Friday, June 22, 2007

Life by its Own Name

Barbaras quotes from the following passage in Jacques Derrida's Speech and Phenomena:


Later, in his "Nachwort zu meinen 'Ideen,'" and in the Cartesian Meditations (§§ 14 and 57), Husserl will again briefly invoke this "precise parallel" between the "pure psychology of consciousness" and the "transcenendental phenomenology of consciousness." And in order to deny that transcendental psychologism which "makes a genuine philosophy impossible" (Cartesian Meditations, § 14), he will then say that at all costs we shall have to practice the Nuancierung ("Nachwort," p. 557) which distinguishes the parallels, one of which is in the world and other outside the world without being in another world, that is, without ceasing to be, like every parallel, alongside, right next to the other. We must stringently assemble and protect in our discourse these frivolous, subtle (geringfügigen), "seemingly trivial nuances" which "make a decisive difference right and wrong paths (Wege und Abwege) of philosophy" (Cartesian Meditations, § 14). Our discussion ought to incorporate and protect these protected nuances and thereby at the same time consolidate in them its own possibility and rigor. But the strange unity of these two parallels, that which refers the one to the other, does not allow itself to be sundered by them and, by dividing itself, finally joins the transcendental to its other; this unity is life. One finds out quickly enough that the sole nucleus of the concept of psychē is life as self-relationship, whether or not it takes place in the form of consciousness. "Living" is thus the name of that which precedes the reduction and finally escapes all the divisions which the latter gives rise to. But this is precisely because it is its own division and its own opposition to its other. In determining "living" in this way, we come to designate the origin of the insecurity of discourse, precisely the point where it can no longer assure its possibility and rigor within the nuance. This concept of life is then grasped in an instance which is no longer that of pretranscendental naïveté, the language of day-to-day life or biological science. But if this ultratranscendental concept of life enables us to concieve life (in the ordinary or the biological sense), and if it has never been inscribed in language, it requires another name.


(Speech and Phenomena, pp. 14-15, emphasis Derrida's)


I'm not sure that Derrida is right that the phenomenological idea of life requires another name. (I'll explore Barbaras' thinking on the topic in a later post.) We already have bios and zoë, a distinction that doesn't necessarily index a rigorous grappling with reality. No, it's quite possible that phenomenologists and biologists simply disagree about the meaning of "life." I'm not sure that all biologists even share the same understanding of what life is. Is a virus alive? I'm aware of the argument, put forward forcefully by Hans Jonas (see this post), among others, that the ultratranscendent concept of life enables us to conceive of life at all, but I have yet to be convinced that this argument must be true. In weighing in against clutter, I may also be tipping my hand against nuance. Ultimately I believe that phenomenology should engage and directly compete with the natural sciences, even if it means that phenomenology is shown to be inadequate. There's only so much that nuance can accomplish in such a situation, before it risks becoming a means of obfuscation and avoidance.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:39 AM.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just saw this blurb on the Argentinian site. One of their distinctions is of course btwn 'life' and empysched life.


Ontology of Consciousness: Percipient Action

The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.; 1st edition (Aug 31, 2007: A Bradford Book), hardcover & softcover: 656 pages + 73 illus;

US $38.00/£24.95 (PAPER) - US $85.00/£54.95 (CLOTH)

ISBN-10: 0-262-23259-6; ISBN-13: 978-0-262-23259-3

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ya puede comprarse en las principales librerías de la Red con gran descuento (alrededor del 40%) por compra anticipada a la fecha de aparición…

Endorsements

"These percipient twenty essays [ by Antoine Courban from the Georges Canguilhem Ctr., Paris University; the Director of the Neurobiology Research Centre, Argentine Republic Ministry of Health, and Laboratory of Electroneurobiological Research at the Buenos Aires City Hospital 'J. T. Borda', Mario Crocco; the President of the Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America, Thomas B. Fowler; Icelandic psychologist Erlendur Haraldsson; Moscow physicist Pavel B. Ivanov, Erasmus University Rotterdam's Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Hans-Georg Gadamer's disciple, Heinz Kimmerle, the President of Max Planck Society, Hubert Markl; Michael Polemis, philosopher at the University of Klagenfurt -Austria- and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece; anthropologist and vanishing cultures scholar E. Richard Sorenson; Laval University's Professor of Neuroscience Mircea Steriade; antipsychiatry movement founder and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the State University of New York, Thomas Szasz; neuropharmacologist and Electroneurobiology journal's Executive editor Mariela Szirko, anthropologist Edith L. B. Turner, Tasmanian Kierkegaard specialist Julia Watkin, and Austrian-American Professor of Philosophy and Existenz journal's editor, Helmut Wautischer, among others ] are like detonating explosives, profoundly disturbing to various intellectual universes, and highly appropriate to be published by an institution famed for pushing frontiers in science and technology. They connect the dots between the seen and unseen worlds."

--Wilton S. Dillon, Senior Scholar Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution

"An essential source book for the study of consciousness and foundations of experience. This book provides comprehensive analyses of diverse philosophical, religious, anthropological, and scientific approaches to human experience. Scholars who study consciousness, whether they be behavioral, social or biological scientists, or just educated readers, will find in this volume a store of data necessary for the pursuit of this subject."

--Douglass Price-Williams, Professor Emeritus, Departments of Psychiatry and Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

"This collection provides a rich tableau of research on the nature of consciousness by twenty internationally recognized scholars and researchers who draw on perspectives from archaic traditions in religion and culture to contemporary neuroscience to the testimony of personal experience. Masterfully edited by Helmut Wautischer, Ontology of Consciousness answers questions such as: what kind of being is the being to which we refer as consciousness? How long have humans been perplexed by the awareness of being? Are the questions of being and consciousness one and the same?"

--Alan M. Olson, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Boston University

"One does not realize how painfully narrow is our dataset concerning 'conscious phenomena' until one works one's way through this book. The astounding spectrum of human beliefs about and experiences of consciousness is here carefully organized, analyzed, and categorized. Many chapters, even as they evoke skepticism, make for spellbinding reading. Ambitiously interdisciplinary, this text will be superb for classroom use and could significantly influence the philosophy of mind--if this field is willing to expand the range of its data in the ways here suggested."

--Philip Clayton, Ingraham Professor, Claremont School, and author of Mind and Emergence: From Quantum to Consciousness

Book Description

The "hard problem" of today's consciousness studies is subjective experience: understanding why some brain processing is accompanied by an experienced inner life. Recent scientific advances offer insights for understanding the physiological and chemical phenomenology of consciousness. But by leaving aside the internal experiential nature of consciousness in favor of mapping neural activity, such science leaves many questions unanswered. In Ontology of Consciousness, scholars from a range of disciplines go beyond these limits of current neuroscience research to explore insights offered by other intellectual approaches to consciousness. These scholars focus their attention on such philosophical approaches to consciousness as Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, North American Indian insights, pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilization, and the Byzantine Empire. Some draw on artifacts and ethnographic data to make their point. Others translate cultural concepts of consciousness into modern scientific language using models and mathematical mappings. Many consider individual experiences of sentience and existence, as seen in African communalism, Hindi psychology, Zen Buddhism, Indian vibhuti phenomena, existentialism, philosophical realism, and modern psychiatry. Some reveal current views and conundrums in neurobiology to comprehend sentient intellection.


Contributors:

Karim Akerma, Matthijs Cornelissen, Antoine Courban, Mario Crocco, Christian de Quincey, Thomas B. Fowler, Erlendur Haraldsson, David J. Hufford, Pavel B. Ivanov, Heinz Kimmerle, Stanley Krippner, Armand J. Labbé, James Maffie, Hubert Markl, Graham Parkes, Michael Polemis, E Richard Sorenson, Mircea Steriade, Thomas Szasz, Mariela Szirko, Robert A. F. Thurman, Edith L. B. Turner, Julia Watkin, and Helmut Wautischer.

Areas:

Cognition, Brain, & Behavior - Cognition & Psychology – Consciousness - Philosophy of Mind - Humanities – Philosophy – Psychology - Neuroscience - Consciousness - Philosophy - Consciousness- Philosophy of Mind
------------------------------------
And a little piece on Aristotle from Crocco's Palindrome:

"Aristotle conceived knowing, gnoeín, as a variety of metabolic assimi-lation only for the purpose, and with the precise objective, of being able to compose a unique descriptive series with which to delineate the full variety of living beings – by comparing species among themselves and comparing the developmental sequences of individuals. With this conceptual tool, Aris-totle was able to achieve his purpose, of attaining conceptual means suit-able for unifiedly and uniformly describing the living beings found in nature in all their possible forms. His informational view of knowledge, presenting it as a variety of metabolic assimilation, is thus why Aristotle managed to institute biology as a unified science. In this way Peripatetism and the whole of European culture found a coherent exposition of a sector of reality, the living beings. Scholasticism then procured the goal of extending this exposi-tion to the whole of reality, establishing a description of every type of real-ity in ontological terms. When Christian Peripatetism paid descriptive atten-tion to psyches or individual existentialities, its purpose was to depict their ontical constitution, which it accordingly did not in cadacualtic but in fungi-ble terms, as Matter, Form, and their instances are. Its pre-Renaissance ideas permeated most scientific descriptions during Modernity, even those of its ideological opponents.
Therefore, Christian Peripatetism, in order to account for the consti-tution of every individual, sensibly considered as its formal cause the matter signed by quantity. This name denotes the piece or particular portion of fungible prime matter that, while accidentally composing the individual of the case, after successive information by the Forms of the system's compo-nents finally assumes the Form proper of its species or Type.
For Aristotle, in view of his mentioned purpose, it was uninteresting to detect if within the series of organisms animated by a vegetative-sensitive soul the individuals of some species included an existentiality cir-cumstanced to sense and move its body. This is the case of a dog, for example.

Other organisms lack such an existentiality in charge of biological functions, for example a starfish – or its common ancestors with the dog, if Aristotle could have minded of them. These other organisms are constituted purely in the hylozoic hiatus and operate in a purely reactive way: they are unable to inaugurate innovative causal series semoviently, that is to say with decisions."

June 24, 2007 1:19 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Hi, Paul. I added Ontology of Consciousness: Percipient Action to my wish list. (I can't find it in a library yet.) It's a little spendy, so I'm not going to rush to buy it.

You will be interested in what Barbaras has to say about "living movement" in his Chapter Four. I'll be blogging about it anon, but it is very rich and I'm afraid I'll only be scratching the surface. The distinction between life and emspysched life doesn't figure much in Barbaras' analysis. Instead he draws a disctinction between motility and lack of motility, and ties perception directly to motility, without the intervention of a psyche. I think the existence of flagellate protozoa are a problem for this analysis; this is also a problem I think for Mario's perspective, since I don't know whether to believe or disbelieve the proposisition that flagellate protozoa are empsyched, but I am leaning towards disbelief. This is something I mean to learn more about. I may have to actually go to the library and research flagellate protozoa. Then again, I may have misunderstood Mario on this point, because here he seems to be arguing that the starfish and our common ancestors are not empsyched. Do you believe that the echinoderms are not capable of semovience, Paul? This is surprising.

June 24, 2007 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to AGNT (Agentine/German Neurobiological tradtion)
echinoderms and protozoa are not semovient or empysched. (see also email). The cilia are 'controlled' but in a purely reactive way......

June 25, 2007 3:09 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

It makes sense to me to say that protozoa are not semovient. This leaves open the question of whether motility itself has meaning. Semovience may be the more useful concept. Starfish are another question. They do have nervous systems, though they lack brains. Of what significance is the nerve? I will have to learn more about starfish before this question can be settled in my mind.

June 27, 2007 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Debbie said...

That book 'Ontology of Consciousness' is finally out!

April 14, 2008 12:04 PM  

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