Saturday, May 21, 2011

On Implosive Rationality

This post is inspired by a single line from Collingwood's Speculum Mentis. But I hope to use that quotation to address several issues that I have been pondering for the last couple years. The quotation comes from Collingwood's section on art.

As the title of the post suggests, the issue I'm trying to deal with is the paradoxical utility of reason. Reason, I suspect, is not very valuable in its own right. On the contrary, reason is valuable because it has a residual effect on our behavior. By which I mean that a rational conclusion is most valuable when it ceases to be rational and exists simply as intuitive behavior. In other words, reason is most valuable when it helps us create new habits for ourselves.

The purposeful and rational creation of habits is something that has been troubling me for quite sometime now. It is so difficult to conceptualize this idea. So let me just throw the quotation from Speculum Mentis directly into the mix. In this section Collingwood is arguing that aesthetic consciousness is defined by pure imagination that doesn't pay attention to rational criteria. "[E]very artist," he claims, "who can recollect the actual aesthetic experience knows that in this experience the world of men and things is forgotten, and that any desire to communicate or seek an audience for this thoughts is subsequent and alien to the experience itself" (69). In other words, the aesthetic experience has nothing to do with rationality and is a world of pure imagination. That does not mean, however, that reason has no part in the development of this aesthetic consciousness. In fact, Collingwood asserts that rational reflection is necessary to the development. If we don't take the time to reflect on the nature of aesthetic consciousness then we may never develop it at all. But this is where the use of reason becomes paradoxical, and where I feel tempted to call this form of thinking 'implosive rationality'. "The life of reason, therefore, whose first step is the development of the aesthetic consciousness, finds its second step in the conquest and, in some sort, the destruction of that consciousness" (73).

Ultimately, the purpose of rationally apprehending the aesthetic experience is to be able to leave that rationality behind and fully engage in the imaginative world of the aesthetic. It is a form of rationality that is meant to destroy itself, meant to implode on itself, and to give way to a fully imaginative and intuitive behavior. It is rationality that is meant to dissolve into a set of new habits. In this case, the habit is to embrace the aesthetic experience. But does this notion of implosive rationality have implications for things beyond the aesthetic?

I think the answer might be yes or no, depending on where we decided that the aesthetic begins and ends. If the notion of the aesthetic extends to all of our emotional life, then the answer is no, it doesn't have implications beyond the aesthetic (but that doesn't matter because in that case all of life becomes a matter of aesthetics). But if we find it necessary to separate ordinary life and the aesthetic experience, which we probably should, then we can say that this notion of implosive rationality has implications that go beyond just art. Anytime we are using language and reason to create a new habit for ourselves, or to give us a new intuitive understanding, we are benefitting from the existence of implosive rationality.

In many ways that is what 'idealism' is at its core. It is this idea that to introduce new concepts into our lives means to introduce new experiences into our lives. It is like how Inuits experience snow in a far more nuanced way than us because they have more than 200 words for different types of snow. We can describe snow in a very limited number of ways, and in turn we experience snow in a very limited way. But there a certain branches of our lives that we experience in much more nuanced ways because the language we have for them is more nuanced. What is a good example? Well, just think about the way that our experiences of people are facilitated by our ideas of people. We experience situations in terms of people's race, class, gender, sexuality, social classification, etc.

So in almost any situation that we experience things, we can introduce new concepts rationally, let those concepts implode on themselves, and we will then begin to experience those things in new ways.

I therefore define implosive rationality as a form of rationality that is meant to enhance an intuitive capacity or create a habit, thereby negating itself, or 'imploding on itself' in the process. It is a self-undermining form of rationality. It is a form of rationality that seeks to be destroyed by the habits that it creates. It is a form of rationality that seeks to perpetuate its content by negating its form. The form of the rational proposition is negated, but the content of the proposition persists in the form of the habit that is thus created. To put it even more simply (thanks to M'ax), a form of rationality whose ultimate goal is to improve a process that is intuitive or non-rational.

A curious idea. I'm pleased to have come up with this phrase 'implosive rationality'. I'm not sure if it makes sense entirely. But it is a new idea, an infant idea. It lines up well with my work on habit.

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