“Pure Contemplation Idea”* by Alexander Sekatsky**
Dear colleagues, penguins, and albatrosses who have sided with them! Please let me give you a small lecture.
To begin with, pure contemplation should be differentiated from cognition as a special type of phenomenon, or if you will, a special vocation. Instead of drawing a historical and philosophical perspective, I shall do the following.
Let us define contemplation as a type of cognition that requires the most general guarantee of the cognizability of the world and formulate a sort of axiom of valid contemplation. Here it is: the world is cognizable and can be perceived by the mind through and through, which however does not guarantee definite results, but is given as such, as the ability to comprehend what is without moving it from its place and as susceptibility to the slightest cognitive effort or even a ray of reflection. Taking into account the Kantian criterion, this susceptibility to being comprehended can be presented as a special surface (similar to the M.bius strip) lining every thing in such a way that it can face us with its cognizable side (the one suitable for cognition). That is, every thing can be cognized at least in some way, even if this cognition results in the conclusion of the type “why, it is an absolutely incomprehensible thing.” In addition to lining, that is, demonstration of its cognizable surface, every thing is just there, being “in some way,” for instance, as a thing in itself, which does not preclude it from being talked about, and every talk is certain evidence of cognition or, more precisely, understanding. Let it be noted that there is no talk of true or even productive cognition at this level. Susceptibility to cognitive effort is the only appropriate characteristic here.
The world’s cognizability throughand through means that the world as a whole and every thing in it open up to cognition as if they were a magic tablecloth serving food when required. That is, things lay themselves out as things for us, but the served food can be inedible or even poisoned. Nevertheless, the laying out of the tablecloth in itself is a prerequisite of pure contemplation.
Should we go beyond this minimum prerequisite of the world’s benevolence to anyone cognizing it, we will find the thing and thingness and of course intentionality. A thought that does not provoke resistance would be a thought about nothing: coming up against nothing and not being reflected, it would not go back to the one who had thought it and consequently would not be the outcome of thinking or a thought.
This is the definition of intentionality and of the definition itself as the setting of limits. As long as there is no limit or it is not reached, there is no definition. Pure contemplation is set precisely at the very edge of intentionality, which makes it elusive. What is the subject of pure contemplation? The question is indeed far from easy. It brings to mind things like being, the whole, being as the whole, God, universals and simply something. How is this thing constituted?
To go through the wall is a physically impossible task for man. However, it is no problem for a transcendental person who goes through walls, obstacles, the thick of matter and the definitiveness of the specific with the help of contemplation. But he goes through whither? And how does the cognizer discover his unpalpable subject when he comes across it if even the more “objective objects” let it through without any resistance?
Compared to the surmounted obstacles, things subjected to pure contemplation are nothing or next to nothing, as Nietzsche was wont to put it. Why then do they manage to become a sort of obstacle, set the limit and thus gain thingness and definitiveness? We will consider that problem below. At this point let me note that there is a similar wall in the world of thought that far from anybody can penetrate. The first obstacle that thinking efforts indeed encounter is the wall of care (Sorge in Heidegger) – care about one’s daily bread and burning issues, the welfare of the near and of one’s own, about where to get money and how to sow the field or repair a tap… This heavy thingness is quite understandable and obviously interferes with contemplation: every thinking effort is invested within the limits of this close thingness and makes the wall impenetrable.
The next step (dawdling to be ignored) is to develop the knack of “not looking point blank,” that is, the thingness of immediate care should become penetrable and we will then get, so to speak, a scholarly view of things. For instance, when they say that physics has a subject of its own, they mean precisely what it comes up against. To say the least, this means that the cognizers’ attention and contemplation have gone beyond the immediate object of care and penetrated deep enough to find their own limit and definitiveness. Pure contemplation could have gone even further and through, but perhaps, without arriving at any definitiveness whatsoever. Gaining definitiveness is the key problem of pure contemplation in the sense that the area of customary thingness – not necessarily the one immediate and down-to-earth – should not become a trap.
After all, the sphere of universals, which retains, as it were, a sense of weightlessness, too, has its own momentum and triteness that originate in the commonplace and retain the aura of metaphysical heights till the very end.
Should then the through ray of contemplation break out of any possible thingness and go away into the void? What is then its highest value as a means of philosophical cognition?
Far from everything is univocal here, dear penguins. It is not a matter of overcoming the heaviest and the impenetrable: this is not a problem of contemplation, but rather of the human body and our projective corporality. The degree of resistance mounted by the encountered matter and dense regularities is of no consequence to pure contemplation and can be ignored. What counts is allergy to repetition as the principal characteristic of a nomad, that is, a sort of negativity and immunity to the customary. As soon as thingness becomes a regular trap and cognition a shuttle reflection, contemplation frees itself from the shuttle mechanism and ventures into the surroundings, be they near or distant. Whatever for? – to get an unknown point of view.
In other words, we have an important ambivalence, a bifurcation of principle. There is mainstream contemplation that leads to “the world of eidos,” the treasure-trove of European metaphysics – the most powerful and universal flow of contemplation.
There is also deflecting contemplation that leads towards trial nothingness. After going through all the layers of complete incarnation and being none the worse for it, contemplation starts being intoxicated with phantom thingness, comes up against accidental limits and gets stuck with the definitiveness associated with them.
Whereas your contemplation, dear penguins, is not tainted or upset by anything. On your wonderful continent, you are remote even from fish which is a hundred metres away in the ocean. You are in no hurry and calmly look through into your nothingness, the wonderful Antarctic thinglessness, which is a lesson in self-sufficient contemplation. It is a knack of unrestricted distancing oneself as pure negativity: contemplate and look through without being concerned over anything and God will give you a suitable thing worthy of contemplation or else share his own.
Therefore, pure contemplation is there for us as luxurious surplus presence that occasionally promises and shows what exists from a new angle. The absence of inordinately heavy regular thingness prevents this type of contemplation from becoming the dominant scholarly method. However, the artist knows how to make use of it: art itself appears to be a reserve of things for potential contemplation.
Now, friends, I want to address a topic of long-standing interest to me, namely, the range of truth to determine the status of contemplation from this side. People engage in productive cognition not merely in a relevant objective field, but within clearly distinct and definable limits that form the range of truth. Quantum mechanics sets the limit on the left, beyond which our cognitive procedures can no long be unpunished for things existent. Beyond that limit measurement, registration and classification apply to a different thing being measured and registered so that the cognized and defined is no longer the thing we set out to understand. The simplest case is the so-called decoherence, when the original superposition is upset and falls apart, giving way to some customary stable thingness that is suitable for productive cognition and leads to truth in the form of scientific value.
This clearly is heavy, residual thingness which “defies” measurement (unlike a table or the distance between points A and B or anything that can be measured in litres or metres). In this case – and only in this case – cognition does not upset things existent but, on the contrary, consolidates it through modelling, that is, the production of original models that enable successful multiplication of what is being cognized. But how can one cognize an intricate quantum configuration without destroying it? How to preserve objects of strange configuration without dissecting it with the help of corpuscular-wave dualism? How to go beyond the limit on the right edge and straight into the living soul? After all, measurement, classification and objectivizing have here the same consequences, with the fragile superpositions of the inner world (the most intimate and important in man) crumbling and turning into a subject of psychology, sociology or social statistics that stays within the range of truth and is therefore fitting within the realm of scientific verity.
The intrusion of any scientific instrument has the same function of powerful gravitation of care: we intrude into the sphere of well-defined thingness, of natura naturata, the created nature that has already been there for quite a while. Within these concentric spheres regular efforts of scientific cognition yield maximum results, so scholars may be rather negligent about the rays of contemplation always going through and “always amiss,” glances at “something and the distant mist.”
However, despite the destructibility of superpositions in the broad sense of the word, we still have some idea of reality that these superpositions, these easily upset and fluttering “configurations” convey. We also have some ideas of the other inner world: although Descartes defined them as “confused,” they are no more confused than the confusion of our own soul.
These ideas have for their source neither measurements nor properly conducted experiments, but precisely the flows of contemplation, which skirt, as it were, the boundaries of the range of true scientific cognition. Contemplation is indispensable precisely where things can be easily upset and destroyed. It may indeed be confused, misty and mystical, it alone transcends the most fragile and capricious things existent without altering their relief or resorting to tough cognitive
procedures. Therefore, contemplation is a special type of cognition not connected with the interference of any device or even the figure of the observer. In other words, things existent are to the utmost extent tolerant of impact such as contemplation.
It can be called theoretical providence in relation to physics or just acumen when humans are involved. “The useful load” of contemplation seems insignificant as contemplation only lightly and dimly lights up the edges, however, insight determines what will be appropriate here and now without resorting to any measurements or classifications.
It is therefore similar to Wittgenstein’s language-games, in which the idle operation of language prevents fine mechanisms from getting broken or stalled: without idle honing of methods, the auger of cognition may prove useless when coming up against hard rock. In much the same way, pure contemplation may long ply both something and the distant mist before it is used to light up the misty edges and support a regime of cognition that would “conserve” superpositions and other unstable configurations of things existent. But should contemplation practice devices stay idle…
Incidentally, dear penguins, here, all around you and right under your feet, you have a remarkable dissipated contemplation practice device and can learn wonderful carelessness and insight seemingly without any effort.
You must have noticed that while we focussed on panoptic or opticentric metaphor, insight and contemplation per se, we willy-nilly imagined a ray of light and obstacles to its spread. Panoptic metaphor, albeit threadbare with overuse, indeed aptly describes everything connected with cognition. Contemplation may be interpreted differently through the idea of tuning in based on time intuition. With intentionality or thingness being the most general prerequisite of contemplation, that is, when an object is subjected to residual contemplation as something left unfathomed, we can use another way of explaining it. Apart from fatigue or “getting stuck” that stand in the way of entering the field of pure contemplation, there is a time resonance and persistent chrono intuition.
We can imagine a sensory resonance transmitter that makes it possible to go away from the disciplining and hypnotizing signal of schedules as its receivers are directed at remote isochrony, the remoteness of close at hand and the proximity of the remote, to quote Martin Heidegger. That is how pure contemplation can be defined from the point of view of listening and hearing as a super long-range signal coinciding with something near, very near, that is here and now.
For instance, standing in front of you now, I can propose that you tune to pure contemplation, if fish is irrelevant at the moment and you are fed up with snow. Yet, going back to the human world, it is worth noting that pure contemplation does not involve any single organ, that is, it lacks sensory localization. That is a fairly strange statement that warrants detailing. Starting from Aristotle, the European metaphysical tradition considered the “mind” to be the organ of contemplation and vision as speculation a privileged sensory correlate (“it is not the eye which sees, but the mind through the eye,” Nicholas of Cusa said). However, modern history forces metaphysics to be revised, although this is a rather strange statement.
Come to think of it, today vision as contemplation is virtually blocked out. True, there are visual objects galore as it (man) is surrounded, as it were, with coloured fields of visuality, irrespective of whether they are stored on paper, electronic or geographical devices. There is an open field of design with readymade patterns and forms of what seems to be deeply rooted sets of daily life. Whether we wish it or not, our life takes place in these sets, which may well be referred to as “self-adhesive wallpaper,” that even unfold on their own trying to occupy the entire surface now in parallel to one another, now at an angle to better imitate the panoramic effect. Vision is thus caught in a trap, perhaps, not inescapable, but still hard to break out of.
Pure contemplation was largely contaminated precisely by visualness: if we give thought to the purity of the environment (it is worth thinking about the plight of the world amid pure ice here), we will see that the field of vision is practically devoid of viable young crops and covered with the asphaltlike self-adhesive wallpaper of trash visuality, the boundless expansion of but a few privileged patterns.
For some reason neither the cinema, photography nor design has been considered from the point of view of pure contemplation. Researchers primarily focussed on “broadening the horizons,” synthesizing new types of visualness, and revolutionary changes caused by montage, exposure, prolongation and re-formatting of visual memory with the help of photography. In a way, all that is true. However, it is also true that profound and largely irreversible changes have taken place in the natural (or, if you will, classical) field of vision, in which pure contemplation has unfolded from the time of Descartes, Spinosa and Kant.
Large-scale synchronizing, the delayed final image up to getting “photo-support” and arbitrary time exposure as crucial cinematic effects have all led to the suspension of the syntheses that used to be at the heart of pure contemplation.
Needless to say, the noise screen, a certain recalcitrant trash music background, has done its bit, as a result of which large cities have a contaminated “phonosphere” and the remaining silence is fragmented, mosaic and deprived, as it were, of the ability to convey the innermost isochrony of the world. All of the above can be viewed as damage that is least felt in the Antarctic. That is why you, dear penguins, live not merely on a continent with a more or less favourable environment, but the one with the purest time.
Every flow of time has its own tuning fork here. The residual rocks of spent time do not overshadow either the field of vision or the transmission zone and the primordial things existent are still present here.
Yet another circumstance is fully evident, namely, the role of sensory experience or, if you will, the factor of contact existence in pure contemplation. True, European metaphysics at large speaks about pure contemplation as primarily speculation, in which all corporeal circumstances should be overcome as much as possible. But the fact is that the “outer body” as a substitute platform is far from being a neutral factor: its impact may well exceed the impact of nature.
For instance, the force field created by the sum total of gadgets adds far more distortions to speculation than corporality inherited from nature (or to be more precise, from the anthropological revolution). That is to say, the purity of contemplation is determined not only by the remoteness of hormonal noise, but also by the remoteness of synthetic tuning. I believe that your attentive and benevolent audience is a strong guarantee of sustainable pure contemplation.
* Lecture read to penguins, Antarctica, 22 March 2017, later published in the Antarctic Biennale Vision Club (ABVC) book. The ABVC is an initiative which unites key representatives from the cultural sphere, members of the academic community and entrepreneurs experienced in new technology development. It discuss longterm scenarios for humanity and its relationship with our planet, focusing on three “shared spaces”: Antarctica, the depths of our oceans, and Outer Space.
**ALEXANDER SEKATSKY is a Russian Philosopher and participant of the 1º Antarctic Biennale.