Physics And Chemistry–The “Stuff” Of The Aesthetic Continuum–End Conversation In Thin Air

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Sense Perception Connects Us Up To A World That Changes With Our Knowledge Of It

“Shit, Tony, have we been in the same conversation?” Stan exclaimed. “Okay, forget feelings, forget God. Let’s talk science. Specifically, let’s talk about the color blue. Are you saying, Tony, that the wavelength designation of blue light, approximately 475 nanometers, is really the blue color of the sky?”

“It’s not the number, it’s the radiation acting on the cones in the eye that gives us the color blue,” responded Tony.

We’re talking about two different things here,” said Stan. “We’re talking about concepts by postulation and concepts by inspection—about knowing and seeing. The color blue is the stuff that confirms the theory. It is as ‘real’ as the number that identifies its wavelength, but it is different than that number.”

“Oh yeah, well what about a person who is colorblind,” Tony replied. “He sees the same wavelength as you or I, but not the same color.”

“So what,” said Stan. “In that instance the color observed is not an intrinsic property of the sky. It’s a function of the defective rods and cones in the eyeball. No, the ‘aesthetic stuff’ of our perceptual field is real; it’s just that, as Noel says, it changes with our knowledge of it.”

“There’s no point in arguing that one,” responded Noel, “that was Cassirer’s point exactly. Sense perception signifies real stuff—the ‘stuff’ that physics and chemistry measures and transforms. It is not possible to eliminate the subjective element from the sciences. The intellectual operations that ‘objectively’ define the independent properties of things are themselves based on perspective—a relation holding between relatively narrower spheres of our experience of things. There will always be a relation of perspective that conditions our knowledge of things. In truth, all intellectual operations are based on objectively necessary relations that hold for our knowledge of these relations and our knowledge of the world that this knowledge connects us up with. And, all that happens in the real world, not in some creatively imagined, divinely anchored, process reality.”

“We’re not talking about God anymore,” said Stan. “We’re not even talking about Whitehead. We’re talking about F. S. Northrop’s philosophy now.”

“Well, excuse me. I must have been dozing when we made the switch,” Noel responded.

“Northrop’s philosophy is not as complicated,” said Stan. “There’s no God, just the emotional, aesthetic, purely empirical, stuff of immediacy, and the syntactically formulated, postulationally prescribed theories that designate that stuff.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Tony replied, “and now it is my turn to bid you fine fellows ado. And, like my friend Peter before me, I want to thank you all for making my sleeping bag look so delicious. Goodnight.”

“What, you don’t want to hear about Northrop? He’s got some really interesting ideas. His insights speak directly to what we’re talking about.”

“As that philosophical cowboy, Kenny Rogers, likes to sing: ‘You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em,” replied Noel. “Actually, I think its time for me to call it a night too. See you with the sun. Errr, scratch that. See you when I see ya.”

“Well it looks like it’s just you and me kid, or are you calling it a night, too,” said Stan.

“Northrop was another one of my philosophy teacher’s favorite people, but I don’t remember much about him,” I replied.

“Gee, your teacher was doing some interesting work. What was his name anyway?”

“John Gill,” I said.

“Never heard of him. What university did you go to?”

Central Michigan University,” I replied.

“Never heard of that university, either. It’s not a Big Ten school, eh,” said Stan.

“What about Northrop,” I said, “Tell me what he believed?”

“Sure kid,” replied Stan. “But it’s getting late. Anyway, he was, like Whitehead before him, full of ideas on how to make everything fit together. He divided nature up into what he called the differentiated aesthetic continuum and the undifferentiated aesthetic continuum. Northrop’s big thing was bringing Eastern ideas together with Western ideas. His hope was that opposing political ideologies would become less combative once the contradictions in their respective agendas got resolved. In the East, the differentiated aesthetic continuum is valued for its own sake, while in the West its value is reduced to the signs that confirm our scientific knowledge of it. According to Northrop, because of the confusing relationship that exists between the aesthetic continuum and our knowledge of it, ‘ideas of the good’ are different for different cultures. In a nutshell, Northrop argued that if we could only agree on the relationship that exists between the aesthetic continuum and our knowledge of it, world tensions would defuse. That’s a pretty tall order for anybody. Unfortunately, not much has changed. I guess there’s no simple answer to complex problems. Well, that’s about it. I feel my sleeping bag calling me. Are you staying up?”

“For a little while,” I said. “I’m not tired yet.”

“Goodnight then; I’d be throwing another log on that fire if I were you,” replied Stan. “See you in the morning.”


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