Monday, February 4, 2013

"The Earth Doesn't Move"

Scott Bradley

David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous), in building his case for a re-integration of the human with the natural world in which we live, lays his philosophical foundation on the approach of phenomenology. I have long thought that I am some kind of phenomenologist, though I have never truly been able to grasp what phenomenology is. (And if I have somehow fooled you into thinking I have any great grasp of things philosophical, let me assure you I do not.) Abram might have helped me to make a little progress in that regard, though my summation here may still be wide of the mark. (Though in important ways, that should not matter; misunderstandings are at least original.)

As in so much modern philosophical discussion, Descartes is taken as a good place to start. Descartes represents the extreme mind-body dualism upon which 'pure' science rests. The mind is believed able to objectively understand the physical world because it is itself other than that world. This leads to all manner of philosophical problems which Husserl, the 'founder' of phenomenology, sought to remedy. Phenomenology seeks to bridge the gap between mind and the physical world by prioritizing and studying our experience of it. This may not sound all that revolutionary, but its ramifications are profoundly so. And the reason I discuss it here is because I believe it echoes the more 'spiritually' revolutionary character of philosophical Daoism.

In later unpublished notes Husserl, who was himself evolving into the significance of his own philosophy, proclaims that "the earth doesn't move". If we can understand how this is 'true', we will begin to understand how radical this approach to our human reality actually is. Though our objectifying, truth-knowing mind protests that "yes, it does", our actual consensual life-experience-reality is rooted in and proceeds from the perception that it does not. This is not a denial of objective truth, but an acknowledgement that our human experience is rooted in an organic emersion in the world which objective truth fails to penetrate. Our so-called objective truth, moreover, is grounded in our pre-cognitive experience of the world. Concepts like space, time, rest and movement all have their beginning here and thus our 'objectivity' begins and ends in deep subjectivity.

It should be obvious how Zhuangzi's protest that allowing the "understanding mind" to have priority over our more visceral, pre-cognitive experience cuts us off from an enormous amount of our humanity, leaving us hanging naked in the wind, anticipates Husserl's realization. Zhuangzi's appeal, like Husserl's, moreover, is never to anything other than our experience. The Whole to which we re-connect as an organic participant is represented in Nature as experienced, not in ethereal 'divine' realities. Zhuangzi's 'mysticism' is not extrinsic, but intrinsic; we rediscover our human experience as integral with the ever-transforming expression of Nature.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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