The World Explored, the World Suffered Education Issue Nr. 6 May 2018 - Page 7

“Last week’s lecture involved taking an empirical anthropological excursion into the hinterland of the origins of consciousness. In this last lecture I wish to return to the home counties of philosophical Anthropology. Jean Paul Sartre once arrived at a café in Paris and looked for his friend Pierre only to conclude that he was not there! Now there have been philosophical accounts of nature that insist that there cannot be any negation in nature. There is only a lack of something if a consciousness lacks something. Only a conscious being could know that Pierre was not in the café. For Descartes and for Kant, when we are in relation to the natural world in itself we are in relation to a three dimensional homogenous extension in space which cannot be understood by the mind. But in one of his Meditations Descartes begins to talk about the space of a lived human body. He begins to talk of the unity of the body in relation to the soul. But in other places he adopts the point of view of the pure natural observer and talks of the human body as if it is a machine. When he does so he points to a place in space, which is responsible for the unity of the body and the soul: the pineal gland in the brain. It is not easy to derive a humanistic position from the philosophy of Descartes, or even meet the demands of common sense. The problem being eluded to here, ladies and gentlemen, is the problem of the nature of living organized beings, a problem that appears to demand a Copernican revolution in which the unity or finality of the body and the soul does not conflict with the pure operation of natural, physical causality. This unity can be exemplified only if consciousness results from the phenomenon of language and if, furthermore language is transformed by consciousness. Kant’s Copernican revolution took us back to the human being as the home of such unity and finality. The human being, according to Kant, surpasses or transforms nature with its freedom to both change and oppose nature. Bergson, another French philosopher claims that there are two contradictory orders in reality, what he calls the physic-mathematical which consists in the constancy of certain laws where the same causes lead to the same effects: and the vital order in which the same results can be attained even when the conditions are different. This is the idea of finality and unity in a nutshell. Julian Jaynes has a magnificent example of this in one of his interviews. A man is knocked down by a car and killed: during his autopsy it is discovered that his limbic system was radically deformed, probably from birth. On physic- mathematical principles this man should have been a violent monster at odds with everything human. On investigation it turned out that he had led a perfectly normal life as a family man and insurance salesmen—these are the kinds of relations between facts we find in the human vital order. Jean Paul Sartre would have said “The damaged limbic system is not there”: he might even have called it a pool of nothingness which he thought was, together with negation, the defining feature of consciousness. Merleau-Ponty in a series of lectures on Nature makes the point that the two orders of matter and life are positive and continuous and not discrete orders which leaves us with the dilemma of what to call the continuity. Merleau-Ponty calls it Nature, Sartre calls it Being. The idea that there could absolutely be nothing, must be an impossible idea, and this must be the defining limit of both Being and Nothingness, the title of Sartre’s greatest work. Heidegger discussed this in relation to a question “Why must there be something rather than nothing?” There can only be something and we can only think something. To say that something is not there is to say that something else is. Pierre may not be there where he promised to be and the café is where it should be. This also suggests that