The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 16.3 (2002) 182-197
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Thinking the Body, from Hegel's Speculative Logic of Measure to Dynamic Systems Theory 1
I am writing this sentence on a pad of paper. The movement of writing seems integral to my thinking, yet the tendency in philosophy of mind and science is to barricade the mind in the head, to trace it from within by reflection, and to identify mindful activity with a special, complex part of the body. In the effort to overcome a dualism that disembodies mind, we have somehow ended up with a mind that lumbers about in an otherwise mindless body-machine; we have ended up "disminding" the body. I think that it is wrong to "dismind" the body, that philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty (1962) and Dewey (1929) have shown that mind is inseparable from the whole of the moving body in the world. 2 Yet we still have difficulty thinking of the whole moving body as mindful. Perhaps we do not see how thinking could belong to living movements, parts and processes that we find in many organisms beside ourselves.
In part the problem is conceptual, and what I want to show is how Hegel's speculative logic can contribute to the enormous conceptual task of learning to think of the whole moving body as mindful. My interlocutor is science, since the empirical work of experimentation has driven contemporary science to rethink the body, for example, to conceive the body as a system that dynamically organizes itself, in which case mindfulness arises in the whole movement of self-organization. Indeed, some scientists conceive this self-organizing movement as a cognitive system. 3 Yet science tends to interpret its results about the body within the conceptual framework of experimental method, and [End Page 182] this framework, with its criteria of objectivity and repeatability, tends to "dismind" the body once again by reducing self-organizing systems to a conjunction of laws. 4
This is where Hegel's speculative analysis of the logic of measurement can help. In the first section, I show how Hegel's analysis of the demands intrinsic to thinking in general can elucidate the explanatory demands that configure scientific thinking and its appeal to measurement. In the second section, this general parallel lets me elucidate a pattern of thinking that drives science to different strategies of measuring the body, which I trace from the work of scientists Nikolai Bernstein to Esther Thelen, until science eventually encounters a self-organizing identity that Hegel would call measureless. In the third section, I show in more detail how scientific thinking parallels the pattern that Hegel traces in his analysis. The approach that I take here, of rethinking the body via an analysis of drives internal to scientific thinking, is meant to complement experiential and phenomenological approaches to the body, by showing how scientific thinking drives itself past the experimental criteria of objectivity and repeatability to an investigative framework that includes individuality and history. In the conclusion, I suggest that this framework demands that we think of a "mindfulness" already at work in the self-organization of the body. Ultimately we need to move beyond all conceptual divisions of mind and body, to think of a more fundamental, unitary phenomenon like Dewey's body-mind or Merleau-Ponty's flesh; but given that our tradition still pursues this phenomenon in terms of body and mind, what is currently required is conceptual analysis of those terms, and I here focus on body.
Hegel's Speculative Science, Experimental Science, and Measure
Hegel's Science of Logic provides a scientific, speculative analysis of logic, of the categorial structures and relationships that inhere in thinking anything at all. By saying that the Logic is scientific, I mean that it aims to be a Wissenschaft, a knowledge endeavor that rigorously and exhaustively secures its own principles and methods in relation to its object. To achieve this rigor, the Logic moves through a dialectic in which thinking examines its conception...