joi, 11 august 2011

Sensation and Memory in Aristotle, Metaphysics, 980a26-b1




By nature animals are born with the faculty of sensation, and from sensation memory is produced in some of them, though not in others. And therefore the former are more intelligent and apt at learning than those which cannot remember.
Aristotle, Metaphysics, 980a6-b1

What could mean nature in the act of recognizing a natural faculty? One rigorous analysis of language could qualify both ‘nature’ and ‘natural faculty’ as doubtful concepts, since they have no clear cut objects of reference. ‘Nature’ is rather an object of various interpretation, as ‘natural faculty’ is only a derivative notion posited after the simpler apprehension of senses and of different manifestations related to them.

When two such concepts with an indefinite reference are joined, this fact is possible by the power of stating facts in the name of the coherence supposed by the notions involved. It seems that we may call something as the ‘nature’ of an animal exactly because we may call or understand something as a ‘natural faculty’. It is a sort of coherence as that met in analytical judgments and in their possible extension in a whole discourse. If we remember that Kant’s critique to analytical discourses aimed at the metaphysical and theological ones, it is a reason to look for the power exposed by them. They are not contrary to the experience as an appeal to real facts, but rather against the long periods of hesitation that fragmentize an empirical discourse. These hesitations proved by an empirical discourse as a consequence of its attempt to observe phenomena are easily overwhelmed by a metaphysical or theological discourse that thinks of itself as having all the objects at his disposal.

Therefore, any empirical inquiry that adopts a forceful analytical discourse is in fact far from being an empirical one. Aristotle’s observation is not excepted from this apparent empiricism. Sensation and memory are attributed to animals in so fashion, that any account of human knowledge cannot leave room for any disruptive movement to this pattern.

We may call it an analytical pattern as long it provides two ways from which human knowledge cannot depart, like we cannot move further by emitting an analytical judgment. Everything else seems to be contained by them, because sensation is suggested as the faculty that subdues an outer experience and the memory is the faculty that retains and encloses such experience in ourselves.

The authority of an appeal to a natural fact can be contested by a different view of it. Namely, there should be a view that hesitates between describing the now living animal and its ever changing existence. Moreover, it should be aware of its death. Such hesitation will drive us to moderate the characterization of something as stable as its epistemological faculties or as its nature.

Thus, Aristotle’s belief about the universal presence of sensation in animals should be adjusted for mentioning instead all animals’ capacity of dealing with the world in the way it affects their being in the most intimate way. For senses are to be viewed as the most intimate aspect of their being. The sensorial activity is not one of a sensorial faculty, but rather the clashing, smooth, or lifeless manner in which the world catches the animals in its own movement. Reversibly, the sensorial activity should describe the ways of acting upon the world, too. As a consequence, the so-called ‘sensation’ signifies a cognitive side of animals only in a partial manner, if we take the cognition as a capacity of accumulating data from the world.

Memory could be treated in the same way. According to its relation to a sensorial activity that transgresses the simple explanation of a capacity of grasping information from the world, the memory does not stock information, but represents the shelter needed for retreating outside of an exhausting existence in the world. The memory shows that animals search for this shelter in themselves, but the inner sense of this self is ruined by the fact that it is constituted from the former exposure in the world. Also, something close to the memory may be viewed in the death of the animals, one instance of their retreat from the world.

The intelligence and learning would not be so stable features of an animal as Aristotle suggests. Intelligence is not the simple apprehension of the world. For its reliance on memory, learning could be a way of stepping back from a vivid relation to the world for the sake of consolidating our individuality. The Darwinian idea of struggle for existing adds an argument for considering that animals use their organic memory as a means for imposing their individuality.

The human beings prove their intelligence and learning by language. The language can exacerbate the meanings of sensorial activity and of memory. It can be an intriguing and offensive way of imposing to other men, without any reference to the world. Also, it can make dead a lot of human contacts with the world. Surely, this is the work of considering human being as an aggregate of faculties, too.