5 Apr 2009

Husserl Ideas §52 Supplementations. The Physical Thing as Determined by Physics and the "Unknown Cause of Appearances"

by Corry Shores
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We should not confuse the subjectivity that physics claims is involved in the merely sensuous appearance of physical things with the subjectivity that characterizes mental processes. Scientists do not really think that the physical thing's appearance is an illusion or faulty picture of the "true" physical thing. As well, appearances are not signs of the true determinations of physical things.

Husserl wonders if we may, in accordance with realism, say that we may infer from an appearance what it is an appearance of, as though the two were intrinsically different.

We only come to such theories if we ignore the physical thing-datum's sense, which is implicit in the essence of experience.

If there were some unknown cause for an appearance that is different from what is appearing, "it would have to be essentially perceivable and experienceable if not by us then by other Egos who see better and further" (119a). Moreover, such a perception would be demonstrated only by another perception, hence an infinite regress. To give an theoretical account for some unknown physical affair, such as planetary disturbances coming from an yet-known planet, is essentially different from giving an account of the way we experience physical things.

The scientist explores and scientifically determines the perceived physical thing.

The experienced physical thing, we noted, gives us the "mere This" or "empty X" that becomes the "bearer of the exact determinations ascribed in physics" that are not given in experience alone. Thus the "true" thing for physics would be determined in a much different way than how it is given in person by perception alone.

We will not fall victim to the picture or sign theories; for pictures and signs refer to things lying outside them which would "'itself' be seized upon were we to go over into a different mode of objectivation, into that of presentative intuition." But physical things are no different from what appears sensuously (120a).

Accordingly, even the sensuous determination-content of the X which functions as bearer of the determinations ascribed in physics is no clothing foreign to these determination and hiding them: rather, only because the X is the subject of the sensuous determinations is it the subject also of the determinations ascribed in physics which, for their part, make themselves known in the sensuous determinations. (120c)

Thus the sensuously appearing is not a sign for something else, but rather is, in a sense, "a sign for itself" (121a).

But even though physics considers the appearance of something to be a sign of the transcendent object, its transcendency does not "signify" a "reaching out beyond the world which is for consciousness" (121bc).

Physics is based on natural experiencing, and in accordance with reason, takes up certain modes of conception so to effect "the theoretical determination of sensuously experienced things" (121c). This is why the physicist finds contrast between the physical thing as object of the sensuous imagination and as object of the intellect, which assigns the ontological properties to the object.

Physics, then, points to a realm of being in Nature that is outside our perception and is thus "an unknown world of physical realities" that physicists hypothesize in order to explain the causality of appearances; hence physics engages in mythologizing.

Moreover, physics confuses the objects of the senses with the mental processes that constitute objects out of sense data, and thus Objective physics seems not to be engaged in explaining physical thing-appearances insofar as they appear, but rather inasmuch as mental processes constitute them. Causality is a product of these mental processes, and hence it has been "made into a bond between the being which physics determines and absolute consciousness" (122c). Thus physics purports to absolutize physical reality when in fact it absolutizes instead pure consciousness (122d).

The physical thing does not reveal all its properties to our senses, and hence physics wrongly interprets what is sensuously intuitable as a "symbolic representative of something hidden, which could become an object of simple intuition if there were a better intellectual organization; and the models are understood to serve as intuited schematic pictures in place of this hypothesized object" (123b). But at the same time, physicists do not take into account that such real entities are nonetheless constructed by consciousness (123c).

Thus the transcendency of the physical object lies in its constitution in consciousness (123d).

This is so for every other sort of object, for example, aesthetic objects and cultural formations (124a).

[perhaps incomplete]

Husserl, Edmund. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book. General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology. Transl. Fred Kersten. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1982.

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