6.1. The Phenomenology of Reflection
This part of the discussion is fair to cast as the phenomenology of reflection. It aims to amass the kinds of observations that extremely simple reflective agents, as a matter of principal and with a minimal of preparation, can make on the ebb and flow of their own reflective acts. But this is not the kind of phenomenology that pretends it can bracket every assumption of a sophisticated or a theoretical nature off to one side of the observational picture, or thinks it can frame the description of reflection without the use of formal concepts, such as depend on the bracing and support of a technical language.
On the contrary, the brand of phenomenology being wielded here makes the explicit assumption that there are likely to be an untold number of implicit assumptions that contribute to and conspire in the framing of the picture to be observed, while it is precisely the job of reflective observation to detect the influence of these covertly acting assumptions. Further, this style of phenomenology is deliberately set free of prior constraints on the choice of descriptive devices, since it can appeal to any formal means or any technical language that serves to articulate the description of its subject.
Certain things need to be understood about the aims, the scope, and the self-imposed limits of this phenomenology, especially when it comes to the question of what it hopes to explain. It is not the task of this phenomenology to explain consciousness but only to describe its course. This it does by making an inventory of the “contents” that appear in consciousness and by delineating the relationships that appear among these contents. Along the way, it must take into account, of course, that each moment of taking stock and each moment of charting relations needs to have its resulting list or map, respectively, realized as the content of a particular moment of consciousness.
Already, this lone requirement of the descriptive task raises a host of questions about what it means for something to be counted as a content of consciousness, and it leads, according to my present lights and aims, to a closer examination of a critical relationship, the logical relation “content of”, taken abstractly and in general. Since it does not appear that very extensive lists or very detailed maps can be “wholly realized” as contents within a limited field of consciousness, it is necessary to recognize an extended sense of “realization”, where a list or a map can be “partially” or “effectively” realized in a content of consciousness if and when an indication, pointer, or sign of it is present in awareness.
In particular, this tack suggests that some things, that otherwise loom too large to fit within the frame of immediate awareness, can be treated as contents of consciousness, in the extended sense, if only an effective indication of them is present in awareness. For instance, an effective indication of a larger text is a sign that can be followed to the next, and this to the next, and so on, in a way that incrementally leads to a traversal of the whole. By extension, a list of contents of consciousness or a map of relations among these contents is “effectively realized” in a single content of consciousness if that content effectively points to it, and if the object to which it points has the structure of an object that pointedly reveals itself in time. Given the evidence of the sign and the effective analysis of its object, a manifest of contents can be prized for the sake of the items it enumerates or the estates it maps, with each in due proportion to their values. Both parts of this condition are needed, though, since knowing the name alone of a thing, even if it lends itself to knowing the thing, does not itself amount to knowing the thing itself.
The concepts with which a theory operates are not all objectivized in the field which that theory thematizes.
In short, my philosophical working hypothesis is concrete reflection, i.e., the cogito as mediated by the whole universe of signs.
|Paul Ricoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations, [Ric, 166, 170]|
This understanding of the task of phenomenology bears on three features of the approach to consciousness that I am charting here.
- It is under the heading of description, especially as qualified by the adjective effective, that the rationale of using mathematical models and the strategy of seeking computational implementations of these models can be found to successively fall.
- As a rule, I find it helps to avoid hypostatizing consciousness or self-awareness as statically constituted entities, but to use the systematic notions of dynamic agency and developing organization. However, in order to make connections with other approaches to phenomenology I need occasionally to mention concepts and even to make use of language that I would otherwise prefer to avoid.
- Finally, it is under the cumulative aims of effective description and systematic dynamics that the utility of sign relations is key. Sign relations are the minimal forms of models that are capable of compassing all that goes on in thinking along with whatever it is that thinking relates to in all the domains that it orients toward. The use of sign relations as models, as mathematical descriptions, and as computational simulations of what appears in reflecting on conduct is especially well suited to including in these models a description of what transpires in the conduct of reflection itself.