Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ponty Part 1: On Analytical Reflection and Perception

So I was following along pretty well until page 279 when the topic changes to "problematic of reduction" and distinguishing the other. I'm only half way through reading, but I was experiencing the feeling of forgetting what I had grown to understand from sentence to sentence much like I did when we read Heidegger. So I will try to write about what I understand so far. After the first two paragraphs which seem mostly like an introduction to the philosophical background of Phenomenology, Ponty launches into a much more in depth discussion of his ideas.

He begins his "descriptive psychology" by creating a definition of phenomenology by negation, in part, I believe, because we can never truly "define" anything that exists in its entirety (performativity?). He tells us what phenomenology is not, and it is definitely not science: "I am, not a "living creature" nor even a "man," nor again even "a consciousness" endowed with all the the characteristics with zoology, social anatomy or inductive psychology recognize in these various products of the natural or historical process-- I am the absolute source, my existence does not stem from my antecedents, from my physical and social environment." Ponty believes that people cannot be defined by scientific schema because we created them. Much like Heidegger's mention of our human nature to divide our world up into categories that do not naturally present themselves, science is an equally incomplete means of defining the world or our being in the world. However despite the fact that we may not be rooted in scientific schema, I personally would argue we may still in part be defined, and even enriched by it, (rather than diminished), much the same way as our individual existence in part defines the ever present existence of our world. I believe much of the greatness in life comes from both our ability and inability to define our world, for it is that which gives us infinite variety.

In part this quotation reminded me of exactly that, and of Ponge: "Science has not and never will have, by its nature, the same significance qua form of being as the world which we perceive, form the simple reason that it is a rationale or explanation of the world." If we define an apple in scientific or in historical or poetic terms, we still cannot get closer to appleness. HOWEVER! As a people we can get entirely intimate with apple measurements, apple heritage, and apple poem. Which is exactly why we do such things :) People cannot fathom all of the ways of knowing or defining any part of our natural wold and therefore, "the demand for a pure description excludes equally: 1. the procedure of analytical reflection on the one hand, [because it is an act and therefore always in flux or transition (not fixed as 'truth' should be)] and 2. that of scientific explanation on the other. [because it is so limited]."

After this Ponty talks extensively about Analytical Reflection as well as Perception. "Analytical reflection starts from our experience of the world and goes back to the subject, (consciousness), as to a condition of possibility distinct from that experience, revealing the all-embracing synthesis as that without which there would be no world." The world of possibility beyond our experience is the only world because we cannot experience everything in every way. I look at the "all embracing synthesis" here as a variation of the over-soul. Something that levels the playing field between all things, where all relations and possibilities are equal. But I think I may be confused here. Anyhow, Ponty argues that Analytical Reflection wants to find "ground" as Heidegger would call it, a stable and enduring truth within or possibly without man. However reflection is by nature rooted in "impregnable subjectivity" and therefore inadequate for seeking truths. "My reflection cannot be unaware of itself as an event, and so it appears to itself in the light of a truly creative act, of a changed structure of consciousness," while, "The real has to be described, not constructed or formed" because it is there before any possible analysis of ours.

There is then a change in topic a couple of times. For instance Perception is described as non-deliberate and instantaneous and therefore not on the same standing as action or understanding. Despite the fact that we believe perceiving to be an act, it is entirely unintentional, we cannot help smelling and seeing and hearing and feeling our world (unless otherwise impaired). I believe he is saying at one point that it is our perception that allows us to know that we exist, although I believe any argument about whether or not we exist is shallow and pedantic. Anyhow he goes on to discuss how despite the fact that our Analytical reflections are constantly seeking truth of "inner man" that our most base ability of perception shows us that there is no "inner man" because "man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself." We cannot remove ourselves from it.

At one point Ponty talks about imagination and creation but I can't exactly understand what he is getting at, though I feel like I like it because it relates somewhat to what Dresden Codak made me think of about, the transformation of the ordinary into symbols and relation to abstract or seemingly irrelevant thought based on experience. I'd like to talk about what he is trying to say about imagination in class.

The only thing I got from the paragraph beginning on 279 is that Ponty believes that it is our active meaning-giving operation that defines consciousness and that "reduction" has something to do with the fact that the world is "an indivisible unity of value" (an idea we have discussed before), and within it each individual consciousness is not only equal but indistinguishable because of their identical and unavoidable function and relativity to the earth.

Ok. I'm out of steam. Hope there was something useful in that. I'll write more when I finish reading.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A phenomenological description of phenomenology!