Epoché (X), 15. 10. 2020
A synopsis of our reading of The Organism by Kurt Goldstein
VIII. “On Life and Mind. The Problem of Organismic Hierarchy” (pp. 353-375)
IX. “Knowledge and Action” (pp. 377-382)
Abridgment by: Sebastjan Vörös
[his outline and commentary of the whole book can be found here]
Chapter XI: On Life and Mind. The Problem of Organismic Hierarchy
Man is neither angel nor animal, and it is unfortunate that he who tries to make of him an angel, makes of him an animal.
The So-Called Antagonism between Life and Mind
Goldstein now moves on to an age-old issue of a seeming antagonism between “nature” and “mind”. The issue, says Goldstein, is usually phrased – and this may come off as somewhat strange to the reader versed in contemporary philosophy of mind, where the split is construed as that between brain and mind – as an antagonism between (i) consciousness, thinking, “act”, and (ii) life and immediate Being. Two main types of solutions have been put forward:
(a) life > mind: Klages, for instance, gives preference to life and sees mind as an opponent of life, as a power that thwarts life (353);
(b) life < mind: Max Scheler, for instance, also sees mind in opposition to life, but for diametrically opposite reasons. For Scheler, mind does not mean an enhancement of natural life energies, but their inhibition, a turning away from all that life is driving toward (and unlike in Klages, this is a decidedly good thing). Man is no longer tied to his drives; he is “milieu autonomous”, and “world open” – human being alone has “world”. Unlike animals, he is able to say “no” to the vital sphere, he is an “ascetic of life”. However, mind is not a product of this asceticism, but rather – itself being entirely passive – uses the energy that gets released from the “saying no” to reality. Mind, in its essence, is said to be powerless, and can only direct the energy from the drive impulses. In Scheler’s view, it is this overall constellation that determines man’s particularity and superiority (353-4).
Goldstein’s main objection to Scheler (and indirectly to Klages) is that it has fallen prey to the atomistic conception of life and mind. More specifically: how one understands “mind” will always depend on how one understands “life”. And in Scheler, the general conception of mind is determined as a negation of the incorrect general conception of life. Why is Scheler’s view of life incorrect? Because he has torn it from the whole to which it belongs. In this way, life has become imbued with characteristics which are originally not attributable to it – i.e., it has become a mere artifact of isolating description. If one understands life as a “blind urge” – a collection of drives – several pernicious issues pop up (see the critique of the drive theory above) (354).
The first issue is that such an understanding of life cannot account properly even for animal life. Why so?
(a) Animal behaviour cannot be understood as a summation of single processes, but points to an individual organization, on the basis of which alone it becomes intelligible as the expression of the tendency to actualize itself according to the circumstances (in this regard, Goldstein agrees with Alverdes, Buytendijk, etc.).
(b) For the animal, the environment is not given as absolute, but arises in the animal’s being and acting.
(c) The so-called “drives”are manifestations of the animal in definite situations that only indicate its nature; they are not attributes by which the animal could be directly understood.
However, the said conception of life is even less suitable to account for human life. The idea that man is a sum of drive systems plus a mind, with the latter inhibiting the former, also reflects the misconceptions of the isolating approach, which – as we have seen on many occasions above – is simply false. However, this dualism is, as MP would put it, a motivated error, for it reflects the fact that only in rare moments of adequate actualization, only in a state of full “centering”, does the holistic entirety manifest itself. But because of a lack of perfect centering, which is part of the imperfect human nature, such “contrarieties”, corresponding to isolation procedures, become obvious (355).
In general, Goldstein believes that, once a philosophy has divorced “vital sphere” and “mind” they can never be integrated thereafter: regardless of how such a union is defined, it never corresponds to the real and original entirety(356-7).
(x) The so-called vital sphere and the life process as a whole
In this section, Goldstein undertakes a closer investigation of Scheler’s views. In his critique he draws substantially on that of Cassirer. In general, he finds the following three faults in Scheler’s account:
(a) Vital sphere is construed too narrowly – in mechanistic, reductionist terms -, and as such, it cannot be found in normal human beings.
(b) An antagonism of function is conflated with an antagonism of substance, making it unintelligible as to how exactly these two antagonistic potencies can be active in one being, without a further regulating principle.
(c) There is an inherent inconsistency in Scheler’s account, as he does not ascribe to mind real existence but regards it as “pure act” – but if so, how could the powerless mind influence “brute life”? (356)
In Cassirer’s view, the mind-life problem can be solved only if we see the mind’s activity as being of the same kind as that of life, differing only in direction: (a) life is conceived as being operative directly – i.e., by taking charge of the immediate operating and performing -, whereas (b) the mind is conceived being operative indirectly – i.e., by taking charge of the indirect forming of images. The tension between the human being and the environment is not immediately discharged through processes and reactions, but is mediated through creative formation of mental images (= “symbolic forms”). According to Cassirer, Scheler’s “asceticism of mind” is not a turning away from life, but rather an inner transformation and reversal which life in itself undergoes: the purpose of symbolic forms is not to repel reality, but to gain, through distance, the proper perspective “in order to raise reality to visibility as compared to the mere palpability which immediate proximity imposes” (357).
On this understanding, life and mind are not two transcendentally separated entities but functionally contrasting operations. The mind is not a principle hostile to life, but a “turn and reversal of life itself” – it is a transformation which life undergoes as it passes from “mere organismic patterning” to symbolic or ideational forming. The “drama proper”, says Cassirer, does not take place between life and mind, but “in the very center of the realm of the mind, in its very focus”. The mind, then, is not only “the ascetic of life”, but the principle which is capable of negating itself (358).
Goldstein finds himself in general agreement with Cassirer, but feels that his account lacks clarity and is therefore open to ambiguities. Ultimately, neither life nor mind – as usually construed – are suited to describe that dimension in which the tension takes place – tension which manifests itself between the two contrasting phenomena of “mind” (“intellect”) and “life” (“urge”) (358).
In order to steer clear from terminological ambiguities and thereby avoid certain factual confusions that could creep into the reader’s interpretation of the two terms “mind” and “life”, Goldstein finds it more fruitful to embed the two terms into the overarching framework of his holistic biology. He thus proposes that we refer to that which is superordinated, and to which mind and life (in the narrow/usual sense) belong, “organism” or simply “life” – in the sense put forward in this book (i.e., not in the usual sense of the term) (358-9).
It is wrong to talk of a negation of the vital sphere through the mind because neither the vital nor the mind are separate potencies:
“The tension under which the human being lives, which suggests the idea of two antagonistic forces within him, is based on the fundamental characteristic of human nature: the potentiality to focus on the possible, to arrest, so to speak, the world in its course, to picture it, and to shape the coming to terms with the world by virtue of this ability. This does not only equip the human subject with what is called ‘mind’, but it also renders him susceptible to the risk involved in the adjustment to the world and drives him toward negation or conquest. To say no is fundamentally the expression of becoming conscious of the tension that arises in the coming to terms of the human organism with the world. The coming to terms in turn passes through catastrophic reactions and is experienced as conflict and resolution within man. The catastrophic reactions in general do not simply negate the ‘other’ but represent only a transition for the purpose of coming to terms of the organism and the other, during which adjustment, performance alone develops.” (359)
“the negation of the world by the mind represents a transition toward ordered existence, in which the tensions are balanced and performance emerges. The mind does not deny the senses (the ‘vital’) but gives form to the phenomena that appear through the senses; thereby it helps to achieve that adaptation by which nature and mind, artificially separated through analysis, preserve the unity which human nature alone realizes. It is a complete misapprehension of the essence of the mind, if one regards as its task only the negation of what the vital sphere furnishes. The negation is only the transition to a higher, or real level of existence, in which ‘mind’ and ‘life’ operate in unison, and in this sense the negation is ultimately taken back.” (359-60)
The human being’s surrender to nature is never an act purely confined to the vital sphere. For it is only through artificial isolation that we find something that can be called “purely vital” – and in this sense, it is, if at all, only possible in the human subject, for he alone is capable to isolate parts artificially. It is only reason, Goldstein states, that enables a creature to be “more bestial than any beast”: no such sphere exists in animals. In the human species, it emerges through defective integration (as in disease), when the drives become outstanding. In the sense of reason in knowledge, we attribute equal importance to “mind” and “vital sphere” as essential traits (360).
However, it cannot be denied that the tension in the human being is of a special quality: unlike in animals, where it takes the form of a momentary feeling of danger and anxiety, in man, it becomes conscious and takes on a factual, objectified form. This special quality of tension makes an entirely different attitude possible, which manifests itself in the phenomenon of fear and of the freedom to cope with it, i.e., to realize oneself in spite of the danger and to shape the world. All shaping of the world, Goldstein contends, everything we call culture, is intelligible only against the background of this concerted effort of “mind” and “vital sphere”, i.e., against the background of “the unitary whole of human nature that is shaped in this particular mold” (360-1).
(x) Biology and ontology
At this point one may wonder: is this still “biology” or would it be better to talk of “ontology”? It is true that, when using words like “life”, “nature”, and “organism”, these are used in ways that are quite different from the uses that have become prevalent in contemporary science. However, Goldstein feels that his understanding of these terms is no less rigorous than the prevalent (= atomistic) one: in his conception, all creatures have a specific nature, and all represent wholes having the character of individuality. Therefore, he is still operating in the realm of biology, only his is a methodologically holistic (and not an atomistic) biology (361).
From Goldstein’s perspective, the “mind” (consciousness, intellect) is just as much a part of the individual whole (= “human being) as the “attitude” (feeling, etc.) and the somatic (bodily processes). This standpoint has the advantage that it enables the researcher to regard every phenomenon within empirical research – reflexes as well as mental phenomena – as data (361).
Only from such a perspective is it possible to consider man and animal on a unitary basis. The holistic approach, albeit taking man as the starting point, promises to furnish us with the basis for gaining an understanding of life phenomena. The idea of a common basis of knowledge does not, of course, mean that the difference between man and animal is merely one of degree. The common factor rests in the similarity of the total organization and of particulars that can be found through the isolating technique; however, this similarity does not necessarily signify equality – it could, at most, refer to a unitary, basic plan that manifests itself in similar details in man and animal, but which could have different meanings in each instance (362).
For Goldstein, the line of demarcation between two species seems insurmountable, and thus also the line of distinction between human beings and animals. One thing is certain: the human being cannot be regarded as a creature in which something was only added to the animal (here, Goldstein draws on Herder, 362-3).
The Hierarchic Structure of Life
In the human mind, just as in the universe, there is no top or bottom. All parts have an equal claim upon a common center which manifests its hidden existence in the harmonious relationship of the parts to it.
(Goethe, Rezension zu Studenroth)
(x) The problem of adequate criteria
The former analyses of the brain-injured patients suggest that the organism is stratified as to simpler and higher performance levels, and that this might hold true for life in general. This is an age-old problem, dating back at least to Plato’s hierarchical tripartite theory of soul, in which the three powers of the soul are aligned to the arrangement of the body: head, chest, and abdomen. Several other “hierarchizations” exist, among them a hierarchy between the individual organ systems themselves (e.g., brain vs. periphery in NS) (363-4).
However, we must be extremely cautious with these and similar differentiations, because they are often strongly influenced by the bias of prevailing views. If the latter change, so will, as it turns out, the type of distinction itself.
Example: In contemporary medicine, the heart has lost much of its predominance as compared to the capillaries, and the same holds true for the brain (e.g., the rediscovery of the importance of the older brain structures, of ductless glands, etc.) (364).
With the increasing impossibility of considering the morphologically segregatable organs as isolated apparatuses, an entirely different view comes more and more into the foreground. This new conception, by logical necessity, does not draw the line of demarcation between the morphological and structural boundaries but rather establishes partitions, which cut across the organ systems within the entire body, thus creating new functional members, which would do greater justice to the idea of a functional organization of the whole organism (364).
In this connection, new meaning can be given to old notions, which famously distinguished organismic life as to: (i) reproduction (nutrition, growth, propagation), irritability (reaction to stimuli), and sensitivity (conscious sensation). In general, Goldstein’s viewpoint – the idea that an articulated organization rests on functional significance – could be said to fall into this effort at reconceptualization (365).
(x) The differential functional significance of flexor and extensor movements
Drawing on empirical and clinical research, Goldstein points out that one observes a closer relation between the flexor movements and the cerebral cortex(as well as to the cerebellar cortex), and between the extensor movements and the deeper lying apparatuses. From this we may conclude the following:
(1) Flexor and extensor movements differ in their significance for the organism.
(2) The relation to the whole (for which the cerebrum is certainly of great importance) is more intimate in the flexor movements than in the extensor movements.
If these findings are coupled with other observations of the organism’s behaviour, we can reach some further interesting conclusions:
(3) The flexor and adduction movements belong more to the voluntary performances; these movements are more holistically determined and of higher functional significance for the intrinsic nature; they have a closer reference to the self.
(4) The extensor and abduction movements belong more to the involuntary performances; these movements are of less intimate relation to the whole and of lesser functional significance for the intrinsic nature; they have a closer reference to the external world (367).
Interestingly, (1)-(4) also finds expression in how the organism responds to colour stimulation. For example, green favours the flexor movements (= allows the organism to be more “itself” and act “spontaneously”), whereas red favours extensor movements (= causes a stronger distraction from the outside).
“Thus, the difference of the flexor and adduction movements on the one hand, and the extensor and abduction movements on the other hand, becomes a manifestation of different attitudes of the organism to the world. The flexor movements emphasize more the self in contrast to the world, the influence of the ego factor in the apprehension of the world, and, with that, render possible the emancipative distance between ego and world. (…) In contrast to this attitude, a certain surrendering to the world corresponds to the extensor and abduction movements, a more passive mode of being ‘in’ the world, a state of the ego submerged in the world.” (367)
Any impairment of the organism – but especially one of the cerebrum or the cerebellum – always has a greater effect on the voluntary (flexor) performances, and consequently on the capacity of the ego to emancipate itself from the world (368).
The preceding analyses can shed light on certain basic differences between human and animal nature. In animals, we find neither such a strongly expressed differentiation in the use of flexor and extensor performances, nor do we find that a defect of the cerebrum has such a different effect on the two kinds of movements. Correspondingly, the animal seems to be far more bound to the outer world – it lacks the ability to set itself apart from the world, it lacks freedom (368).
In general, Goldstein feels that in the differentiation between flexor and extensor performances we find two fundamental ways of behaviour which might well be used for establishing a hierarchy (= distinguishing between higher and lower levels). Crucially, one should not confuse flexor and extensor movements with flexor and extensor performances (not every flexor movement – e.g., a muscle spasm or a grasping reflex – can be regarded as a flexor performance!). To be sure, in normal life, flexor movement and flexor performance actually always coincide, as long as they are not movements in certain artificial “drilled” performances (368-9).
(x) No criteria of hierarchy according to organs or organ systems
The differentiation above discloses that the hierarchical organization of the organism is not one according to organs or organ systems (at least not in the usual sense of the words). Such an “atomistic” approach is completely unsuitable for an understanding of the (normal) phenomena (see below).
(x) The problem of “centering and richness”
Example: erotic/sexuality: It has often been claimed that the nervous system should be regarded as higher than the sexual system, and that this is supported by the fact that, in case of brain injury, the higher centers get impaired, whereas sexuality remains unchanged or even more pronounced. However, Goldstein cautious against such unwarranted conclusions and argues that a closer observation of how disease proceeds with disintegration paints a different picture. Namely, it turns out that, in brain-injured patients, the performances that are in close relation to the sexual system are also changed, and that they have been modified in the same manner as the patient’s total attitude toward the world: they have become more stimulus bound, less independent and less ego-determined. A general way of capturing the nature of this alteration would be to say that there has occurred a degradation from erotics (love sentiment) to bare sexuality. The “erotic level” does not represent a lower level in the normal functioning of the organism, but it will do so only when it has become isolated – has become plain sexuality. This cannot be explained as a loss of “inhibition” (supposedly exerted by the higher nervous system on the lower sexual system), since all other performance systems undergo a similar change (370).
In sum, we must not discriminate between the sexual and the nervous-psychological systems as two parts of the organism having different valence. Instead, the various higher and lower behaviour types cut across these systems, which – as such – are the products of the isolating procedure. However, it would be equally wrong to regard these two behaviour types as strictly separate. In fact, the two types of behaviour get separated and therefore distorted only under certain isolating influences (e.g., in defective integration). Normally, the two exist in total configuration in which one or the other comes only temporarily to the foreground. When one of the system thus becomes “figure”, the other is present as the “background” (371).
Depending on the various patterns of centering, we can distinguish between three principal forms of human behaviour:
(a) the thinker: predominance of the objectifying behaviour; potential danger: disregard for the “nonconscious” and “lived” → excessive indulgence in thinking;
(b) the poet: predominance of the “nonconscious attitudes” (feelings, moods, etc.); potential danger: disregard for the objective reality and verification in action → exuberance of sentiments estranged from reality;
(c) the man of action: the predominance of action; disregard for the “objective” and “nonconscious” → being lost in the milieu; becoming a destructive machine (371).
The vigor and cohesion of centering reveals itself as a measure for the level of organization of life. The highest form of centering manifests itself in a number of formal attributes that ultimately represent the same thing but are, as a rule, named differently: freedom, meaningfulness, action springing from the whole personality, productivity, capacity to meaningful actions, etc. To this, we might add a second factor: capacity to absorb richness of content: we rank an individual the higher, the greater his power is of cohesive centering in encompassing “world”, i.e., the milieu corresponding to human nature (372).
In this sense, it is possible to speak of the two above-mentioned types of behaviour as being lower or higher, and can talk of hierarchy. The low level in the sick, as compared to the higher level in the normal, can be characterized by: (a) shrinkage of world, (b) privation of “personality” through limitation of degrees of freedom, and (c) through defectiveness of centering (372).
(x) Centering and richness of the apprehended world as criteria for the level or organization
Thus, the two characteristics for determining the rank in the hierarchy are centering and richness (two sides of one whole). Centering is more straightforward and probably easier to study (e.g., human beings = most centered, plants = less centered, etc., cf. 373), while richness is more problematic, because the nature and milieu of the various species does not permit a simple, qualitative ranking (372-3).
(x) Phylogeny and ontogeny
The holistic conception sheds new light on the problem of phylogenetic and ontogenetic development. In classical accounts, the question of evolution is seen as a development from the lower to the higher creatures: an actual genetic emergence of the latter from the former is assumed. However, in Goldstein’s account, the lesser becomes intelligible as a variation and aberration of the “perfect” (but not the opposite) (374).
Goldstein here adds one final remark:
“Every creature is, so to speak, simultaneously perfect and imperfect. Regarded in isolation each creature is, within itself, perfect, well organized, and alive. With regard to the entirety, however, it is imperfect to various degrees: the individual creature, as compared with the entirety of nature, shows the same sort of being that an isolated process in the organism reveals in comparison with the whole of the organism, imperfection and rigidity, existence only in being within the whole, only by support of the whole, like a reflex. Therefore, it is doomed to die as soon as this support ceases. Therefore, it is by its very nature transitory and on the road to death.”
Chapter XII: Knowledge and Action
Classical conceptions of nature distinguish between two attitudes: (a) the attitude of cognitive apprehension and (b) the attitude of acting. However, in Goldstein’s view, this classification is not exhaustive or sufficiently adequate, and he therefore proposes the following bipartite classification: (a)* the attitude of immediate experience and (b)* the attitude of analytic (anatomizing) reflection. These two attitudes, he believes, correspond to two different kinds of knowledge and of action:
“[a*] [In the first attitude, n]ature confronts us, so to speak, as a still undismembered unity; and by no means is this mode of apprehension only that of nonerudite, unsophisticated, or primitive man. It may even be present in the Weltanschauung of the scholar, along with his scientific, analytical approach. Moreover, it frequently determines and pervades his ultimate conception of nature. The eminent physicist, also, though resting entirely on the empiricism of the anatomizing method in natural science, may exceed, in his ultimate ideas of nature, the bounds of this empiricism. These ideas of nature are frequently implicit or explicit categories or concepts, and are required for dealing with the holistic character of life. Then [b*] one has to concede that the results gained by the analytic method represent only one ‘part aspect’ of the whole world – just as if they were cut out from the world’s totality. The epistemologically conscious biologist arrives at a similar conclusion. From the living world surrounding us, those phenomena, which everywhere can be grasped by the physico-chemical method, shape themselves to a special partitive aspect.” (377) [!!!]
It is possible, as we have seen, to use this isolating, dismembering procedure to abstract and single out from living phenomena those on the physico-chemical “plane”. However, the attempt to reintegrate the elements thus abstracted into a living whole, is bound to fail. And yet, this futile attempt is done over and over again in contemporary science, ignoring the fact that it is possible to understand the part from the whole, but not vice versa! (377-8)
Goldstein then compares the work of a theoretical natural scientist, say, a physicist, and a biologist.
(1) Physicist: He usually cannot arrive at a direct action from the attitude of immediate experience. Instead, his action is usually confined to the elaboration of that part of the world that becomes prominent through the analytic procedure. In general, his work can take on two directions:
(a) he either tries to make the experiences obtained by the analytic method increasingly useful for knowledge;
(b) he either tries to direct his activity against the forces of nature in order to master them for the benefit of man (he can leave this type of action to a technologist).
(2) Biologist: No matter how much he employs the analytic method for obtaining knowledge, the departure from the “immediately given” will always dominate. While in general, his procedure is not that different from that of the physicist – by utilizing analytic methods, he, too, arrives at a “part” of nature whose significance he needs to unravel -, his way of “centering” data, his organization of facts within the body of knowledge, is significantly different (378).
What is important here is that this different centering in (2) corresponds to a different way of action. If (1) can leave acting in the world to the technologist, this is not an option for (2), particularly insofar as he is a physician. There are at least two reasons for this:
(a) as we have seen above, the biologist’s knowledge, by its very procedure, calls for action because action as such is one of the sources of his knowledge;
(b) the subject with whom he is dealing – (i) human patient or (ii) (experimental) animal – requires his interference (378-9).
Now, it could be argued that, in (b), one finds substantial differences in the handling of (i) and (ii), and that (ii) calls for a different type of action, one that is much closer to the technological approach. Yet even here, Goldstein believes, the situation is different from technological approaches in natural sciences. This can be seen from the fact that, if the biologist fails to do sufficient justice to the animal nature, it jeopardizes its existence. Of course, the contrast is even more pronounced in the case of human beings, where the centre of interest/research is the nature of the (individual) person (379).
Action in Technology and Education
Every technology, says Goldstein, means violence to nature, and even when it utilizes natural energies by direct manipulation, it always does so only in opposition to nature. Why so? Because the aim of technology is not to render the natural energies available, but to protect its products from their encroachment:
“Around its products, it builds protective walls against nature, within which nature does not function, but rather the knowledge that results from analytic procedure culminates in the form of machines. Only in that way are machines, for example, able to last.” (379)
The biologist will act in this way only if (i) he is not concerned with living creatures as such but only breeds them for human purposes, or (ii) if his faulty knowledge obscures his adequate understanding of the nature of a living creature (379). However, although (ii) is often unavoidable on account of our knowledge being principally incomplete, it is not the true aim of the biological knowledge. Instead, the aim of biological knowledge is to provide for a creature an adequate environment that allows for the most complete realization of its nature. This ideal, says Goldstein, manifests itself in the purest form in the task of the physician and the educator. However, in both of these professions, there is a tension between the ideal of providing optimal conditions for self-realization and the necessity of standardizing the individual to the norms of the respective culture. This second tendency often compels educators to revert to mere drill.
Practice and drill
In the performance of the organism, there is a fundamental difference between practice and drill – a difference that is often overlooked. Although both aim at the best possible performance possible, their understanding of what this encomasses differs substantially.
(1) Practiceaims to attain the optimal performances attuned to the nature of the organism. Its objective is to develop the organism to the highest perfection. To this end, a thorough knowledge of the organism’s essential nature is necessary, and the task consists in bringing forth the greatest adequacy between organism and environment (380).
(2) In drill, the acquisition of a certain performance is at first unrelated to the nature of the performing being. It is attained by connecting a somehow isolated part of the organism with a certain part of the environment and forging such a firm tie between the two that the external event (stimulus) is regularly and promptly followed by the performance (response). The prototype of the drill is the conditioned reflex. Such a stimulus-response link depends on a safeguarding from all possible interferences (380-1).
In animals, the safeguard is accomplished by preventing, by means of force, all performances that are essential to the animal except the one reaction in question. Usually, drill remains a continual discomfort for the animal and is tolerated either because of anxiety (punishment) or its counterpart (reward). Drill is the more successful the more the trainer manages to press the adequate performances into the service of the drilled actions; then, it becomes best fixed, and may even become somewhat agreeable to the animal (381).
In human beings, drill also plays a part. However, it is not the adequate method of learning, as can be seen from the fact that the learning of any inadequate performance is extremely laborious and tedious. In any event, the “acquisition” of adequate performances succeeds much better. However, since the environment in which human beings live is often inadequate to their nature, the adequacy-oriented procedure usually doesn’t suffice, and people have to revert to the drill. But to prevent it from becoming doomed to failure from the very start, drill must become substantially related to the personality of the learner. And it is here that one human attribute provides invaluable support, namely the human capacity of partitive isolation within the organism, of exposing parts to stimuli. Further, drill is fruitful only as voluntary, deliberate “self-drill”, i.e., through insight into its necessity on the part of the learner. In this respect, drill does not involve a complete aberration from the basic trait of “biological acting” (381-2).
The following topics were pointed out during the discussion:
I) Is Goldstein an opponent of phylogenetics? He criticizes the idea of genetic emergence of more complex species from simpler, writing that “it remains implausible how the “more perfect” should arise from the “less perfect,” since “the less perfect becomes intelligible as a variation and aberration of the “perfect,” but not the opposite.”.” Yet life in its earliest forms must have consisted of simpler organisms alone. Does that correspond with Goldstein’s critique?
Goldstein may not be an opponent of evolution per se: he only seems to disagree with the research method that tries to find relevant answers in Darwinian theory, characterized by the establishment of hierarchic scales. He, however, does not dispute that genetic lineages experience changes over time: “one must certainly not overlook that the effect of the former stage continues into the next, just as we find the effect of former generations in the phenomenon of so-called heredity.”
We nevertheless should be careful not to mistake the epistemological order for ontological. While Goldstein himself remains unclear on the domain he pertains to in the debate on phylogeny, we assumed that he was primarily interested in developing an adequate methodological and epistemological basis for describing an organism (and other entities in the realm of living beings). Here he proposed the introduction of Goethean prototype: “The difference of species can probably be best understood as different degrees of approximation to a prototype, similarly as the differences between individuals are degrees of approximation to a prototype of the “species”.” The criteria for explaining the interspecific differences ought to amount to each species’ distinct functional conformation and not to the nuances in their anatomy. Why so? Goldstein writes of evolution as “certainly obscured by a mass of prejudices.” Predilections about certain species’ behaviour are made based on its morphological (dis)similarity to some better-known species. This is yet another example of drawing ad hoc conclusions, since functions can be assigned to particular anatomical structures only on the basis of organism’s interaction with its environment. Taking an unprejudiced stance, we know nothing of the functions of organism’s body parts before we observe it in its habitat. Besides that, if needed, an organism is able to perform a certain task using a different set of anatomical structures than usual or expected based on phylogenetic comparisons.
Phylogenetic relations are based on an additive approach to differentiating. In his paper Additive Theories of Rationality: A Critique Matthew Boyle rejects such an approach that requires an addition of some X in every differentiation between the orders. He instead sketches a transformative framework, previously proposed by John McDowell, as well as Goldstein, Canguilhem and Merleau-Ponty. Here it is postulated that a higher order establishes itself within something of a lower order when the latter becomes adequately complex, and hence unstable, to transform itself as a whole. Such phase transitions are unpredictable and occur in biological and physical dynamical systems. (For instance, in his book The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature, Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine describes how physicists and chemists find statistics useful in explaining complex systems: the theory of dissipative systems describes thermodynamically open systems that are operating out of, and often far from, thermodynamic equilibrium, e.g., the tornadoes.)
Ia) Attractors behave rather teleologically. An organism sets up a stable field of normativity that functions as an attractor: inasmuch as it is persevered, it provides a coherent functioning of the organismic whole. Each organism aims to maintain its optimum attractor. In this, we find the criterion for centeredness: a more centered organism keeps itself closer to its attractor, compared to a less centered one.
Curiously, human beings are best centered when they are decentered, i.e., when they are capable of switching between different environments. It is important to stress here that a person does not only adapt to these different milieus, but is centered in an optimal way in each of them. This is most likely the richness that Goldstein writes about. He therefore does not imply that, compared to other living creatures, human centering is qualitatively better: it is, instead, to a certain degree, more plastic.
The plasticity can be observed on the neuronal level as well: nervous system is capable of reconfiguration on almost every imaginable level. For that reason, neuroscientist David Eagleman calls for the omission of software vs. hardware metaphor in cognitive sciences.
Ib) The mentioned plasticity might be the reason why Goldstein, despite his critique of hierarchical systematics, keeps writing of “lower” and “higher” organisms, most notably when it comes to the relation of human to the other animals. He seems to attribute a great importance to the mental phenomena / central nervous system / reason / mind. However, above we have placed Goldstein among the advocates of transformative approach. We therefore assume that he regarded mind as an emergent organismic organization – an optimal attractor that establishes itself at a certain point of organismic complexity (cf. also Boyle’s article). More likely than trying to justify human uniqueness as superior to other creatures, Goldstein wanted to emphasize the defining characteristic(s) of human in his epistemological project of obtaining a prototype.
II) What might serve as a replacement for representation as the basic epistemic function? Among the proposed alternatives are (i) input of information and (ii) perturbation. The problem with the first one is that a third-person observer cannot be certain whether what he perceives as information holds the same (or rather, any) meaning for the observed organism. An input has to be found that is neither meaningless for the animal nor it is a preformed information. The second alternative is supported by writings of Varela, Maturana, and the constructivists. According to them, an organism establishes its unique rhythms based on the perturbations it experiences. Neuroplasticity is one of the key factors here. In case of sight, the primary visual impressions are those of shapes and colours. Further along the visual pathway, an image is constructed under the influence of organism’s past experiences, which have shaped and connected its neural networks in an individual-specific way.
IIa) Merleau-Ponty remarked that qualitative traits such as rhythm and intensity (which are both relational) are more significant for perception than the quantitative traits. What implications does this have for science?
Science might not acknowledge that. One of us compared it to a bulldozer: scientists insert something into a net (or take something out of it), which results in its restructuration as a whole; this holistic moment is nevertheless overlooked, often deliberately. And yet science seems to proceed, while one gets a feeling that philosophers circle in endless loops. But such a conclusion might be too hasty. Due to its oft-dismissive attitude, it is perhaps the scientific establishment that remains in a loop: science still conforms to the ethos of early modern philosophy. For instance, a couple of years ago an article was published in Nature that claimed that the outside world is only a brain construct. Without acknowledging that they do, in fact, engage in philosophy in an implicit way, the scientists’ “bulldozing” demeanor may prove as relatively inefficient at retrieving new insights. To the contrary, in 20th century the philosophers endeavoured to go beyond the limits imposed by the existent conceptual frameworks.
The dispute between the modern science and the phenomenology may, perchance, be a result of different personalities, i.e., of different ways of coming to terms in different scholars.* A scientist and a phenomenologist will, in most cases, diverge in what they consider to be indicative in their research. Therefore, what counts as a sufficient interpretation in science will most likely differ from the criteria set by phenomenology.
*Jung’s typology was referred to. In following discussion, a remark on typologies in general was given – we questioned the typologist’s metaposition. Since they relate to the world in a certain, specific manner, just as their research subjects do, what, if anything, makes the typologist’s way of classification of fellow human beings exceptional and hence worth of application?