ART and ORGANISM
Existential-phenomenology is at first a mouthful of jargon, but it is also a convenient and conveniently descriptive term for a way of thinking about how best to keep HUMAN EXPERIENCE (as opposed to course content and scholarly analyses) at the center of our investigations in the interplay of art and biology.
It is EXISTENTIAL because it is places emphasis on the problems of existence of REAL individuals in the real world: “The proposition that existence precedes essence (French: l’existence précède l’essence) is a central claim of existentialism, which reverses the traditional philosophical view that the essence (the nature) of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence (the mere fact of its being).To existentialists, human beings—through their consciousness—create their own values and determine a meaning for their life because the human being does not possess any inherent identity or value. That identity or value must be created by the individual. By posing the acts that constitute them, they make their existence more significant.” (Wikipedia)
It is PHENOMENOLOGY because it is the systematic study of the structures of experience of phenomena (including of one’s self) and of consciousness.
I recommend a paper (TLC 1989) that was originally written to keep EXPERIENCE at the center of consumer research — this is not nearly as remote from our interests as a first glance might suggest. It characterizes existential phenomenology … “as a paradigm for studying consumer experience. A paradigm refers to a group of researchers sharing common assumptions about the nature of reality, utilizing common methodologies, and dealing with similar problems (Kuhn 1970). Adherents of a paradigm have both a philosophy of what the world is like and investigative methods deriving from that perspective. Existential-phenomenology is a paradigm that blends the philosophy of existentialism with the methods of phenomenology (Valle and King 1978). The result is a contextually based, holistic psychology that views human beings in non-dualistic terms and seeks to attain a first-person description of experience (Giorgi 1983). [go to Thompson et al 1989]
PHENOMENOLOGY and the IMPLICIT SELF
from notes for DEEP ETHOLOGY of PHENOMEDNOLOGY, a chapter in K. Greenberg et al (in press), Routledge 2019
- The Problem of Phenomenology. At its deepest levels—which are in any event inaccessible except perhaps by intuition—phenomenology as we pursue it is suspect: How can we know the mind of another when we barely (if at all) know our own? In the extreme, how can we be confident of anything after it has been filtered through our senses and adjusted to accommodate our percepts[i] which are themselves profoundly affected by our individual uniqueness, impossible to exist similarly in another individual. We have these congenital acquired biases, not the least of which is ● to be suspicious of isolated phenomena and outliers as likely perceptual slips, and ● to devise interpolations or extapolations as needed to make a coherent story—theory—more satisfying—an aesthetic litmus test or index of truth. We slip into skepticism and can enjoy the Gorgian trope devised to parody Parmenides view that thought alone is real and reveals that “all is one” : ● Nothing exists; ● Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and ● Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others. ● Even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.[ii]
- Consonant with Sartre’s putting exisitence before essence[iii]—the real before the ideal—Merleau-Ponty envisions the body and perception as our articulation with existence, and his approach to descriptive psychology has laid much of the groundwork for the naturalizing of phenomenology, the principle topic of this chapter in our book.
- Phenomenology Defined. The incredible power of words to crystalize a constellation of connected ideas is one of our species happiest discoveries. While many words are abandoned when they are applied in such diverse ways that their various applications create more confusion than clarity, we hope we can save “phenomenology.” In recent decades phenomenology, although manifest in sometimes contentious form, has nevertheless done the work of distancing us from a sterile mind/body dichotomy and has emerged as the philosophy of connectedness, epitomized by the concept of embodiment. The scholar that has dominated the field is Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose magisterial Phenomenology of Perception (1945) is foundational, and complemented by many other writings and climaxed in the posthoumously published, The Visible and the Invisible (1964 trans 1968)[iv], in which he introduced “chiasm,” the intertwining and the belief that the body which lies between the seer and the seen is a constitutive part of meaning …
WORDS can do the heavy lifting, but they cannot say it all. There are always other connections that can be discovered or invented. Sometimes words cannot say much at all. Mythology scholar, Joseph Campbell’s observed that “…the best things cannot be told.” [v] and Ludwig Wittgenstein [vi] (one of the great philosophers of the 20th century —Stanford Encyclopedia), famously stated, “Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent.” (These words concluded the one book completed in his lifetime, the “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” 1921).
- Of course, imperfect beings cannot be so confident, but the pursuit of such knowledge is a motivational trope so deeply engrained that it is almost undetectable except by naturalistic observations of easy-to-see cases at one end of a spectrum of possibilities. Little matter if certainty is a false flag—we pursue it because it enlarges our relative competence. So arguably, the pursuit itself is highly adaptive. We cannot be so confident—and biologists steeped in evolutionary theory would not be surprised. Adaptive success in the real world is a matter of meeting more-or-less urgent biological survival needs—the most urgent of which is legacy. And in this, memes are as important as genes. We need not be perfect, just better than our nearest competitor for a needed but limited resource—food or facts—which, depending on our context, may give us the advantage we are wired to seek.
- We care if our bedrock facts are the same for everyone because we are wired to communicate with as little ambiguity as possible. We are pretty sure that if we drill deeply enough we will find common ground. The deeper we get, the more shared it seems—whether the hierarchy of needs (sensu Maslow) or levels of organization.
[i] This is where modes of reality-testing are relevant –related to the transfer of informationofsnsation to tpercept to concept. “The intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes.… Percepts and concepts interpenetrate and melt together, impregnate and fertilize each other. Neither, taken alone, knows reality in its completeness…. The world we practically live in is one in which it is impossible (except by theoretic retrospection) to disentangle the contributions of intellect from those of sense. –William James, Some Problems of Philosophy. (1911: 51,52).
[ii] WHAT CAN WE KNOW? Gorgias[ii] (Presocratic, d ~380) is the author of a lost work: On Nature or the Non-Existent. Rather than being one of his rhetorical works, it presented a theory of being that at the same time refuted and parodied the Eleatic thesis (that “thought alone” can arrive at the fundamental truth that the true explanation of things lies in the conception of a universal unity…, it is by thought alone that we can pass beyond the false appearances of sense and arrive at the knowledge of being, at the fundamental truth that the “All is One”.].
- Nothing exists;
- Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and
- Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.
- Even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.
[“The argument has largely been seen as an ironic refutation of Parmenides‘ thesis on Being. Gorgias set out to prove that it is as easy to demonstrate that being is one, unchanging and timeless as it is to prove that being has no existence at all. Regardless of how it “has largely been seen” it seems clear that Gorgias was focused instead on the notion that true objectivity is impossible since the human mind can never be separated from its possessor.”] Also https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/intentionality-ancient/
[iii] The proposition that existence precedes essence (French: l’existence précède l’essence) is a central claim of existentialism, which reverses the traditional philosophical view that the essence (the nature) of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence (the mere fact of its being). To existentialists, human beings—through their consciousness—create their own values and determine a meaning for their life because the human being does not possess any inherent identity or value. That identity or value must be created by the individual. By posing the acts that constitute them, they make their existence more significant.
The idea can be found in the works of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in the 19th century, but was explicitly formulated by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in the 20th century. The three-word formula originated in his 1945 lecture “Existentialism Is a Humanism“, though antecedent notions can be found in Heidegger’s Being and Time.” (from Wikipedia, 10/2017)
[iv] Merleau-Ponty, Marice (1968) The Visible and the Invisible (translated by Alphonso Lingis, edited by Claude Lefort) from the French edition published in 1964) Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois.
[v] [ACADEMIC FACTOIDS: Born into immense wealth, Wittgenstein gave his share away He began studies in aeronautical engineering but found more pleasure in philosophy … His mentor suggested another path, and so on Oct 18, 1911, he showed up unannounced at Bertrand Russell’s apartment in Cambridge. Russell eventually described him as “the most perfect example I have ever known of genius …” … he served with distinction in WW-I (part of the time as a POW) and was profoundly changed by his experience. His brothers committed suicide and he came close to it himself, but in 1951, dying of cancer, his last words were, “Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life”]
[vi] Wittgenstein was a Modernist at least in so far as he distrusted linear ways of thinking and sought alternative ways of representation (as you might expect from one inhaling the same atmosphere as Eliot and Joyce, Picasso and Kandinsky, Webern and Schonberg).