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Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.— John Lennon, ‘Beautiful Boy’
Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.[next]— Franklin P. Jones
Experience and appearance are verbs made into nouns, as when some‘thing’ has been identified as a single event or entity in the flow of experiencing. This formulation or ‘reification’ is the warping, woofing and weaving of a dialogue into a text.
Experiencing itself does not appear; it is the channel through which things appear or happen. Afterwards, we call a remembered appearance or happening an experience. When you ‘speak from’ it, this experience is an object of the signs you utter.
In Peirce's usage, experience is forceful: it comes to you as the mind's response to direct contact with a separate reality, whereupon the content of the experience, though entirely mental, is beyond your control (until reasoning begins to extend your response beyond its immediacy). ‘All experience compels your acknowledgment. What, then, is the fact that is present to you? Ask yourself: it is past’ (CP 2.84, 1902). But by asking yourself, you have taken up the practice of philosophy, for which ‘experience can only mean the total cognitive result of living’ (CP 7.538).
Experience may be defined as the sum of ideas which have been irresistibly borne in upon us, overwhelming all free-play of thought, by the tenor of our lives. The authority of experience consists in the fact that its power cannot be resisted; it is a flood against which nothing can stand. The maxim that we ought to be “guided” by experience amounts to this, that what we have got to yield to at last we shall economically do well to be submissive to from the first. “Guided” is too egotistical a word.When inference becomes self-critical and self-controlled, it grows into reasoning. But as Michael Polanyi says (1966, xi), ‘Thought can live only on grounds which we adopt in the service of a reality to which we submit.’ [next]We naturally make all our distinctions too absolute. We are accustomed to speak of an external universe and an inner world of thought. But they are merely vicinities with no real boundary line between them. It comes to this: there are some ideas,— objects, be it remembered,— which will have their own way, and we cannot swerve them much, and the little effect we can produce upon them we only produce indirectly. They make up or indicate the outward world. There are other ideas which seem very docile, they are just as we think they ought to be. They form the inner world. Yet it will be found that the inner world has its surprises for us, sometimes. It isn't so exactly as we would have it as we fancy. It is rather our wishes which conform to it, Mahomet that repairs to the mountain. Neither is the moderate amount of control which we exercise upon the world of ideas nearly so direct as we fancy it to be. We go about instinctively, and without being aware how circuitously we proceed to change the current of thought. There is an intermediate world, our own neighborhood, household, and persons, which belongs to us, which we sometimes feel inclined to class with the outer world and sometimes with the inner world.Experience being something forced upon us, belongs to the external type. Yet in so far as it is I or you who experiences the constraint, the experience is mine or yours, and thus belongs to the inner world.Experience is double, as much as reality is. That is, there is an outward and an inward experience. Under the latter head ought particularly to be reckoned a mathematical experience, not usually so called, which has compelled the development of pure thought to take a determinate course.There is also an emotional experience, which has all the authority of any experience, provided it is equally irresistible. But experience and its irresistibility has a public character, which we shall study in another chapter.Under the influence of association, the lash of experience needs only to be shown to us to cause us to submit. Now, there are indications by which we recognize the experiential character of certain ideas. One of these is the glowing blaze of their subjective vividness; but there are others, besides.When an idea bearing the stamp of experience suggests another, that other in many cases itself carries that same stamp, which is carried forward in suggestion and thus a derivative authority from experience is conferred upon an idea which may have neither the vividness nor the other marks of directer experience. This sort of suggestion is inference.— Peirce (CP 7.437-443, c. 1893)
Experience is that state of cognition which the course of life, by some part thereof, has forced upon the recognition of the experient, or person who undergoes the experience, under conditions due usually, in part, at least, to his own action; and the Immediate object of the cognition of Experience is understood to be what I call its ‘Dynamical,’ that is, its real object.‘There must be an action of the object upon the sign in order to render the latter true’; so the ‘cognition of Experience,’ ‘in order to fulfill its office, to actualize its potency, must be compelled by its object’ (Peirce, EP2:380). The reality of its dynamical object is its compulsiveness, its forcing itself upon the attention. As Peirce observed (NEM3, 917), ‘Experience is first forced upon us in the form of a flow of images’ which act like a series of blows upon the bubble of perception – especially when they are unexpected. As the little current of cognition begins to “make sense” of these sense impressions, it is forced by its own nature to extract facts from the flow. These facts may be represented in propositional form, but the truth of these signs is ‘forced upon the recognition of the experient’ by their indexicality, their genuine dyadic relation to their objects.— Peirce, MS 299 CSP 8 (1906)
Experience is re-cognized as such when the immediate object of the cognition or thought-sign is understood to be not merely flotsam in the little current of internal dialogue but an actual feature of the Big Current, ‘the course of life.’ This can happen when the reader (interpreter) understands the writer (utterer) of a symbol to be speaking from experience, whether the sign itself is factual or fictional: the experient actually feels the shock of recognition.
For genius, all over the world, stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round.This kind of shock delivers a “blow” combining the Secondness of the unexpected with the closure of a circuit connecting the genius of an individual ind with that ‘Poetic Genius which is every where call'd the Spirit of Prophecy’ (Blake).— Herman Melville, ‘Hawthorne and His Mosses’ (1850)
Actually, that universal ‘genius’ goes by many other names, and the word genius is related to many others, including general, generate, genuine, gnosis, cognition, know, as well as nature and innate. All of these have their source in the Proto-Indo-European root *gn- or *gen-, meaning give birth or beget. It all springs from the encounter of inner and outer Nature, enhanced by the sexuality of cognition. [next]
ἐὰν μὴ ἔλπηται ἀνέλπιστον οὐκ ἐξευρήσει, ἀνεξερεύνητον ἐὸν καὶ ἄπορον.
He who does not expect will not find out the unexpected, for it is trackless and unexplored.— Heraclitus, Kahn VII
χρὴ γὰρ εὖ μάλα πολλῶν ἵστορας φιλοσόφους ἄνδρας εἶναι.But
Men who love wisdom must be good inquirers (historas) into many things indeed.— Heraclitus, Kahn IX
πολυμαθίη νόον οὐ διδάσκει.
Much learning (polymathia) does not teach understanding.— Heraclitus, Kahn XVIII
ὅσων ὄψις ἀκοὴ μάθησις, ταῦτα ἐγὼ προτιμέω.But
Whatever comes from sight, hearing, learning from experience: this I prefer.— Heraclitus, Kahn XVI
κακοὶ μάρτυρες ἀνθρώποισι ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ ὦτα βαρβάρους ψυχὰς ἐχόντων.What “language” do eyes and ears speak to the soul? That depends on how the soul is embodied, how events in the nervous system become significant, how perception works. [next]
Eyes and ears are poor witnesses for men if their souls do not understand the language [if they have ‘barbaric souls’].— Heraclitus, Kahn XIV
Everything has some quality, which in Peircean terms is its Firstness. But according to Peirce, Firstness can only be apprehended as a mode of feeling, and ‘whatever is First is ipso facto sentient’ (CP 6.201, RLT 260, 1898). This cannot mean that it is an existing thing or subject capable of sensing the presence of other things, as a First has no existence. Whatever Firstness we find in actuality, or in any event, is its spontaneous quality: it is not moved, motivated, guided or constrained by anything else.
Firstness may be defined as follows: It is the mode in which anything would be for itself, irrespective of anything else, so that it would not make any difference though nothing else existed, or ever had existed, or could exist. Now this mode of being can only be apprehended as a mode of feeling. For there is no other mode of being which we can conceive as having no relation to the possibility of anything else. In the second place, the First must be without parts. For a part of an object is something other than the object itself. Remembering these points, you will perceive that any color, say magenta, has and is a positive mode of feeling, irrespective of every other. Because, Firstness is all that it is, irrespective of anything else, when viewed from without (and therefore no longer in the original fullness of firstness) the firstnesses are all the different possible sense-qualities, embracing endless varieties of which all we can feel are but minute fragments. Each of these is just as simple as any other. It is impossible for a sense quality to be otherwise than absolutely simple. It is only complex to the eye of comparison, not in itself.When we say that a stone has its quality, its Firstness, we are taking its itness – separate existence, identity – for granted. We are viewing it from without, which precludes seeing ‘the original fullness of firstness.’ Like the stone itself, any qualities we attribute to it have become other to something else, and thus lost the indeterminacy and spontaneity which is theirs as possibilities rather than actualities. This is why we do not think of the stone (or its quality) as sentient, or as experiencing. But the quality in itself, unembodied in anything, in ‘the mode of being of that which is whatever it is regardless of anything else’ (CD ‘Firstness’), appears in its ‘original fullness’ when the elements of Secondness and Thirdness are dropped from the experience of the stone; or in Peirce's terms, when its Firstness is ‘prescinded’ from its other elements. Can you sense it?— Peirce, RLT 147, PM 167 (1898)
The experience of being a sentient agent is no less than being the locus of something that is incessantly and spontaneously emerging. This experience is itself an emerging locus at the center of a vast but only weakly constraining, weakly determinate web of semiotic and physiological influences.[next]— Terrence W. Deacon (in Weber and Depew 2003, 305-6)
Regularity implies generality; and generality is an intellectual relation essentially the same as significance, as is shown by the contention of the nominalists that all generals are names. Even if generals have a being independent of actual thought, their being consists in their being possible objects of thought whereby particulars can be thought. Now that which brings another thing before the mind is a representation; so that generality and regularity are essentially the same as significance. Thus, continuity, regularity, and significance are essentially the same idea with merely subsidiary differences. That this element is found in experience is shown by the fact that all experience involves time. Now the flow of time is conceived as continuous. No matter whether this continuity is a datum of sense, or a quasi-hypothesis imported by the mind into experience, or even an illusion; in any case it remains a direct experience. For experience is not what analysis discovers but the raw material upon which analysis works. This element then is an element of direct experience.[next]— Peirce, CP 7.535 (1899?)
It is impossible to express what an assertion refers to except by means of an index. A pronoun is an index. A noun, on the other hand, does not indicate the object it denotes; and when a noun is used to show what one is talking about, the experience of the hearer is relied upon to make up for the incapacity of a noun for doing what the pronoun does at once. Thus, a noun is an imperfect substitute for a pronoun.… A pronoun ought to be defined as a word which may indicate anything to which the first and second persons have suitable real connections, by calling the attention of the second person to it.— Peirce (EP2:15 fn.)
The thing to which a pronoun calls attention must exist in the situational context of both of these persons in order for communication to succeed. In order for a noun (even a proper noun) to direct attention to the object of a symbol such as a sentence, the prior experience of the hearer is called upon – not only her memory of prior language usage, but also her memory of previous acquaintance (collateral experience) with the object of the symbol. This memory makes the difference between ‘the inexperienced and the experienced person meeting the same man and noticing the same peculiarities, which to the experienced man indicate a whole history, but to the inexperienced reveal nothing’ (EP2:8).
The ‘experienced’ reader of a text (i.e. the reader well acquainted with its context) will also notice ‘peculiarities’ which not only ‘indicate a whole history’ but also point to previously unnoticed relationships among parts of that object recalled to memory. My ‘real connection’ with a place becomes more finely articulated as i walk through it, even if i have taken that same path before, as long as i am attentive to its twists and turns on this walk. In my experience, reading and re-reading the works of a writer such as Peirce can likewise sharpen the sense of what he is writing about. For the ‘experienced’ reader, the very nouns in that text can act more like pronouns, drawing renewed attention to features of its object in order to regenerate its interpretant. No book can transmit acquaintance with such a ‘whole history’ or whole system; yet the writer works in the hope that some future reader may be able to recreate or resurrect it. [next]
While on the psycho-physical level, consciousness denotes the totality of actualized immediate qualitative differences, or ‘feelings,’ it denotes, upon the plane of mind, actualized apprehensions of meanings, that is, ideas. There is thus an obvious difference between mind and consciousness; meaning and an idea. Mind denotes the whole system of meanings as they are embodied in the workings of organic life; consciousness in a being with language denotes awareness or perception of meanings; it is the perception of actual events, whether past, contemporary or future, in their meanings, the having of actual ideas. The greater part of mind is only implicit in any conscious act or state; the field of mind – of operative meanings – is enormously wider than that of consciousness. Mind is contextual and persistent; consciousness is focal and transitive. Mind is, so to speak, structural, substantial, a constant background and foreground; perceptive consciousness is process, a series of heres and nows. Mind is a constant luminosity; consciousness intermittent, a series of flashes of varying intensities. Consciousness is, as it were, the occasional interception of messages continually transmitted, as a mechanical receiving device selects a few of the vibrations with which the air is filled and renders them audible.That last metaphor can be misleading insofar as it evokes the ‘flashlight’ or ‘searchlight’ image of consciousness. Dewey clarifies this after offering a ‘formal definition of consciousness in relation to mind and meanings’:— Dewey (1929, 247)
Consciousness, an idea, is that phase of a system of meanings which at a given time is undergoing re-direction, transitive transformation. The current idealistic conception of consciousness as a power which modifies events, is an inverted statement of this fact. To treat consciousness as a power accomplishing the change, is but another instance of the common philosophic fallacy of converting an eventual function into an antecedent force or cause. Consciousness is the meaning of events in course of remaking; its ‘cause’ is only the fact that this is one of the ways in which nature goes on. In a proximate sense of causality, namely as place in a series history, its causation is the need and demand for filling out what is indeterminate.The flashlight metaphor ‘postulates, even though only implicitly, a preestablished harmony of the knower and things known, passing over the fact that such harmony is always an attained outcome of prior inferences and investigations’ (1929, 252). That ‘attained outcome’ is the structure of mind.There is a counterpart realist doctrine, according to which consciousness is like the eye running over a field of ready-make objects, or a light which illuminates now this and now that portion of a given field. These analogies ignore the indeterminateness of meaning when there is awareness; they fail to consider a basic consideration, namely, that while there exists an antecedent stock of meanings, these are just the ones which we take for granted and use: the ones of which we are not and do not need to be conscious.— Dewey (1929, 251)
It is impossible to tell what immediate consciousness is – not because there is some mystery in or behind it, but for the same reason that we cannot tell just what sweet or red immediately is: it is something had, not communicated and known. But words, as means of directing action, may evoke a situation in which the thing in question is had in some particularly illuminating way.[next]— Dewey (1929, 250)
Think of any river you can find on a map of the world, and it's clear that if you can step into it once, then you can step into it twice. But that's because the river is a continuous flow, and so are you. ‘Stepping in’ is a general term that covers any number of instances; on the other foot, an actual ‘stepping into’ the river is a singular event and a unique experience. You can't have that same experience twice, because the waters are always changing, and so are you. The next time you commit the act, you and the river have both moved on, and the difference between you is not the same as it was. [next]
Present awareness, or awareness of what is currently happening, cannot be separated from memory of past events, or from anticipation of future events. Time, as the presence of impermanence, is simply the means by which the future both differs and continues from the already-determined, unalterable past. Experience is memory, while experiencing is time. [next]
a given experience can first be evoked electrically, and then recur later as a spontaneous hallucination, even after the stimulation site which had first yielded it from the medial temporal lobe had already been surgically removed. This observation tells us that an ‘experience’ is widely distributed. How, then does the stimulation act? It seems to evoke the experience by tapping into its large network at one of several potential sites, and by doing so at one particularly responsive moment. Even then, each experience has been undergoing a substantial editing. Consider this singular fact: only one previous experience has been selected to take place at any one moment, whereas the electrical stimulus must have been passing across the links of many other potential memory circuits.[next]— Austin (1998, 384)
The birds they sing[next]
at the break of day
I heard them say— Leonard Cohen, ‘Anthem’
Phenomenology (and philosophy), as Peirce described it, begins with this same ‘attentiveness to our present life experience,’ but then proceeds to a description or analysis of it, with the goal of articulating what is essential to any possible experience, quite apart from anything peculiar to any individual subject of that experience. In other words, it generalizes from present experience to Experiencing. The formulations arrived at in this way furnish ‘fundamental principles’ to philosophy and other sciences (EP 2:258) in their quest for truth. [next]
Although phenomenology is often said to be “the study of experience” (see above), its name points rather to the logos of the phenonomenon (Heidegger 1927, 28). As Peirce puts it,
Phenomenology ascertains and studies the kinds of elements universally present in the phenomenon; meaning by the phenomenon, whatever is present at any time to the mind in any way.The term was introduced by Hegel, but Peirce's usage differed from Hegel's.EP2:259, CP 1.186
I will so far follow Hegel as to call this science Phenomenology although I will not restrict it to the observation and analysis of experience but extend it to describing all the features that are common to whatever is experienced or might conceivably be experienced or become an object of study in any way direct or indirect.EP2:143, CP 5.37
Peirce wrote in ‘Phaneroscopy or the Natural History of Concepts’ (1906):
It is more particularly to changes and contrasts of perception that we apply the word ‘experience.’ We experience vicissitudes, especially. We cannot experience the vicissitude without experiencing the perception which undergoes the change; but the concept of experience is broader than that of perception, and includes much that is not, strictly speaking, an object of perception. It is the compulsion, the absolute constraint upon us to think otherwise than we have been thinking that constitutes experience. Now constraint and compulsion cannot exist without resistance, and resistance is effort opposing change. Therefore there must be an element of effort in experience; and it is this which gives it its peculiar character.CP 1.336
In a letter to William James, Peirce wrote of his phenomenological categories as
three modes of consciousness, that of feeling, that of EXPERIENCE (experience meaning precisely that which the history of my life has FORCED me to think; so that the idea of a struggle, of not mere twoness but active oppugnancy is in it), and thirdly the consciousness of the future (whether veridical or not is aside from the question) in expectation, which enters into all general ideas according to my variety of pragmatism.In this context, ‘experience’ as Secondness belongs to the past (because it is already determined), while Thirdness or generality is ‘of the future’ (that which is not yet fully determinate). ‘Feeling’ or Firstness could then be called ‘present,’ but only in a sense not involving the passage of time at all (since that belongs properly to Thirdness). In the still earlier context of his cosmological writings, Peirce used ‘consciousness’ more in connection with Firstness or feeling, and thus could not speak of all three categories as ‘modes of consciousness.’ In the ‘Trichotomic’ manuscript of 1888 (EP1:280), he had summarized them as follows: ‘First is the beginning, that which is fresh, original, spontaneous, free. Second is that which is determined, terminated, ended, correlative, object, necessitated, reacting. Third is the medium, becoming, developing, bringing about.’ In 1902, the year he first used the term ‘phenomenology,’ Peirce gave several sets of labels for the triad of categories; for example, one of them calls Firstness quality, Secondness occurrence, and Thirdness meaning (MS L75).CP 8.291
These variations illustrate the kind of polyversity which makes it so difficult to practice philosophy, and especially phenomenology, as a science – a difficulty of which Peirce was acutely aware, although (optimistically) he kept on trying. In a letter to Victoria Welby, he distinguished between experience and feeling:
The experience of effort cannot exist without the experience of resistance. Effort only is effort by virtue of its being opposed; and no third element enters. Note that I speak of the experience, not of the feeling, of effort.SS, 12 Oct. 1904; CP 8.330
Later, in his ‘Neglected Argument for the Reality of God,’ Peirce asserted the reality of all three categories, or ‘Universes of Experience’:
Of the three Universes of Experience familiar to us all, the first comprises all mere Ideas, those airy nothings to which the mind of poet, pure mathematician, or another might give local habitation and a name within that mind. Their very airy-nothingness, the fact that their Being consists in mere capability of getting thought, not in anybody's Actually thinking them, saves their Reality. The second Universe is that of the Brute Actuality of things and facts. I am confident that their Being consists in reactions against Brute forces, notwithstanding objections redoubtable until they are closely and fairly examined. The third Universe comprises everything whose being consists in active power to establish connections between different objects, especially between objects in different Universes. Such is everything which is essentially a Sign – not the mere body of the Sign, which is not essentially such, but, so to speak, the Sign's Soul, which has its Being in its power of serving as intermediary between its Object and a Mind. Such, too, is a living consciousness, and such the life, the power of growth, of a plant. Such is a living constitution – a daily newspaper, a great fortune, a social ‘movement.’EP2:435 (1908)
Even in that same essay, Peirce's definition of the word experience as ‘brutally produced’ emphasizes the element of Secondness. But in the appearing of ordinary phenomena the three Universes are throughly entangled, and not merely mixed like the classical four ‘elements,’ which are more like kinds of matter than like universal modes of being. The universality and ubiquity of the three ‘categories’ or ‘elements’ is a key feature of Peirce's phenomenology and phaneroscopy. [next]
The text is the instrument; the body is the player; meaning is the music. Practice is the dance. [next]
An “Experience” is a brutally produced conscious effect that contributes to a habit, self-controlled, yet so satisfying, on deliberation, as to be destructible by no positive exercise of internal vigour. … Take for illustration the sensation undergone by a child that puts its forefinger into a flame with the acquisition of a habit of keeping all its members out of all flames. A compulsion is “Brute,” whose immediate efficacy nowise consists in conformity to rule or reason.This is followed, in Peirce's ‘Neglected Argument for the Reality of God,’ by the explication of the ‘three Universes of Experience familiar to us all’ (above). The point here is that ‘mere Ideas’ do not count as ‘experience’ unless they affect your habits in some way beyond your control. Your memory of an event – that is, your ability to recall it not only now but in the future – is itself a habit. Your memory edits itself, as it were, in the very act of remembering, but this too is beyond your control – which makes it a real memory. [next]
If we do not feel a new interest in this every time we read it, the fault must lie with us, it cannot be that of the author of the Gita.— Gandhi (1926/2000, 233)
But human learning has often been hampered by the ‘transmission’ model – the assumption that the teacher knows and sends, and the learner merely receives passively, and that learning can take place without trial and without incorporation of feedback from trials. The great teachers know better, as their methods show: Socrates led the learner through trial by dialog, and the Buddha encouraged his followers to apply his own trial-and-error method rather than claiming to have received an authoritative revelation. The sutras even record some of his failed experiments (see e.g. Thich Nhat Hanh 1998, 14).
πάντα δὲ δοκιμάζετε τὸ καλὸν κατέχετεThe King James translation of this verse employs the primary sense of ‘prove’ in English, which according to the OED is ‘to make trial of, try, test’ – the meaning of the root Latin verb probare (and Greek δοκιμάζειν). To prove a statement or proposition in this sense is to investigate whether it really works as an act of meaning – whether it fits a niche in meaning space. Since context, occasion and meaning space are always transforming themselves with each act of meaning, the fit is always more or less temporary. In order to ‘hold fast that which is good’ in it, you may need to let go of a previous expression of it.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.— 1 Thessalonians 5:21 [KJV]
In recent centuries, the word prove in English most commonly invokes a secondary meaning, ‘to establish something as true’ – and ‘truth’ is taken to be a permanent and context-free quality of any ‘proven’ statement. ‘Proof’ in this sense is usually “demonstrated” by deduction from already-established principles or assumptions.
Scientific method is a matter of investigation, not of ‘proof’ in this secondary sense. ‘Science probes; it does not prove’ (Bateson 1979, 32). Its ‘conclusions’ are always tentative and probable, never established and certain. This is the only sensible approach to truth, which includes ‘proving’ verses in scriptures or metaphysical assertions. If they mean anything to us, we can only try them out in practice and learn from the results. As Peirce put it: ‘Demonstrative proof is not to be thought of. The demonstrations of the metaphysicians are all moonshine’ (CP 1.7). The realistic and pragmatic path is to live by those principles we have tried, and ‘hold fast’ to them because we are still trying them, not because we think our beliefs are permanently and absolutely true. [next]
‘Science is a system of beliefs to which we are committed’ (Polanyi 1962, 171). The scientist is committed to those beliefs he must take for granted in order to investigate or test a hypothesis. Among the most fundamental of those beliefs are (first) that nature has a real order independent of what we think of it, and (second) that this order can be investigated. Logically, this implies that any specific belief is fallible. [next]
A person can do what he wants, but not want what he wants. [Der Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will.]— Schopenhauer, On The Freedom Of The Will (1839)
In the last of his 1903 Harvard lectures, Peirce pointed out that ‘self-control of any kind is purely inhibitory. It originates nothing’ (EP2:233). What then is the ground of the guidance system governing the practice of a bodymind? Ultimately, says Peirce, ‘it must come from the uncontrolled part of the mind, because a series of controlled acts must have a first’ (EP2:233).
All of our reasoning originates in what is “given” to us in perceptual judgments. Every such judgment is ‘the result of a process’ which is ‘not controllable and therefore not fully conscious’ (EP2:227). Consciousness takes up the task of controlling the process, domesticating it, harnessing a ‘logical energy’ which is originally wild. In its Firstness it is spontaneous and free, and yet the very origin of self-control. Logic as the ethic of inquiry is the heart of self-control in the use of symbols, but is grounded in a process continuous with direct perception, even with creation.
A consciousness for which the world is “self-evident,” that finds the world “already constituted” and present even within consciousness itself, absolutely chooses neither its being nor its manner of being.
What then is freedom? To be born is to be simultaneously born of the world and to be born into the world. The world is always already constituted, but also never completely constituted. In the first relation we are solicited, in the second we are open to an infinity of possibilities.…
We choose our world and the world chooses us.— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 527)
There's a split in the infinitive from to have to have been to will be.[next]— Finnegans Wake, 271
that man is so completely hemmed in by the bounds of his possible practical experience, his mind is so restricted to being the instrument of his needs, that he cannot, in the least, mean anything that transcends those limits. The strict consequence of this is, that it is all nonsense to tell him that he must not think in this or that way because to do so would be to transcend the limits of a possible experience. For let him try ever so hard to think anything about what is beyond that limit, it simply cannot be done. You might as well pass a law that no man shall jump over the moon; it wouldn't forbid him to jump just as high as he possibly could.Unfortunately, for many believers the conception of “God” has not been anywhere near vague enough, as they imagine the ‘stupendous agency’ to be something like a dominating alpha male, rather than a Mind whose only embodiment is the lived and living universe of experience. Surely the Creator and Determinator of whatever happens cannot be as determinate as any willful or existing Self. There is no Dominus but the dominance of reality itself, and we poor creatures can only determine what that is within the limits of our own embodiment.For much the same reason, I do not believe that man can have the idea of any cause or agency so stupendous that there is any more adequate way of conceiving it than as vaguely like a man. Therefore, whoever cannot look at the starry heaven without thinking that all this universe must have had an adequate cause, can in my opinion not otherwise think of that cause half so justly than by thinking it is God.CP 5.536, c. 1905
Only he who has a spirit of extreme humility can be said to have a resolute intellect.— Gandhi (1926, 47)
Changes of opinion are brought about by events beyond human control. All mankind were so firmly of opinion that heavy bodies must fall faster than light ones, that any other view was scouted as absurd, eccentric, and probably insincere. Yet as soon as some of the absurd and eccentric men could succeed in inducing some of the adherents of common sense to look at their experiments – no easy task – it became apparent that nature would not follow human opinion, however unanimous. So there was nothing for it but human opinion must move to nature's position. That was a lesson in humility. A few men, the small band of laboratory men, began to see that they had to abandon the pride of an opinion assumed absolutely final in any respect, and to use all their endeavors to yield as unresistingly as possible to the overwhelming tide of experience, which must master them at last, and to listen to what nature seems to be telling us. The trial of this method of experience in natural science for these three centuries – though bitterly detested by the majority of men – encourages us to hope that we are approaching nearer and nearer to an opinion which is not destined to be broken down – though we cannot expect ever quite to reach that ideal goal.Over a century later, is ‘the trial of this method of experience’ still encouraging us? Or is it more like Kafka's Process? [next]— from How to Reason, 1893 (R 407: 20–21, CP 5.384fn)
All dynamical action, or action of brute force, physical or psychical, either takes place between two subjects,— whether they react equally upon each other, or one is agent and the other patient, entirely or partially,— or at any rate is a resultant of such actions between pairs. But by “semiosis” I mean, on the contrary, an action, or influence, which is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs.The actions of a life form, being intentional at some level of intelligence or complexity, are essentially triadic because they involve signs mediating between events and actions in such a way that the interpretant action (the ‘dynamic interpretant’) is determined by some purpose or habit, although it is also caused by some dyadic action. For that dyadic aspect of causality as opposed to the triadic, Peirce often uses the Aristotelian terminology of efficient cause as opposed to final cause. However, genuine triadic sign-action involves both kinds of causation. The dyadic action between object and sign is essential to the sign-function we call indexical, as Peirce goes on to explain:EP2:411 (MS 318, 1907)
For the acceleration of the pulse is a probable symptom of fever and the rise of the mercury in an ordinary thermometer or the bending of the double strip of metal in a metallic thermometer is an indication, or, to use the technical term, is an index, of an increase of atmospheric temperature, which, nevertheless, acts upon it in a purely brute and dyadic way. In these cases, however, a mental representation of the index is produced, which mental representation is called the immediate object of the sign; and this object does triadically produce the intended, or proper, effect of the sign strictly by means of another mental sign; and that this triadic character of the action is regarded as essential is shown by the fact that if the thermometer is dynamically connected with the heating and cooling apparatus, so as to check either effect, we do not, in ordinary parlance speak of there being any semeiosy, or action of a sign, but, on the contrary, say that there is an “automatic regulation,” an idea opposed, in our minds, to that of semeiosy.The functioning of a thermostat is not considered semiosic ‘in our minds’ because no ‘mental’ action connects the dyadic action of the environment upon the thermometer with the dyadic action directly affecting the heating or cooling apparatus. Yet there is mentality involved in the action of a thermostat because it was designed to work as a balancing loop. It works automatically, meaning that there is no present experience of mental action in its functioning; but we could say the same of our own automatic (purely habitual) actions, things we do “unconsciously.” On a longer time scale, though, habit formation is a mental process, and if we adopt Gregory Bateson's definition of ‘mind,’ we can say the same of evolution. Thus all warm-blooded animals have evolved to regulate their own temperature by means of internal processes of which they are not usually conscious. The thermostat is just a mechanized version of that type of process, externalized from our bodyminds, but still within the mental processes of nature and culture, just as our habits are.CP 5.472-3 (MS 318, 1907)
Returning to Peirce's ‘ordinary parlance,’ we say that mental sign-action does occur when someone reads a thermometer and interprets the reading as an index of a fever, or of an overheated or underheated space. The actual response of the reader will then be more intentional (i.e. mental) than automatic, and will thus be the completion of a ‘triadic action’ (CP 6.332, c. 1909). In the case of an index, though, the dyadic action of the object upon the sign is essential to the possibility of the sign conveying any information, or actually functioning as a sign. We might think of a thermometer which can be (but has not been) read as a “potential” sign, but as a sinsign, we assume that it exists whether anyone reads it or not. Likewise, we may call an uninterpreted index simply an ‘index’ even though it is not presently functioning as a sign. The same goes for a ‘symbol’ – which indeed must involve an index, for as Peirce told us (EP2:193), ‘every symbol must have, organically attached to it, its Indices of Reactions’; and the same goes for every argument, since every argument is a symbol.
The truth of a sign depends on the dyadic or real relation between the sign and its dynamic object. A true proposition must involve ‘action of brute force, physical or psychical,’ of the dynamic object upon the sign, so that the relation between the two is ‘real,’ i.e. surd – no sign can express or describe it. ‘Relations are either dicible or surd. For the only kind of relation that could be veritably described to a person who had no experience of it is a relation of reason. A relation of reason is not purely dyadic: it is a relation through a sign: that is why it is dicible’ (EP2:382-3). [next]
Discovery often means simply the uncovering of something which has always been there but was hidden from the eye by the blinkers of habit.— Koestler (1964, 108)
Although subjective experience is intimate and familiar, it hardly follows that its phenomenal character is easy to specify. We need to distinguish between what seems intuitively obvious and what requires careful phenomenological analysis.— Thompson (2007, 279)
At this very time it is easy to clarify the essential within a phrase, but it is difficult to distinguish a phrase within the essential. The mind cannot relate to it; the mouth cannot discuss it. We should directly take a step back, and then carry it carefully. Never go and stick your head into it.[next]— Dogen, EK 2.174
Only take care not to make the blunder of supposing that Self-consciousness is meant, and it will be seen that consciousness is nothing but Feeling, in general,— not feeling in the German sense, but more generally, the immediate element of experience generalized to its utmost.But the polyversity of such terms continues to prevail a century later.CP 7.365
If experiencing is the interplay of subject bodymind and its world, perception is the collision and/or collusion of subject and object. But when we speak of experience, we often think of it as internal, while the world consists of external objects. We say that your capacity to experience is your ‘inner life.’ The image schema or root metaphor of the container seems to be involved here, but its role is ambigous (as Heidegger pointed out in Being and Time).
What sense does it make then to attach the prefix ex-, meaning ‘out,’ to the original Greek root -peir-, as Latin did to produce the verb experior and the nouns experientia and experimentum? The ex- prefix can serve as a reminder that the “view from within” is naturally oriented outwards. It's like the e- of emotion:
The departure from a state of calm rest without anticipation is aptly named: e(x)motion (‘ex’ = ‘outward’). An emotional state need not be revealed in immediate overt actions, but it certainly implies the high probability of actions that will soon be directed outward from an individual into the world.[next]— Walter Freeman (2000, 213)
A turning sign triggers the guidance system to restructure itself. The guidance emerging can only be evaluated recursively.
The range of experience tapped in a turning sign is always greater than any number of readings will reveal. [next]
A reading or ‘recital’ of scripture is a performance; an actual interpretation of it is a more extended kind of performance. And the more compressed and seedlike the scripture, the more the performer has to improvise in the realization of its interpretant. However much faith we invest in the text, the true guide in the end is trial and error, experiment – as in science.
Crease points out that experiments have the character of ‘performances.’ What enters into a performance is more than the script or score. It includes a whole background of intuitive practices. All sorts of trials and errors, hunches and wildly derived ideas enter into the design of experiments. In a laboratory many improvised moves occur. One may employ procedures that lack theory for years, as well as theory that lacks procedures.— Gendlin (1997)
Dewey (1929) argued that an intelligent ethical (guidance) system treats every course of action as an experiment, i.e. considers every principle modifiable by experience. [next]
Browsing – meandering casually from text to text (site to site, page to page) on the chance of finding something interesting – is almost the opposite of searching, but has also been facilitated by the internet. It's no accident that the software you are using to read this webpage is called a ‘browser’; it's optimized for dealing with the miscellaneous. But if you have actually read this far into the page, you've entered a different reading mode, either skimming or scanning.
Skimming is the speed-reading mode you use for a newspaper or “social media” page, when you just want to get the gist of the information offered there without getting deeply involved in the text (which you don't expect to be carefully constructed). Scanning is a much more intense and concentrated mode in which you study the text closely without skipping over any of the details. However, even scanning does not necessarily involve the kind of deep immersion in a text that i call whole-body reading or the experiencing of a turning sign. In order to do that, you have to focus on the dynamic object of the sign through the text, in order to deepen your experience of it, your intimacy with it.
Using the internet for this last and deepest kind of reading is certainly possible, but the practice seems to get swept aside by the habits of skimming and browsing encouraged by this medium. When we do get immersed in an e-text, it's often something we found by searching, or something we've been directed to by some algorithm based on some advertiser's database of our browsing habits, and this makes it all too likely that it will confirm our prejudices instead of challenging them. This will discourage critical thinking – which is an important part of experiencing or deep reading – unless we make a conscious effort to choose with care what we read and how we read it.
Hamlet is acutely aware that self-deception (or spirit-deception) is a real possibility, especially because of his own ‘melancholy’ and his deep-rooted prejudice against his uncle. So he looks for corroboration from the very person most unlikely to give it: his uncle himself, whose conscience will speak through observable behavior:
In this context, the word ‘relative’ suggests both ‘relational’ and ‘relevant.’ We could almost say that Hamlet is calling upon what Peirce called ‘the logic of relatives.’ His ‘relative grounds’ amount to what a lawyer might call a ‘material witness.’ Later on, he also calls upon another reliable witness (Horatio) to confirm his own observations. His method is sound enough, devious as it may be, and proves successful (though he indulges in manic glee at his own success and thus loses the advantage of it). Contrast all this with the words put into the mouth of Jesus at John 20:29, which exalt blind and ‘absolute’ faith over all ‘relative’ grounds for belief: ‘blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.’I'll have these playersPlay something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle. I'll observe his looks;
I'll tent him to the quick. If a do blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil; and the devil hath power
T' assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me. I'll have grounds
More relative than this. The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.— Hamlet, II.ii.590-601
“Absolute” beliefs and “literal” readings look to habit or convention rather than experience for guidance, but the reading grounded in experience is the relative, relevant, material, pragmatic, integral reading: the one that integrates body, path and situation. [next]
The human being to whom I say You I do not experience. But I stand in relation to him, in the sacred basic word. Only when I step out of this do I experience him again. Experience is remoteness from You.— Martin Buber (1970, 59-60)
“Experience” as an orderly set of deposits in the memory bank is what Buber called the It-world. The You-world, on the other hand, ‘does not hang together in space and time.’
The individual You must become an It when the event of relation has run its course.Buber's ‘I-You’ or ‘I-Thou’ relation is very different from Peirce's ‘Secondness’ or dyadic relation. It feels more like Firstness, the primal where no individuals exist, or a communing of bodymind. Can we say We? [next]
The individual It can become a You by entering into the event of relation.— Buber (1970, 84)
Jesus said, ‘Whoever blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the Son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either on earth or in heaven.’Just what is this unforgivable sin? According to DeConick (2007a, 167) ‘it was believed to be blasphemous to speak against a prophet filled with God's Spirit since the spirit was concerned with the realm of revelation.’ The early Christian text Didache said: ‘While a prophet is making ecstatic utterances, you must not test or examine him. For “every sin will be forgiven”, but “this sin will not be forgiven”’ (11.7, DeConick's translation). It seems that critical thinking, or at least critical speaking, at the time of revelation, is the unforgivable sin.— Thomas 44 (Lambdin)
However, this doesn't explain why blasphemy against the Father or the Son will be forgiven, as they are no less divine according to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Perhaps we might venture a semiotic explanation, based on the analogy between the Trinity and the core semiotic triad of Sign, Object and Interpretant.
Peirce did something like this at the end of his Lowell Lecture series in 1865, referring to an ‘infinite Symbol’ which ‘denotes not the contingent facts of the universe but the absolute law in all its detail and unity to which the universe is subjected,’ which law is ‘the Creator of the World’ and ‘is essentially identical with the Symbol’ (W1:502-3). This is the object of the ‘finite symbol’ which represents it, and its ‘interpretant is the Divine Logos’ which is ‘also the Son of God.’
In this Peircean text, the third member of the triad is not the Sign but ‘the ground of the symbolization or the comprehension of the symbol, since it completely determines the symbol in all respects’ – in other words, the very Source of semiosis, that continuous process underlying not only revelation but all forms of communication, cognition and life itself.
Here, therefore, we have a divine trinity of the object, interpretant, and ground. Each fully constitutes the symbol and yet all are essential to it. Nor are they the same thing under different points of view but three things which attain identity when the symbol attains infinite information.‘Infinite information’, if any human symbol could attain it, would be something like knowing the Whole Truth. Interpreting Thomas 44 (and its parallels in other gospels) in this light, we could say that it is forgivable to blaspheme against Father and Son (the object and interpretant of the symbol) because we can only conceive of them as persons whose names are human conventions (and patriarchal conventions at that). But the Holy Spirit, as the ground of all semiosis, is the transpersonal, more-than-human Source of revelation.— W1:503 (italics added)
At the crucial time when the prophetic Sign breaks into the ‘cognitive bubble’, to ‘test or examine’ it is to close the gate through which we can learn anything new. The time for testing the Truth of the Word, or our comprehension of it, is later on, when we seek to find out how it could modify our guidance systems, i.e. what it means for our practice. But if we don't first allow the rain of revelation to penetrate the soil of our consciousness, there would be nothing to test and nothing to learn. Now that would be unforgivable. On what ground could forgiveness ever take place? [next]
Our whole experience of the external world arrives by way of perturbations, often accompanied by a sense of loss. As Dillard says, ‘Form is condemned to an eternal danse macabre with meaning’ (1974, 35). ‘The fluttering patch I saw in my nursery window – silver and green and shape-shifting blue – is gone; a row of Lombardy poplars takes its place, mute, across the distant lawn’ (36). They are mute because they turned out to be what the fluttering patch had to say, and once this has been heard, the magic is gone. We are driven out of the mythical Garden when we feel this sense of loss. Yet the emergence of meaning is hardly less amazing, when we step back from that. And those condemned to live in the pure ‘magic’ of presence undiluted by memory – like Zasetsky in Luria (1972), or Clive Wearing (Restak 1998, 29-31) – feel an even greater sense of loss, feel as if they have been dead or asleep all their lives. [next]
The more stable you are, the more ‘set in your ways,’ the less able you are to learn from new experiences; but the more open you are to new experience, the more it will destabilize you. In the study of neural networks this is called the stability-plasticity dilemma:
If new input is fully integrated, as the result of strong plasticity, then the representation of past experience must be degraded, producing catastrophic instability. Conversely, the network's developmental context (its stable connectional inertia) frames the recognition of each new input pattern, and the opportunity for plasticity that remains. Therefore, to the extent that the continuity of the self is maintained, new experiences can only be understood as they are organized and framed by the templates of past experience.The greater the learning opportunity, the more it comes on like ‘the end of the world.’— Harkness and Tucker (in Lewis and Granic 2000, 198)
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