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Vol. 2 December 1, 1995 No. 5________________________________________________________________________________
ISSN 1083-1908Table of Contents line number page numberArticles:Phenomenological
reflections on the natural sciences Gerard Numan ......................
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Phenomenological reflections on the natural sciences ____________________________________________________
Gerard Numan email@example.com (received: October 28, 1995)
THE PHENOMENON OF NATURAL SCIENCE
If we want to speak about the 'phenomenon' of natural science, it is precisely the term `phenomenon' which should lead us to an unprejudiced view and understanding of what natural science 'is'. Because there are various 'ways' and 'concepts' from which a thing can be understood (each of them having a right of being correct in their own context), the reflection upon how something appears itself is not a way or concept but the most open reflection itself. `Phenomenology' claims to be this reflection. Such a reflection upon the natural sciences would start `freshly' and should therefore begin with the foremost appearance of natural science, disconnected from historical or scientific notions. In this way we can meet science everywhere. Not only in universities, schools or in laboratories but every aspect of modern life seems to be penetrated with science. Debates on television involve experts, movies are hi-tech and display possibilities of hi-tech. I'm here writing a philosophical discourse on science on a computer. Our clothes, food and air have been produced or at least modified by scientific products. Children play with Pentium computers the way their mothers were playing with hand-made dolls. This shows the entanglement of science with everyday life and vice versa. The direction science takes is no longer a pure and selfless search for the true nature of things: it is influenced by the demands and financial investments from society. Society itself on the other hand is very much influenced by science and the demands society makes are in part created by science: the need for a home computer is not natural but can only rise in a society which has adapted itself to the computer and in which the computer is adapted to society.
The different ways different groups of people deal with science
is also striking: scientists merely `labor' in collective rather
mechanical explorations of a defined region. They themselves work
in order to reveal a truth which they themselves often never will
live to experience or understand. The majority of the population,
although relatively more and more people are scientifically educated,
regard scientists as a kind of priests: as if they were oracles,
speaking enigmatically from a grounding in a divine, yet obscure,
truth. Scientific theories very often have the effect as if they
were metaphysical thoughts. We see this at work where for instance
in psychology neurological, biological and genetic theories are
mistaken for an all embracing explanatory theory. It seems then,
for example, as if we are merely neurological systems.
EDMUND HUSSERL (1859-1938)
The godfather of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, started his philosophical career from his original discipline: mathematics. Eventually, he wanted to establish a philosophy which had the same evident deductive truth as mathematics. It was his uncompromising art of reflection which led him to realize that the evident truth which mathematics exhibited wasn't the `mathematical' but the `intuitive' the truth of a proposition according to Husserl, can never be disconnected from the subjective instance, i.e. the consciousness which attaches the predicate `true' of a proposition. `Truth' thus, according to Husserl, is essentially the 'clarity' of an experience. The `correspondence-theory' of truth (in which truth is being thought of as the correspondence of a proposition with an experience) is thus abandoned by Husserl because the gap between a judgment and the subject of that judgment (something in the world) had been overcome in the experience which generates both empirical experience and judgment. This idea would be transformed eventually into Hussar's famous `phenomenological reduction': every notion of an actual existing (transcendent) being should be `put between brackets', and only `how' an experience or meaning is 'given' is of primary importance to a true reflexive scientist.
Subjectivity for Husserl is thus the only possible gateway to achieve `objective', d.i. truthful or meaningful, knowledge. Knowledge in fact 'is' what is given for the pure subjectivity. The forms, contexts and structures of the `givenness' for subjectivity are what in everyday language we call `world' or `reality' The basic form of the givenness Husserl calls `Lifeworld'. This world of life is the collection of experience people speak off when interacting with one another. It's the empirical world of things as they appear to us most ordinary. This Lifeworld is the constitutive source for all cultural developed notions, like the scientific descriptions. These descriptions Husserl calls `logisms': they are abstractions based upon the empirical things from the lifeworld, created by an inter-subjective practice: like the need a society has to have a functional knowledge of the weather, the sea or vegetation etc.. In this sense science is a rather natural attitude, probably always latent and actual in all human cultures.
In his last work `The Crisis of the European Sciences and the Transcendental Phenomenology', Husserl speaks of the natural sciences. The 'crisis' of the European sciences consists, according to Husserl, of a forgottenness of the original lifeworld as the source (of sense and meaning) of science. The lifeworld can easily be identified with `every day life'. This association with a `natural', humane level of experience is not coincidental. The crisis of the sciences is a crisis of mankind because science is the self-awareness of the ultimate subjective entity, humankind. If this self-awareness has itself been the cause of the forgottenness of the lifeworld as the ultimate ground of meaning, it is not what it should be, but the contrary. Husserl never wanted to criticize science in its immanent structure, logic or practice. It's the 'place' science takes in the historical self- awareness of humankind as a rational developing of culture which is essential and at stake in the development of modern science. The natural sciences have, as a matter of speech, 'taken over' the whole realm of self-awareness. This realm is the so called mind, culture and eventually self-awareness as a `universal responsibility' a knowing of being a human being in a historical context of a human morality in progress.
According to Husserl the crisis of science has developed out of the abstraction of experience which has been realized in the mathematical methodology of the natural science. The enlightenment has thus grown into a darkness of reason because in the twentieth century there only seems to have been left two attitudes: that of a blind rationality, which proclaims only that to be true or real that is abstracted from the immediate realm of givenness; and an attitude that only can appeal to non-rational givenness, as a semi-romantic plunge into the lifeworld. Only a 'rational recurs' to the lifeworld, according to Husserl, is truly rational and a true understanding of lifeworld.
So Husserls vision on the natural sciences stems forth from a
teleological notion of what in the phenomenological method is
thought of as the absolute point in reflection: the subjective
unity, the ego. Natural science is (just) a way the ego takes
his world, the lifeworld, to himself. This way, natural science
is it's own method of abstracting from immediate experience: the
mathematical method. The crisis of science consists in thinking
this method 'as' reality, thereby making immediate experience
MARTIN HEIDEGGER (1889-1971)
I can't think of a time were the common `vision of life' wasn't led by some kind of metaphor. Nowadays these metaphors are derived from the sciences. How can we, prisoners of the modern age, understand our age then? How can we leap out of the limitations set by the metaphors we live in? What is the universal anchorpoint from which we can view history? The phenomenological method only supplies us with meaning as it appears to us. What bridges the (artificial) gap between consciousness and the world this consciousness lives in?
Precisely at this point Martin Heidegger wanted to enrich phenomenology. Phenomenology, according to Heidegger, only shows the `how' of meaning. What is `at stake' it simply postpones. For Heidegger the question after the `what' is the 'underlying structure' (or sense) of existence; for a phenomenologist like his teacher Husserl the only possible way of examining was to ask for the `how'. Heidegger would add that consciousness needs to be understood as being part of a world, which is prior to the phenomena in it. Husserl reduced experience and meaning to `how they appear' in order to reveal the `meaning-structure' (German: Sinn). Heidegger reduces, also from the intention to reveal `meaning', the phenomena to a concrete `being in the world'. The structure of meaning can't be 'fully' grasped by reflecting on the contexts within which meanings appear. They have to be understood in the structure of the being that `has' or `is' consciousness. This structure is an 'ontological' structure. The basic relations in which things `are' Heidegger calls ontological. It doesn't mean `being' as it is: outside our heads, but it means the nature of the relation we, the human being, are. Human being is, ontological speaking, a `being there'. It is not just a being like all the other beings in the world (things) but a being that has a relation with its own being. This ontological scheme (Being/being-there/beings) is the basic structure from which the human being can be understood: a thing in the world, but a thing with a relation to itself and the world. The revolutionary aspect of Heidegger_ philosophy is his understanding of Being as nothing more and nothing less than the light from which the being-there receives his world. This world and being shouldn't be mistaken with any scientific notion of reality. In science `what is real' is considered as `that which can be proven to be'. For Heidegger this is a derivative question, Being foremost is the basic event in which experience exists. Heidegger's main work therefore is named `Being 'and Time'', because `time' (the coming to be, the momentary) is to be revealed as the meaning of Being.
Heidegger's philosophy is often divided up into two periods: that of the first period, characterized as the period of `Being and Time', Heidegger's magnum opus; and the period after the so called `Turning'. The first period is the period in which Heidegger's thoughts about the difference between the `present at hand' and the `ready to hand' is dominant.
From these basic notions of the heideggerian philosophy, Heidegger's attitude towards the natural science can be deduced. In an article called `The question after the technical' Heidegger describes how everyday experience and understanding has been penetrated by a technical attitude. How people nowadays regard the world, and the `things' in it, in a functionalistic framework. How the foremost appearances and meanings of things have been suppressed by a `technical look'. Because this technical perspective goes so deep into the experiences and self-awareness of people Heidegger thinks something has entered the basic relation which man is: his relation with being.
Being is thought of as the 'light' in which our world is revealed to us. This light however is structured by the 'being to hand' and the 'being for hand', i.e. the productive and interaction between the human being and nature (excuse me for using this Marxist terminology).
In Heidegger's second period the light of being becomes dominant. The structure of the way the world is revealed to us is not completely determined by our way we `act', behave or live, but Being itself has a more autonomous status with regard to the human activity.
Heidegger has in his first period thus a more Husserlian-like interpretation of human institutionalized activity and thinking like the sciences. Science is then a way we can relate to reality, be it an extreme and methodologizing way. In his second period, on the contrary, modern age is more or less a period in which Being has `left us' and it's not 'we' who have left Being. T
The 'background' of this rather controversial thought of the late Heidegger, as far as I am concerned, is one of the most important intuitions which has blazed like a cold wind through western thought: the intuition of an overwhelming finitude of the human mind. Important champions of this wind were of course Nietzsche, Freud and Marx, the great critics of consciousness. Already in `Being and Time' Heidegger has proven himself to be a philosopher of `existence': the concrete, finite situation of everyday life is being taken to be the basis of human being. But this situation, as I have explained above, is structured by human activity. Finite also has an element of conscious `self-control', a kind of `act' of will: determination (German: Entschlossenheit). It seems that in the late Heidegger these subjectivistic notions completely have vanished. The being-there is thought of then as an open place in a world, a gateway for the light of being to open up `world'.
In this line of thinking it is impossible to understand a cultural phenomenon like the `rise and fall of scientific rationality' as an activity of the human spirit or, like Husserl does, to understand it in the context of intentionality. For Heidegger, who proclaims the absoluteness of finitude, cultural developments are like streams and gulfs in which humanity is moved, rather than that humanity is consciously planning and scheming its own course.
For Husserl the `Absolute Reason' was the teleological principal of history, which means that science must be understood as an attempt or `project' of rationality to understand itself and its world. For Heidegger this position is untenable for two reasons. In the first place: the basic relation between the human mind and its world is a non-rational one, according to Heidegger. This relation is prior to any possible rational relationship and is more a `being-there' than a `seeing'. In the second place are, for Heidegger, cultural developments not determined or caused by an intentional activity. Heidegger has stripped Hussar's notion of the intentionality of consciousness from all of it's Cartesian elements and has left it to be an uncertain `upholding' in a given field of possibilities, whereby even choices are elements of the field of possibilities.
`Technique', as Heidegger calls the essence of modern scientific rationality, is thus the way nowadays Beings sheds it's light upon us and our world. The influence of human history on the way `things reveal themselves' nowadays should be thought of as a history of Being rather than a history of humankind.
It is this rather fatalistic view which has led Heidegger to think of modern age as an age which we have to `go through', which we have to carry to the end.
What we have to go through is the age of `technique': a period of time in which the lighting of the world by Being has been obscured. As said before, it is Being itself who has `decided' to cover itself up with a givenness of the world in which `things' of the world aren't lighted up originally but in a technical sense only: when we see a spring in a forest we don't experience that spring as `it is': in a coherence with the forest, the air, the animals, us etc., but we can only `judge' it's possible functional place in our way of exploiting the world to our merely, all too human, needs. And even the latter, our human needs, are obscured. In an article called `Letter on Humanism' Heidegger suggests that Humanism is the least humanistic ideology or faith possible. In taking himself as the measurepoint of all things, man has lost the ability to `measure', i.e. understand, himself. To `know' or `be' human in a true sense, we have to think ourselves as part of a reality in which we are foremost only creatures (created). In placing mankind as the anchorpoint of the world it is impossible to understand anything, the only outcome of such a hierarchy of values will be an un-understandable exploiting and submitting of nature.
It will clearly follow from this that Heidegger suggests that a truly felt belief is the only perspective, or to speak in his own words: openness to Being, in which man can find and understand the place he really exhibits. It will also be clear that the darkness of modern times can't be understood as something which mankind with a magnitude of effort can overcome: it is precisely a loosening up of the autonomous subject what is needed. Nor is it this activity, which has been the cause of the darkness of the modern age: man, as a victim of history rather than an actor, has been submitted in our age to a probably necessary stage in the history of Being.
Science in it's internal structure, logic or practice never is
criticized by Heidegger. Science is seen as a fate to be going
through; as an interpretation of Being (which in effect it foremost
is) it's fatal and overwhelming. Heidegger's `solution' is not
a `re-education' of science (Husserl) but a stubborn openness
to Being in order to give Being the possibility of enlightening
our existence again.
zhenomenology in any case has shown the reflexive poverty of scientific thought. No matter what truth or knowledge science has brought, it hasn't given insight, understanding or a higher level of spirituality. On the contrary: the methodological, systematical, mathematical and disciplinatory practice of science seems to have brought a narrow-mindedness which is almost impossible to overcome.
It's obvious that Heidegger in his second period has left the
boundaries of what a lot of people think to be the rational understandable.
I think however that a thinker who has shown this grand qualities
should always be treated seriously. A way to understand and re-value
science is to bring it back to the source of it's own essence,
history and practice: human experience. A philosophy like Heidegger's
shouldn't be taken as a last word. It even isn't intended to be
such, at least that's my intuition. It merely is an attempt or
a path to achieve the openness to a real understanding and thinking.
A thinking in which 'meaning' is respected in it's original givenness,
a thinking which is active and critical, d.i. which judges phenomena
on it's own principles. Phenomenology is an attempt 'to be' the
openness in which things and meanings are revealed to us. This
article is nothing more than a contribution to such a reflexive
dialogue with others, ourselves and Being.
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