20 Jun 2009

The Continuous March of Change, Husserl, para 17, Supplementary B1 to: On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time

[The following is summary.]

The Continuous March of Change

Edmund Husserl

On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time

B: Supplementary Texts

I "On the Introduction of the Essential Distinction between 'Fresh' Memory and 'Full' Recollection and about the Change in Content and Differences in Apprehension in the Consciousness of Time"

No. 1 "How Does the Unity of a Process of Change that Continues for an Extended Period of Time Come to Be Represented?
Intuition and Re-presentation"

Paragraph 17

Previously, Husserl distinguished primarily two ways we visually experience the flow of intuitions that we undergo when looking at an object. The second type involves us moving our heads and bodies about, as well as our eyes. Husserl here address the first type, which involves our merely moving our eyes around to scan the object, while keeping our heads and bodies in place.

Husserl has us imagine that we are keeping our heads and bodies still while looking at an ink-well sitting before us. Our awareness of the ink-well does not stagnate, even if it is the only thing we view.

As soon as the seeing begins, a play of changes in content and of acts of noticing that survey them severally also begins. These acts run off within an overlapping noticing but are not held in consciousness by it. One’s regard wanders, one says, over the object; and now this, now that part comes into the focus of one’s view, and thus at the same time into the mental focal point of one’s noticing. (148-149, emphasis mine)

But we can describe the situation taking more into account the subject’s side of the experience. Here we find that we experience a flow of partial intuitions. We distinguish different partial intuitions between the transitions that mediate between them. Yet we tend not to notice the transitions that blur all the different parts of the sequence of intuitions into one continuous flux.

Subjectively, nothing further presents itself than a temporal-contentual continuum of intuitions in which individual parts are separately distinguished, while the mediating parts that fill out the swiftly flowing transition to the former are not in the habit of being separately noticed. (149a, emphasis mine)

Because the transitions are continuous, there are resemblances between contiguous moments. For, our intuitions at one moment contain traces or remainders of what we intuited just previously.

By virtue of the continuity in the change of the primarily noticed content, we are able to speak simply of a change in content; and therein lies already the similarity of the individual momentary phases articulated among themselves. (149ab, emphasis mine)

Imagine that we first view one corner of the ink-well (call it ‘corner A’). Then our eyes dart hastily to another corner (‘B’). We notice each corner distinctly. However, we took no note of the continuous alteration of intuitions that we underwent while transiting from corners A to B.

The entire content has changed. Beginning-phase and end-phase are conspicuous in the change, but we do not especially focus our attention on the characteristic change of content in the transition. (149b, emphasis mine)

So we distinguish corner A from B. But perhaps by scanning the ink-well in this way, as soon as we arrive upon corner B, we intuit the whole object as a unified thing. In that case, A loses its status as a distinct intuition. It then belongs to a unifying continuum of which it is a subordinate part that blends together with the object’s other parts.

A is now above all a more dependent, more indistinct moment, and finally perhaps even a moment no longer set off from the new and (with respect to content) strongly altered total intuition, which is connected with the earlier intuition through the phenomena of transition belonging to the change that has made its appearance (obviously a phenomenon of movement). In company with the roaming of one’s regard, then, change marches upon change. (149c, emphasis mine)

[See this entry, Deleuze Cours Vincennes Spinoza 20-01-1981, for Deleuze’s description of Bergson’s duration as the phenomena of transition. Under this alternate characterization, the transition proceeds between discontinuous discrete and instantaneous moments of consciousness.]

Consider the initial phase of our awareness of the object. We only see the object’s parts. We have not yet intuited the whole. Nonetheless, the parts suggest or indicate that they make-up a larger unity that we have yet to synthesize. If we attend to our initial partial intuitions while moving, we notice that we feel our awareness is more than just aimlessly wondering around the object. At first the object is indicated indirectly, and for that reason it is indistinct to us. When we sense the object’s remainder before having unified the parts, our attention strives to make the indirectly indicated object more distinct: “we sense a striving, which we do not hesitate to characterize as a striving after distinctness.” (149d)

the indirectly seen object appears to us burdened with a certain deficiency, which only seems to be removed when the inevitable redirection of one’s regard and the process of becoming distinct given with it ensue. (149d)

When we are aware of something, we ‘intend’ it, in the phenomenological sense of the term. And we initially have partial intuitions of just the object’s parts, without also intuiting the whole object. But despite our awareness of the object being partial, we have an implicit intention of the whole object. It is what stimulates and induces the movement of our eyes so that we may satisfy this intention with our awareness of the complete object we detected but did not yet recognize.

Now imagine this. We are in the initial stage of intuition where we are aware of the object’s parts, but only implicitly aware of the whole. That implicit awareness motivates us to move our vision around the object to obtain enough partial intuitions to be able to unify them all into the continuous intuition of one unified object. Consider instead if we resist this urge to discover the rest of what we implicitly detect. We just hold our gaze on one corner of the ink-well. Nonetheless, our imagination might still satisfy our urge by phantasizing the rest of the object, so that we may come to intend it in a unified form. (150b)

Husserl, Edmund. On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1893-1917). Vol 4 ofEdmund Husserl: Collected Works. Ed. Rudolf Bernet. Trans. John Barnett Brough. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991.

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