Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ernest Haeckel is the figure to whom Western Integral theory can be traced back

Science, Culture and Integral Yoga Re: Objectivity by Lorraine Datson & Peter Galison (Book Review by Norberto Serpente)
by Tony Clifton on Sat 05 Sep 2009 03:07 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link

I cant speak to the return of Vedic wisdom or metaphysics, but the evolution of objectivity (as part of the general evolution of consciousness) is precisely the moving away from metaphysics toward epistemology, from wisdom of the spiritual to knowledge of the sensible world that has followed and determined the course of the modern era. Prior to the advent of what Datson and Galison call "mechanical objectivity" circa mid 19th century the primary epistemic virtue they declare to be "truth to nature" in which objectivity was seen to be more a "mental representation" than an actual state of physical reality (aka object minus a subject) in which what was sought after in science (what was then called natural philosophy) was an idealized -archetypal- truth of essences of phenomena rather than a quantitative inquiry into their sensible appearances.

Most variants of" truth to nature" had a metaphysical dimension. "For Enlightenment thinkers this reality did not necessarily entail a commitment to Platonic forms at the expense of the evidence of the senses. On the contrary, sharp and sustained observation was necessity prerequisite for discerning the true genera of plants and organisms . The methodological goal of "truth to nature" was that the eyes of both body and mind converge to discover a reality otherwise hidden to each alone" (Datson/Galison).

However, the quest to discover a hidden reality or truth entailed that models were carefully selected and anomalies were smoothed out in order to produce idealized images. Selecting, perfecting, idealizing the goal was to tame natures variability. "It was a science about the underlying rules rather than the exceptions or excesses of nature. They were depictions of the idea of the observation not the observation itself. Naturalist and painter alike sought the invariable general form incorporating the beautiful and the true" (Datson/Galison).

This was the scientific methodology of Goethe who described the quest for pure phenomena which could be discerned only in a sequence of observations never in an isolated instance "To depict it the human mind must fix the empirically variable exclude the accidental, eliminate the impure, unravel the tangled, discover the unknown" (Datson/Galison). Goethe's approach to uncovering the ur-phenomena or archetypal forms underlying natures sensible reality is characteristic of the "truth to nature" approach to science.

The transition from "truth to nature" science to "mechanical objectivity" can be seen in the works of people like von Humboldt, Helmholtz, Huxley, Bernard who took up the terminology of Kant's critical philosophy and the meaning he assigned to subjective and objective and who began to covert empirical observations urging metaphysical restraint. Yet the goals of these scientist still sought a reality organized around idealized notions of unity and truth that undergirded reality in which it was not so much objective reality but the minds apprehension of reality that was prioritized. Huxley for example, attributed the progress of modern science to an "exclusive concentration on verifiable hypothesis regarded not as ideal truth, the real entities of an unintelligible world, behind phenomena, but as a "symbolic language" by the which nature can be interpreted in terms of apprehension by our intellect" (Datson/Galison).

This transformation of objective knowledge was also associated with transformation of the self, in which the subject was transformed from disconnected sensations organized around a continuous thread of consciousness, to one in which the subject was organized around a central will. According to Datson and Galison:

"The Enlightenment self was imagined as a pastiche and conglomerate. It was a pastiche of sensations and the traces of memory they left, combined by principles of association and held together by a continuous thread of consciousness. It was a conglomerate of faculties, chief of which were reason, memory and imagination. ..

"It was a self constantly menaced by fragmentation -so much so that 18th century philosophers notably Hume wondered whether having a coherent self might not be illusionary. Hume mused personal identity may be but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and motion" (Datson/Galison) .

This all began to change after Kant and the evolution of his idea of a unified willful self. By the time of the positivism of Ernst Mach, August Comte one of the main concerns of the method of scientific observation was to purge the individual will from the scientist in order to achieve a state of objectivity. Facilitated in part by new technologies such as photography there was an epistemic shift away from subjective idealism to objective realism.

The difference can be seen between "truth to nature" and "mechanical objectivity" is reflected in the following instance ""when in 1890 Eduard Jaeger chose to devote forty to fifty hours of painstaking effort to each of the images of his atlas of the eye he was self-consciously plumping for a particular type of meticulous representation. He dismissed flights of genus in scientific representation as ephemeral. Only the suppression of all subjectivity - even individual brilliance- could produce an objective image that endured. A century earlier Goethe had, with firm conviction and care insisted on the insight and synthetic judgment required to detect the idea of observation . Both Goethe and Jaegar took considerable pains to uphold the highest standards of epistemic virtue, even if both these standards entailed entirely different. (Datson/Galison)"

The clash of these difference of epistemic virtues between the metaphysical associations of "truth to nature" and quantitative sensible reality of "mechanical objectivity" is no where as apparent as in the controversy involving Ernest Haeckel -who I argue in other places is the figure to whom Western Integral theory can be traced back [...]

Returning to the metaphysical claims of Vedic wisdom, whether it renters into science is open to speculation, perhaps one day the Vedic path to knowledge will be reintegrated into science in much the same manner as the subjective elements of intuition are reentering science as the most recent epistemic virtue that Galison and Datson call "trained judgement".

However, the absence of Vedic Wisdom from scientific thinking through the course of the past centuries is indicative of one path that the evolution of human consciousness has taken. Perhaps -even though it may seem to contradict Vedic wisdom- as Sri Aurobindo says this advance of scientific reasoning is essential in order to forge a greater harmony. Whether Vedic knowing is superior or inferior to scientific knowledge is therefore as I see it irrelevant to the question of the truth of structure of reality that we know today. Anyone who takes seriously the idea of evolution of consciousness who dismisses or diminishes objectivity does so at the own peril, for it is one of the unique ways of knowing the world that nature's yoga through its evolution of consciousness continues to reveal to us Reply

by Tony Clifton on Sun 06 Sep 2009 10:05 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link

The very idea of any "absolute" including an "absolute objectivity" is itself always based on prior assumptions What the authors of this book wish to demonstrate is that very fact, and its inevitable consequence namely that an "absolute objectivity" -given the evolving nature of epistemic virtues- is for us, symbolic beings that we are; an impossibility. Reply

by Tony Clifton on Sun 06 Sep 2009 10:30 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link

In this instance it is enough for the unmanifest world we treat as relevant to be that one that generates the social field from which we derive the assumptions we make about the world and to understand the structuring nomos that provides us with an epistemology or frame of reference to construct those conventions we accept as real, distinguishing in them their historicity and evolution so we can better come to understand the epistemic virtues and constraints of our present moment. [...]

Well its not so much that, then it is the fact that any aprori programs or cosmic plans are shot through with a structuring nomos that requires critical inquiry into to determine the validity and relativity of the truth claims they make and comprehend the unconscious assumptions derived from them, be they the materialist assertions of science or the metaphysical assertions of the Vedas. Reply

1 comment:

  1. [Science, Culture and Integral Yoga Re: John D. Caputo: A Postmodern, Prophetic, Liberal American in Paris by Michael E. Zimmerman
    by Debashish on Mon 19 Oct 2009 04:35 PM PDT
    Haeckel in fact is a mid 19th c. philosopher who represents in his own way the larger pervasive evolutionism of the 19th c. I find Hegel to be one of its master thinkers. But in fact, this anthropological history of racial differentiation can be seen as a displacement of Christian historical theology, which ultimately relates to a branch of the idea of the reconstitution of the sacrificed body of Purusha from the Vedic mythos.

    by Tony Clifton on Tue 20 Oct 2009 12:48 PM PDT
    I agree with you that Hegel and perhaps Schelling too are also implicated at the source of Western Integral Theory. Although I also see them converging in Haeckel who then takes the step of merging these aspects of German Idealism into Darwinian evolution, something that is not present in either Hegel or Schelling.]