02 July 2017

Learning to see the ontological difference

Following Heidegger's observations on hydrogen bombs (cf. Russell & Heidegger ), I've been banging on about the as-yet unseen danger of the destruction of human being itself (not merely, positivistically, the human species) through the sealing-off and denial of the ontological difference (OD) (cf. Positivism & freedom's extinction).

Here's a phenomenological seeing-exercise (not merely an argument) to show why it is crucial, for understanding our own human being itself (Dasein), to learn to see (cf.
Mathesis) the difference between beings and being. It occurred to me in bed reading Heidegger's lectures held in summer semester 1926 on Fundamental Concepts of Ancient Philosophy (Gesamtausgabe Bd. 22), in particular, Heidegger's lucid and quite brilliant interpretation of Plato's middle-period dialogue Theaitaetos which first entertains, investigates and finally rejects the thesis that perception is knowledge (_aisthaesis epistaemae estin_).

Sounds like a pleasant, but irrelevant scholarly pastime, and probably really is irrelevant for stopping nuclear missiles being launched. So why mention it? Because it allows those who take the trouble of learning to see, to understand why robots (devices equipped with electronic instruments steered by AI algorithms) do not and cannot and will never be able to perceive like we human beings do 'by nature'.

At a certain stage in the dialogue (180-184), perception is characterized as a causal interaction that takes place between the perceiver and perceived thing, say, by vision. The
perceived thing acts on (_poiein_) the perceiving organ, say, the eyes, which suffer this action (_paschein_). Heidegger comments, "Perception is discussed in the same way as the being perceived (something moving). The intentional structure of perception is flattened out to an existing effective connection by the thing perceived, to something effected by a coming-together." (Die Wahrnehmung wird in derselbsen Weise diskutiert wie das wahgenommene Seiende (Bewegtes). Die intentionale Struktur der Wahrnehmung wird nivelliert auf einen vorhandenen Wirkungszusammenhang des Wahrgenommenen, ein Gewirktes eines Zusammentreffens. GA22:120)

This is the way modern science explains vision: the thing perceived acts causally on the organs of vision, the eyes, which receive the photon-signals, that are then passed on neurally to the brain for further processing, so that, finally, the brain ostensibly sees what it sees. Note that this is an entirely positivist scientific explanation of vision in which the distinction between being and beings plays no role whatsoever. The science of optics goes back a long way, into the Middle Ages, with numerous philosophers working on theories of optics that pay no regard to the ontological difference. Today, every single modern science is totally clueless and about this difference first discovered by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The OD is occluded for modern scientific thinking and for analytic philosophy.

modern scientific, causal explanation of vision is also the basis on which engineers are today trying to emulate human visual perception by means of photo-sensors (fitted to a robot of some kind, such as an autonomous car) and artificial perceptron neural networks running learning algorithms to figure out from the data-input what is being 'perceived' by the sensors, distinguishing one thing from another through algorithmic pattern-recognition.

So what's wrong with that way of proceeding, you ask, employing your common sense? Isn't it effective? Haven't a couple of companies already got autonomous cars on the road? Don't worry about these irrelevant metaphysical niceties, let's get these things effectively working. We need a pragmatic attitude!

What's wrong is that this effectual working is not perception at all. Why? As Heidegger says, because of the intentional structure of perception. What's that supposed to mean? An intention is a straining- or directing-oneself-toward, in this case: perception is always a perceiving of something, is always directed toward something. This discovery was key for Husserl's phenomenological breakthrough.

It's not the eyes, however, that are intentionally directed toward, but the perceiver him- or herself employing the eyes to see something. "Not the eyes, but what uses them as organs of vision, is what first organizes them into organs. We do not see because we have eyes, but because we see, we have eyes." (Nicht die Augen, sondern das sie als Sehorgane Gebrauchende, was sie erst zu Organen organisiert. Wir sehen nicht, weil wir Augen haben, sondern weil wir sehen, haben wir Augen. GA22:121) Positivist science has it the wrong way round. For Plato it is the _psychae_ (soul) that sees, using the visual organs, the eyes; it is  not the eyes themselves that see. As is well-known, and as modern science insists, robots do not have souls, so that it is easy for it to claim that robots themselves see. The
concept corresponding to 'soul' for modern science and its ancillary analytic philosophy is 'consciousness', a phenomenon around which they are still merely tapping in the dark

But that's not all: The intentional structure of perception as a perceiving of something is also categorial. The _psychae_ must always already understand in advance (i.e. see with the mind) the category of something (_ti_) to see anything at all. It does not perceive through the senses just bits and pieces of perception such as the colour, sound, size of a "ringing bell" (klingelnde Glocke GA22:122) that are somehow stuck together, but always already a whole Gestalt, i.e. something, _ti_. Look at the index finger on your left hand. You see your finger as something, don't you? Husserl calls this "kategoriale Anschauung" (categorial intuition, literally
categorial looking-at), and 'something' is not the only category. Not Husserl, but Aristotle was the first to explicitly see the categories as ways in which the being of beings shows itself phenomenally and is accordingly addressed: _legein ti kata tinos_, 'saying something as something'. But Plato also makes the breakthrough to categorial looking-at by the psyche in Theaitaetos. Perceiving the bell AS big and brown and ringing requires also the category of 'and'. The eyes cannot see the categories of 'something' or 'and' or 'bigger than' or 'sameness' or 'difference' and so on, but only the _psychae_, which always already (a priori) understands these categories of the being of beings. This is psychic or, if you prefer, mental vision, of which a robot is not and never will be capable. 

Plato calls what the _psychae_ sees the _eidae_, i.e. the 'looks' that beings present of themselves for the _psychae_ to look at and understand mentally. Traditionally, _eidos_ is translated as 'idea' or 'form'; hence we human beings are all necessarily 'idealists'; hence Plato's famous 'theory of forms'. But _eidos_, as well as _idea_, derives from the Greek verb _idein_ 'to see', which makes 'look' or 'sight' a better translation. Such 'looks' are not 'transcendent', beyond the physical, meta-physical, but rather a priori, enabling the understanding of beings as beings in the first place. Hence they are pre-physical. In an originary sense, in-form-ation is nothing other than the psyche's ability to understand the 'messages' of the 'forms', i.e. the 'looks', that beings present of themselves to the looker. 

The _psychae_ also does not see only the 'looks' presented to the senses in the present, but also what happened yesterday or what it expects next year. "I cannot hear what is past, but I can understand, for instance, what is expected as futural, etc." (Ich kann Vergangenes nicht hören, aber ich kann z.B. Erwartetes als Zukünftiges verstehen usw. GA22:271) The psyche does not have to depend on a present sensuous presentation of beings, but ranges freely, faster than the speed of light, through all three temporal dimensions, and (this is my additive) is basically nothing other than the relation to this open 3D-temporal clearing in which all beings present and absent themselves, revealing and also concealing what and who they are to the psyche's mental understanding of their 'looks' (_eidae_).

An important corollary to this phenomenological exercise, leading to the insight that the psyche understands the elementary categories a priori, with such understanding enabling perception in the first place, is the following:

We can talk with each other about these elementary categories such as 'something', 'other', 'in relation to', etc. and well understand them when someone addresses them in a dialogue. Hence we must all a priori share this 3D-temporal psyche in which these well-understood categories always already reside. Each of us individually partakes of this shared psyche, which is an ontological precondition for our understanding each other at all. This shared psyche is beyond any scientific causal explanation because it is not physical, but rather pre-physically temporal.

This overcomes the intractable problem of intersubjectivity in subjectivist metaphysics, which proceeds from an individual consciousness located somewhere inside and then is stuck with the problem of how to conceive that the encapsulated individual consciousnesses inside can get outside and share anything at all with each other.

Modern philosophy is not willing to learn from exercises in phenomenological seeing
such as the above for seeing the ontological difference, dismissing them either out of hand with some -ism label or other, or treating them merely as interesting episodes in the history of ideas. We don't know what we've missed or are missing through the suppression of the OD, and there is cunning strategic method to this madness of closing off the OD to sight. Nevertheless it's like regarding Pythagoras' theorem as merely of historical interest, as if it had been true in ancient Greece, but today its proof did not hold up to scrutiny. Fortunately for mathematics, Pythagoras' elementary theorem is recognized as an indispensable part of the foundations of modern mathematics, without which there would have been no differential calculus, no n-dimensional linear vector spaces, no topology nor much else of mathematics as we know it today. And without the mathematics, there would also be no modern technology at all.

Moreover, all of the modern sciences, without exception, cannot and will not understand this talk of 'looks', a priori categories and a shared 3D-tempral psyche, because they are all positivist, having flattened out the OD into nothing. So they proceed blindly, hell-bent on making robots for effective control and steering of all kinds of movement in the world, conceiving even human being itself AS 'in principle' physically constructible. This effective AS is modern science's, and also analytic philosophy's, seemingly immutable hermeneutic cast. But nothing's forever in the openness of historical time.

In view of this state of affairs, as someone close to me suggests, nuclear Armageddon could well be the least of our concerns. Instead, taking on the challenge to learn to think should have priority.

No comments:

Post a Comment