Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aesthetic-Scientific Criticality

Both the empirical (empeiria: "experience") and the aesthetic (aisthese/aisthanomai: "to feel/sense") are derived from sensation and/or experience (both etymologically/historically and in their current general uses). No definition can consistently draw a dividing line between them. Of the many attempts that have been made, from CP Snow to Aristotle, the line differs and what is included and discluded is not consistent: arbitrarity forms the basis of the distinction. However, as with all arbitrary decisions, their freedom give place to the possibility of a utilitarian definition, which frees a categorical distinction into one based on use (without any necessary logical grounding). The arbitrary distinction here proposed is one of practicality and impracticality (that is, of no specific practical use that can be articulated as such), for "science" and "art" respectively. These distinctions, like any others, cannot be held up, yet their action-oriented base serve not only to usefully situate the terms, but also provide a fallible ground by which the contingency of their incomplete definition can be observed.

In both cases, the aesthetic and the empirical question is one of epistemology or knowing. Both likewise vary from a situated skepticism (we know what we are presented with in experience) to a transcendental, a priori form of knowing (in art, there is here the unearthly divine epiphany, in science, the divine light of reason and logic). As transcendental illusory forms, one can say that in that abstraction the logical division (like any such division in relative isolation) is more possible than in the undifferentiated realm of immediacy and sensual encounter. Both in aesthetic and scientific matters, I am interested in exploring the situated, skeptical approach, as the transcendental view is - upon expression - immediately either correct and total, or entirely inevitable in its idealized form, and thus indiscussable (in the same way as an appeal to authority or another dogma-oriented instructional form). The transcendental view could have art and science as completely distinct and there would be nothing that could be said in contradiction of that (even if - indeed appropriately if - the definitions were completely nonsensical).

As in the experiments utilized to expound the ideas of basic empiricism, let us take the copepodal and sexual experiments, exploring how these encounters are knowledge, or how they inform knowledge. The base empirical view holds an indistinction here, or a blending, where the aesthetic and scientific are complementary. In the copepodal laboratory experiment, the aesthetic experience fills the hypothetical space, it describes the experience with no eye to getting results or accurately analysing, but with an eye to completely faithful description and relating of the experience. This essentially abductive process is integral to science (as Peirce has rightly argued), its general holism provides the entirety of a situated encounter which is also an endless abundance of hypothetical possibility (the *reasons* why the copepod behaves a certain way could be *anything* - the freer this imaginative aspect of ascertainment is allowed to be, the greater chance there will be therein a hypothesis that yields experimental results). The aesthetic experience creates imaginative possibilities, it looks naively and totally (yet totally in a completely fictive and hypothetical way) at a situation and expresses anything and everything germane to the evocation of that experience. The aesthetic is hypothetical knowledge* - its role is to germinate and burgeon possible correlates to the given experience. The empirical, on the other hand, applies the hypotheses of experience, and waits for the results - it is dependent on a practical action - one that is sociable and repeatable (where the aesthetic experience may be completely personal and impossible to share).

Base empiricism proposes an aesthetic underpinning to scientific process, it proposes that knowledge is experiential and is complete as something that is both hypothetical and actual in a socially repeatable sense. The already externalized and reduced aspect of the copepodal experiment reduces the hypothetical possibility, making it more open to rationing and reducing the empirical demand (to the point where little to no observation is required besides reading a temperature which may already be largely known**). A more intense experience such as sex however, is far more sensual and is largely resistant to specific socializable results. In this way, the aesthetic is more powerful to explain the sexual experience, while the empirical result set is more powerful to give meaning to the copepodal work. In the base empirical framework, both are involved in each experience, and both correlated forms of knowledge to the given experience (ie. the "empirical" knowledge we learn about sex is but a miniscule part of the experience (say the path by which eggs are fertilized) but forms an important part of the practical knowledge thereof, likewise the general sense we get from observing copepods (boredom, alienation, confusion, fixated interest - or anything) is essential in forming a complete epistemological picture of what that experience is (which implicitly says, how it relates to us)).

Base empiricism is an uncompromised scale of experience, no matter how messy or disagreeable that experience is, and holds primacy for those experiences which are most intense, that is which most severely act in relation to a human subject (whether seeing, touching, or what have you). To properly explain and derive knowledge from these experiences is always a process that blends art and science - the more intense requiring a more artistic approach, and the little, abstracted, collective and contextually-progressive knowledge we have requiring the deliberation of repeatable and questionable science***. The "practicality" of science mentioned in the beginning refers to the practical and communicable relation of its knowledge to a collective, let's say to a larger group in order to build a bridge, while the "impracticality" of aesthetics imagines and dreams possible bridges and possible ways, but in no way says anything beyond the personal until it is translated into the shareable effects endemic to science testing. A whole other consideration then is the ethics of action when it is now a public and socially influential act - what is the responsibility of socializable action (such as that resulting from effective science)?

Experience then, is an undifferentiable whole. Yet the potential divisions we reap from its knowledge (essentially the key difference here being what knowledge is socially pervasive and therefore ethically questionable - again, a functional difference that addresses an actuality regardless of the effectiveness of a given definition for a given reader) - these divisions happen to be crucial. What we know we derive from experience (needless to say through our assumed body-environments) but what is contestable (and should always be contested, or its obfuscations overturned so as to make it open to contestation) and practically scientific, must be met with the public contestation that its public existence merits (which will need both theoretical shifts through the aesthetic generation of possibles and the critical attack proper to the testable and refutable aspects of science).

The measure of art is how well it proliferates possibility, the measure of science how openly contestable its contingent and collective points are. Both are subject to a critical stance, to the experiential test of another observer and experimenter, art tending toward a survey of hypothetical plurality, and science a multiperspectival scrutiny of its practical effects (and their social ramifications).

The base empirical view hinges on an embedded and materialized subject (this, an ontology) with an epistemological hub in given experience, and its fluid subdivisions into aesthetics and science.

All these terms, however, are guides and must be read incompletely in terms of what they reference, which is the actuality on which they are dependent. These terms, base empiricism, aesthetic-scientific criticality, must then be discarded, or must never have a reified position in the system (nor is there a system conceived as such, but a fictionally unifying language that ideally reorganizes the stuff of experience, and proves coherent insofar as it does that).

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*Again, in this assumed results-based framework which isn't "correct" in any way, but assumes transparent and imperfect definitions with a pragmatic check so that, regardless of their preferred definition, their reference provides actualized descriptions.

** This again contrasts with the classical European idea of empiricism which would find this experience as compared with a sexual one more "empirical" not because there is more to experience or sense, but paradoxically because there is less to experience and more to rationalize.

*** But again most crucially here is the inevitable normalization of such abstracted work into a dogmatic trajectory - it is aesthetics here, the re-relating and naively total re-evaluation and proliferation of hypothesis that requires the aesthetic and its imagination.