Saturday, December 30, 2017

Consciousness, Science, Perception

Image result for schizophrenia

But use of reason, as a means, is compatible with any end, no matter how irrational.*

(Continued from Personal Lives)

- I've been reading, thinking. Consciousness, in the perception of beauty, goodness, and truth, solves the problem of seeing ourselves as disparate collections of parts. But, as Hans Jonas* says, isn't consciousness itself what leads us into seeing separate things in relation to each other? Sight, Jonas says, gives to us an instantaneous assembly of different parts ranged from near to far and right to left. Those assemblies of parts are then what science uses experimentally putting them in different relations and giving them a push to see what happens, looking for a regular relation between the assemblies, and that regular relation allows predictions of perceptions. Science comes out of an understanding of what perception is that only the collecting together, seeing all at once, and then standing back from, of consciousness makes possible.
- Science beginning in consciousness of perception. What conclusion do you draw from this?
- First, it was already clearly seen at the beginnings of our civilization in the myth of knowledge bringing a fall, and in Parmenides' view that knowledge of things was an illusion but necessary to be acquired.
- Is there no other way to acquire knowledge?
- There certainly is. It is the way an artist learns to use materials by the use of them, building up habits which bring regular results.
- How is that different from what is done in science?
- It is the thing itself that is being learned, not how arrangements of different things can be made to change. If I want to see whether heavier things fall faster than light things, I put a heavy thing a yard above the ground and let it fall, then do the same with a lighter thing, and see if the elapsed time is the same or not. I haven't learned anything about any individual thing that fell, except that it is a part of a large collection - that of all things - that fall at the same rate.** There is beauty in scientific, artificial perception let's call it, in its truth. But this truth involves the falsity that isolated things exist separate from one another. In fact we learn about the world through intimate repeated contact with it,*** culminating in a sense of beauty which removes the 'thingness' of its parts. Things we learn in this way we resist being destroyed. No so the objects of perceptions that science puts in relation to each other. We do not form bodily habits in responses to classes of things like 'things that fall', they do not build up into a natural perception. The beauty of scientific truth is derivative, resides in its power of recalling to mind actual perceptions of beauty.****
- Consciousness gives us the things of science and suggests what to do with them. Scientific perceptions are different from personal perceptions: they aren't beautiful **** so we don't inordinately care about them. Is that a problem?
- Absolutely! Because, as we talked about last time, personal knowledge and perception easily take on the form of scientific perception. And then we don't know any more who or what we are.
- Then we need only keep the two apart.
- Only! Do we even know if the relation master to slave, dominance to submission isn't the product of consciousness discovering the artifice of scientific perception, perhaps with the beginnings of agriculture? Once hierarchical relations***** are established, nothing is more useful or rather essential than maintaining the priority of artificial perception.******


2.

- Do we even know 'if the relation master to slave, dominance to submission isn't the product of consciousness discovering the artifice of scientific perception, perhaps with the beginnings of agriculture?'
- We don't know, but we have good reasons for thinking so. Pre-literate societies were in general not hierarchical: roles complemented roles, things were directed to those who needed them, people felt connected to each other. Some suggest that the hunting male's aggression was turned against the female, the old's insecurity and fear against the young. But fear and aggression breaking out when the communal form of society made them unnecessary is what we need to explain, and can't be its cause. Another suggestion is that an inner dominance always has been present in human nature, a fear of domination which finally breaks out. But again: why this break out when dominance had been effectively controlled by the rules of communal society?
- Then perhaps we, like some animals, started practicing dominance rituals, acting on the suggestion of our inner darkness.
- Same problem: why regress to dominance rituals, when ritual had been turned to sypathetic imitation of nature spirits, making us feel secure by alliance to regularities of nature and seeming by the strength of our security to hold nature to continuing that regularity.
- So what happened?
- Resident agriculture. Improving skills in the hunt, in gathering, is occasional: these activities are tied to cycles of day night, the seasons. In resident agriculture, evidence of the success or failure of technique is continuously before us. We can apply our technique continuously.
- And that is like the cycle of modern science, where knowledge gained is immediately applied, observing the results of which new knowledge is gained.
- Yes.  Also, hunting and gathering take us to different places, but our action on the field is on the same field. We see the results of the last perception in what we see now before us.
- And that is Jonas' consciousness of perception that makes us aware of parts.
- Yes. The field is no longer something independent, with its own characteristic events, but a thing with separate parts enmeshed in the cycle of our perception and applied knowledge.

Further Reading:
Killer Metaphysics
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* The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, Hans Jonas, 1966.
** "Organism is seen as primarily determined by the conditions of its existence, and life is understood in terms of the organism-environment situation rather than in terms of the exercise of an autonomous nature." Ibid, Second Essay, 'Philosophic Aspects of Darwinism'.
*** "Food cultivation, practiced in a truly ecological sense, presupposes that the agriculturist is familiar with all the features and subtleties of the terrain on which the corps are grown. He must have a thorough knowledge of the physiography of the land, its variegated soils’ — crop land, forest land, pasture land — mineral and organic content, and its microclimate, and he must be engaged in a continuing study of the effects produced by new flora and fauna. He must develop his sensitivity to the land’s possibilities and needs while becoming an organic part of the agricultural situation."
(Ecology and Revolutionary Thought, Murray Bookchin, 1964.)
**** The continuous cycle of perception and application of modern science is ugly: beauty is in rest, learning new habits of perception after repeated acts on the world that acts on us; our science never rests, so never presents an immediate world to develop habits of response to.
***** Seeing oneself as a thing in a world of things generates fear. As the thing you are is defined in relation to the things other people are, since you as an individual are never interacted with by others or known to yourself, when that relation to others changes, you become invisible to yourself. You have no idea what to expect; fear arises and leads to violent, passionate action on other people seen as things to reestablish relation and thus visibility. Hierarchy is established as other people seen as things are forced into stable relation to you, doing what you decide best reflects back your stability as a thing, your power to maintain relation. See: Noam Chomsky & Mental Things.
****** See: Leaders Who Betray