology or other transcendental enterprises. So enabling explanations of putative transcendental X’s don’t presuppose X’s in the way that the anti-naturalist argument requires
By the same token, although science does not directly provide constitutive explanation of transcendental foundations it can provide ground for revising philosophical theories about them. Both phenomenology and transcendental philosophy answer to naturalistic epistemological constraints. Thus, claims Wheeler, we can have our transcendental cake and naturalize it.
Heidegger, Martin (1962), Being and Time, John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (trans.), New York and Evanston: Harper and Row.
In Splice, Freeze, Stretch and Mutate: Digital rhythm as harbinger of the event Eleni Ikoniadou asks if the manipulation of microsound in granular synthesis reveals a “rhythmic time” below the level of our awareness of temporal succession. More microsound here!
Graham Harman’s piece on Thomas Metzinger’s Being no One – ‘The Problem with Metzinger’ is available here in the current edition of Cosmos and History.
I was looking forward to this since Harman is normally a fair reader of other philosophers. I will reserve judgement upon the whole essay until I’ve had a chance to pick over it in detail, but there is one important passage which suggests that he may not approached Metzinger’s work in as even-handed a way as one might have hoped. Section 3 of the article ‘Neurophemenology vs. Phenomenology’ begins by quoting Metzinger’s oft-quoted assertion that ‘Neurophenomenology is possible; phenomenology is impossible’.
It is important to realize that the context in which this statement occurs is not a discussion of phenomenological method in general but the phenomenology of very fine-grained perceptual discriminations (Raffman qualia). Here’s the quote with the final qualifying sentence – which Harman omits and fails to discuss:
The minimally sufficient neural and functional correlates of the corresponding phenomenal states can, at least in principle, if properly mathematically analyzed, provide us with the transtemporal, as well as the logical identity criteria we have been looking for. Neurophenomenology is possible; phenomenology is impossible. Please note how this statement is restricted to a limited and highly specific domain of conscious experience (Thomas Metzinger, Being No One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity, (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press 2004), 83)
The omission is not incidental. It gives Harman the opportunity to accuse Metzinger of conflating the method of phenomenology and introspective psychology – while omitting the detailed empirical and epistemological considerations that motivate Metzinger’s position on Raffman qualia. Harman goes on to cite Metzinger’s conclusion that ‘Conceptual progress by a combination of philosophy and empirical research programs is possible; conceptual progress by introspection alone is impossible in principle’ but again omits the crucial qualification that precedes it:
For the most subtle and fine-grained level in sensory consciousness, we have to accept the following insight: Conceptual progress by a combination of philosophy and empirical research programs is possible; conceptual progress by introspection alone is impossible in principle (Ibid. 83).
Now one may agree (or not) with Harman assertion that phenomenology’s ‘account of intentional objects in the immanent sphere of consciousness remains a daring step forward in philosophy’ (The Problem With Metzinger, 15). However daring, it may still rest on a fundamental epistemological error. With regard to fine grained content fixations such as nuances of pitch or colour, Metzinger (following Diane Raffman) provides grounds based on psychophysical experimentation for holding that it is based on an exaggerated assessment of our recognitional capacities (See Raffman 1995). These discriminations can be made, he argues, but they outrun the acuity with which we can remember and thus recognize the relevant differences. If we cannot recognise them we cannot introspect (or if you prefer, ‘intuit’) them. Thus any claim to the effect that finest perceptual nuances are ‘immanent objects’ is a reification rather than a description of an object given directly or ‘immanently’. Strictly speaking, if Metzinger is right, nothing whatsoever is immanent: the immanent/transcendent distinction is not a viable basis on which to erect an ontology or an epistemology.
Now there are various ways of taking issue with this conclusion from fineness of grain considerations, so I don’t want to suggest that Metzinger’s arguments should be regarded as unchallengeable. However, artificially inflating Metzinger’s claims contributes nothing to this philosophical debate and detracts from the plausibility of Harman’s wider critique.
Graham Harman, ‘The Problem With Metzinger’ Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol. 7, no. 1, 2011, pp. 7-36
Diane Raffman, ‘On the persistence of phenomenology’. In T. Metzinger, ed., Conscious Experience (Thorverton, UK: Imprint Academic 1995).