Currently Reading: Phenomenology of Spirit

I am currently working through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. As I do so, I intend to share thoughts, ideas, questions, general responses/ramblings etc. I do not require from myself a certain format for sharing my interaction with the text, so I will simply post snippets I write down.

First bits:

Because empirical knowledge is so immediate, we mistake our understanding of it for the empiricism itself. It is not; our interpretation of the empirical data is an interpretation and occurs on a more basic level than we tend to note. Even in the certainty that the empirical data is true, we show an a priori preference for empiricism. This certainty cannot itself come from empiricism, but from intuition. Intuition cannot come from the object but from ourselves.

So, this calls into question the objective nature of science; if the certainty of the validity of science itself is so thoroughly unscientific, how can science be pure? And if it were, how could it be anything more than an agnostic set of questions about the universe?

Science requires matter to exist, and ultimately for knowledge of matter to exist. But the matter does exist no matter how fully, if at all, the knowledge of it exists. Thus the objects science seeks to understand are themselves entirely objective, but once they become observed they exist as human knowledge, and human knowledge of a thing can (and tends) to fall short of the thing itself. (Oh wow, does that sound like Kant?) In this sense, it seems that knowledge of objective things is always, to a degree, subjective.


The Noumenal and Phenomenal: How to make something beautiful

In my post Art and Metaphysics I talked about the noumenal and phenomenal realms, mentioning that the discussion was a precursor to duscussing three categories defining art and beauty.

Beauty, among many other things, originates in the noumenal realm. But of all the elements originating there, I think beauty is likely the one most evident in the phenomenal realm. This is great news for empirical creatures like us who are obsessed with our phenomenal realm, but whose thirst is for the noumenal. Being experienced seekers of beauty, we also know that Art is a place we often find it.

But the question remains: is everything containing Beauty, Art?

I answer no.

There are many beautiful things in the world: sunsetsPorsche’s, the Taj Mahal and The Raft of The Medusa. But I would only consider the last of these Art. Why?

The answer has to do with whether their ultimate purpose is found in the noumenal or phenomenal realm (taking for granted here that art is man-made). Take the Porsche, for instance. It is a well made car, highly functional for its purpose, and pleasing to the eye (and ear, I’m guessing). But its purpose is to drive, to get from here to there. Its primary function belongs in the phenomenal realm, and therefore is not Art. But it is beautiful, because excellence and beauty, characteristics of the car, are noumenal elements integrated into the form of the phenomenal item.

This is my first category. The beautiful item, created from phenomenal elements for phenomenal ends, but done so according to standards and qualities found in the noumenal realm.


Dismissing Platonic Ideals

Gnostic sentiments around the first century spread a belief that adherence to and indulgence in the physical realm was inherently evil. The ideal was to separate as thoroughly from the physical realm as possible in order to exist in the spiritual, which was inherently good. Such thought gave rise to Docetism, Christian gnostics who held that Jesus simply appeared to be human, but was not really. They outright dismissed the idea that a good man could be made of flesh and bones. Dismissing his corporeality was also helpful in dealing with claims of his resurrection, because he could not have truly died.

Such distinctions between flesh and spiritual seem to me, oversimplified. I am intensely mesmerized by the mystery of dialectical opposition that seems to hang, throughout the universe, balanced in perfect tension, and uncompromising.

Humans are not merely phenomenal, they are noumenal. I do not believe it is divided half and half, but that humans are completely both at the same time. I believe Jesus is fully human and fully God. I believe I am fully a sinner and fully made righteous by God. I believe art is fully subjective and fully objective. These things are possible because the phenomenal and noumenal are not so distinct as we imagine.

Perhaps this too is an oversimplification. I’m sure many would argue such. It is not something I have explored enough to truly hash out in apologetic form (but plan to explore it here). I admit (perhaps I will regret this) that I simply like it. I like the mystery of the inexplicable and the possibility that the human desire for exclusive definition is not an accurate or complete representation of reality.

How much of philosophy is empirically verifiable anyway? As much as I’m not a Gnostic, I’m not a Logical Positivist either.


Art and Metaphysics

During a discussion on Friday, I was asked to define art. Ah, yes, an impossible task; my favorite kind! In order for me to define art, I found myself describing metaphysics. So, before I get into any discussion of art, and the three categories I concluded exist to describe artistic endeavors, I first must give a sketch of metaphysics.

I am but an armchair philosopher. I accept this title gladly; I’m sure there are many professional philosophers who can’t afford arm chairs. So please, feel free to disagree with me. I welcome intelligent disagreement, for it is one of the best ways to learn. I also welcome correction: if my facts are incorrect, surely that affects the conclusions I draw from them.

Much of my metaphysics is stolen from Kant. But I don’t agree with him 100%, so I’m going to posit this all as my own. I believe there exists a phenomenal realm and a noumenal realm. These two realms are somehow, mysteriously simultaneously existent in the same place at the same time.

I define the phenomenal realm as the material world: all that we see, touch, smell, hear and taste. Anything made out of matter (and I would likely include anti-matter), whether by humans, the laws of nature, or the Causation of the universe, makes up the phenomenal realm.

The noumenal realm, by nature, is more difficult to define. It is, roughly, that which can only be accessed by intellect, instinct, or intuition. But such elements, not limited to the precision of empirical processes, appear wildly subjective and inconsistent. Because of this inconsistency, many have been led to believe that the noumenal realm is either non-existent (materialsts), entirely subjective (post-moderns), or unimportant (the religiously scientific). I agree that the noumenal realm is terribly difficult to access, and that the human ability to do so is inadequate and fragmented. But undermining the existence of such a realm based on its problems is a kind of ad hominem rejection, and therefore insufficient.

I am willing to argue that its veiled nature is what makes the noumenal realm so exciting. Religion, metaphysics, ideals, morals, spirituality are all members of the noumenal realm. The fact that they are difficult to access prods humans to discover them more fully.

Even in the phenomenal realm, humans cannot help but discover the unknown. What is off the edge of the map? What is inside an atom? How big is space, and what is it made of? What consistent patterns can be defined by equation? Why is the sky blue? All of these questions have prodded humans to discover.

We want to know what we don’t already know. Thus, the noumenal realm is endlessly fascinating. This is where Art comes into the picture.


Too Much

The above image is likely recognizable from my banner. As I discussed in my last post, the image is a product of my synesthesia. This will help me divulge more about what my music-image synesthesia does.

The image is a painting of the opening of the song Too Much by Sufjan Stevens, off his new album Age of Adz.  Each element of the image is a specific part of the song. When I listen to music, the whole orchestration creates a whole orchestration of images. It would be impossible for me to paint a whole song, because music is never stationary. If I could create a shape/color movie it would be closer to my synesthetic experience.

The opening synth creates a low bubbling noise, which is the yellow circles at the bottom left. The red burst shape is the scraping sound behind it. This crescendos into the basic track of the song, at which point it turns to blue/black. The black ribbon reaching diagonally to the right represents the hand claps, with the lined white sections representing the actual claps.  The black right angles represent the hi-hat clicking in the background and the yellow orange patch is the lower bass sounds.

It is far from an accurate representation of what I see. The details of the image in my mind are as complex and varied as the piece of music itself. If you listen to the song over and over (as with many songs) you’ll hear sounds you never noticed before, and with each new sound is an image I never noticed before. I truncated the image in order to create something compositionally cohesive, and my painting skills are no match for my synesthesia. But alas, I try.



As an intro to this new blog, I feel somewhat obliged to posit a focus for what sort of information and ramblings can be expected herein. But, knowing myself, I find it best not to have a focus. Instead, I am going to post a series about the banner image found above, and hope said series will suffice to initiate you into the absurdity of my mind (and the subsequent absurdity of anything I produce.)

Before the above image can be properly understood, one must understand synesthesia. You may have heard of it, but still many haven’t (for instance, my browser’s spell checker). Mostly because, well, it’s odd. And scientists don’t seem to have a proper understanding of what causes it.

In short, synesthesia is a cross-wiring or some sort in the brain that causes a link between senses. Some people taste shapes. Others hear colors. The associations are consistent within the individual, and have not been discovered to follow any sort of pattern.

I cannot talk with much certainty about any synesthesia other than my own, so I will stick to that. My synesthesia causes multiple color associations with various senses. Each letter of the alphabet is a specific color (sometimes two at once!). Each number. Shapes. Music. Other things are located in specific areas in space. The week starts to my right and ends to the left. I know what day it is based on how many days are to the right, versus how many days are to the left. And the future is ahead of me, the past behind. Upcoming events hover in front of me, and past events hover behind my back.

Yes, yes, it’s all very strange. (At least for you. I’m quite used to it. I have always perceived the world this way.) The strangest part, even for me, is that it is completely involuntary. If you tell me the number five is blue, I cringe. Such a claim is like finger nails on a chalk board. Five is simply black. I can’t justify that, but it is, to me, the truth.

So, what does this have to do with the image above? It is a painting I made of a song. The shapes and colors indicate what I see during a specific song. But, more about that next time.

(And if you don’t believe me): (No, I didn’t write that article.)