The problem of interpretation arises because there are empirical and theoretical grounds for holding that some phenomenology is “dark”.
– David Roden, Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human
Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In section 4.2 he will introduce us to the notion that not all phenomenology deals with the pure world of surfaces and light. There is a dark side, or should we say ‘A Dark Tale of Phenomenology’. It will be a tale of twined realms: one of perception, and one of time. It will be a tale in which we will never be sure whether what is alien and posthuman can ever be known or shared by our own mental states, or that we will even be able to control or forecast what the posthuman is or could be. We will be in the dark with that which is alien and alienating.
David Roden will give us a beginning to our tale: “Let’s call a feature of experience “dark” if it confers no explicit or implicit understanding of its nature on the experiencer (Roden, KL 1961)”.1 Unlike the phenomenology of Husserl or even Heidegger in which the surface detail that we can intuit and see within the realm of appearance and presence, dark phenomenology would deal with that which cannot directly be seen, touched, felt, smelled, etc., yet affects us and influences our dispositions, feelings, or actions in indirect and strange ways that we cannot describe with any precision. Our access to this dark side would be by indirect ways, much like scientist who uncover the truth of dark energy and dark matter which make up 99% of our universe and yet we never have direct access to such things except through a combination of mathematical theorems and instruments that measure aspects of these unknown unknowns indirectly through experimentation and analyses.
Reading Roden’s surmises about color theory, and of how there are millions of shadings of color that we cannot intuit or describe from a firs-person-singular perspective because we do not have access or it is a form of loss or neglect reminded my of what many in the neurosciences are suspecting. As I suggested from Bakker’s BBT theory in a previous post the brain only ever gives us the information we need to deal with the things evolution and survival have adapted us too in our understanding or ‘intuiting’ of the environment we are embedded within. Yet, as Roden is suggesting there is an amazing realm of experience we never have direct access to, and that in fact we are blind too not because we cannot intuit it, but because the brain only offers our ‘first-person’ of subjective self or temporary agency certain well-defined and filtered pieces of the puzzle. It filters out the rest accept as Roden said previously, there are times when we are affected by things we cannot perceive but are part of reality. Phenomenology is unable to discuss such things because it is not science, it lacks both the conceptual and instrumental technology to graze even a percent of this unknown or blind territory surrounding us. Philosophers like to talk of chaos, etc. When in fact it is a sea of information that the brain analyses at every moment, but delivers to us packaged in byte size representations that we can handle as its evolutionary agents of choice.
(A personal aside: I must admit I wish David would have sunk the philosophy for neuroscience and hard-sciences rather than wasting time with the philosophical community. It always seems reading such works that one must spend an exorbitant amount of time clarifying concepts, ideas, notions for other professional philosophers who will probably reject what your saying anyway. To me science is answering these sorts of questions in terms that leave the poor phenomenological philosopher in a quandary. Maybe its part of the academic game. I’ve never been sure. Yet, as we will see David himself will make much the same gesture later on.)
Either way as I read dark phenomenology is actually trying to deal not with appearance but with what Kant used to call the ‘noumenal’ realm. Which was closed off from philosophical speculation two-hundred years ago as something that could never be described or known. Yet, both philosophy and the sciences have been describing aspects of it ever since and doing it by indirect means without ever name it that. It’s as if we’ve closed our selves off from the truth of our own blindness, and told ourselves we’re not blind.
As Roden will affirm of all these representationalist philosophers in discussing the possibility that time may have a dark side: “For representationalist philosophers of mind who believe that the mind is an engine for forming and transforming mental representations there is good reason to be sceptical about the supposed transcendental role of time” (Rode, KL 2068). Then he will tells us why: “For where a phenomenological ontology transcends the plausible limits of intuition its interpretation would have to be arbitrated according to its instrumental efficacy, simplicity and explanatory potential as well as its descriptive content” (Roden, KL 2081).
And as if he heard me he will tell us that phenomenology must provide an incomplete account of those dark structures that are not captured in appearance through other modes of inquiry, saying: “If phenomenology is incompletely characterized by the discipline of phenomenology, though, it seems proper that methods of enquiry such as those employed by cognitive scientists, neuroscientists and cognitive modellers should take up the interpretative slack. If phenomenologists want to understand what they are talking about , they should apply the natural attitude to their own discipline. (Roden, 2120)”
And, of course most practicing scientists in these fields would tell Roden and the others: Why don’t you just give it up and join us? Maybe philosophy is not suited to describe or even begin to analyze what we’re discovering, maybe you would be better off closing down philosophy of mind and becoming scientists.” But of course we know what these philosophers would probably say to that. Don’t we.
Ultimately after surveying phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger and others Roden will come to the conclusion:
Dark phenomenology undermines the transcendental anthropologies of Heidegger and Husserl because it deprives them of the ability to distinguish transcendental conditions of possibility such as Dasein or Husserl’s temporal subject (which are not things in the world) from the manifestation of things that they make possible. They are deconstructed insofar as they become unable to interpret the formal structures with which they understand the fundamental conditions of possibility for worlds or things. … As bruited, this failure of transcendentalism is crucial for our understanding of SP. If there is no a priori theory of temporality, there is no a priori theory of worlds and we cannot appeal to phenomenology to exclude the possibility that posthuman modes of being could be structurally unlike our own in ways that we cannot currently comprehend. (Roden, KL 2194 – 2206)
What we’re left with is an open and indescribable realm of possibility that is anyone’s guess. As he will sum it up there is no reason to be bound by a transcendental or anthropological posthumanism, instead SP will have no truck with constraints on the open-endedness of posthumanism (” This is not to say, of course, that there are no constraints on PPS”):
Posthuman minds may or may not be weirder than we can know. We cannot preclude maximum weirdness prior to their appearance. But what do we mean by such an advent? Given the extreme space of possible variation opened up by the collapse of the anthropological boundary, it seems that we can make few substantive assumptions about what posthumans would have to be like. (Roden, 2378)
In the next post Roden takes up the formal analysis rather than an a priori or substantive account of posthuman life, suggesting that we will not be able to describe the posthuman till we see in in the wild. We will follow him into the wild.
1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.