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Dr. Louis N. Sandowsky



Philosophy, Fantasy and Film





The Spaced Out Cogito*


* Transcript of a recording by Anna Shmerling (Spring – 2001)


Dark Star (John Carpenter) – VCV 6158,

Fantasia (Walt Disney) – VCV 1677,

Allegro Non Troppo (Bruno Bozzetto) – VCV 904,

Un Chien Andalou (Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali) – VCV 835.



Welcome. This week, during our extended session in anticipation of the forthcoming holiday, we are going to have a selection of visual delights – a bit of a jamboree, really. Over the next two weeks, I want you to write an essay (a minimum of three pages) on at least one of the themes discussed today.

I am going to begin with one particular definition of phenomenology as it is expressed in a film, called Dark Star (1971). This was John Carpenter’s first movie and, despite its immense narrative ambition, it was made on a shoestring budget. It also stands out as a particular historical landmark of the genre, because, quite apart from being the scriptwriter (in collaboration with John Carpenter) and editor, Dan O’Bannon actually performs in it. Now – for those of you who don’t know who Dan O’Bannon is – he’s the fellow who later co-wrote the original screenplay (with Ronald Shusett) for Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi horror film, Alien (1979). Apparently, it was also his idea that the form of the ‘alien’ itself should be based on images from H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon. The strangeness of these surrealistic images is somewhat augmented by the fact that H. R. Giger is actually Swiss. Now, there's definitely a non-sequitar for you. This artist delights in exploring the synthesis of the bio-mechanical, and the influence of his nightmarish imagery is now quite extensive. For example, the race known as “The Borg” – a hybrid of bio-mechanical elements from the television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation – is a clear descendant of Giger's vision. His imagery was also applied to great effect in the film, Species. Morphing special-effects techniques in contemporary cinema have helped to develop this synthesis and made the idea of the marriage between human and machine almost natural – which is particularly significant at this point in the silicon revolution and our evolution into cyberspace. The search to find a technologically transparent interface between human and computer is no longer a matter of science fiction.

The Film, Dark Star is a black comedy, unlike Dan O’ Bannon’s later sci-fi horror fest. There is a hilarious sequence where the character, Pinback (played by Dan O’ Bannon) is reminded to 'feed the alien' that is onboard the ship. The alien ‘mascot’ is a spherical red blob with a simple pair of hand-like feet. Human and alien do not like one another and after a protracted confrontation, Pinback fires a tranquilizing dart at the alien, which literally causes it to be ‘blown away.’ Pinback philosophizes over whether something made of nothing more than gas could actually constitute a life a form – despite the fact that the creature’s mischievous behaviour had been a clear demonstration. When viewed retroactively from the standpoint of his later script for Alien, the humour of Dark Star's exploration of a possible form of interaction between human and extraterrestrial becomes even funnier. But, this is all by the way…

…What I would like you to focus on is the extraordinary philosophical dialogue that takes place towards the end of the film. What we find is a definition of phenomenology that is of a Cartesian order, which inevitably leads to psychosis. It is an interesting view. Dan O’ Bannon and John Carpenter are obviously attuned to this intellectual history. I’ve never seen it handled quite so eloquently and in such a funny way in any other kind of medium before. So, it is going to be my treat for you.

The background to the story is brilliant as well as being very off beat. Basically, four guys and a corpse are travelling in a spacecraft, called "Dark Star" – their mission is to explore the galaxy looking for possible systems to colonize. In those systems that are designated for possible colonization, any planetary bodies that are predicted to be a threat to its stability are to be destroyed by special thermo-stellar nuclear devices. So, basically, the primary function of the crew is to go out into the galaxy and bomb unstable planets. The interesting twist is that these thermo-stellar devices are also artificially intelligent computers, highly intelligent entities – sentient computers, if you like. Coming after Stanley Kubrick's film, 2001: a Space Odyssey, with the sophistication of the psychotic Hal 9000 computer, Dark Star reprises the nightmarish situation in which a computer might follow out its own directives in flagrant disregard of the intentions of its programmers. It also pokes a little fun at the cinematic history of artificially intelligent entities that had been conceived up until that time. In contrast to Hal’s male voice, the on-board computer of "Dark Star," which sustains regular ship's functions and looks after the crew, is distinctly like that of Marilyn Monroe.

The main problem for the crew of "Dark Star" is that the members are suffering from extreme lethargy, after twenty years of planetary demolition. We are told that because of the temporal dilatory effects that occur travelling at hyper speeds, they have not actually aged significantly. But, they are very, very bored. They are completely cut off from the Earth and they have allowed the systems of the ship to fall into a state of disrepair. Furthermore, their boredom of one another has turned into contempt – particularly regarding Pinback, as chronicled in his video diary. The situation has deteriorated even further since the death of the commander – who was the victim of an accident several years before our introduction to the crew. His seat exploded – no doubt an indirect result of the crew's akrazia borne of chronic ennui. His corpse rests in a cryogenic chamber.

At the point at which we are introduced to what remains of the crew, it is noted that a recent explosion has destroyed the entire supply of the ship’s toilet paper. Basically, the occupants of the starship "Dark Star" are in a mess, and a series of haphazard events have led to a malfunction that finally seals their doom. Just as they are about to destroy an unstable planet in a newly discovered system, they find that they cannot activate the bomb's release mechanism. The problem is that the countdown to detonation is already underway. Now, the bomb has a gung-ho type of personality and it is really anxious to fulfill its primary aim in life – which is to explode. It actually looks forward to detonating, and so it will not listen to reason, it will not stop the countdown.

The bomb is about to explode and take the ship with it. So, the acting commander (Doolittle) decides that the only thing he can do – after failing to persuade it to abort the countdown – is to go and speak to the 'dead' commander

* * *

In the cryogenic chamber:

Doolittle:         Commander Powell! This is Doolittle. Can you hear me?


Commander Powell, this is Doolittle. Something serious has come up – I have to ask you a question.

Commander Powell (Com):    I am glad you’ve come to talk to me, Doolittle. It’s been so long since anyone has come to talk with me.

Doolittle:         Commander, Sir, we have a big problem. The Bell Nebula bomb – bomb number 20 – it’s stuck! It’ll blow up in the bomb bay. It refuses to listen, and it’s planned on detonating in…less than 11 minutes.

Com.:              Doolittle, you must tell me one thing.

Doolittle:         What’s that, Sir?

Com.:              Tell me, Doolittle, how are the "Dodgers" doing?

Doolittle:         Well…Mmm…The "Dodgers"…They broke up, they disbanded – almost fifteen years ago!

Com.:              Ah! Pity, pity…

Doolittle:         But, you don’t understand, Sir! We cannot get the bomb to drop!

Com.:              Ah! So many malfunctions. Why don’t you have anything nice to tell me, when you activate me? Well… Right. Did you try the azimuth flux?

Doolittle:         Yes, Sir. Negative effect.

Com.:              What was that, Doolittle?

Doolittle:         Negative effect!

Com.:              It didn’t work?

Doolittle:         That’s correct, Sir.

Com.:              Sorry to hear. I’ve forgotten so much, since I’ve been in here, so much…

Doolittle:         What should we do, Sir? Time is running out!

Com.:              Well. What you might try is…[radio static]

Doolittle:         Commander! Hello, commander! …Commander Powell, Hello?!

Com.:              Doolittle? Hello.

Doolittle:         Sorry, Sir. You faded out there for a little while.

Com.:              Sorry.

Doolittle:         What was that you were saying about the bomb?

Com.:              Ah! It seems to me… Sorry, I’ve gone blank… Hold it, I’ll have it again in just a minute. I forget so many things in here, so many things… Hold on. Just a minute. Let me think. [We see time running out]

{Louis:            See what death does to you?}

* * *

On the bridge:

Pinback:          You can’t explode in the bomb bay! It’s foolish! You’ll kill us all. There’s no reason for it.

Bomb:             I am programmed to detonate in nine minutes. Detonation will occur at a programmed time.

Pinback:          Wouldn’t you consider another course of action? For example, just waiting around awhile, so we could disarm you?

Bomb:             No.

Boiler:             I can tell. That damn thing just doesn’t understand.

Pinback:          Bomb!

* * *

In the cryogenic chamber:

Doolittle:         Commander, Sir! Are you still there?

Com.:              Oh, yes, Doolittle… I am thinking.

Doolittle:         We are running out of time, Sir!

Com.:              Oh. Yes… Well, Doolittle. If you can’t get it to drop, you’ll have to talk to it.

Doolittle:         Sir?!

Com.:              Talk to the bomb.

Doolittle:         But, I have been talking to it, Sir! And Pinback’s talking to it right now!

Com.:              No, no, Doolittle. You talk to it. Teach it phenomenology, Doolittle.

Doolittle:         Sir?

Com.:              Phe-nom-en-ology.

* * *

On the bridge:

Pinback:          Doolittle!? Six minutes to detonation! Doolittle.


Doolittle, tell me, what the hell are you doing!?

* * *

Doolittle puts on a space suit and goes outside the ship to speak to the bomb directly:

Doolittle:         Hello, Bomb! Are you with me?

Bomb:             Of course.

Doolittle:         Are you willing to entertain a few concepts?

Bomb:             I am always receptive to suggestions.

Doolittle:         Fine. Think about this, then. How do you know you exist?

Bomb:             Well, of course, I exist.

Doolittle:         But, how do you know you exist?

Bomb:             It is intuitively obvious.

Doolittle:         Intuition is no proof. What concrete evidence do you have that you exist?

Bomb:             Hmm… Well… I think, therefore I am.

Doolittle:         That’s good, that’s very good. But, how do you know that anything else exists?

Bomb:             My sensory apparatus reveals it to me.

Doolittle:         Ah! Right.

Bomb:             This is fun.

Doolittle:         Now, listen. Here is the big question. How do you know that the evidence your sensory apparatus reveals to you is correct? What I am getting at is this. The only experience that is directly available to you is your sensory data, and that sensory data is merely a stream of electrical impulses that stimulate your computing center.

Bomb:             In other words, all that I really know about the outside world is related to me through my electrical connections.

Doolittle:         Exactly!

Bomb:             Why, that would mean that … I really don’t know what the outside universe is like at all, for certain.

Doolittle:         That’s it! That’s it!

Bomb:             Intriguing. I wish I had more time to discuss this matter.

Doolittle:         Why don’t you have more time?

Bomb:             Because I must detonate in seventy-five seconds.

Doolittle:         Now, bomb. Consider this next question very carefully. What is your one purpose in life?

Bomb:             To explode, of course.

Doolittle:         You can only do it once, right?

Bomb:             That is correct.

Doolittle:         You wouldn’t want to explode on the basis of false data, would you?

Bomb:             Of course, not.

Doolittle:         Well, then. You’ve already admitted that you have no real proof of the existence of the outside universe.

Bomb:             Yes, well…

Doolittle:         So, you have no absolute proof that Sergeant Pinback wanted you to detonate.

Bomb:             I recall distinctly the detonation order. My memory is good on matters like these.

Doolittle:         Of course, you remember it. But, all you are remembering is merely a series of sensory impulses, which you now realize have no real definite connection with outside reality!

Bomb:             True. But, since this is so, I have no proof that you are really telling me all this.

Doolittle:         That’s all beside the point! I mean, the concept is valid no matter where it originates.

Bomb:             Mmm….

Doolittle:         So, if you detonate…

Bomb:             …in nine seconds…

Doolittle:         …you could be doing so on the basis of false data.

Bomb:             I have no proof that it was false data.

Doolittle:         You have no proof that it was correct data!

The countdown to detonation terminates

Bomb:             [Pause] I must think on this further.

Ship's Computer:         Attention, attention! The bomb has returned to the bomb bay. The destruction sequence is aborted.

* * *

{Louis:            So, the bomb has been persuaded – by means of a Cartesian argument based on a procedure of systematic doubt – into a state of solipsism. This endpoint is simultaneously a beginning...however, it results in the end of Dark Star. After the apparent success of this short lesson in phenomenology, Doolittle orders that the rear airlock be opened (because he is too lazy to return to the original hatch through which he started his spacewalk). However, none of the other crew-members are aware that Talby – a stargazing freak wearing a space suit – is in the airlock as the atmosphere is expelled. He is forcibly ejected into space and so Doolittle ignites the thrusters of his jetpack and goes to rescue him. Meanwhile, the remaining crew-members finally decide to disarm the bomb...}

...On the bridge:

Pinback:          All right, Bomb. Prepare to receive new orders.

Bomb:             You are false data.

Pinback:          Mmm?

Bomb:             Therefore, I shall ignore you.

Pinback:          Hello, Bomb!

Bomb:             False data can act only as a distraction. Therefore, I shall refuse to perceive you.

Pinback:          Hey, Bomb!

Bomb:             The only thing which exists is myself.

Pinback:          Snap out of it, Bomb!

Bomb:             In the beginning there was darkness, and the darkness was without form and void. And, in addition to the darkness there was also me. And, I moved upon the face of the darkness, and I saw that I was alone.

Pinback:          Hey… Bomb?…

Bomb:             Let there be light…

There is a blinding flash as the starship "Dark Star" explodes…

* * *

Brilliant! Dark Star is a very ambitious film, and I believe that it exceeds its goals, especially in view of its negligible budget. It is an extraordinary movie for many different reasons. Quite apart from its obvious philosophical value, it’s great fun. Take particular note of the treatment of hyperspace travel, which is actually one of the greatest 'jump' sequences in any of the movies of this genre – and it precedes the others that usually get all the credit by a number of years (i.e., Star Wars, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, etc). The effect is a brilliant visual analogue to A. E. Van Vogt's description of non-inertial travel in his classic sci-fi novel, Voyage of the Space Beagle. The idea is that when the starship pops out of hyperspace, it just stops, dead – zero inertial forces and minimal vibration. Once again, Dan O’ Bannon is responsible for the artistic input. He also acts as special effects supervisor for the film.

Dark Star plays around with some fascinating concepts. I ordered it for the library some time ago, and it has finally arrived. So, you can see it. Do.

* * *

Okay. You followed the argument – "I think, therefore I am" / "cogito, ergo sum" and the consequences that can arise, which are…? Would any of you like to comment on this? Come on – this is kindergarten stuff, basic philosophy.

Right, you are a bunch of Task Masters! So, I’m going to have to do all the work…

Phenomenology, well – solipsistic psychosis is not the inevitable terminus of phenomenology. It is really the result of an extreme ‘phenomenalism’ – where phenomenality is reduced to a hermetically sealed sphere of mental objects / images. I repeat that this is not the inevitable consequence of ‘phenomenology’! If we begin in modern history with Rene Descartes’ declaration cogito ergo sum, which is both the beginning and the endpoint of the dialogue in Dark Star, we can establish the context of the difference.

The Cartesian epistemological project proceeds by way of systematic doubt. The principal question is whether there is anything that can not be doubted. The idea is that, perhaps, everything that I experience (that is revealed to me through sense data) is merely false – false evidence. There may be some kind of malign creature that is basically fooling me, so is there anything for which we can have Absolute / clear / distinct and, most significantly, immediate evidence? Basically, Descartes maintains that – it is our own existence. According to him, I can doubt anything, but I can’t doubt the doubting. The doubting itself, as a modality of thinking, has an existential determination and it is given directly. He then uses the logic of attributes to say that we cannot doubt this modality of thinking and that this modality must of itself belong to a thinking substance / res cogitans. This is the great Cartesian metaphysical leap. But, ultimately, Descartes arrives at solipsism.

In order to get out of solipsism, he needs to invoke God – this is his famous Ontological Argument. Built into the cogito, according to Descartes, is the knowledge that we are finite beings – we do not possess non-perspectival omniscience. We rely on information relayed to us not immediately, but mediately. And yet – there is, Descartes argues, an immediate idea that can not find its origin in finite, imperfect beings, such as ourselves. This is the idea of God. This is the idea of a Being for which no greater Being can be conceived. Basically, Descartes says that this idea has to have been instilled in us by God. It’s a very-very strange argument for the existence of innate ideas, and there are logicians in this field, who are still playing around with it and taking it seriously. Basically, God is invoked to provide the connection between us and the world of res extensa. Everything is connected through God, which gives us the vertical relation that binds all horizontal relations.

Now, all the different theories of dualism that emerged after Descartes had to have this point of mediation. In Leibniz, we find the pre-established harmony, which is only a slight improvement. But, there were many, like the Occasionalists, who argued that such a pre-established harmony had to be inaugurated by something, like a First Mover or a Divine Architect, if you like. So, you end up with the Argument from Design. The three principal arguments for the existence of God are / were the Ontological Argument, the Cosmological Argument (the argument for a ‘prime mover’), and the Argument from Design, which is the idea that everything exhibits purpose. The last idea, in particular, is very Aristotelian, where everything is considered teleologically. The logic is that: if everything has purpose, then it must have been designed and first set into motion by a purposive Being.

Immanuel Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, actually shows how all of these arguments fail. Interestingly enough, Kant was actually a believer – an observing protestant. However, he maintained that, like the noumenal realm of ‘things in themselves,’ there are things that cannot be known directly and that we have to leave room for faith.

Have any of you had the pleasure of reading Douglas Adams’ excellent trilogy (in more than three parts…joke…) called, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? There is a really wonderful parody of this logic that turns the Argument from Design on its head, when we are introduced to the Babel Fish. These creatures are little leech-like entities that you stick in your ear. They feed on mental energy and one of the by-products of this consumption is that they act as little translation devices, so that the host can understand any other sentient being in the universe. In this weird and wonderful scenario, certain theologians argued that something that was so inherently useful admitted such purpose; that it must have been brought into being by a purposive creator, and this in itself had to be adequate proof of the existence of God. But, then there were other theologians, who argued that God, in principle, is not an object of knowledge; that, in fact, such proof would render faith unnecessary. Therefore, since God is nothing without faith, he is said to disappear in a puff of Aristotelian logic. This logical inversion is extremely characteristic of 60's / 70's British humour. Adams has had a long acquaintanceship with the members of Monty Python (he also co-wrote the book, The Meaning of Liff). Who can forget the discontinuities and multiple inversions with which this hyper-alternative comic team delighted its audience? I can tell by the expressions on your faces that you are more than familiar with Python. Consider then, the moment in The Life of Brian, where our reluctant messiah addresses the multitude of people, who are convinced of his divinity, and tries to talk them out of it by saying that they are all individuals, that they are all different. As he talks to them, they all repeat his words – that they are all individuals, that they are all different – until one singular voice calls out "I’m not!"

But, this is all by the way. So much for logic versus faith and the theological implications of dualism.

The British empiricists, beginning with John Locke (Essay concerning Human Understanding) maintained that we do not have innate ideas – that everything begins with experience. If you follow that argument through to its natural conclusion, certain fundamental problems arise. Basically, Locke said that the way we have knowledge of things in the world is as follows – there are certain ‘bodies’ that have primary powers to affect us – it is a causal relation. They actually affect our senses in such a way that ideas are produced in us. There are primary powers that are related to the body in itself, which involve such qualities as: magnitude, its spatial-temporal extension, impenetrability, figure – these are attributes that are said to be inherent in the object. Taste, colour, feel, roughness, softness, etc. – these are said to be secondary qualities that we actually bring into existence by interacting with the thing. They are not inherent in the thing in itself.

Berkeley advanced skeptical, empirical methods of investigation in the name of what is actually nothing other than idealism. He shows that we cannot take a step beyond secondary qualities. For example, if we say that warmth is true of some thing in itself, with or without our presence, it is problematic. Because, if you put one hand near fire and the other hand on a block of ice, and then eventually place both hands in a bowl of water – to one hand the, water will appear cold, and to the other hand it will appear hot. This argument may sound odd to our contemporary ears, but it raises the problem of how something can be hot and cold simultaneously. What we may ordinarily take to be a quality that is intrinsic to the entity in itself does not escape relativity. It is not exclusive to the body in itself. Berkeley then uses this, and other arguments, to show that there is no physical substance, no hyle. This is one way of dealing with the problem of dualism, i.e., the manner of interaction between mind and matter. For Berkeley, everything is already mental. ‘Esse est percipi’ – "to be is to be perceived." Dualism is replaced by monistic idealism.

Those who wish to refute this form of idealism come along and say: "Look. I see a tree, and then I no longer look at the tree. Do I then assume that that tree ceases to exist, because I am no longer looking at it?" No, not at all, Berkeley would say, because everything continues to exist in the mind of God. God perceives all. God is the non-perspectival over-seer – the ‘Big Brother’ who sees everything, every possible perspective, simultaneously – Absolute omniscience. And, we ourselves exist within the mind of God.

The remarkable David Hume came along, pushing empirical methods to their absolute limits, by showing that empiricism itself must ultimately rest on metaphysics – it will always fall back on metaphysics. He extended empirical interrogation to the point, at which he actually undermined Descartes’s argument for the original and ‘immediate’ evidence of the ‘cogito’ (‘cogito, ergo sum’ – "I think, therefore I am"). This skeptical position is articulated in the section, "Of Personal Identity" in Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, which he wrote in his twenties (incredible!). This three-volume text fell dead from the press – no one could deal with it. It was only when Hume was quite old that he returned (in the Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding) to many of the themes that were presented in his earlier work. According to Immanuel Kant, Hume woke him from his dogmatic slumber.

Now, in the earlier Treatise, the section "Of Personal Identity" (the end of the first book), we find that Descartes’ proposition ‘cogito, ergo sum’ – "I think, therefore I am" is not sufficient to explain continuity. It does not mean that with every experience I have a direct sense of an abiding Self that is continuous with each act. Hume observed that when he meditated on this issue, he could not find such an entity. Thus, he maintains that all that one is aware of is a flux of impressions, moving with inconceivable rapidity. There is no immediate and abiding idea of Self that remains present consistently throughout this flux.

This is an insight that is made thematic in existentialism. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre has a fascinating argument along these lines when he asks whether one is aware of oneself when reading a book. His answer is no! One gets caught up in the narrative, and one is drawn into the text. This is often one of the reasons why one is motivated to read a novel in the first place. It is to forget oneself by living vicariously through another narrative. It is an interesting argument, which finds its basis in a certain interpretation of Kant’s discourse on experience.

Kant maintains that every representation is such that it must be able to be accompanied by self-representation. Sartre’s argument is basically a re-reading of this. Basically, he says: Okay…every representation is such that it must have the capacity for self-representation, however – it does not mean that in actuality this happens all the time. It is just that it has this potentiality.

And, this brings us to one of the central issues in phenomenology – incidentally, existentialism is nothing other than phenomenological ontology – which is the reflexivity of consciousness, its intentionality. When we are engaged with things, our primary consciousness is not simultaneously an awareness of a Self. Each consciousness transcends itself. It is only through a second, or higher order level of reflection that it can turn upon itself as a unity of a single project.

Hume’s methodological skepticism leads to the conclusion that there is no Self. This is very close to the Buddhist position. However, although Hume takes up a skeptical position, he says in the Appendix that he is not content with this state of affairs. It can’t be right. And, he hopes that either he, or someone else, will solve this problem.

The issue of the continuity of consciousness – unburdened by the notion of a metaphysical Self – was not really solved until the beginning of the twentieth century, with the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and, in particular, his lectures on The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness.

He says that when we are looking for continuity – because this is primarily what we are talking about – we are looking for continuity of experience – that through which there can be such a thing as an abiding ego. Now, Hume sort of objectifies experience – he basically says that all he is aware of is impressions that run off without the immediate co-presence of a Self. He also argues that there is no necessary connection between the perception of sense data and what exists outside (causality is explained in terms of psychological association). Nevertheless, there is a kind of metaphysical realism at work – we still assume that what we perceive is something that remains outside of us, and yet, within the bounds of empirical phenomenalism – we can never ground that, never.

Basically, Kant maintains that even empiricists are metaphysical realists – they say that they cannot ground that which is at the basis of perception, and yet they still implicitly maintain that there is an extra-phenomenal reality – outside of what we actually perceive. However, since we do not have access to some kind of middle-ground, or an objective reference point, there is no independent criterion by means of which we can assess the truth of any alleged correspondence between a representation and the represented. So, this gave rise to many different theories about Truth. The Correspondence Theory is completely blown out of the window, because there is no way to purely ascertain the degree of correspondence between the representation and that which it is supposed to represent.

Kant said that, indeed we do only start with experience. However, how is it that experience is intelligible to us? How is it organized? He maintains that there are basic organizational forms at work in experience that are primordially built into it. These are not ‘innate ideas’ of a Cartesian order, but nevertheless they are forms that structure experience. We don’t see these structures because we are already operating in their effects. It is like the ‘All Seeing Eye’ – which cannot be ‘all-seeing’ precisely because it does not actually see itself – it raises the question of the ‘structure’ of the ‘way’ in which it is relating to something other, something that it is not. With respect to Hegelian phenomenology, there is a process of negation involved.

Now, Kant, in his revision of his first Critique (the Critique of Pure Reason), which he revised after a period of about six years, was basically left with an untenable position, saying that there is a noumenal realm of ‘things in themselves,’ which we cannot actually know. With what does that leave us?

He employs both a ‘language of appearances’ and a ‘language of appearing.’ In a language of appearances one can talk about the appearances of appearances of appearances… and it doesn’t necessarily presuppose anything lying beyond the appearance. The language of appearing is something else – it means that something gives itself through the appearance. In the revision of the Critique, Kant introduces a new section in the main body of the text, called "Refutation of Idealism."

Remember, Kant basically says (with reference to his transcendental aesthetic, where space and time are treated as forms of experience – that they are not inherent in the world outside), that ‘space is the form of all outer experience and that time is the form of all inner experience’. He further maintains that ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ are necessarily intertwined. The "Refutation of Idealism," argues that the continuity of that which is given outside of experience, is also intimately bound up with the continuity of our own experience itself – that is, the continuity of our Selves or the Transcendental Subject. And, it is this structuration that makes it possible to speak of a Self. This is an interesting argument. But, there are still many problems.

Edmund Husserl’s project of phenomenology resolves a number of these issues. His Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness, which is based on lectures that were given in 1905, does not approach the issue of continuity from the point of view of the Self or the Transcendental Subject. His phenomenology does not automatically predicate consciousness to some ‘thing’ that thinks, as is the case in the Cartesian tradition. Rather, Husserl looks at the issue of continuity within the fundamental ‘intentional structurality’ of consciousness itself – that is, temporalizing consciousness as consciousness of temporalization. However, this is not idealism in disguise – nor is it a radical empiricism (phenomenalism / psychologism)  where consciousness is reduced to the idea of something trapped within a box. Consciousness is always already outside-itself. When it is understood ‘intentionally,’ consciousness is always consciousness of something. Here, the preposition ‘of’ is the defining value of the fundamental structure of consciousness – where the 'some thing' is framed as a certain kind of phenomenon without immediately taking up a position on its actuality or non-actuality. The question of ‘seeing’ extends beyond a point-like immediacy or coincidence between seer and seen.

This is very important, because if we take an object (such as this can that I hold before you), a sense datum theorist would say: ‘I don’t see the object as it is in itself, because I only see perspectivally. When I look at the top of it from above, I see a circle. If I look at it from this angle – I see an ellipse.’ Is this to say that I do not see ‘the’ can? We would say – that’s rubbish. I don’t just see that which is ‘immediately’ present to the senses in abstracto from the can – I see the can. If you reduce ‘what you see’ to simply ‘that which is actually visible in that perspective at that precise moment’, you end up with a stark impoverishment of what it is to perceive something.

Absence is already a necessary part of the perception of anything. In fact, this absence is not a negative, but a positive determination of the actuality status of a three-dimensional object. If this object gave itself to me, as an entirety, in any one moment – it couldn’t be three-dimensional. This is the evidence that it is three-dimensional, that it has to unfold in time – I can turn it around, I can move it further away, I can bring it closer to me. And, all these different profiles belong to the one thing – in a sense, they point beyond themselves to a transcendent whole, of which they are a part.

Now, if you think about a die (singular dice) – you have, let’s say, one dot facing you. You pick it up, you throw it down, and then you can see three dots facing you. Do you assume that it is a different object? Every time you see a different number of dots, do you assume that you are looking at a different object? – No, you do not. You know that you are looking at different faces of the same object. Consider another example – you are sitting at that end of the room, I am sitting at this end of the room. If we describe the room, you and I will have very different descriptions of the same room, which may, at certain points, radically conflict with one another. Of course, we would not assume that we are talking about two different rooms.

So, there are ideal aspects and empirical aspects that are bound up together in any given perception. And, what is most important is – perception always takes time. Space has to be temporalized. Husserl shows us that it is the fundamental binding together and spacing of difference, of temporalization, that makes it possible for anything to be continuous. It creates a continuum. This issue of structurality comes well before the question of the Self.

A Student:        It is not really continuity, because it is in the past.

Louis:              Pardon?

A Student:        You don’t perceive this tin can now – you perceive it like part of a second ago.

Louis:              Not quite. That is only if you are a rabid sense-data theorist caught up in a representational theory of perception, which requires that the crystallization of each representation be the product of a further representation. Such a view also understates the role of protention, whereby that which is presently given is not simply something that has been retained, but that it is also the fulfilment of that which was already anticipated. It is insufficient to say that perception is merely a relation between the now and the just-past. According to Husserl’s phenomenology of time consciousness, continuity is structured upon an originary interplay between retention, primal impression, and protention. When he defines perception as originary giving, then all three intentionalities are perceptions, but it is only in their intertwining that perception in the common sense is possible at all.

The point is – I am not simply perceiving what is ‘immediately’ visible. It is only within the bounds of a rigid phenomenalism that ‘mediacy’ is a dirty word. Is it the case that I when I look at a tin can, I am not perceiving the can, since I only see a part of it directly? Am I lying? But, I do perceive the can – or more precisely, I perceive the part of the can that faces me ‘in the understanding’ that it is precisely one profile of ‘this’ tin can. Similarly, if I hold up a cup and view it from above, I see a circle. Now, if I tip it over slightly, I see an ellipse. Which one is true? – Both of them are potentially true of the object as a whole. The profile of the object as a whole is not the terminus of the perception. I know that that which exhibits itself is precisely one face of the cup. What has to be taken into account is that if you try to reduce that which indubitably exists to that which is given ‘immediately’ in a point-like moment – you end up in the clutches of a paradox. Because, most identification theories, most existential theories begin with this idea of existence inhabiting a point – i.e., only that, which exists now, is real – since that, which is in the past, no longer exists, and that, which is in the future, does not exist yet – but, the problem is that existence is then reduced to a point. That is completely counterintuitive.

This state of affairs has to do with the hypostatization of numbers or measurement systems. When we look at a ruler, we have these divisions. When we look at these numbers we find distinctness (which is immediately problematized, as Zeno shows us, as soon as one starts to think in fractions). We may look at dots or other kinds of inscriptions, marks. What we tend to do is: we reduce that which is measured to the form of the measure itself.

Apparently, we may look at a point in time. We can look at a frame of celluloid (or I can pause a video tape at any given point). And, given that there are anywhere between 18 to 24 frames (depending on the gauge), for each second of film, I can stop it wherever I like. In fact, these numbers of ‘frames per second’ actually say more about the limits of our technology, because, we could have 50, or 60 frames per second. Actually, we do have those kinds of speeds at work in science and industry (for instance, when filming events such as crashing vehicles or high-velocity bullets – then something like one minute of film can run through the gate of the camera in a second, which, on playback, will stretch out a second into a minute). The point is that you can carve up reality infinitely – that is, into an infinite number of infinitesimal moments. This is Zeno’s argument regarding the infinite divisibility of any given magnitude. You never get to the end of the sequence of divisions. You move into the fractional universe – the infinitesimal, infinitely. To reiterate, this says more about the numbering systems, about the ways in which we define things, than about the things themselves.

We have to take time into account. And, time is extension – extension, not only in the sense of a stretching out, but also in the sense of a delay or postponement / temporization. In temporal terms, stretch and delay are always already intertwined in presence / presencing. In this sense, the atomic moment is not fundamental. It is constituted on the basis of an original extension rather than the other way round. Thus, if one were to try to divide time or space into infinitely small parts, then one would be required to do this infinitely. Even a millionth of a second has breadth since there is no limit to the extent to which it can be further divided up into even smaller parts.

Now, to return to the idea of solipsism, what we have in the quasi-phenomenological dialogue of Dark Star is a statement regarding the classic idea of evidence and proof. The argument goes like this: I am only aware of an evidence regarding my own actuality status that is given to me immediately – which, as I have demonstrated is actually quite problematic – but I have to infer the existence of everything else that is mediated through my senses. If one takes this viewpoint to its outermost limit, one is reduced to solipsism, where one is literally the center of the universe.

There is an interesting phenomenological approach to this issue that is worth taking into account, and it is this:

If we take a look at the evolution of science and cosmology – in Newton, we have ‘space as an order of co-existences’ and ‘time as an order of successions,’ seen as two discrete forms, if you like. In basic terms, for Newton, the whole of space shares the same time. It is an order of co-existence. Time is treated as a distinct dimension of ‘constant’ successivity. Both dimensions are treated as Absolutes. But, relativity problematizes this division – and we can no longer say that every object in space is contemporaneous regardless of their distance and velocity.

Now, the thing is that we use the mathematics that arises out of Galilean and Newtonian astronomy to send probes like Voyager to the outer planets of our solar system – and this is achieved with amazing accuracy. But, on a ‘large’ astronomical scale – it is insufficient. The point is that in relativistic physics, there is no substantive distinction between space and time – it is a question of ‘spacetime,’ which is rarely even hyphenated. And, unlike the Newtonian idea of gravity being a force of attraction between different ‘bodies,’ in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity it is not really about ‘objects’ (in the classical sense) at all. Objects are understood in terms of mass, and mass is understood in terms of the warpage of the space-time fabric itself. So, instead of there being void between objects, where only the objects actually interact with one another – what we have is a certain kind of folding and unfolding / warpage of space-time itself. The space between is everything!

The classic example of this, which is a three-dimensional model to describe a four-dimensional space-time, is an extended elastic sheet. Imagine it stretched out, and you drop ball bearings of various different weights onto the fabric. Then, you take a smaller ball bearing, and you roll it in – and it will naturally trace out a path to the deepest well, because of the actual contour of space-time that is traced out between. To reiterate, it is a question of the warpage of the space-time fabric itself. This is a significantly different cosmology.

The point is that because Einsteinian relativity tells us of the finitude of the velocity of light as it propagates through a vacuum, anything that appears, as relayed to us by light, is not contemporaneous with what is actually perceived. This means that anything that is at a distance lies in the past. Which means that, if that which exists in the past, no longer exists – the only thing that exists is myself, the perceiver. In other words, I am seeing you all as you were in the past.

A Student:        Yes – that’s what I was saying.

Louis:              But, do you understand the problems that are inherent in such criteria? The insufficiency is shocking, since time is not really taken into account with respect to what is accorded actuality status – as presently existing. According to the traditional / formal view, existence is reduced to a point. This is the problem of simultaneity as raised in relativistic physics. Of course, we have to re-think the meaning of simultaneity beyond the old corpuscular view of space, time, and existence.

Speaking about the inner time / personal time – we are talking about frames of reference. It is not just ‘my perspective’, but ‘I am part of an objective framework’. For instance, if I am travelling near the speed of light, and the space in which I am moving is undergoing a certain temporal dilation… Let’s say, if I am approaching the event-horizon of a Black Hole, a distant observer looking through a telescope would see my ship slow down. More correctly, s/he would not actually see the ship slow down – what would happen is that the red shift would become so great, because of the extreme gravitational forces, that it would just disappear from view (we can’t see light at such a low end of the spectrum – however, the point is that the increase in red shift is precisely the signification that temporal dilation is occurring). The idea is that the closer the ship gets to the event horizon of a black hole, as far as the observer – at a distance – is concerned, the ship is actually slowing down. Does this mean that a passenger on the ship, holding up an alarm-clock, would say: "Oh! Look at that clock – I can see it slowing down"? No, because their own biorhythms would be undergoing the same degree of dilation – they are part of that objective framework.

You see, Einstein is not giving us a subjective theory – he gives us an objective theory of time, but he does not give us an Absolute Time – there is no Absolute Time, which can perform as the measure of everything else, any more.

Objective time has to be understood relatively, but there is something of the Absolute when we do come to subjective time. Because, regardless of what are the actual objective differences in space-time warpage, experience will always be its own frame of reference. In these terms, the rhythm of objective temporality is determined within the experiential field. And, when it comes to the feeling of rhythm, then this has a considerable range of possible forms, depending on whether one is concentrating, happy, depressed, waiting, etc.

What we have in Dark Star's phenomenological dialogue is a move toward phenomenalism. It does not actually represent phenomenology, as such. Phenomenalism is the idea that all we ever see are phenomenal representations of things and that we will never know the things in themselves directly, but only through appearances. This means that it is still participating in metaphysics, which it cannot ground for reasons of principle. It overestimates the issue of ‘directness’ and fails to recognize that it is riddled through and through with mediating phenomena. Furthermore, it already presupposes that there is an external reality beyond the phenomena, but – epistemologically, it says that we can only know the phenomenal representations. So, there is a schism, a gap. And, basically, it forces us to bang our heads up against the notion that our perceptual apparatus is inadequate.

Edmund Husserl comes along and says: No – there is nothing inadequate about our perceptual apparatus at all! So…back to the things themselves!

And, I am not going to say anything more about this point, because without a sufficient explanation regarding the phenomenological epoché, you might be inclined to imagine that this represents a grand return to metaphysics. I will introduce you to Husserl's approach a little bit more as we go along in time. I’ll just say this: basically, phenomenology is a method of interrogating phenomena – and so it is crucial to interrogate the meaning of the phenomenon. The discipline that is called ‘phenomenology’ is derived from two meanings: ‘phenomenon,’ which is ‘that which shows itself from itself’ (it presences, has extension, stands-out from a horizon, while also receding within a horizon) and ‘logos,’ ‘reason’, ‘the word.’ Martin Heidegger uses the German word rede, which means ‘speech’. Phenomenology (to round out the whole thing) makes reference to ‘that which shows itself from itself precisely as it speaks.’

This means that, if I am looking at something, I want it to speak to me – I don’t just want to simply look at a phenomenon or some kind of appearance that steps in on its behalf, as some kind of proxy. I want to look at the thing itself, which gives itself in the speaking. So, I already have to understand that when I engage with things in the world, I am already bringing something of myself into the world – which means that much of what I think I know about the world actually says more about me, than it does about the world. Thus, phenomenology is a methodological conception that is a self-critical enterprise. It seeks to describe rather than to explain.

So, there are two fundamental moments to phenomenology: one is a kind of depth psychological investigation, which is an analysis of what I myself bring into the world; and the other is the continuing attempt to abstain from any position-taking – that is, to subject what I put into the world with a malign vigilance, so that I can then begin to let things speak for themselves. It is really a question of how to listen. So, this is a regulative principle of comportment – there is no end to the story. A lot of people have problems with this, or rather, many philosophers have problems with this because they want to uncover a Grand Overview – they want to arrive at an absolute termination point. There isn’t one. Phenomenology is not about eschatology. And, indeed, we require a type of philosophy that shows that the movement of interrogation is actually an eternal return to beginnings – that it is infinitely open. This constitutes a field of investigation in its own right – it has its own legitimacy. It employs many empirical, skeptical, idealistic, analytical techniques, but, it is not a metaphysical system like other philosophies – Descartes’s system, for instance, for which he needs God to provide the glue.

To do phenomenology is to be a little mad. To do philosophy according to the narrow constraints of phenomenalism is to be completely crazy. As the brilliant dialogue in the film, Dark Star demonstrates: one is left with psychosis – where all we think that we can know is ourselves, that we cannot know anything else, and that we can only make inferences about other things. So, "The only thing that exists is myself. "In the beginning there was darkness…. And I moved upon the face of the darkness and I saw that I was alone…. Let there be light." Okay.

Now. In the absence of some kind of divine creator…

…this is some kind of pythonesque, discontinuous lead-up to the next film that I am going to show you…

* * *

…Here we have a section from Fantasia. And, what is remarkable about this segment is that it was a very brave attempt on Walt Disney’s part…to popularize evolution…

…but – I’d rather leave it up to Deems Taylor to provide the introduction – who utilizes a very smart narrative. As you probably know, the Darwinian theory of evolution is anathema to those who inhabit the Bible-belt of America. "No, no, no: the world was created just a few thousand years ago. Screw carbon dating! – we are just being fooled, things just look that way, but Genesis is true."

In this segment, The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky provides the pulse of a Darwinian interpretation of the evolution of the Earth, and dinosaurs, and so on. But, the preamble to the piece emphasizes the ‘theoretical’ aspect of Darwin’s thought, by saying that it is a ‘coldly accurate reproduction of what science thinks…’

…very nice. And, with that, Walt Disney presents a revolutionary depiction of the birth of the planet without losing a vast section of his potential audience.

This film is then going to be followed immediately by a segment from an Italian movie, called Allegro Non Troppo, by Bruno Bozzetto. He is an Italian animator with a wicked sense of humour, who brings into account something that Walt Disney does not, when it comes to the issue of evolution – it’s our place: humankind – opportunism run wild. It was made with tongue planted firmly in cheek. And, I’d like you to see both of these films today, because they are fun as well as thought-provoking.

While Walt Disney’s version unfolds to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the scene from Bruno Bozzetto’s Allegro Non Troppo – which is both an homage to, and a parody of Disney – is set to Ravel’s Bolero.

* * *

"When Igor Stravinsky wrote his ballet The Rite of Spring, his purpose was, in his own words, "to express primitive life". And so, Walt Disney and his fellow artists took him at his word. Instead of presenting a ballet in its original form, as a simple series of tribal dances, they have visualized it as a pageant – as a story of the growth of life upon Earth. It is a coldly accurate reproduction of what science thinks went on during the first few billion years of this planet’s existence. So, now imagine yourselves out in space billions and billions of years ago, looking down on this lonely tormented little planet, spinning through an empty sea of nothingness."


Fantasia / The Rite of Spring


* * *


Okay. And now – Bruno Bozzetto’s version, in which humankind shows its face as nature’s incorrigible opportunist.


Allegro Non Troppo / Bolero


[At the end] We never really evolved, did we?


* * *


Okay. We are running out of time, I’m afraid – and I still have one last film to show you. It is an extraordinary piece by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali – a short movie, entitled: Un Chien Andalou.

I’ll send you all an updated list of the videos by E-mail. The film that I am about to show now, and the others that I’ve shown today, and the themes that we’ve discussed, should be the basis of a paper – at least 3 pages, certainly no less, to be handed in in two weeks’ time, after Pesach). And, I’d like this material to be, perhaps, the basis of your final projects. So, consider this as a research period. All right? These assignments are just to get the creative juices flowing. You don’t have to actually refer to the films shown today, but I think that you’ll find many themes here that will be useful to you. If these themes, in turn, point to other movies that you’d like to talk about – that’s great! I’m not going to write down a series of questions for you – I want to give you more credit, than that.

So – the last film: Un Chien Andalou. It is a dream landscape…and it really breaks all the rules of sense and linearity when it comes to narrative…


Un Chien Andalou


* * *


I’ll see you and your essays in a couple of weeks’ time. Hag Sameach!


* * *




I relented about the essay questions!


From: Dr. Louis N. Sandowsky

E-mail: cafediferance@yahoo.com


Subject: Cinema: Philosophy and the Moving Image


Dear Friends

I hope that you enjoyed the show, today. I have attached a revised video list for you, which includes the info about the most recent films that I have either talked about or screened. The copy of John Carpenter's first film, "Dark Star" has just arrived in the media section of the library (VCV 6158). As I said during the show, I would like all of you to write a three page paper, based on some of the themes that were raised in the session. Use your imagination and utilize other film resources as well as those that I have talked about. For example, you may want to tackle the assignment by writing on the following types of questions...

1. What is phenomenology?

2. Is knowledge always plagued by the problem of solipsism?

3. Does death affect the consciousness of the passage of time?

4. Is boredom a kind of death?

5. If exploding was your primary aim in life, would you be content to do so on the basis of false data?

6. Darwin versus Genesis?

7. Is humankind still evolving?

8. Does the surreal dreamscape of "Un Chien Andalou" (Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali) convey any message?

9. What is the significance of slicing an eye with a razor blade?

These questions are only guidelines. As I said, use your imagination. Please send your papers to this e-mail address as attached Microsoft Word 97 documents. If in doubt about software compatibility, send your documents in RTF format. I wish you all a good Pesach and I look forward to seeing you soon. I'm off with my dog, Virginia, to the Sinai for a spot of diving (she isn't going to dive).

All the best



Dr. Louis N. Sandowsky
: cafedifferance@yahoo.com