Friday, June 24, 2011

Ideas II

In the end, I’m a little disappointed in Ideas II. Some of the most difficult issues Husserl raises with regard to the lived Body he either resolves to my dissatisfaction or doesn’t resolve at all. From my previous experience of reading the lectures on passive synthesis, I’m pretty sure that’s where I need to go next. Meantime, I should state what I think are the key issues.

Husserl’s discussion in Ideas II is framed by Modern philosophy, ultimately by Descartes and Descartes’ metaphysical (substance and attribute) dualism. This leads Husserl to continue to work on the mind-body relation, despite his constant refrain that there isn’t a mind-body problem to solve: for the lived Body, or the personal Ego, or the living I, consciousness or spirit is always embodied, even though we have phenomenological insight of the separability of consciousness. Consciousness as such is separable from the Body, but to be a living I, that consciousness or spirit or soul (he uses spirit and soul interchangeably) is dependent on the Body.

All well and good. But the way this dependence is experienced, and why it’s significant, are not sufficiently explored by Husserl, in my opinion. This is the main thing that disappoints me. I chalk it up to the Cartesian frame of the mind-body issue in philosophy, and that disappoints me a second time (though not as much), because it doesn’t seem very phenomenological to take up the Cartesian frame of the issue. Why shouldn’t, or couldn’t, Husserl have gone through epoché and reduction of lived Body in order to reach the same ontological region, and thereby totally escaped Cartesianism? (I’m not meaning to say that Husserl is Cartesian, since he clearly isn’t. Again, I refer to the Cartesian framing of the issue.) On the other hand, would philosophers have been thinking about minds and bodies at all, or in anything like this way, unless Descartes had come along? Would it have occurred to Husserl, or anyone else, even to investigate consciousness in relation to lived Body?

There are experiences in everyday life that do suggest separability of consciousness and lived Body, from as mundane an example as daydreaming while walking down the street, to highfalutin things like meditative “out-of-body” experiences. (That might be something to consider!) We also have experiences of making incorrect judgments on the basis of perception, of pain that we can’t completely localize, of pleasure that overtakes us, of altered states of consciousness, etc., etc. There’s a tremendous range of experiences that offer themselves to potentially very rich investigations. But is it a trick of philosophical tradition, or even a trick of language, that leads us to talk about bodies and minds, and even to regard bodies as possessions or objects? What is it in these experiences themselves, apart from our ordinary attitude (objectivating, etc.), that leads to any questioning of the way consciousness is embodied?

In short, I feel as if Husserl was distracted from this potential investigation by the Cartesian “mind-body problem.” (In addition, he was clearly aiming for a clarification of the distinction between natural and human sciences, and arguing for the primacy of the human to the natural, as well as for the primacy of phenomenology as a science of consciousness – which I suppose is a version of the claim philosophy finally gave up some time ago to being the queen of sciences).

One particular way this disappoints me is that whenever Husserl gets to a point where there’s something obscure in the way we encounter the lived Body, he doesn’t spend a lot of time on it. I don’t know how much further we can investigate certain of these obscurities, but I think it has to be further than he has in Ideas II. My friend Randy tipped me on to one of them: the “aesthesiological” body, appresented as a unity in conscious acts of perception, but not intended as an object of consciousness. We “have” a lived Body in every act of sense perception (say), but not only do we not consciously constitute the unity of this Body (that is, it is “passively” “pregiven”), but we find, if we attempt to enact the conscious constitution of the aesthesiological unity of the lived Body, that we can’t do it ourselves. This is just nuts!

And terribly exciting to me. And the source of great inspiration. In Husserl’s terms, the things I’ve been obsessing over for years now are all of these obscure matters of the pregiven, passive unity of the lived Body.

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