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Beyond Panpsychism : the radicality of phenomenology

Michel  Bitbol  
Archives  Husserl,  CNRS/ENS,  Paris,  France  
In:  Sangeetha  Menon,  Nithin  Nagaraj  &  V.  V.  Binoy  (Eds.),  Self,  Culture  
and  Consciousness,  Berlin  :  Springer,  2018,  p.  337-­‐356  

Abstract: A central presupposition of science is that objectivity is universal. Although
this presupposition is the basis of the success of scientific inquiry, it also creates a
blindspot in which the conscious knower/objectifier is hidden, ignored, or
surreptitiously objectified (which is tantamount to ignore it). Several strategies were
accordingly adopted in the West to overcome this induced ignorance. One of them is
Phenomenology, with its project of performing a complete suspension of judgments
(epochè) about the alleged objective world, and evaluating any claim of knowledge,
together with its activity of objectification, on the basis of lived experience. Another
one is panpsychist, or rather pan-experientialist metaphysics, that puts back lived
experience in the very domain that was deprived of it by the act of objectifying.
I will compare these approaches, thereby establishing a hierarchy of radicality
between avoiding the blindspot from the outset and compensating for it

Pure experience is beyond (or below) the level of being, and
has no essence, namely no property that would distinguish “it”
from anything else. It is lying at the blindspot of what there is
because it constitutes the precondition of anything that is, namely
of anything that may appear. It permeates the show without
showing itself. Realizing pure experience requires moving
backwards from the acts of perceiving or taking hold of
something, and merging with perceived appearance instead.
Realizing it requires not to see things from a particular location,
but just to dwell, to dwell here, in this element which has no
other location than being the centre. Realizing it means
cancelling realization, dissoving intentions, and letting the one
previsual eye wide open.
Conversely, sharpening perceptual differences, pushing
towards subtler instrumental differentiation, improving the
efficiency of handling by technology, increasing the precision of
discrimination by scientific theories, perpetuates the blindspot of
living and knowing. Something, which being no thing is all the


more easy to forget, remains in the dead angle of objective
knowledge; and no move forward can ever, in principle, account
for what has been left behind by this very push. No amount of
scientific effort can recover what has been lost by basing science
on narrowing down the field of attention, and focusing it on those
phenomenal items that can be pointed out and manipulated
intersubjectively (Bitbol 2014).
But science also has an important teaching in store about the
issue of lived experience. Indeed, scientific advances
progressively squeeze the domain of their own silent lived
precondition; they contrast this precondition with the network of
their objects and concepts, thus stripping it progressively of its
false characterizations. The background premise of perceiving,
reasoning, and knowing is found to be no entelechy, no “élan
vital”, no ghost-like soul, and no spirit; for the task of those
speculative entities has been carefully identified by scientific
research and ascribed to objective “mechanisms”. Even the
words “mind” and “consciousness”, which were supposed to
capture the residual enigma left in knowledge by objectification,
have been redefined in terms of blind cognitive functions. Mind
is understood as a system of information processing that allows
problem solving and decision making. As for consciousness, it is
torn between its original meaning which includes lived
experience, and a more abstract meaning that only encompasses
the functions of meta-cognition and synthesis of representations.
In this context, the famous distinction between access
consciousness and phenomenal consciousness (Block et al. 1999,
p. 375) aims at preserving some expressive space for what
escapes any characterization as a cognitive function of “access”:
the very fact that there are appearances or phenomena, the fact
that what is accessed manifests itself.
To sum up, scientific advances are correlated with a lexical
retreat. What escapes scientific characterization, what cannot be
treated as an objective property or entity, becomes increasingly
elusive, because any name which may be given to it is
confiscated and endowed with a cognitive meaning. With no


name and no method of selective handling, “this” is considered
(Cohen & Dennett 2011) as “outside the scope of science”
(which is correct), and thereby negligible (which is highly
The stakes of the search of a name for the elusive background
are then high; not, of course, to elaborate a self-contradicting
objective science of the pre-objective, but at least to avoid
neglecting the latter. To begin with, the word “consciousness”,
even when it is restricted to phenomenal consciousness, may
have unwanted connotations. Bertrand Russell (1921) pointed out
that consciousness is supposed to be intentional (to be
consciousness of some object), and that it can hardly encompass
non-intentional states like pleasure or anxiety, since the latter are
usually non-directional tonalities of experience. Moreover,
consciousness is usually associated with reflectivity, whereas
what we are trying to pick out is what comes prior to any
reflection because it is itself the material to be reflected. “Pure
experience”, borrowed from William James (1976, p. 117) and
his project of a radical empiricism, is a reasonable alternative,
and the one I have decided to retain throughout this article.
Indeed, James’ experience accommodates non-directional
tonalities, and it is said to be “pure” in view of its anticipating
any conceptual structure as well as any self-realization.
Moreover, James’ expression “pure experience” has been found
suitable by the Japanese philosopher and founder of the Kyôtô
school, Nishida Kitarô (1990, p. 3), as a valid expression of the
deconstructive way of Zen. Yet, the word “experience” (as any
other words that purports to refer to the referring) also has its
drawbacks. It irresistibly suggests that there is a single subject of
experience, be it a “thin”, non-permanent, occasional, subject
(Strawson 2006, p. 191). When the standard terms consciousness
and experience are used, the subject-object polarity is still
roaming around. An alternative lexicon has then been suggested
by authors who definitely lean towards panpsychism but are
reluctant to ascribe elementary entities the kind of elaborated
synthetic, reflective, and self-centered consciousness which we


William Clifford also used this term to designate a kind of subject-free experience (“sentitur is all that can be said”). situating it below the level of qualification. Herbert Feigl (1960) chose the neutral word “quality”. plain. 236) offered the word “feeling”. the tacit certainty as well as the objects of doubt and inquiry. even the mentalistic undertones of the panpsychist vocabulary was found misleading. p. If we wish to obtain a coherent and exhaustive framework in which to accommodate the manifestation as well as the manifest. after Peirce. Even Nishida Kitarô (1958) progressively abandoned the Jamesian expression “pure experience” in favor of a more idiosyncratic “place of absolute nothingness”. to capture the elusive proto-psychè. and that will be separated from this point. and Ken Wilber (2000) adopted the fascinating word “depth”. but immediately after. and names for some sort of “proto-psychic”. “Mind stuff” was then retained as a denomination of the simple. 84). p. (ii) Science prevents one from conceiving this hole as some occult entity or property that is formally similar to objective entities and properties yet (mysteriously) inaccessible to its methods. Accordingly. This kind of initiative can adopt two very different directions that were mixed up until now.find realized in human beings. Whitehead (1929. and that we still need a name for its “element” (Clifford 1879. some dramatic initiative must then be taken. Much later. At this point. which aims at denoting a process of self-hollowing out that gives perpetually renewed room to manifested beings. their alternative vocabulary relies on mass terms rather than on count terms. subject-free “feel” of which the universe is said to be made. The first one is tantamount to moving in the same “progressive” direction as scientific research. yet speculating in 4 . and “proto-mental” continuum were sought. it is clear that: (i) Science is leaving a gaping hole behind itself. he noticed that a feeling is usually a complex. a “hole” which is nothing else and nothing less than the most glaring evidence of our existence.

The two key arguments are: (1) “the phenomenon whose existence is more certain than the existence of anything else (is) experience” (Strawson 2006). 174). or “I am thinking therefore I exist” (Descartes 1985. p. Behind the logical pattern. 127). The first argument was expressed as a compelling deduction by Descartes (“I think therefore I am”. Bertrand Russell has expressed it beautifully. But such expression was deceitful in so far as its syllogistic form is utterly restrictive. in view of its radical heterogeneity to any standard physical property. Even Dennett and his followers. and from two crucial arguments among the many that are available to it (Skrbina 2005. which identifies with panpsychist metaphysics. and optionally that physical reality consists of interacting particles of matter (Nagel 1979). the archetypal opponents of the thesis of certainty. Panpsychist metaphysics starts from an assumption it shares with the naturalist view tacitly endorsed by scientists. have prudently retreated from (or nuanced) their initial assertion that conscious experience is somehow an illusion (Blackmore 2002). namely the experiential background out of which the world of manifest objects is picked out and constituted. this chief argument turns out to have momentous ontological consequences. and (2) there can be no “emergence” of a feature such as experience. “regressive” one. 250). I will document both directions in succession. as the most promising in terms of making global sense of our being-in-a-world. p.order to identify a missing ingredient construed as a further property of things. The second one consists in adopting the diametrically opposite direction of “regression” towards what Husserl called the “realm of the mothers of knowledge” (Husserl 1976. “progressive” one. and then defending the second. there is an immediate intuitive certainty (Nishida 1990) popping out from the obvious impossibility of living its negation (for living its negation would mean living the absence of living). p. starting with a critical exposition of the first. in terms that are reminiscent of William 5 . The shared assumption is that there is only one reality which is physical. In a metaphysical context.

Whether this almost unavoidable downgrading of the ambition of physics is compatible with the physicalist initial assumption of panpsychism will be examined later. but it is reasonably sound. 402). physical science is only concerned by indirect access to observables features and structural knowledge. intrinsic. Indeed. “There must be something about X and X alone in virtue of which Y emerges. he concludes that phenomenal consciousness is a unique case of 6 . He added that. This one is more difficult to shield against criticism. In his book entitled Physicalism or something near enough. but it looks like there is nothing in the physico-chemical description of atoms and molecules “in virtue of which” phenomenal consciousness should arise.Clifford’s construal of mental stuff as a basic constituant of the universe: “Everything that we know of (the world’s) intrinsic character is derived from the mental side” (Russell 1992. According to him. and which is sufficient for Y” (Strawson 2006). the expression “near enough” is meant to challenge a standard emergentist view of phenomenal consciousness. This obstacle was nilly-willy confirmed by a chief proponent of the emergentist thesis: Jaegwon Kim. due to limitations of our conceptual or perceptive abilities). Let’s come now to the no-emergence argument. direct. p. The emergence of (say) liquidity from an interaction of water molecules is relatively easy to account for by way of their Van der Waals interactions. The same conviction was later conveyed by Herbert Feigl (1960). by contrast with this first-hand. any other kind of knowledge is derivative and subject to doubt. we can access the world as it is in itself only by the direct acquaintance offered by lived experience (Griffin 1997). In other terms. the main proponent of the mind-brain identity theory. It has gained some credit from Galen Strawson’s stringent description of what emergence of unexpected macroscopic features out of the interaction of known microscopic features would require. after a lenghy reflection in which Kim documents several accepted cases of emergent features and categorizes them as “weakly emergent” (their emergent status being only apparent. access to what there is.

one is “experience”. which are compared with mathematical differentials. such as reflectivity. since it is truly. let alone to every unorganized aggregate of such entities. If one is not dogmatic about the postulate. some of which have already been evoked when the issue of the name of the missing element was addressed. Attempts at characterizing the elementary spark of phenomenal consciousness have been made by way of the standard correspondance between mentality and behavior. giving rise to the doctrinal denomination “pan- protopsychism”(Chalmers 2013). But this is only the verbal aspect of a systematic rush towards elementarity. In this gloomy situation (for emergentism). The same rush is still developing currently. more precise. Since the “pychè” of panpsychism usually encompasses too many advanced features of human mind. as a contribution to figuring out what should be the additional ingredient needed in order to overcome the emergentist’s obstacle. can be read as a combination of postulated emergence plus irreducible ignorance about the “in virtue of which” this should take place. the panpsychist strategy looks inviting. and necessarily unpredictable given the microscopic properties of physical elements (Kim 2005. Strong emergence. giving rise to “panexperientialism” (Nixon 2010). yet simple enough to avoid ascribing full-blown conscious minds to every minute physical entity. here. mental processing. which encompasses reflectivity. This new kind of property purports to be commensurable to what is missing in the physical picture of the world (namely phenomenal consciousness).. and opposed to the integral “aperception” of high-level monads. provided the concept of behavior is stretched far enough to encompass the law-like motion of elementary particles of physics 7 . ignorance is what is left. Another. absolutely. complex emotions etc. self-consciousness. 2006). The rush started with Leibniz’ “little perceptions” (Leibniz 1993) of simple monads. I amounts to broadening our concept of the physical by adding to it a new kind of property. The most uncommitted word is “protopsychism”.strong emergence. this word has been replaced by a variety of more fundamental terms.

which remains up to this day a stumbling block of panpsychism. From the latter characterizations of Whiteheadian process philosophy. The limit of this process of peeling any remnant of dualism from the protopsychic qualities can probably be found in the Whiteheadian concept of “actual occasion”. This means that the inert arises in the wake of the processual “occasions”. On the other hand. “subjectivity perishes and it becomes an object for subsequent subjects” (Griffin 1997). into a full consciousness: this is the well-known “combination problem” (Seager 1995. and Chalmers (2013) evoked something like “experiences without subjects” or “unsensed sensa”.(Lewtas 2013). yet sentient. patchy. the usual divide between subject and object can be recovered by a series of operations on actual occasions. an activity of realization which is “always a fusion of subject and object in the unified event of an experience” (Stenner 2008). On the one hand. Goff 2009). the stance of this (as of any other) speculative metaphysics is tacitly objectifying. any subject-dependance must be denied. “the subject creates itself through its feelings” (Stenner 2008). even when it purports to describe the onrise of an 8 . in it. and that the objectified domain is a stabilized residue of past experience. repetitive. several authors have convincingly argued that. external. one perceives a strong tension which spreads across the network of panpsychist doctrines. transient. non- representational. homogeneous. From that point on. A (non-trivial) task to be performed about this raw material is to understand how it can be added up. first-order (as opposed to the second-order thoughts of reflectivity). and on the other hand. Although this utterly simple modality of sentience is often conveniently presented in terms of what it is like to be the entity endowed with it. Nagel thus considered that pan-protopsychism should posit entities with no standpoint at all (Nagel 1979). fleeting. the basis and starting point of this family of doctrines is first-person experience. On the one hand. The bottom-level experience is then characterized as follows: devoid of structure and intelligence. or “integrated”. spectator-like.

since it tends to identify the sentient constituents of a nature with entities spread in front of the mental gaze. But the so-called “substance” has a recognizable physical model which is the events of special and general relativity theories (Whitehead 2004). Thus. in contradistinction with nature construed by the culturally dominant view as a horizon of description for objective sciences. Let us then make a closer examination of the main dilemmas of panpychism. Charles Hartshorne (1978) then aptly called Whitehead’s philosophy an “objective idealism”. A panpsychism of this kind looks like a baroque combination of idealism and physicalism. the panpsychist here claims that it consists in “feelings” or elementary experiences down to the lowest level of organization. At first sight. Indeed. according to Whitehead (1929). this is a pretence. who are even more explicit than Whitehead in their attempt to keep the description of feelings and sentience within the sphere of a physicalist doctrine and a realist epistemology (Griffin 1997). the substance of the world is made of a plurality of “actual occasions” whose content derives from lived experience (first side). In the same way as the materialist requires that the manifest universe be made of physical entities and properties up to the highest level of organization. which turns out not to be conceptually viable. To begin with.objectified domain from past experience: it surreptitiously objectifies the very process of objectification. its description (Whitehead 1929) thus tacitly implies that it be treated as an object of representation made of “real things” (second side). This general tendency to mixing up two very different sources of knowledge is confirmed by later proponents of process philosophy. the choice of starting from first- person experience is not consistently pursued throughout its doctrinal expressions. Yet. similar to the materialist one. unlike in 9 . the sought consistency is achieved by the demand of an ontological continuity in nature (Whitehead 1967). yet in terms of elementary experiences instead of physical properties. sentience is a concept isolated from the direct acquaintance of our own pre-objective experience. But actually.

By contrast. to isolate such properties in thought. as we know. This half-way position was beautifully and synthetically expressed by Galen Strawson: a panpsychist is likely to be a physicalist. and nature itself is construed as an all-encompassing object. Here. “depths” or elementary experiences. everything is categorized as an object of knowledge. and. or at least not to take it at face value since that would mean embracing materialism. the ontological continuity of panpsychism does not go together with existential continuity.materialism. But they are bound not to endorse all the consequences of a picture of the objective world derived from physics. a massive feature (the experiential non-thing) is forgotten or neglected as a consequence of this goal-oriented existential stance of materialism. True. the ontological continuity of panpsychism (experience all the way down the ladder of nature) relies on adopting two incompatible stances: (i) the receptive and reflective stance needed to realize that the unavoidable basis of any inquiry is lived experience. since she is precisely trying to complete her representation of nature with “feelings”. most of them claim to be physicalists. As mentioned previously. but this is the price to be payed for methodological unity and efficiency. 10 . despite her overt commitment to philosophical physicalism. or at least objectivists. In other terms. The ontological continuity (and homogeneity) reached by materialism arises from constant adoption of the existential stance of intentional directedness and search for objectification of phenomena. a panpsychist philosopher cannot restrict her ontology to the observable objective properties of actual physics. but not a physicS-alist. and (ii) the intentional directedness needed to pinpoint the elements of nature to which protopsychic/experiential properties are ascribed. The root-difficulty manifests itself in the ambivalent attitude of panpsychists towards physicalism. A host of difficulties derives from this existential discrepancy underpinning panpsychism. But this dissociation between an overt physicalism and a critique of the limitations of physics proves quite uneasy to handle. before that.

Panpsychism is then defined as the 11 . Indeed. by adhering to the somehow dubious ontological claims of its popularizers. One consequence of this unstable position is that there seems to be a free choice between many available representations of observable nature. both varieties of panpsychist seem to ignore that any such representation is likely not to be taken at face value. the majority of panpsychist physicalists adopt alternately a naïve attitude towards physics. A widespread proposition of this sort is borrowed from Neurath’s well-known characterization of physicalism (Neurath 1983): this doctrine is concerned by phenomena located and extended in space-time. a holistically inclined variety of panpsychist is likely to prefer the field-theoretic representation of quantum physics (or even of classical electromagnetism). Moreover. by using terms broad enough to avoid any explicit reference to physics as it stands. but use it as a vague inspiration for various plausible narratives about the objective world. by borrowing from the popular science expositions or from the history of this discipline. and a distant attitude towards the sound epistemological lessons that can be drawn from it. a mereologically inclined panpsychist may take advantage of a familiar mereologic view of objectified nature to prop up her doctrine. Accordingly. She may for instance establish a one-one correspondence between her atoms of sentience and the elementary particles of high-energy physics. By contrast. is that one must define the “physical” in abstracto. but rather as a picture-like tool for orienting predictions and actions (Bitbol 1996ab. In other terms. trying to figure out what it is like to be such a particle (Lewtas 2013). thus connecting the power of synthesis of consciousness with the continuum of a field. Van Fraassen 2010). There exist as many physical representations around as there are functions of consciousness. as a picture of nature-as-it-is-in- itself. standard panspychists do not take physics seriously in its day-to-day research and critique of old- fashioned ontologies. Another unwelcome consequence of the panpsychist combination of physicalism and distance with respect to physics.

it will not fit. by adding to it (or by replacing it with) patches of experience very similar to the patches of colour added on the surface of an uncoloured drawing. For anything that is made to enter this world model willy-nilly takes the form of scientific assertion of facts. Panpsychism is the unambiguous target of this criticism. when orthodox newtonians defended an absolutistic version of space. whereas Leibniz considered that space expresses the system of relations of (sentient) monads. As soon as this is done. 12 . “If one tries to put it in or on. and (ii) spatio-temporally located elements are endowed with protopsychical qualities. This conflict of two opposite conceptions of space. It was already vivid at the beginning of the eighteenth century. but certainly not from the standpoint of the receptive/reflective stance. It represents a clumsy attempt at overcompensating the consequences of adopting the intentional/objectifying stance needed to do science. who constrasted a transcendental realist and a transcendental idealist conception of space-time as “a priori forms of sensibility”. This may be acceptable from the standpoint of an intentional/objectivistic stance (Ruyer 2012). once lived experience has been left aside in order to elaborate an objective picture of the world. are supposed to arise from the structure and/or activity of experience taken as an ultimate origin. non-physicS-alist. in the latter stance. even the spatial oppositions of internal and external. right or left. The problem is that space-time here seems to be given the absolute status of a repository of those “external” entities and qualities whose “interiority” is protopsychical.position that holds that (i) “the universe is spatio-temporal in its fundamental nature” (Strawson 2006). we find that even the minimal. which is represented within each single monad. expression of physicalism is at odds with the allegedly experiental starting point of panpsychism. p. 149) cogently pointed out. higher or lower. Indeed. is no novelty. Here again. And the same conflict was brought to completion by Kant. as a child puts colour on his uncoloured painting copies. according to the epistemic stance one adopts. and as such it becomes wrong”. As Erwin Schrödinger (1986.

48) pointed out. From that point on. This does not make panpsychism plainly wrong. thus making sense of everything else (including science) from the standpoint of that stance. the appropriate form of “idealism is no metaphysical substruction. and renouncing the claim to truth in favour of lived certainty. If we now take one more step. but rather adopting systematically the receptive/reflective stance. by dropping the ego-centered vocabulary of Husserl. Borrowing bits and pieces from phycalism and attempting to bring them to completion by adding a first-person- like ingredient turns out to be a deadlock. apart from the unfortunate circumstance that its additional elements cannot be put to test as it would be the case of a scientific theory. p. that they have broken their own existential continuity in doing so. it becomes even more obvious that the 13 . it is no caricatural or metaphysical version of idealism: it does not consist in claiming that consciousness is all there is. panpsychists have so much focused on the project of recovering an ontological continuity in nature without forgetting its most obvious manifest feature. This strategy is phenomenological. But precisely for that reason. panpsychism proves unable to define adequate criteria of validity for its own claims. the way is open to a completely different strategy that would not only accommodate the glaring fact of lived experience.the new picture of the world looks like a scientific picture. As Husserl (2007. To recapitulate. but rather torn apart between its phenomenological origin and its temptation to mimick a theory of the objective world. Husserl’s phenomenology is no theoretical idealism. but the only possible and absolute truth of an ego recollecting itself on its own doings and its own donation of meaning”. As a consequence. and that this existential gap has generated a host of difficulties or conceptual conflicts. and it is clearly a descendent of transcendental idealism. in line with the initial intention of Kant and Husserl. but that would stick to it consistently throughout. but rather an attempt at describing faithfully a practical life developing within the experiential soil of ideas.

doctrinal “ism” of idealism is null and void. 2009). Here. Moreover. Adopting the phenomenological stance then has momentous consequences for the premises of the problem of consciousness. A large part of Kant’s philosophy was devoted to support this kind of interpretation of the physical theories of his time. rather than representationally. from the standpoint of a reflective phenomenological stance. in the course of cultivating the receptive/reflective stance. with the welcome consequence that many of the so-called “paradoxes” of quantum mechanics (such as the cat paradox and the “mystery” of non- locality) are dissolved from the outset by this move (Bitbol 2011). Bitbol et al. Far from having an empirical origin and a representational status. rather than in terms of what they capture of the nature of an allegedly independent world. physical theories are not concerned with representing the world as it is in itself. even the “ideal” component of idealism is no longer dominant. if. the structure of quantum theory (Bitbol 1998). we unfold all the dimensions of lived experience. It turns out that the advocated strategy is no doctrinal assertion about the nature of Being (ideal as opposed to spatio-temporal). it is natural to understand theories in terms of the mental and performative conditions for acting in the world. including the concrete manifestations of embodiment (in line with Maurice Merleau- Ponty and Michel Henry). A similar strategy can be adopted to understand reflectively. Let us further realize at this point that the epistemological lessons of modern physics (especially quantum physics) are perfectly consonant with the basic stance of phenomenology. but rather expressing the structure of a wide class of adaptative transformations in the world. Indeed. He thus showed that the structural core of Newtonian mechanics can be derived from the general preconditions of objective knowledge of spatio-temporal objects called material bodies (Kant 2004. but the uncompromising adoption of a way of being (phenomenological as opposed to “natural”). 14 . this structure is provided in advance by the project of objectifying a fraction of what is presented to us in sensible experience.

what is present from presence. since (from a phenomenological standpoint) those concepts are nothing more than byproducts of an enactive (Varela et al. if “physical” means falling into the domain of validity of physics. Upstream to this split. but before any observation and any theorizing has occurred. there is no 15 . Secondly. along with a phenomenological approach. or being encompassed by the concepts of a physical theory. there is appearance . and the (panpsychist) solution that consists in dispersing atoms of sentience in the spatio-temporal network of this world. there is more to the physical (namely to nature) than what a physics of observable objective properties can tell us . is latent but unassailable from the outset. the said “more” does not come after. no reason is left for sanctifying the “physical” of physicalism. it becomes even more obvious that no ontological status can be granted to it. adopting physicalism is tantamount to turning objects of perceptive attention and intentional directedness into intrisically existing beings. there is the presence. Or. If “physical” only means “observable in space-time”. the starting point of inquiry in experience is not only confirmed by phenomenology but also stabilized and systematically explored. The certainty that there is more to the manifest world than a set of objects of attention or thought. rather. antecendently to present items. with no indisputable experiential warrant in favour of this thesis. there is the show . Antecedently to what appears. from a phenomenological standpoint. it has been obvious ever since the mythical birth of reason. 1992) process of sense making applied to the bulk of what appears. and only in this “more” can the nucleus of lived evidence be accommodated. The problem of fitting lived experience into an empty and silent universe. And. By contrast. The basic slogan of panpsychism is thus completely overturned.Firstly. more accurately. only comes after an artificial split has been accepted within the continuum of what is lived. what is shown from its showing. according to panpsychists. antecendently to things that can be shown. We have seen that. it is meaningless to separate what appears from appearance. as mentioned above.

from the standpoint of their purely reflective attitude. and even less on a stretched concept of behaviour applied to the law- like motion of physical objects. Its typical question is then not “how does the whole of experience arises from experiential or protoexperiential sparks?”. Phenomenology is the reminder of this origin. including the objectifying one. but because it bases its enquiry on a “gestalt-psychologic” starting point: the present. as a consequence of the previous point. namely the problem of building a whole of synthetic experience out of a plurality of elements of experience dispersed in the world. there is the mystery of mysteries: why is there manifest presence rather than none ? This question and perplexity is even broader that Leibniz’ famous question as to why there is something rather than nothing. Upstream to this split. Many difficulties of panpsychism are automatically dispelled by adopting the phenomenological stance. Thirdly. Firstly. phenomenology is not underpinned by a couple of mutually exclusive positions or attitudes (the reflective and the objectifying) . Unlike panpsychism. thereby remaining inaccessible to the process of questioning and solving. to figure out indirectly what it 16 . phenomenology is not concerned by the “combination problem” of panpsychism. but lived. the method of phenomenology for accessing elementary experience is neither rational nor observational. experience of the researcher. Secondly. human. The difference between a problem and a mystery is that a problem is a target for future solutions. conversely. since the latter can still be (mis)understood in the narrow sense of “why are there things rather than no thing”. It bypasses this problem not because it has chosen to priviledge a holistic physical representation (as some versions of field-theoretical panpsychism do). phenomenology does not rely on behaviour. global.problem but only an ultimate mystery. whereas a true mystery is the unquestioned origin of any problem and any solution. phenomenologists rather understands the need and meaning of a plurality of attitudes. but rather. embodied. “how can one isolate something like the bare and elementary material of a presently given integrated experience?”.

it looks for an “oblique ontology” of intertwining (Saint-Aubert 2006). Tathatā in Sanskrit. of acquaintance . the issue of method. Fourthly.might be like to have a truly simple and transient experience. and trying to reach beneath it a deeper layer of pure presence. stripping it layer after layer of its perceptive or intellectual fabrications. an “endo-ontology” (Merleau-Ponty 1964. it uses a direct method of access that digs through our complex and cumulative kind of experience. p. culminating with the mere ability to see any present object or mental activity as a naked and unfathomable presence (this is the realization of “suchness”. 279). Nyoze in Japanese). which purported to reach the deepest layer of our experiential phylogenesis and ontogenesis (the oceanic feeling) at the far end of an intensive psychoanalytic cure. as mentioned previously. This method is called the epochè (suspension of judgment and attentional focusing). or. Instead. and even more poignantly by Sandor Ferenczi (1938) in his Thalassa. as Merleau-Ponty writes. Let us start with the third point. and it is assisted by successive “reductions” of what appears to strata of less and less elaborated structures of appearance. phenomenology adumbrates an ontology of immersion. This is an ontology expressed from the inmost recesses of the process of being. It can also be radicalized by practices of meditation of various types. From a phenomenological standpoint. This was already mentioned by Sigmund Freud (1921). Instead of looking for a distantiated ontology of observable objects (as in natural sciences) or an extension of such an ontology that encompasses conceivable atoms of experience (as in panpsychism). is the epochè. the ontological issue is not skipped by phenomenology but rather transformed beyond recognition. of connivance. practicing the epochè does not mean triggering some artificial mutation of the 17 . rather than an ontology of the external contemplation of beings. in his famous Gradiva. Accessing layers of experience from within looks like practicing archeology. The main tool phenomenologists use in order to carry out this kind of archeological digging.

p. But the phenomenological epochè is somehow different from the skeptic’s one. according to Husserl. The original epochè was practiced by the Greek skeptics. 171). the phenomenological epochè digs down to the pre-verbal spontaneous jugements by which our perceptive intentional directedness posits objects in front of us. Instead. It then radically neutralizes the tacit belief in a real external world. cultivating doubt. remarkably similar to the Sanskrit word “nirodha”. but rather to reach a state of neutrality. the new “pre-natural” domain to explore does not offer anything special to capture because it merges with the act of capturing. and thereby reaching “ataraxy” (inner peace). experience into an operative state of consciousness striving to acquire skills in the use of objects and in one’s adaptation to a social network. As soon as this process of suspension is brought to completion. We are bound to grope around. It rather means undoing a primordial mutation which (in our ontogenetic past) transformed a universally open. and its original acceptation is “cessation”. since it completely disrupts old habits. neither doubt nor faith. Indeed. and more profound. it means suspending judgment. who has just undergone surgery. we are likely to be completely disoriented. “We are initially in a situation which is akin to that of a person who was born blind. as soon as the epochè has been achieved. the phenomenologist is ready to redirect her attention towards the lived sources of beliefs and judgments. 18 .state of consciousness. and unfabricated. It does not imply to end up in doubt. and to 1 “Yogaś cittavŗittinirodhah” : “Yoga is the cessation of mental processes”. And it does not limit itself to suspending discursive judgments whose function is to qualify pre-existent objects of perception or thought. and is of an entirely unanticipated nature. But this new modality of attention is by no means easy to acquire. it is not categorizable in a unequivocal way because it includes the effort of categorizing. which is typical of the “natural” ontological attitude. and who must now literally learn to see” (Husserl 1972. which opens Patañjali’s Yogasûtra 1 . Then.

and sometimes in successive writings of a single author. and the subsequent phenomenological reduction. p. 39). Heidegger later generalized Husserl’s approach and attempted to disconnect it with any remnant of the concept of a subject. Pushing this de-subjectifying tendency one step further. Husserl considered that the epochè opens us to the much broader domain of transcendental consciousness. This is probably why the descriptions of what is left after each step of the epochè. be it a skeptical or reflective thesis. This new domain is immanent to the experiencer rather than transcendent with respect to her. can vary to a large extent from author to author. A (may be too) simple theoretical tool offered by Husserl to make sense of the regressive path that goes from elaborated consciousness to elementary experience. 187).make abundant use of half-deceptive analogies. is the distinctions he makes between: the (sensory) matter and the (pre-conceptual) form of experience. Thus. the epochè. amounts to avoid exclusive fascination by the manifest entities and realizing the brute fact that they are. that it merely opens the way towards what there is. in which we. namely the experienced material of successive phenomenological “reductions”. the hylè and the morphè. independently of any construction (Patočka 1995. as subjects. the noesis (flux of lived experience and thought) and the noema (structure of the 19 . Becoming able to do so means recognizing the “ontological difference” between beings and Being (between “Seiende” and “Sein” in German). once the naive belief in external objects has been suspended. recognize not only the sensory contents but also our own acts of intentional directedness and the so-called “noematic” forms by which the activity of defining and classifying objects is achieved. p. According to him (Heidegger 1984. as a set of natural objects would be. what is left is a field of sense-data. Although he was inspired by empiricism. He rather suggested that the epochè contents itself with freeing one from any thesis whatsoever. Jan Patočka denied the abstract characterization of the field disclosed by the epochè as “immanent” qua opposed to “transcendent”. according to classical empiricism.

even the assumption of transcendence of natural objects. Intentional consciousness is borne by non- intentional experience. or the experience of one’s own mental acts. even the interpretative layer made of intentional acts and noematic structures. According to him (Henry 1990. or the experience of abstract forms. be it the experience of an “external” object. “Original can only mean this: what comes in itself before any 20 . 339). In other terms. ultimately turns out to be nothing else than an experience of the self-affection of one’s flesh. Henry 2000. bracketed. after all. even the perception of a patch of colour on some “outer” object is underpinned by a self-perception of the perceiver. Michel Henry took advantage of the latter reflection to disrupt completely Husserl’s hylemorphism. any experience. 72). p. even the morphè is experienced as hylè. and even intentionality. but also the apprehensions which animate them” (Husserl 1950. neutralized in order to make the former component appear. and therefore the deepest layer of the archeological stratification of consciousness (the purest kind of experience) is nothing else than a naked self-sensitivity. p. One may then oppose: (i) the non-intentional hyletic and noetic components of consciousness that are immanent and represent what is left after experience has been stripped of its interpretative layers. But this simple (and immemorial) separation between matter and form is undermined when Husserl points out that. Then. must be (and is actually) rooted in the immanent impression that the flesh of the living being is making on itself. and (ii) the projected noematic intentional structures that have to be suspended. Russell’s examples of pleasure and pain are here taken as paradigmatic. not even the most abstract conception of a mathematical structure can dispense with being rooted in some concrete self-sensitive modality of the living.intentional object). the “pure” experience we are looking for by way of the epochè looks like it should identify to the hyletic part of the conscious process as opposed to the morphic (or formal) part. partakes of what is the case in pure experience: “What is lived includes in its real (reell) composition not only the hyletic moments (colours. sensory sounds).

This being granted. The first one is to be performed by opening our eyes and weakening progressively the tension towards identifying a variety of objects in the visible environment. Merleau-Ponty does not rely so much on discursive thought. and before the belief in a world.intentionality and independently of it. which would undertake to account for the latter impression in terms of the interaction of a number of natural objects belonging to the human body. p. It starts from the deepest layer of what we are. chosen to be as close as possible to everyday life (Abram 1997). and we realize something even more stunning than in Ernst Mach’s well-known “self-portrait”. is the non-directional impression of being there: the awareness of being embodied without any notion of the separation between one’s own body and anything else. the first move must be to identify the characteristics of what has been called the “experience of raw Being”. 82). unlike the naturalistic program. The Visible and the Invisible. In other terms. According to Merleau-Ponty. If we do so. and then tries to justify the belief in a natural world as a consequence of the multifarious differenciations of such primeval experience. 209). But once again. and our source of meaning” (Merleau-Ponty 1964. This phenomenological program was developed and radicalized in Merleau-Ponty’s last and posthumous book. the silent voice of the body whose psychological name is “cenesthesia”. which are in fact experiential experiments. as on some very straightforward “thought- experiments”. before the ‘outside oneself’ of which intentionality is only a name. We perceive distinctly that 21 . we cease to see ourselves as a bodily object in front of other objects. what comes before intentionality. before the space of a gaze. “we can accept a world … only after having witnessed its arising from our experience of raw Being. Let me give two examples of those experiential experiments. which is like the umbilical cord of our knowledge. foreign to any conceivable ‘world’. out of the world. p. the phenomenological program adopts the diametrically opposite stance. a-cosmic” (Henry 2000. In order to do so. what comes … before the world.

Then. homogeneous. and that this density is boundless. what is felt is an undifferenciated mass of sensation in an atmosphere of complete reversibility: one can hardly say if what is felt is the friction of the hand on the cloth. From a theoretical standpoint. Indeed. after having taken some of these things as an exclusive 22 . in view of this kind of experiential experiments. or the caress of the cloth on the hand. is to alleviate consciousness from the symmetrical belief in an ego able to posit itself firmly in front of things. The preliminary condition for this rebirth of a full-blown vision. 152). The discursive expression of what is experienced in such occurrences could be called radical situatedness. Then. extending far beyond our skin. p. The second experiential experiment is done with our eyes shut. but my vision arises from the middle of Being. rather than an ontology of the observer of beings. We are not point-like spectators of what is manifest. from a sort of hole of transparency which breaks through its dense impenetrability. and in fact there is no contrast between the two feelings. but we are a field of experiences which merges with what appears in a certain region of it. Being is not presented before me as an object of sight. and suspending judgments about the distinction between objects. as if it could be reduced to an object of perception and thought. progressively concentrating the attention on the sensation that arises from this contact. somewhere in the midst of it (Merleau-Ponty 1964.the seeing emerges from the midst of what is seen. but rather intimately intermingled with the said nature. from an experiential standpoint. this immediately gives rise to what has already been called an endo-ontology. we are not onlookers of a nature given out there. the way is open to realizing what is usually neglected due to educational prejudice. It consists in rubbing a cloth or a smooth stone. “Vision is the tool which allows me to be absent to myself. namely our true complicity with nature which has too hastily been isolated from us. an ontology of the participant in Being. and to contemplate from within the fission of Being” (Merleau-Ponty 1985). Here.

milder. what do we perceive exactly. Indeed. which. while this latter part of the body is also used to touch other things. From this point on. Merleau-Ponty turned triviality into a thrilling epics of being. and seeing from a certain hollow location of this body in the middle of the head. unlike distantiated vision. since it is jointly perceived and self-perceiving. But as soon as we have settled in this state of coincidence. As it is clear from the first experiential experiment we described above. p. but as the perceiver itself. We perceive our flesh not as something separate. Besides. the flesh is both seen as this (human) visible body.target of attention (Merleau-Ponty 1964. Phenomenology is this unique discipline that sharpens our sensitivity to trivial yet primeval facts of experience which are usually ignored due to our exclusive fascination for the objects of our possible study. one is no longer dealing with the fusion of standard perception and intrinsic self- perception. is synchronously appearance of what is touched and self-revelation of the touching in its carnal thickness. but with a duality of status and functions (toucher and touched) realized by one and the same body. He invited us to let go any ready-made 23 . But dazing triviality is precisely the subject matter of phenomenology. what is perceived through us? As a precursor of Michel Henry. only thus can one gain the patient and unbound sensitivity needed to know what it is like to be in continuity with the world. a self-perceived perceiver. 77). The flesh is that strange being endowed with complete reversibility. going far beyond what Michel Henry thought acceptable. or. Merleau-Ponty answers this question with a single word: our flesh. This first step of description of our own situation is almost trivial. Here. in so far as one can perceive by means of one part of one’s own body (say the left hand) the softness and resistance of some other part (say the right hand). The archetypal case of a two-faced kind of perception is the sense of touch. more exactly. it turns out that this second. the sense of touch also has a less organical way of revealing the twofold nature of the flesh. case of reversibility is also realized by vision. Now.

The whole surrounding world is then perceived as an extension of “my” flesh. the outcome is stunning. unbounded. “Where should we locate the boundary between the body and the world. especially its division into a plurality of bodies (mine and yours. instead of perceiving it through the glasses of our adult educated system of distinctions. Merleau-Ponty asks. Even the identification of the flesh to this precise body is bound to melt. to become fully receptive to experience as it is. p. opaque style of appearing. and it thereby becomes the flesh of the world. ours and the inert bodies etc. since the flesh is the whole world. but a single canvas wherefrom various self-individualizing centers of sensitivity emerge. He recommended. the world as flesh. since the process of self-definition and positing boundaries between bodies has been voluntarily suspended. and which had been extended to the own-body by the first Merleau-Ponty (who wrote the Phenomenology of Perception).objectified analysis of the world. with its undifferentiated. The role of constituting objectivity. There are no such things as “me”. Just as the flesh is self-perceiving. massive. which had been entrusted to the transcendental ego or consciousness by Husserl. 304). As soon as this is done. This conception of a self-objectifying world can be read as a turnabout of Michel Henry’s characterization of the “original” pure experience. 182). and which leaves patches of elementarity and half-obscurity between these centers (Barbaras 1993. But since the flesh is boundless. is further extended to whatever has the status of a flesh by the second Merleau-Ponty (who wrote The Visible and the Unvisible). in other terms. and accordingly not to project it onto our self-analysis of the flesh. the original experience is “out of the world” in the sense that it comes before any organization of what appears into a collection of objects ready to be reached and used. p. True (as Henry pointed out).). any division between the constituer of objectivity and the constituted objects is meaningless. the world qua flesh is self-objectifying. since the world is flesh?” (Merleau-Ponty 1964. and the world. “you”. but at the same time (according to 24 .

Then. and what remains is only a world-of-experience. and can be. not because it ignores it but because it purports to reach its fountainhead. writes a critic. This point of convergence is so deep and so striking that one is surprised to find a recent historian of panpsychism declaring that there is no equivalent of a panpsychist tendency to be seen anywhere in phenomenology (Skrbina 2005). panpsychism takes the ordered cosmos of reason and science for granted. one has turned off the mind. it appears that there is. As noticed previously.Merleau-Ponty) this original experience is the world-flesh still undifferenciated. and it then sticks on them sparklets of experience whose simple content is imagined by a kind of behaviourist extrapolation. as soon as this embodied experience is brought to (its own) light. and (re)discovering the world as experience. In other terms. experience suffuses what there is. any difference of nature between mental and mindless. It’s just the opposite. We can see at this point some similarities and a huge gap between panpsychism and Merleau-Ponty’s boundless phenomenology of the world-flesh. “(In the existentialist branch of phenomenology). It has been put 25 . neither external nor internal. To sum up. The usual distinction between experience and its worldly objects relaxes. Such fountainhead can be exhumed below the strata of perceptive and scientific interpretations. the difference is between gluing bits of experience onto an allegedly given “external” world. In both cases. In both cases. sentient and inert beings is denied. capable of objectification yet not objectified. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology is a strategy of extreme deconstruction of the cosmos of reason and science. and it turns out to be an unelaborate and unbound embodied experience of self-sensitivity. But it is also true that panpsychist approaches and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology use so deeply antagonic methodologies that the former similarity can easily be overridden. nothing else. By contrast. and painfully adds to it what looks missing in it. As Merleau-Ponty pointed out. panpsychist metaphysics starts its inquiry with the late byproduct of an effort to find centers of meaning for an adult activity and objective knowledge.

Here again. p. but in the narrower sense of “the nature of something”. this word only evokes the manifest and most spontaneously concrete thusness. a bunch of trees. there exists nothing like our Western Nature: a totality of Being exposed under the gaze of perception and reason. also means nature. p. This offers a good transition from phenomenology to another “archeological” strategy of digging below ordinary consciousness to unearth pure experience: the strategy of Zen. we are not a consciousness facing the world. but they can also be heard as audible evocations of gleams of presence. one would remain far from the sought pristine vividness of pure experience prior to any level of objectification. The same tendency is even more obvious in the term which is used in Japanese literature.everywhere. True. and the word shizen that was proposed at the end of the nineteenth century as a translation of “Nature” means “thus by itself” (Dôgen 2013. one could still think at this point that this concreteness is that of ordinary life. 233). Instead of the hidden essence and the abstract concept of a whole. the concreteness of presence is retained instead of the abstractness of conceptualization. but embodied mind. a river. but also calling forth of emptiness (of own-being). because we are not mind and body. or “mountains and water” (sansui). splitting into a plurality of beings. But beware: such opposition between the two kinds of experiences (primitive and elaborated) might still be a trace of the kind of duality Zen is trying to overcome. Mountains and water can be understood as names of objects. being-in- the-world” (Merleau-Ponty 1996. p. 92). Another Japanese word. If it were the case. and having an essence which unfolds by way of a law-like sequence of phenomena. They are not only designations of forms. at any rate. for nature as unspoilt environment: just “mountains and rivers”. This notion was not used in the Japanese culture. they are not only 26 . shô. with its pre-organization of the given into a collection of objects: a mountain. Of course. as expressed by Dôgen. and its Kanji ideogram is connected to that of a sprout born from earth (Dôgen 2013. 252). some grass. In Sôtô Zen.

p. in the selfless mode of engagement with our environment that is allowed by pre- conceptual experience. according to the stance of ordinary life. nature and experience just merge. it appears “transient like dew on the grass”. and the world is felt as a protraction of the body. but also summonings of their absolute present manifestation (Glassman 2002). It requires no elaborate sequence of thinking that starts with separating a knowing subject from the objectified nature. True. But then. also. Like in Merleau-Ponty. nature arises qua present pure experience. the locus of this deep connection between experience and nature is likely to be the body’s flesh. according to Nishida Kitarô’s philosophical reflection on Zen. they carry out both functions at the same time. p. in good agreement with the celebrated slogan of the Heart Sûtra: “Emptiness is form and form is emptiness”. These prescriptions pave the way for recognizing the world as one’s extended experienced body. “Seeing mountains and rivers is tantamount to seeing the nature of the enlightened one” (Dôgen 2007.denominations of items relative to an activity of categorization. Like in Merleau-Ponty. such as: “The mountain and water are the realization as presence of the way of elder enlightened beings” (Dôgen 2012. if. But the body is also the basic instrument we have to realize our thoroughgoing homogeneity with the experienced world. Indeed. in other terms the self’s body is phenomenologically extended to the whole world. the acceptation of the word “nature” becomes closer and closer to the acceptation of the word “experience”. This fusion of nature and pristine experience in a state of awakening is confirmed by many texts of Dôgen. but rather the cessation of effort. Here again. and prescriptions about the position of the body are therefore crucial components of Zen’s teachings. such recognition needs no effort. the body is considered as a separate entity. In the state of awakening (or enlightenment). 102). later discovers that a basic ingredient is missing in this 27 . 45). or the world-as- experience. “The world becomes the self’s body” (Krueger 2006). and the instruction is then to “cast off body and mind” (Tanahashi 1985).

but pure experience does not escape itself towards anything. p. with its ability to dissolve and regenerate categories moment after moment. with its fluid and porous boundaries. without purporting to establish relations between it and any past or future experience. “Thinking … is simply an incomplete state of pure experience” (Nishida 1990. 17). In particular. it just adheres to. nor does it turn down judgment or thought. as described by Nishida Kitarô. pure experience does not mean the world. with its flavour and outlines that are pregnant with a concept of world. it worlds so to speak (using the uncommon verb “to world”). reality is not a big object. it is just plain existence. p. after the work of categorization has cristallized again. This being granted. be called “the world”. it is not experience of the world. it is melted with the multifarious lived aspects of what can later. it just happens to be. 8). For. Experience is pure and monolithic.abstracted concept of nature. after all. Experience is “pure” in so far as it is free from discriminations. Pure experience does not turn down the world. free of any value judgment about them. pure experience is “devoid of meaning” (Nishida 1990. there is no duality between subject and object left. the world and the process of thinking. Starting to think is then caused by a feeling of incompleteness. what unfolds is “pure” experience. The only thing pure experience does not retain in thought is its basic incentive. and pursuing an ordered series of thoughts is an 28 . It just implies full acceptation of experience as it stands. or even identifies with. which is wanting and craving. because in the absence of discriminations within it. and even free of questioning about what they might be. Meaning is an impulsion of a present object called “sign” towards what it signifies. it is the concrete immediate reality of the world and thinking. It is meaningless because it rests in its own presence. free from any attempt of looking for the possible objective cause of its qualities. judgment is a connection between the present felt quality and other similar qualities experienced in the past. As soon as the effort is relaxed. and finally tries to compensate for it by reintroducing the appropriate features.

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