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Phenomenology and the “Crisis” of the Sciences

Husserl and Heidegger often speak of the sciences in “crisis.” Yet what does this mean? Why do they think the sciences are in crisis?

They’re actually referring to a debate taking place in Germany after the First World War. To understand this debate, we need some history.

Let’s start by talking about the German University model.

Beginning in 1810, the German University (designed by W. Humboldt) unified all of the faculties under the guidance of the philosophy department. Further, physics, biology, mathematics, and other sciences were all done in philosophy departments. The natural philosophers were fully informed of the major innovations by the great philosophers. Humboldt believed in a “unified wissenschaft” where all fields of study were unified into a body of knowledge. Philosophy, as the leader of the faculties, could provide this unity. Before WWI, only four universities in Germany had separate faculties for mathematics and physics. Anywhere else, you studied math and physics in the philosophy department. (the other majors, listed at the beginning of Faust, were law, medicine, and theology. Philology also becomes somewhat independent at some point).This changes after 1914, when a large amount of students seeking technical training and class mobility quadruple the student populations.

Simultaneous to this large increase, the humanistic model gradually becomes abandoned and the natural sciences and mathematics begin to take on a life of their own, independent of philosophy.

These changes in the structure of the university coincide with “crises.”

At the same time, there a number of “paradigm shifts.” Heidegger talks about these as “crises.” The most famous is the crisis in Newtonian mechanics caused first by relativity and then by quantum mechanics. The other crisis is the “crisis in the foundations of mathematics,” the problem that Husserl began his career working on (the debate was between formalism and intuitionalism). Biology experienced a similar debate, Heidegger mentions it in Being and Time (and devotes lectures to some of the problems in biology in 1930). 

These “crises in foundations” were seen to be the job of philosophers. Previously, philosophy had provided the basic research paradigms for (at least German) science.Heidegger and Husserl were worried that the fracturing of the sciences from Humboldt’s idea of a “unified Wissenschaft” to many diverse and unconnected specialized departments will fracture their unity. In 19th and early 20th century Germany, the big name philosophers would develop basic concepts for the sciences and then other natural philosophers would take these concepts and apply them to different areas of study.

The two major responses to the “crisis” of the humanities were Spengler’s Decline of the West and Weber’s Science as Vocation. Spengler, in Nietzschean fashion, sees the West as falling into decline and decay.Weber recognizes that everyone is looking for vocations from the university, so he argues that “research is a vocation/calling,” encouraging the new flood of students to pursue science as a career choice.

What’s the worry, then? 

Husserl and Heidegger are worried that science has become divorced from philosophy. This is what the essay “What is Metaphysics?” is about. They inquire into “beings as a whole, and nothing else.” But what is this nothing? (Of course by “this nothing,” Heidegger means “being itself”).So basically, you have: (1) Major changes in the organization of the faculties, moving towards specialization. (2) Major crises in the basic concepts of the sciences, seen as the job of philosophers.The worry, of course, is that the crises will never be solved, but the sciences will just take off on their own. Unified, systematic knowledge will be lost, and while philosophers will try to clean up the mess, no one will really care or notice.

Are these critiques relevant today?

Husserl died while people were still largely aware of the crisis. He was in conversation, for example, with a lot of analytic philosophers who saw logical analysis or positivism as a possible solution. (He actually gave his lecture on the Crisis of the European Sciences to the Vienna Circle). Heidegger, on the other hand, continued working until the late 1960’s. In the 1950’s, he begins to talk about cybernetics as taking over the role formerly played by philosophy. Previously, philosophy had determined the being of beings, providing a metaphysics for an epoch. Now, Heidegger argues, information technology plays this role. Instead of taking their guidance from “first philosophy,” the sciences simply try to represent data according to workable informational models as “data.” Heidegger says that scientists today have even become unconcerned about whether such models are “true” (in an absolute sense). Instead, they are looking to find a data model that works. Alongside cybernetics, Heidegger thinks that technology has replaced philosophy as the goal of the sciences. Previously, philosophy was considered “the mother of the sciences.” Now, technology and a technological way of thinking plays this role.

What can phenomenology do?

Phenomenology, for Husserl at least, tries to give a firm foundation for the sciences. For Heidegger, it goes back to “Being itself” to see what makes any foundation possible. It tries to think the source of all metaphysics, not to ground the sciences in a new metaphysics. You can have a consistent philosophy of science from phenomenology. Yet both Husserl and Heidegger see, say, physics, as operating in a different region of being than phenomenology. Phenomenology defines the objects of perception and physics works with these same objects, but not “as perceived,” rather “as mathematically represented." 

Could we do a phenomenological science?

Perhaps so. The basic goal of such research could be to always ground scientific concepts in direct experiences, to take things back to an experience of the things themselves.

anonymous asked:

What kind of witch are you?

What a question! This will take some time to answer, but I’ll do my best.

It has become quite common for witches to take an identifier based on the strongest element of their practices. For example, there are those who refer to themselves as “air witches” because they work primarily with that element, or those who call themselves “Wiccan witches” because they practice witchcraft in the Wiccan tradition. While this works and is helpful for many people, I struggle to choose a single adjective to describe my witchcraft practice. 

I suppose you could call me “eclectic,” but that tells you very little about what I actually do (and I also think the term is overused). Still, I want to answer this question and clarify a bit about what I actually do. So, I’ll choose a few adjectives that most strongly describe my witchcraft practice and talk about each a bit. 

I am an herbal witch.

Much of the work I do on a day-to-day basis involves herbalism. While I live in the city and don’t grow my own plants, I keep a good stock of herbs on hand and use them in a variety of ways. I also keep a variety of oils and other ingredients, which I use quite frequently. Above is a recent photograph of storage for what I call my “laboratory;” it used to be more complex before I moved. 

You’ll notice a lot of the spells I post involve herbs in some fashion. Herbal spells are probably my most frequent magical endeavors. These range from making tinctures and teas to charm bottles and creating floorwashes. Most of my herbal work is based on the systemized study of the magical properties of plants within the context of the Western Magical Tradition, so I draw a lot from alchemy’s long history. A lot of my work with plants involves using them to connect to celestial forces such as the seven classical planetary powers.

I am a celestial witch.

As I said above, the bulk of my herbal work involves using the herbs as a way of connecting with celestial forces such as the seven celestial spheres or classical planets, as well as the forces represented by the zodiac and other astrological principles. I don’t consider myself an astrologer because I very rarely cast charts or engage in astrology-based divination, but the majority of what I do involves celestial powers in some way. 

This goes beyond my herbal work and influences nearly everything. I’ve often said that the majority of symbols and concepts within Western occultism function as a sort of filing system to help the practitioner forge connections with greater realities. Taking this into consideration, I would say that celestial principles are, at present, my most important method of connecting. While I have and still occasionally do work with the raw elements (Earth, Air, etc…) most of the time, I work with planetary intelligences and forces commonly assigned to astrological principles.

I am an animist witch.

Just as my celestial fascination influences almost all of my work, so does my tendency towards animism. I believe that the universe is alive with an infinite variety of intelligences and spiritual forces working beyond and behind physical matter. I believe that, in any spell or working, no matter how simple, I am calling upon one or many of these forces. For example, I believe that when I use fresh basil in a potion or charm, I do so by tapping into the life force of the plant, which possesses a simple yet powerful intelligence of its own. 

You might say that I believe everything has a spirit operating through and behind it, no matter how mundane it may seem. By making connections to these intelligences or spirits, I can affect change in the world around me. This is a cornerstone of my approach to magick, and is manifest in all of my spells, rituals, and workings. Some of them can involve very complex intelligences like those of the planets, but others work with plants, animals, or minerals.

I am a hedgeriding witch.

I believe spiritual forces exist within all things and that there are many layers to reality. By most accounts, “hedgeriding” is a term used to describe a witch’s non-corporeal journeys throughout reality and into other realms. From this, legends of witches flying on broomsticks arose, because quite often flight was an elaborate metaphor for these journeys. 

The term “hedgerider” is a direct translation of an older Anglo-Saxon word, “haegtessa,” which was used to denote a witch or sorcerer. The use of the terms “hedgerider” and “haegtessa” specifically to describe witches who travel between worlds is relatively new, but, in my opinion, quite apt. The idea of a hedgerow is a metaphor for the veil between worlds, and in this case, to “ride” the hedge is to have one foot on either side, partaking of all worlds.

I cross the hedge. The structure, characteristics, and theme of the realities I visit during these experiences vary depending on my inclinations at the time. As the image suggests, though, I tend to posit (as do many other witches) a lose division between our world, an upper world, and a lower world, with the interaction between the latter two making the manifestation of our physical reality (the middle world) possible.

I am a secular witch.

I’ve written about secular witchcraft here. While the term denotes a different style of practice with little commonality between those who use it (it merely means they don’t worship through witchcraft), the article I just linked also goes into some detail about my own perspective and why I use the term “secular witch.” 

My general life philosophy is quite secular, as well, and if it weren’t for the fact that many in that crowd shun the idea of magick, I’d probably be willing to call myself a secular humanist. My family back home is largely comprised of secular humanists, though my mom converted to Unitarian Universalism when I was in my early twenties. It’s funny, because I’ve read reports that suggest most people ultimately return to the religion or belief system they grew up with, and while I’m not sure those studies are accurate, it was true of me! I did experiment with a variety of religions and spiritual paths when I was younger, but ended up returning to something very much resembling the beliefs of my family. 

Some people will ask, “But wait, Eliza - I thought you were a Thelemite? Isn’t that a religion?” Yes, and no. Some people approach Thelema as a primarily religious system and find it fills their personal needs religiously. I myself don’t see it that way, though - for me, Thelema is a philosophy, not terribly different in kind than, say, existentialism or Platonism. It presents a highly developed mechanism of metaphor, but needn’t be taken literally nor elevated to a religious perspective. It’s really up to the individual. Some Thelemites see it as a religion; some don’t. For me, it isn’t, though.

Conclusions

I could continue this list with more and more adjectives that describe my practice. Technowitch, transhumanist witch, continental witch, postmodern witch, etc, but really, the above descriptors comprise the bulk of what I currently do. That’ll likely change in the future, as it’s been changing for all of the fifteen years I’ve been studying and working on magick. For all I know, in two years I might consider myself a sea witch (if I somehow end up living near the ocean)! I hope you get the idea. Thanks for messaging me, and have a good December.