Friday, December 08, 2006

Hodiernal Unheimlichkeit

The following essay by Renee Tursi keeps cropping up in my googles: William James' Narrative of Habit, most recently while searching for the word "tychistic" (prompted by Clark's recent post, Peirce and Consciousness).

Here's a passage from James' The Meaning of Truth:

Are they [theoretical needs and intellectual satisfactions] not all mere matters of consistency--and emphatically not of consistency between an absolute reality and the mind's copies of it, but of actually felt consistency among judgments, objects, and habits of reacting, in the mind's own experienceable world? And are not both our need of such consistency and our pleasure in it conceivable as outcomes of the natural fact that we are beings that do develop mental habits--habit itself proving adaptively beneficial in an environment where the same objects, or the same kinds of objects, recur and follow "law"? If this were so, what would have come first would have been the collateral profits of habit as such, and the theoretic life would have grown up in aid of these. In point of fact, this seems to have been the probable case. At life's origin, any present perception may have been "true"–if such a word could then be applicable. Later, when reactions became organized, the reactions became "true" whenever expectation was fulfilled by them. Otherwise they were "false" or "mistaken" reactions. But the same class of objects needs the same kind of reaction, so the impulse to react consistently must gradually have been established, and a disappointment felt whenever the results frustrated expectation. Here is a perfectly plausible germ for all our higher consistencies. Nowadays, if an object claims from us a reaction of the kind habitually accorded only to the opposite class of objects, our mental machinery refuses to run smoothly. The situation is intellectually unsatisfactory.

In Tursi's narrative, this passage means that "habit gives us footholds in the morass of the unknowable by emptying experience of its uncanniness. Only then do thoughts truly feel sufficient and at home." Well, I'm not totally at home with Tursi's reading of Jamesian Unheimlichkeit. Neither can I say that it's far afield.

More and more in my daily reading I discover that I really don't know very much. I don't know for example what the unconscious is, nor do I have a solid grasp on consciousness. How could I even begin to compare Freud to the Americans James and Peirce? It's just a little unsettling, that's all.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:57 AM.


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