Neurobiological data & Husserlian constitution - II

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The alternative solution: according priority to intentionality

One approach to consciousness as act is a strictly correlational approach, one

which refuses to separate the subjective and the objective pole of the experiences

under consideration (perception, action, memory, imagination). This is

the only way to avoid playing Cartesian games, alternatively extroverted and

introverted, extroverted in the forgetfulness that objects are there for someone

and introverted in the failure to recognise the essential nature of repre-

sentations whose very existence is dependent upon their reference to external

things. The real problem is not that of knowing when and how the threshold of

consciousness is crossed as soon as otherwise more decisive events are produced

outside of it (Locke’s inner chamber). The true problem is to know how a world

invested with meaning unfolds within the field of vision of an inhabitant of this

world, how things emerge, become available for handling, how their alterations

satisfy (or frustrate) his motor intentions, etc. We need a theory about the way

in which a perceiving agent makes sense of what does not in itself make sense.

Both access and non-access to things stem from the fact that things are so constituted

in their very being that they can be meaningful for us.

Starting with intentionality, the paradox of an external thing already constituted

prior to its being encountered is eliminated in principle. It ceases to

be a purely contingent event in the experience of a subject, something which

nevertheless (and despite the manifest contradiction) had to be able to gain access

to the interior of this subject and be received there. No longer mutually

indifferent, but just the reverse, mutually sustaining, subject and object are henceforward

reduced to opposed poles, each referring to the other in a circular and

dynamic relation without which neither could be maintained. The cogito is an

act which posits the object as one and the same. Each object thereby becomes

a meaningful objective, a unifying pole, the guarantee of our expectations.

The viability of this alternative approach depends upon the fact that one is

able to suspend the mutual indifference of subject and object and to relativise

their difference in the context of each conscious experience and within the

continual flux out of which these experiences emerge. The substitution for the

subject-object duality of a noesis-noema correlation (Ideen I) gives expression

to this ambition (Husserl 1976). The noesis is the subjective activity which

traverses, animates and unifies the one with the other by linking together the

multiple configurations stemming from the sensorial field within which a

possible something is outlined in the course of experience. The noema is neither

consciousness itself nor the object. As the unifying pole of the noetic

synthesis in the absence of which it would be dissipated in the pursuit of the

multiple, it cuts across the indefinite multiplicity of the process by offering a

determinate segment: the object just as it is in its mode of givenness.


Intentionality in the constitution of the thing

What is decisive is that the noema confers its constituting character upon the

lived duration. The result is neither a sterile succession nor yet a compressed

accumulation but a regular development of meaning. Tied down to the process

by which it is formed rather than being fixed in the in-itself of an Idea, the

noema retains the virtual flexibility of alternative possibilities of development

at each phase of experience. But if one goes so far as to reduce the nucleus of

intentionality to its constituting noesis has one not subordinated objectivity

to subjectivity, the esse to the percipi?

The incarnation of meaning in the concrete development of corporeal experience

is secured by the promotion of the kinesthetic function to the status

of the constitutional operator.2 In this regard, however, a process is required

in order that the kinesthesia be invested with intentionality. In the first place,

a meaning which only floated on the horizon line of gaze has to be contextually

integrated into the movements of the body. The arrow of intentional consciousness

traverses and links up instantaneous cross sections of the visual

field in accordance with the movements I make in exploring the visual scene.

Not only does it connect the finite series consisting of what is actually visible

in the form of ever changing images, this finite series gets extended into the

infinite series of other changes made possible by the trajectory adopted by the

same action. But if this consciousness is capable of grasping the thing itself

across the adumbrations through which it is present, this is only because each

adumbration refers to the next, and because the movements of the body

brings the very adumbration which satisfies this intention of unity and identity

(Husserl 1973b, IV, pp. 154–203). If the visual field at some later moment

outlined a scene which could not have been foreshadowed at an earlier moment,

the consciousness of unity would collapse. Visual images only acquire

the status of adumbrations, are only capable of sustaining intentionality, in

circumstances where the kinesthesia develop normally.

The contribution of kinesthetic sensations to the constitution of the visual

thing is however limited to varying the visual scene and placing it in perspective,

as though the scenario was under the direction of an act of apprehension

projecting the thing across its adumbrations. The sensations which alert me

to the movements of my perceptual organs do not in themselves secure this

projective exposition of the thing. My freedom of movement, the effort required

to move my body, the tiredness that comes from expending muscular

energy, none of this makes it possible for kinesthetic sensations to endow parts

of space with qualities or to bring these parts of space together into fields, all

of which remains the task of visual and tactile sensations. From gesture to

gesture, what could possibly be implied by kinesthesia if not a continuing

alternation of tension and relaxation whose continuity does not even require

that any one phase be intentionally referred to any other? Wholly engaged in

the direction of visual attention, such intentionality emanates exclusively from

the subject.


Intentionality in the constitution of one’s own body

The concept of kinesthesia relies upon the duality from whence it springs, the

“I move” considered either from the proprioceptive (sensorial) or from the

practical (voluntary) standpoint. In the constitution of the physical thing, the

proprioceptive path is privileged. Its role is to separate out the changes due to

the movements of the thing from the changes attributable to the movements

of the subject. Whether the latter are voluntary or passive, the variation produced

in the visual field is always the same: a new series of lateral aspects of

the object is unfolded in perspective. In the constitution of the body as one’s

own, on the other hand, the duality of the kinesthesia is brought into play.

Kinesthetic sensations of movement and position are what make possible the

localisation of tactile qualities and their unification in a continuous surface

which enfolds the hand touched by a constant referral from place to place of

the touching hand. An experience intrinsic to my motor intentions even before

the sensorial impact, this is what they amount to at each reversal of the

touching-touched relation in the course of which I appropriate my physical

body constituted in this way as that body which I can move when I will. Here

we find the co-ordination of the two hands, a coordination which I bring about

at will but which can not be brought about by kinesthesia directed toward the

placing in perspective of the visual thing. Not because these kinesthesia are

devoid of intentionality but because the polarisation of visual perception means

that one’s own body, the nul point of any orientation, loses itself in the outward

thrust toward the goal of action.

The radicality of the kinesthetic constitution of one’s own body has much

less to do with imprinting its natural anatomy upon a sensorial configuration

than with what is brought about by the realisation of our motor intentions. Two

kinesthetic systems have to be distinguished.3 A first system is devoted to

orientation in perspective; it contains all those objects whose aspects vary from

the remote horizon to the immediate availability of things within reach. The

other system seems at first to be concentrated upon an unextended point, the

point of origin of the axes of co-ordination of the perceived world. The experience

of the tool, as a “non-kinesthetic extension of one’s own body,” recommends

its reinterpretation as a system functioning in equilibrium with the

first system. In fact, any object I lay hold of, which I pick up and take with

me or which I make use of (Heidegger’s hammer) is immediately withdrawn

by me from its primary condition of an object of visual constitution to be incorporated

into my sphere of ownness as the vector of my intentions, woven

into the kinesthetic system, whether explicitly or implicitly, by the practical

handling of things encountered in the world. Nothing brings out more clearly


the variability of the corporeal horizon than the possibility of replacing the

earth as the immobile point of reference of all perceived movements by a plane

or space craft.


Intentionality in intersubjective constitution

The systematic exploitation of the resources of kinesthetic functions in constitutive

operations does not lead to an indefinite stratification of the layers

of meaning. On the contrary, a certain dialectical closure of the field of referential

possibilities blocks this progression: constitution of the thing – constitution

of one’s own body – constitution of an intersubjective world. In fact, it

makes perfectly good sense to say that, for us, the meaning of this world requires

that it be populated with physical things and that we are not alone in

living in the midst of such things. The different ontological regions of experience

thereby evoked (things, the self, others) are, one by one, brought into

play in a movement first of projection, then of introjection and finally of

analogical transfer. The eidetic structure of intentionality closes this movement.

Goal-oriented intentionality profers things, self-referential intentionality

profers one’s own body. What might be called transferential intentionality

or empathy (Einfühlung) founds the openness to the other of one’s own experience

by supplementing one’s own kinesthetic system with the possibility of

its resonating with that of someone else, attested and confirmed through the

perception of the physical movements (expressive of the other’s active intentions)

of another agent.

For Lipps, Einfühlung was a way of gaining direct access to the interior

life of the other (Lipps 1903a, 1903b, II, pp. 97–223). Only later do we come

to separate this life of the other from our own subjective life. For Husserl, what

particularly distinguishes the perception of the other is the absence of any direct

experience of his mentality (Husserl 1973a, T3, Bl. IX, X, XVI). With regard

to the other, as with regard to any physical thing, only a part is directly given:

his body from the front. But a more complete experience of the other would

also have to comprise those parts which are not given, which are prefigured

as accessible in the further course of experience: his back and sides. In addition,

we see his body as his own body, the bearer of sensorial fields and

kinesthetic systems but we do not perceive the red he sees nor do we feel his

activity. When we see other human bodies, impressions of movement can be

associated with this sight through empathy. But they refer us on to an experience

of “I feel, I move my body” which is not itself given. We know that there

is on that side a new sensorial field, another freedom which is not anchored

in our own self-apperception. As soon as we integrate, within the horizon of

our perception of the other, the empathic quasi-givenness of his kinesthesia

and his subjective life, both of which are always suggested without actually

being given, then, instead of a cognitive deficiency in the perception of the

other, we find ourselves equipped with an (super-sensible) historical and

hermeneutical understanding of intersubjectivity.


Publié dans philosophie

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