Sunday, October 21, 2012

New England Transcendentalism II: from the "Transcendtal Perspective" to "Transcendental Idealism"

This goes along with the post previous to this one with Ralph Waldo Emerson in its title. There, I talked briefly about Kant's "Transcendental Perspective", which is cognition looking at itself from the point of view of the mind as the intermediary between exterior experience, on the one hand, and biological processes, on the other. Because the mind is in between these two, and we have the capacity to think, we have a much different perspective on life than many of the other objects that we see in our world. But how do you get from a "Transcendental Perspective" to "Transcendental Idealism"?

The way is, while not necessarily simple, at least clear: the Idealists, following Kant, appreciated the unique perspective that possessing cognition gives, as well as the limitations of perceiving the world through these lenses of perception. We can only see what our cognition has processed from raw sense data, never the things in themselves, and instruments that extend our range of perception are ultimately limited by their data having to be interpreted by human beings.

However, the way the mind works is very different from the way that the external world appears to work. Our methods of processing data and the transactions of thought are different in quality from what physical processes appear to act like. Because, as the intermediary between biology and experience, our minds stand at a boundary, you could say that they are "things in themselves" as well, "things in themselves" that have the unique capability to observe themselves and write about what they see.

The Transcendental Idealists thought that the way we think, as things in ourselves, may be a mode of operation that has something to do with how the world actually functions beyond our limited interpretations of sense data. This was not, as some people have thought, saying that "All is Mind", but instead saying that beyond what we, as limited creatures, perceive, is a reality that obeys rules that are similar in how they operate to the laws of thought....something that makes much more sense now that we have computers and Process Philosophy.

The Process Philosophers, like Alfred North Whitehead, I think came close to what some, but not all, of the Transcendental Idealists were trying to say about the nature of the external world through looking at nature as being composed both of static material components and actions that existed in process, that interacted with each other in process, to move and direct that world according to particular laws.

These processes, or transactions, can be looked at in parallel with computer processes, and mental transactions can be paralleled with operations that are carried out by computers as well, meaning that the commonality between a level of Mind or Cognition and the nature of reality as it exists beyond our processing of sense data, is more like a universal computational system than "All is Mind".

It's an Idealism, because what they were saying is that what they were perceiving in their heads, when they looked at their thought processes, was an instance of a reality that existed outside of their heads and could be found in nature, meaning that the cognitive Ideal of human beings corresponded in some way to the greater Ideal that existed in the realm of the Things-in-themselves beyond apparent sense data.

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