KARL JASPERS FORUM
( MERLEAU-PONTY AND THE CRISIS IN MODERN SCIENCE )
by Steve Bindeman
16 June 2008, posted 21 June 2008
I wish to comment on Professor Rosen's essay on Merleau-Ponty and the crisis in modern science.
Rosen's use of the term "crisis" in his title is I believe a reference to Husserl's book "The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology."
I suspect the reference is intended to alert the reader to Husserl's assertion concerning the bankrupcy of the "classical view" in physics, because it is was based on the highly problematic philosophical position of empiricism. According to Husserl, if the assumptions of empiricism are pursued to their end, all categories of objectivity become fictions. "Thus, he writes on p. 87 of the Crisis, "in Hume's Treatise, the world in general, nature, the universe of identical bodies, the world of identical persons, and accordingly also objective science, which knows these in their objective truth, are transformed into fiction." (Ethics and mathematics are seen by Hume as fictions too.) Rosen's key question becomes, how can we use the phenomenological method to describe the world in a more realistic way?
What seems to complicate the issue further is how the observed data of modern physics continue to confound theorists. The problems lie not in the observed data, but in understanding their underlying patterns and meanings.
Rosen's quest for a non-objectivist framework leads him to topological space and the example of the Klein bottle -- a container that avoids the conventional duality of open/closed -- instead being a vessel that is both.
Rosen's point is that the Klein bottle, while not conceivable under the objectivist framework of classical empiricist physical theory, is indeed accessible under the assumptions of phenomenology. In terms of this latter theory, the object such is seen within a correlation of its noematic and noetic aspects, within the domain of temporality. As we continue to observe an object from one point of view after another, we realize that our relationship to the object continues to evolve as well. The object itself reveals itself to us only gradually. In fact, it becomes impossible to imagine it all at once, since the process of adumbration or clarification is without end. Isn't this situation like that of the Klein bottle, whose reality is impervious to our need to picture it as either one thing or another ? The inter-relatedness of thse qualities is precisely what the philosophy of phenomenology is able to access because of its ability to continue to describe something without reverting to the necessity of a final explanation of its meaning.
In his book on the Apeiron, Rosen compares the challenges of modern physics with similar innovations in modern art. The example of cubism seems especially well suited to the present discussion, since the cubists too perceived a reality that was splintered, and not especially welcoming to realist or objective modes of seeing.
e-mail <bindeman (at) starpower.net>