Empirical & Experimental

“Society clings with bewildered obedience to scientific expertise, and the ideal of conscious planning and precisely functioning administration dominates every sphere of life even down to the level of the molding of public opinion.” Gadamer as quoted in the introduction of Philosophical Hermeneutics (p. xli), University of California Press, 1976.

The empirical and the experimental have become equated in public opinion to the extent that what cannot be objectively measured simply does not count. There is almost visceral animosity against non-experimental sciences to the extent that philosophy has become to some a synonym of lazy armchair thinking. Philosophy has internalized this animosity as is abundantly clear from the self-guilt with which it enters the public domain, as it were bowing to the experimental emperor whilst subserviently moving backward towards its goal. Philosophical writing already looks more and more like scientific writing, and there is every chance that it will also be force fed the experimental method.

But why do we have two words? Is that a matter of historical accident? A bit like having the word water and the concept H20, with the latter being the exact term that happened to be only discovered after we got used to colloquially using the former? Should we pack up our philosophical bags and use our thinking power only to clarify the presuppositions going into our experimental set-ups? Or, as Gadamer would have it, is it a mere historical accident that the experimental has laid claim on the empirical and that it just happens to be empirically so that the grip of the experimental is extremely hard to break?

If, as the introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics has it, “Hermeneutics has its origin in breaches of intersubjectivity.” then, in order to move on, we need an understanding of why people tend to get so upset at even hinting that the empirical and the experimental are not co-extensive. The operative word, as the above quote suggests, will be control.

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“What now?”,

is what he asked himself, quite unoriginally. Except, maybe, for the quotation marks and comma in the title. It dawned on him self-referentiality might well be what he (hmm, not quite getting this sentence right?) was starting to refer to. Weird is what he was, but what was weird? (other than writing this in the past tense).

You with me? Was! Well, I lost my self. Then I regained one. Just to ask: “What now?” and that question is always in the past so always already answered but also always – all over – again and again ready to be asked; always all over. I am trying to make sense, you know, as did he (whom I am) did, starting all this on a whim.

More or less? You wanna know? Well, I do. So fuck you, here’s more.

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The Dogma of Survival

“We think that in this the human being extends, more or less consciously, the spontaneous effort, common to life, of fighting against that which forms the obstacle to her maintenance and development taken as norms.” Canguilhem, On the Normal and the Pathological, PUF 1966, p. 102 (in my own translation, original below)

Canguilhem marks an important split in philosophy in attacking the ‘objective’ notions of health and disease that come with the dominance the empirical/mathematical method of the exact sciences. As a teacher of Foucault he made a first but decisive step against a last push of the exact sciences to explain away the most human of experiences: that of feeling not quite right. Decisive but not final because to this day the positivistic look, on the back of our neoliberal society and value system, dominates to the point of mocking those who speak from disability studies, cultural studies and feminism. It is not, though, this debate which I’m here interested in. I take it for granted that the truth here as elsewhere mostly lies somewhere in the middle. The truth I want to try to speak here is against that which, I believe, is still a common dogma in both traditions: that of survival as an inevitable and enduring norm inherent in life.

Longevity is, I submit, a global pandemic threatening all life, and specifically human life, as it misunderstands and devalues life to something that is to be had instead of lived. The outcome of the normality of survival is pathological: more life, but less worth living. The quote has all of that so let’s turn to it.

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From doings to sayings (& back again)

‘Without blinking an eye’, is a saying referring to how normal it is to blink your eyes. It is something we all do. It’s a doing with which we say something even if it’s something we’d rather have left unsaid.

As the saying goes, not doing it is remarkable. It either shows concealment or an absence of something we thought was being concealed. The saying is proverbially related to truth and trickery, to concealment and unconcealment. If people would never blink an eye this would amount to a perpetual staring match, the type of thing horror shows are made of.

Doings do this. They escape us. They defy willful control. They signal our emotions. They talk where sometimes we’ve been made to feel a need to remain silent. This is what we’re made to think: that emotions are “them” and controlling them is “us”. These doings are so made into sayings, such that we can control them rather than performing them.

In this way your body gets split from your soul and the I is split from its environment. It’s only the brain that connects them. If the connection is bad, it’s because your brain is bad. Because that’s what the brain is supposed to do: effectively disconnect me from you. This, in a nutshell, is growing up: the nut is your brain and the shell is your skull. And so we’ll bite our lips and count to 10 and hope we meanwhile don’t blink our eyes. A sorry state if ever there was. Is there an escape?

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Ceci n’est pas un success story

As a young boy the only thing I dreamed of was of becoming a philosopher. I became an engineer instead. It proved to be a shorter path to financial independence. I never shook my first dream though. We’re 30 years on and here I am, starting my PhD in philosophy. This is what happened. You judge whether it is a story of success or one of failure. I don’t know. Just comparing start and end it’s definitely a story of success. The lived experience is not as clear cut though. It rather feels like a mess.

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Too red or not too red

We try to capture difference. It provides us a sense of certainty in a world of uncertainty. But, as the world is one of uncertainty, our attempts at classifying always wind up killing something of value. So here I am, at a loss because caught up in a need to capture what is different about people with Tourette.

This will probably all sound terribly self-absorbed. The truth is, I think, that one can only appreciate difference if one is open to what is shared. It seems that the one thing to keep in mind is that we are all human and thus, in a sense, the same. Difference and sameness are anything but opposed. In trying to understand those who are different we are asking who we truly are. My struggle therefore (at least also) is to understand myself, faced with a difference which seems so categorical it cannot be bridged.

So this is an attempt to see the red in me in order to be able to see what people see as too red in others or in themselves. Here goes: attempt one in a series that can never end.

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Autism and Psychosis

Talking to a friend who suffered a psychotic breakdown made me curious. I know how it feels to suffer an autistic meltdown and I therefore know it feels nothing like it looks like. If only because it may well look like nothing is the matter. So how then would a psychotic breakdown feel like? Is that feeling as inaccessible to me as the grandiose schizophrenia stories make it out to be? I can’t be curious without feeling like the little kid Aristotle has talked about in his book alpha: I just need to open the box to see how it works. Here I go.

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