Thursday, May 17, 2012

Remember that Time Where Spock Does that Thing?

The title of this post probably doesn't illuminate much to many people, but I am thinking of the event at the end of The Wrath of Khan, in which Spock does a Vulcan memory trick thing with Bones -- he transfers his personality and memories to the good doctor, because he is going to sacrifice himself to save the ship (and the newly forming planet). Anyways, in the following movie, Spock is reborn on the planet, since there was crazy science stuff happening, and his memories are transferred back to him with crazy Vulcan mind stuff. The point is -- is he the same person? Are memories the constitution of a person? What role does memory play in personhood and in agency? These are some of the questions on which I want to reflect in this post.

But first, there is another example from Star Trek. The character of Dax on Deep Space Nine is also an exploration of personhood and memory. As a Trill, Jadzia Dax is the combination of host (Jadzia) and symbiont (Dax), who has lived through seven lifetimes accruing experience, personalities, and memories of seven different individuals. All these are still in play in its current symbiosis with Jadzia. During one episode, the different individuals are transformed to the consciousness of her friends, in order for Jadzia to meet the previous hosts of the Dax symbiont -- her previous selves. But what is transferred to her friends? The memories, which are the personalities of her previous hosts. Is memory necessary and sufficient for personhood?

To begin with the final question, it seems that memory is necessary for a thick personhood (compare Leonard Shelby from Memento for a thin personhood due to lack of memory). But to claim that it is sufficient for personhood seems to stretch the conception too far. Even in the Star Trek examples, the memories alone were not sufficient for the level of intentionality that is necessary for a person to be a person, but the memories had to acquire an embodied form -- Spock had to be transferred back to his new body; Jadzia's friends had to host the memories of the former Daxes.

The more complex questions from the first paragraph require a bit more reflection. Spock represents the closest re-embodiment and potentially the same person, but the transferred memories of the Dax hosts are merely contingent in their new hosts, being only there for a time, with the willing hosts being able to regain control at any time. The body of a person seems necessary to personhood and personal memory, as many memories are body-memories, muscle-memories, not necessarily residing in some sort of conscious experience.

As for memory and agency, the parenthetical reference above to Leonard Shelby seems to represent the best case-study. Leonard is a man out for revenge, trying to kill the man that killed his wife. But as is revealed in the movie, his quest seems to be more and more an eternal return of the same, a pattern without explicit intention, something that has possessed him and that he is not in possession of. I could give details, but the movie is well worth seeing, and these points would come across strongly enough without the need for spoilers here.

To close, I would say that these have just been a sort of free-flowing association for me, as I am working through this subject. I hope to return to this after I have read Henri Bergson's Matter and Memory, and offer all of you a more substantial analysis. But I can't promise that there won't be Star Trek references. Be ye warned!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Another Long Time...

Well, I guess that it's been a while again. I mean, not in the grand scheme of things, but in the time relative to the existence of this blog and the frequency of posts that are written and published.

There is big news: I finished. The first draft is finished, and I have received feedback. So, from now until 29 May I will be editing and honing in my arguments. This thesis is happening, and I am excited. Frankly, it will be interesting to edit such a long piece -- my promotor said to take it sentence by sentence, especially since I have to edit down 3000 words, in order to arrive at 20000, but at the same time, I have to lengthen a section. What does one do? Once more into the breach, I guess.

It's been a fun time with Aristotle, but I have realized that he is not my first philosophic love. It's okay, he know it. But I have a great respect for Aristotle, and I think I know see how he can be brought into the contemporary conversation more fully. I argued and would argue that it is possible through a phenomenological understanding of Aristotle on, at least, perception. Yes, he uses interesting terminology and structuring, but in the end, I do think that it is compatible with a phenomenological understanding of perception and motility. I would love to write another paper on the intersection of Aristotle and Merleau-Ponty on just this idea. Right now, the two are in tangential conversation in my thesis -- but there should be a way to force them to talk.

Anyways, I will make an honest effort at updating this more, but we will have to see what happens. I might just write random thoughts and questions. Which, I guess, is exactly what I have been doing...Yep, that is exactly what I have been doing. At least, I am consistent in not following a plan...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Socratic/Platonic Quote!

"SOCRATES: 'Well, the name 'Hermes' seems to have something to do with speech: he is the interpreter (hermĂȘneus), a messenger, a thief and a deceiver in words, a wheeler-dealer--and all these activities involve the power of speech.'"

Well, I guess that that is where we get 'Hermeneutics.' Pretty awesome stuff, Socrates.

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Definition, More Frustration

I know it's been awhile, but not as long as some of my other absences! I'll break things down for you (me) regarding classes and thesis (including two reading notes). It's been pretty interesting. I'll also include some personal thoughts about life and stuff. I know, I know. I'm going outside the prescribed bounds. Sorry.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Things are progressing here. And I am not just talking about the thesis, but I am talking about that too! I mean in each area of concern to me, things are moving forward! We got couches, my fellowship stipend should be coming in soon, my books are on their way, wedding details are coming together, reading is going well, and I think I may have found my argument for the thesis.

Aristotle and I might have to fight...
In general, flesh and the tongue are related to the organs of touch and taste, as air and water are to those of sight, hearing, and smell. Hence in neither the one case nor the other can there be any perception of an object if it is placed immediately upon the organ, e.g. if a white object is placed on the surface of the eye. This again shows that what has the power of perceiving the tangible is seated inside. Only so would there be a complete analogy with all the other senses. In their case if your lace the object on the organ it is not perceived, here if you place it on the flesh it is perceived; therefore the flesh is the medium of touch. (423b 18-26)
 So, in the passage above Aristotle concedes his first claim that flesh is the sense-organ of touch (423a 15-17: if we take 'body' to represent the whole organism, making the faculty of touch commensurate with the body, melding sense-organ and medium). Instead of taking the flesh to be the organ, he claims that it is seated inside; in fact, in other writings, he claims it is next to the heart. But this argument seems a little ad hoc to me -- touch must be analogous to the other senses, therefore the sense-organ and medium must be distinct entities. Perhaps, I am being a little unfair to Aristotle here, but I want to argue in my thesis for what seems to be his original claim: touch is a unique sense in which the sense-organ and the medium are one and the same. With that being said, I will have to develop why this structure works in other senses and why it doesn't have to apply to the sense of touch. In other words, why is touch unique?

Why this project? Well, I have been fascinated by a phenomenology of exposure for a while now, and it would be an interesting project to be able to develop a view of touch that does explicitly regard expose as its primary essence -- flesh, the organ, is out there. It is exposed. Even in having a medium, the sense of exposure is present for Aristotle, and he makes all animal life dependent on the sense of touch. But I think that in mediating the sense-organ and the object, a double distance is created that acts that a wedge in later philosophies. Meaning the immediacy that is interrupted by posing an internal organ could be further interrupted by posing that the body doesn't sense at all -- it is even further inward: the mind only perceives! Perhaps a slippery slope argument, but one that has played out. It may be my own reaction to the digital age of disembodiment, but I strongly react against dualistic notions or potential dualistic notions. This is something that may have to be reigned in to a degree, but for now it is motivating.

Anyways, I will keep whoever is reading this informed or just continue to work out these crazy and ridiculous thoughts of mine in a digital space (I do appreciate the irony). Peace!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The First Aristotle Articles

Bust of Aristotle. Isn't he great? That beard...

Well, this will be my first post regarding my project explicitly. I read and will be responding to two different articles. The first will be Myles Burnyeat's "De anima II 5." This article was first published in Phronesis, 47, 2002, p. 28-90. The second article is Rebecca Steiner Goldner's "Touch and Flesh in Aristotle's de Anima," published in Epoche: A Journal for the History of Philosophy, Spring, 2011, Vol.15(2), p.435-446. Lastly, Thomas K. Johansen's essay, "What's New in the De Sensu? The Place of the De Sensu in Aristotle's Psychology," found in Common to Body and Soul," edited by RAH King, published by Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 2006, p. 140-164. Under each article heading, in text references will be given by page number, unless another author is indicated. Again, with those pleasantries out of the way, I begin.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Average Days

I will be honest: graduate school is a job. Yesterday I studied/read for eight hours. Maybe more. I should really keep track of these things. And Thursday was a very similar experience. And today probably will be too. Eight hours, but I feel it should be more. I am neck deep into some of my classes -- and the thesis. But as they say, no pain, no gain. As my Latin teacher once said, frustration is the stupid leaving the brain. Well, there's to hoping he was right, which he probably was, let's be honest -- the guy knew Latin.

So, about yesterday. I read. And then I kept reading. And all the while I wrote marginalia. And then I studied German and a little bit of Dutch. Ich das blog lesen. Seriously. And you should too! Anyways...

I do want to reflect on my project here for a second, because I've read two hefty articles recently that are beginning to illuminate more aspects of what this year will look like. One of the articles claimed and defended the notion that the de Anima is the psychological outworking of Aristotle's physics. He links the two explicitly through the fields of perception (anachronistic applied to Aristotle; Aristotle would just say perception or sense-organs). So, what that means is for is that I have to become familiar with Aristotle's Physics, his Metaphysics, and some of his smaller works like On Generation and Corruption, and On the Movement of Animals. All of this to look at a chapter or two in the de Anima, since it is a movement from his older philosophy into a new unexplored realm. So, Aristotle, my friend, try your best, but I will be reading your corpus this year. In fact, it is sitting on my desk right now...

Off to read, or something. Peace.