Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception or Shaking off the Dualism of Descartes.
Writing about the cogito Merleau- Ponty says: “Insofar as, when I reflect on the essence of subjectivity, I find it bound up with that of the body and that of the world, this is because my existence as subjectivity (= consciousness) is merely one with my existence as a body and with the existence of the world, and because the subject that I am, when taken concretely, is inseparable from this body and this world.” Phenomenology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
It sounds so benign: “cogito ergo sum”. But it sounds benign for a reason- it actually sums up the intellectual grounds of humanity, the way humans feel the reality in its core- “this is me, my small subjective world, and that is the huge, marvelous, but separate, if not mine, then whose, objective world.” All philosophies are built with that automatic assumption at the core.
While fighting with each other, the theists and the atheists, Plato’s idealists and Stephen Hawking’s scientists, nobody messes with the subjectivity versus objectivity divide concept.
It feels beyond philosophy; it feels like linguistics.
I think this is the reason, from my paltry readings, both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty sound so, so… painstaking. As their new approach, their method would require this extremely honest and disciplined explanation of the philosopher’s personal experience. They had to explain the nuances in the meaning and explain the process of the concept development because the history and “the establishment” of traditional thought was so old and enormous. They, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, sound as if they were trying first and foremost to convince themselves of some odd truth, actually creating it as they proceeded. This truth or this method would attempt to put our intuitive feeling about reality upside down. If proven scientifically, it would be more ground-breaking than Nietzsche’ s killing of God. These concepts combine perception, movement and intentionality in one conscious experience of a being engaged into the world.
“ How the body inhabits space ( and time, for that matter) can be seen more clearly by considering the body in motion because the movement is not content with passively undergoing space and time, it actively assumes them, it takes them up in their original signification that is effaced in the banality of established situations.” Merleau-Ponty, The spatiality of one’s own body and motricity, p.105.
Amazingly, modern developmental neuroscience follow the steps of Merleau-Ponty, the philosopher. It was found that the motor neurons are the origins of the sensory and the thinking neural systems. Also motor activity precedes, sometimes by 0.1 second, our decision to make that move. The newborn baby’s body schema, as far as we know, is not subjective or objective, there is no duality, similar to the animals. The process of attachment, which will in the future decide whether one will hate one’s own body and be ashamed of one’s deepest emotions is a perfect example of the intentional arc. “The life of consciousness- epistemic life, the life of desire, or perceptual life- is underpinned by an “intentional arc” that projects around us our past, our future, our human milieu, our physical situation, our ideological situation, and our moral situation, or rather, that ensures that we are situated within all of these relationships. This intentional arc creates the unity of the senses with intelligence, and the unity of sensitivity and motricity. “ ibid p. 137. Perception embodies the child and the mother, food, touch, love and the level of stress, all mixed together. It doesn’t occur in the baby’s brain, or in the mother’s brain or in between. The meaning of experience is being built and interpreted with the brain and the environment working in one spatiality and movement of feeding, sleeping, getting satisfied and happy… or not. This very real and crucial for future life event occurs in time and space that can only be called the baby’s world, not subjective, not objective, but nondual and phenomenological, baby’s world.
Evolutionary ethology confirm similar mechanisms occurring in primitive animals. Their behavior, like seeking food or escaping a predator are directed by the “old” brain (the only brain available, in, for example, a lizard) This part of the brain, the medulla, the hindbrain nuclei, like amygdala, in the human corresponds with the “feeling” brain, with subjectivity, but for the animal these behavior occur obviously “out there”, in the animal’s non dual, only real world – out there is the food , out there is danger, out there is escape.
Because of going beyond such a basic assumption, phenomenology has had to become first and foremost the method, the way of analyzing the conscious experience without the subjectivity versus objectivity divide, the way where embodied consciousness inhabits the world, not my world, not the nobody’s world, just the world, all the reality that any human has to play with.
And if we accept that as humans this is the only world we have, this ceases to be only the method ( or the historical footnote), this becomes a huge responsibility and the unified force for the mankind.