lunes, 13 de junio de 2016

The hand as the generating root of human knowledge

     In what follows we will attempt to apply the new operatiological philosophical procedures to which we referred in a previous article ("For a refundation of the positivist Philosophy" (21-11-2012) published in this Blog), in order to come closer to a strictly philosophical comprehension of human knowledge. Already Kant considered the problem of finding a bridge that would allow him to overcome the dualism of Aristotelean origin between sensible natural (phenomenal) and the intelligible moral (noumenal) knowledge. He even wrote in the Critique of Judgement about an unknown common root that would permit to connect both the phenomenal and the noumenal worlds. But the task to find such a common root would begin to be solved by his immediate successors, Reinhold and Fichte. The first, formulated the so-called Principle of Consciousness (Satz von Bewusstsein) understood as an empirical fact from which he defined, based on conscious Representation, the relation between (phenomenal) subjective and the (noumenal) objective representations of reality. Fichte understood such Principle of Consciousness, not as an empirical fact, but as an act-fact (Tathandlung), reconstructing human knowledge with his famous Three Principles. Fichte's great discovery was to relate the Kantian a priori forms with the actions of the subject, privileging the so-called “active side” of knowledge that Kant introduced against the “passive side”, which he subordinated to sensations.

     Such an “activist” or dynamical conception of knowledge that is opposed to “empiricism” as well as to “innatism”, will arrive to Piaget through a tradition of nineteenth-century French philosophy that goes from Maine de Biran to Bergson, through Felix de Ravaisson, very influenced by Fichte and Schelling. Such a tradition puts the essence of knowledge in action as a reaction against Condillac's empiricist “sensism”. However, Piaget positions himself far from the “spiritualist positivism”, moved by the behaviorist turn of the scientific psychology in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, against Watson's and Skinner's American Behaviorism, he inserts between the Stimulus and the Response the Operatory Subject, understood now, not as the Kantian Consciousness, but rather as a biological Organism, therefore, given in a milieu in which it is capable of evolutionarily adapting, assimilating and accommodating itself to it. In harmony with the Kantian Primacy of Practical Reason, knowledge is seen by Piaget as an instrument more for the evolutive adaptation, which maintains a logic in continuity with other biological adaptive mechanisms, such as the logic of instinctive devices or that of “neuronal circuits”.

     However, maybe what has been most characteristic of Piaget is his genetic and dialectical-positive approach in the explanation of knowledge. Such an approach rises from the need of finding, not so much an ultimate cause for knowledge (God, sensations, consciousness, etc.), but rather of explaining the laws and structures of its functioning. A way of observing scientifically and positively how such structures generate and change is to observe how the increase of knowledge is produced in children. This is on what Piaget focused during his long life as a researcher. His discoveries and explanations of the Stages of Knowledge are nowadays well-known. What we intend here is to exploit its philosophical sense. In this case, more concretely, we will sketch a vision, which we believe to be new, of human knowledge as a whole using the “Plotinean” conception of the philosophical essences of Gustavo Bueno, in the same ways as we presented it in a previous article (“Fenomenología y Operatología” also in this Blog). According to such conception, the traditional Platonic/Aristotelic Essences, fixed and eternal, must be considered as mobile and evolutionarily temporal, in the sense in which Plotinus said that “One might refer to the family of the Heraclids as a unity in the sense, not of a common element in all its members, but of a common origin” (Enneads, VI, 1,3). This way, it is necessary to fix, following the novel Buenist conception of essences which we presented in a precious article, the “origin” or Nucleus from which the Essence of knowledge comes from, the Course or development which follows and the Body which it generates.

     In Piaget, as in Fichte, the Essence of knowledge is action. But the Nucleus from which such knowledge takes off or streams is not interior or “mental” conscious action, nor is it the sensations coming from the external objects, but rather the unconscious actions, in the sense of pre-linguistic, of very determinate corporal organs such as the mouth, the feet and the hands, during the first months of a baby. This is common to the rest of mammal animals, but unlike those closest to us, such as chimpanzees, what distances us from them ontogenetically is of course a superior brain, but phylogenetically it is our much more skillful hands, as Frank R. Wilson has pointed up in the recent years in his splendid book: The Hand: How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture (Vintage, 1998). For this reason we must consider now that the nucleus or generating root of human knowledge dwells in something so disregarded by classical theories of knowledge as the hands. Two great figures of the twentieth century, Piaget and Heidegger with his conception of the “ready-to-hand” (Zuhandenheit), have rescued from traditional oblivion the essential and primordial role of the hands in our relation to the world. Piaget himself points out to the handling of objects in children as the origin of the intentional knowledge that aims at objects through mediating actions as simple as dragging a carpet when a child wants to reach a distant object. In such a sense the locus of operatory actions and abilities proper to human intelligence is the hands.

     Such abilities, according to Piaget, go through a Course or variational development of the manipulatory operatory possibilities covered by the famous evolutive Three Stages: the Sensory-Motor, that of Material Operations and that of Formal Operations. In the first the child constructs through her actions the basic operatory categories and structures of intelligence: that of Substance (Permanent Object), of Cause, of Space and of Time. In the Stage of Material Operations, the child knows the physical objects themselves by constructing with them classes, series and means, qualitatively and quantitatively. In the third Stage, that of Formal Operations, the child reaches knowledge of Necessity, Possibility, etc., through abstract combinations of symbols by means of which purely formal relations are established, which, as in the deduction of geometrical theorems, are achieved after a process of elimination and neutralization through algebraic “closures” of the operations or intermediate steps. In this sense, such course acquires a character which we can call dialectical, in so far as it tends at its end to a negation or neutralization of that which is essential to human knowledge, of the actions or operations in the consecution of the ultimate equations or identities, as scientific truths that allow us to have a firm knowledge of reality. Furthermore, such dialectic leads to the final reduction of the rich originary actions and operations to manipulation of symbols through writing, the “mind”, the pressing of keys on a computer or the buttons of a console, matter of growing concern among pedagogues because of the abandonment on the part of children of traditional games, substituted from a corporal point of view, by the mere compulsively pushing buttons.

     However the essential Course is developed, according to G. Bueno, through a Body, a “crust” or external medium which surrounds it and which keeps growing through cumulative layers. The crust that surrounds the child in her learning is formed by three different educational institutions: the household (or kindergarden), in the First Stage; the School from six year olds up, in the Second Stage; in the Secondary Education Centre from eleven year olds to fourteen year olds, in the Third Stage, at which Piaget considers that, on average, the maturity of human intelligence is reached.

     Complementarily, we should consider, in order to have not only an ontogenetic understanding of knowledge, but also phylogenetic, the knowledge that evolutionist anthropology provides us with. This is a task that Piaget also considered himself in his beginnings, as he expresses in a interview ( J.C. Bringuier, Conversations with Piaget, Chicago, 1980), but that he did not undertake because of the lack of paleoanthropological knowledge of his time. Today, such knowledge has abundantly increased, making such task much more feasible. In the first place, the originary cause of the properly human has been established, his greater capacity in intelligent behavior, in respect to other animals, in the appearance of distinguishing features such as bipedestation, the exempt hand, the increase of the brain's size, the articulate language, the socialization through characteristic institutions, etc. All of this would result in the appearance of technical inventions that, although with precedents in other animal species, they would have acquired, starting from the so-called homo habilis two million years ago, a transcendental importance, because of their consequences, in the struggle for evolutive life, such as is the gradual control over the natural environment together with the increasing growth and expansion of the population around the terrestrial globe.

     This increase in human intelligence was successfully put in relation with the appearance, not only of the exempt hand, but also of the extremely skilled hand in comparison to the hands of apes, which was the case of the famous australopithecus Lucy and her hand which had a grip ability unprecedented in previous species of apes and hominids, and was equivalent to that of a baseball pitcher. Furthermore, language would have appeared first as a gesturally articulated language, before that it did vocally, which gives again a central interest to the hands in so far as it is the human organ, excluding the pharynx – whose vocal tract took longer time to develop into a sound articulatory capability –, with more possibilities of undertaking complicated symbolic operations, as the present language of deaf people shows. In such a sense it has been remembered the saying credited by Aristotle to the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras, that “the man is the most intelligent of living beings because it has hands”. Aristotle accepted the phrase, but he interpreted it in a different sense by deriving the superiority of the human hand from the existence of a more developed brain. Hence the forgetfulness, in the ulterior philosophical tradition dominated by Aristotelianism, of the essential role that Anaxagoras gave to the hands. Role which only began to emerge again thanks to evolutionary Anthropology, which finally attributes the growth and progressive configuration of the human brain, that clearly takes off with the homo habilis, essentially to the exempt and extremely skilled hand for the ulterior struggle for existence.

     In such sense, we can claim, now from a phylogenetic standpoint, that manual activity is, as in the case of ontogenesis, the generating differentiating nucleus of human intelligence, in this case of technic, that would essentially distance the human species from the rest. The development of this new ability or technical capacity of the hominids would follow a course which has being theorized in various ways in the twentieth century, with the works of Childe, Munford, etc. and, specially, after the interest shown by philosophy in the “essence” of technic, as in Heidegger or Ortega y Gasset. The latter proposes to distinguish, in Meditación de la técnica (1939), three phases in its historical development: the “technic of chance” (técnica del azar) which corresponds to casual inventions, such as fire, made by societies in a savage estate, underdeveloped in regard to the division of labor; the “technic of the craftsman” (técnica del artesano), which appears in societies with a division of labor in professions and crafts, and a large production of instruments; the “technic of the technician” (técnica del técnico), which would be derived from the sciences and involves machines based on scientific theories. Accordingly, the development of technic, after going through the phase of the “technic of chance”, and through that of the “technic of the craftsman”, would lead, in a third phase, to the appearance of science and the posterior “technic of the technician”.

     The emergence of science occurred, as it is generally acknowledged, with Greek Geometry, which was constituted on the base of technical knowledge coming from surveying, measurement techniques of fields developed especially by the Egyptians. The Greeks, from Thales of Miletus, developed demonstration procedures though purely symbolic operations about spatial relations that culminated in Theorems, which were expression of truths independent of experience. Such truths were obtained through a deductive process, algebraically “closed”, in which subjectual operations were eliminated or neutralized, as G. Bueno claims, in order to obtain equations that expressed universal and necessary relations between objects. Thereby the “secure path of science”, to which Kant referred when talking about Newton, was reached for the first time in the History of Humanity. But such course of human knowledge (technic, crafts, science) has been covering itself, in its development, of a crust which respectively corresponds with the institution of the wizard-sorcerer in savage societies, the craftsman workshop in the second phase and the School of Pythagoras or the scientific Academies in the third.

     Finally, science itself must be considered from a perspective of purely “internal” development, that is, independently of individual and social pressures or needs; it has to be addressed in a manner which has been, since Kant, called “transcendental”, that is, in a way that addresses the proper “internal” conditions of possibility for its development. In such sense, the Theories of Science appears, after Kant, with Saint-Simon's and Comte's positivism, who propose a reflexion about the “positive” methods of the sciences and to order and classify them, They also propose an originary nucleus of the sciences. Comte refers to the Cartesian metaphor of the tree of knowledge, whereby the sciences are branches that derive from the metaphysical philosophical trunk. In turn, Metaphysics would derive from the originary religious mentality of Humanity, according to the law of the Three Stages. But, today we know that the sciences do not derive from Philosophy, but rather from technics which they in turn improve (Geometry derives form land surveying (Agrimensura), etc.). On the contrary, we could also say that Philosophy itself emerged in Greece from the reflexion about Geometry (Plato). Philosophy, as Positive Philosophy, doesn't appear until the “positive” and not purely rational sciences, such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology, are constituted in the modern world, precisely in Comte's period. In such sense, what follows science is not properly scientific knowledge, which is in its nature specialized, multiple and particular, but rather Positive Philosophy, which is the proper occupation of positive philosophers, named by Comte “specialists in generalities.”

     Each science has, therefore, a particular technique or generating nucleus of its own. But, if we consider that which essentially characterizes scientificity, as a new form of knowledge essentially characterized by a categorized and algebraically “closed” demonstration form constituted by the “theorems”, according to Gustavo Bueno ( ¿Que es la ciencia?, Pentalfa, Oviedo, 1995, p. 68 s.s. There is an English translation in Gustavo Bueno, Sciences as Categorical closures, Pentalfa Oviedo, 2013), then the generating nucleus of the gnoseological figure of the “theorem”, is the Greek Geometry of Tales, Pythagoras, etc. The first objective scientific truths were created in it, although purely “formal”, under the figure of identities and equations such as Pythagoras's Theorem, “a2 +b2= c2”, as the result of a construction, which Bueno calls alpha-operatory (alfa-operatoria), in which an objective and valid truth for all right triangles is obtained as a necessary result, after the elimination or neutralization of the purely subjectual operations of the mathematician. Geometry constituted itself, then, as a “formal” model of scientificity which marks the first development of the course that the constitution of the sciences will follow. The second moment of such course doesn't take place until the so-called scientific Revolution of the Renaissance, when the physical sciences begin to be constituted. In this case, the novelty consists in that the alpha-operatory constructions extend themselves to physical, material entities, such as planets (Kepler's Laws), or projectiles (parabolic trajectories of projectiles in Galileo). Such a demonstrative model will extend itself to Chemistry in the eighteenth century. A third phase in the course of scientificity takes place with the emergence of the biological and human sciences, in which, nevertheless, due to the presence in their fields of subjects whose operational trajectories are unpredictable, they pose a serious limitation to the possibility of closed alpha-operatory constructions, which at most can reach a form of statistical, functional structuralist or purely conditional (Game Theory) probability, just like it happens with social or historical laws. Such Human and Ethological Sciences, as they are usually called, tend to move themselves principally in what G. Bueno calls beta-operatory methodology, in which the subjectual operations are not only not eliminated in the results, but they are demanded by this results in so far as they are planes, projects, decisions, etc., without which the results themselves would not be comprehensible. In such sense scientificity degenerates here in technologies or praxeologies, as it occurs with Jurisprudence, Ethics or economical Politics. Thereby the snake of knowledge bites its tail, in a sort of return to its initial conditions.

     This way the great circle in which knowledge moves and evolves is transcendentally closed. A circle that puts transcendental limits, in the Kantian sense, to so many futurist dreams of which scientist themselves are often the victims because they don't have a well founded Idea of scientificity, even though they put it into practice in an admirable way. A circle that we, nevertheless, cannot consider as “vicious”, but rather as completely virtuous, for it is thanks to it that our knowledge has advanced and advances more each time, even within the basic anthropological-transcendental limits, those principally marked by our humble upper extremities, the hands, that far from disappearing, appear as necessary and indispensable in order to understand those sciences which appeared the last, but which Comte himself considered to be the first because of the higher dignity of their objects, human beings themselves.

Manuel F. Lorenzo, Meditaciones fichteanas, Logos Verlag, Berlin, 2014, p.p. 73-81.

(English translation by Luis Fernández Ponton, University of Copenhagen)

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