Kantian Reflections on Science, Metaphysics, and the Future of Time: Situating Kant’s Spatio-Temporal Modalities of Being and Thought in Contemporary Philosophy and Neuroscience

Inferential Rationality

Kant’s initial project was to explicate the difference between “knowing-what” (pure reason) and “knowing-how” (practical reason) in the way of laying the foundations of a scientific metaphysics. Counter to Descartes[1] and Hume[2] he aimed at situating the subject within the limits of what can be known by rational human beings. The Kantian subject is embodied, embedded, and extended in space and time as opposed to the Cartesian subject thinking itself out of bounds in search of a proof for the existence of God regardless of the limits of reason, and the Humean subject as “a bundle of perceptions” according to whom all knowledge is rooted in sensory experience. Kant’s shifting conceptualization of the subject explicates the relation between the knowing mind and the acting/interacting body. The question is simply this: how does it further our understanding of the Kantian subject to situate it in particular discursive contexts?

Following Leibniz’s “principle of sufficient reason” Kant introduces the question of “knowing-why” to the epistemological field in the Critique of Judgement. What I would like to do is to re-introduce the concept of time, or “knowing-when” into the empirical realism/critical idealism of Kant in such a way as to actualize a unilateral relation, or a non-relation between thought and being, or time and space. If the Kantian categorical imperative is based on a philosophical decision to posit time and space as synthetic a priori categories rendering it possible for the subject to ground the foundation of reason as the non-representable core of being, then we should indeed focus on Kant’s “manifold of sense” and thereby take it upon ourselves to distinguish between multiple modes, types, and layers of the representations of being and thought, organic and inorganic, the finite and the infinite. Now, let us take a closer look at Kant whose attempt at reconciling critique and construction strikes us as nothing short of a ground-breaking achievement.

It also follows naturally from the concept of an appearance in general that something must correspond to it which is not in itself appearance, for appearance can be nothing for itself and outside of our kind of representation; thus, if there is not to be a constant circle, the word ‘appearance’ must already indicate a relation to something the immediate representation of which is, to be sure, sensible, but which in itself, without this constitution of our sensibility (on which the form of our intuition is grounded), must be something, i.e. an object independent of sensibility. Now from this arises the concept of a noumenon, which, however, is not at all positive and does not signify a determinate cognition of any sort of thing, but rather only the thinking of something in general, in which I abstract from all form of sensible intuition.[3]

There is a transcendental difference between thinking and knowing what is thought, sensing and knowing what is sensed. Kant, for whom we can think the thing-in-itself but can only know it as it is for-us, situates objectivity within the subject itself and inversely. This structure of thought is indeed correlationist, as Meillassoux’s puts it, since it points towards the intertwined nature of being and thought. A non-correlationist account of the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity requires a thought thinking itself independently of being.[4] It is at this point that the role of paradox in Kant’s system of thought emerges as a constitutive element of his conceptual/critical apparatus. The paradox is that infinitude is within finitude itself. This immanence of the objective and timeless truth in time and space, the universal within the particular, the immortal in the mortals, is that which prepares the ground for Hegel to carry out the work of speculation necessary for the emergence of the rational subject as distinct from the conscious self. Kant’s great contribution to philosophy is first and foremost the split he introduces between the subject of enunciation and the enunciated content in such a way as to unite them. Hegel only had to situate this process of becoming other than itself in time. The whole Kantian edifice revolves around the dynamic interaction between ontological and epistemological modes of being and thinking. Kant finds the way of overcoming the paradoxes of dialectical process in and through submitting his thought to its own inner dynamics, that is, the dialectical configuration of immanence and transcendence in relation to one another.

Kantian transcendentalism has at its root the immanence of the transcendental itself. This accessibility of the Kantian conception of the relationship between finitude and infinitude, thought and being, the organic and the organic, the subjective and the objective renders it capable of generating new versions of itself. This openness to revision and update of the Kantian edifice makes it a generic thought. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explicates what he means by the synthetic a priori which is one of the core elements of Kant’s conceptual/critical apparatus. This apparatus is transcendental precisely because it situates thought and being as immanent to one another, the reflective judgement transcends the void which splits as it unites thought and being. The split is projected on the nature of reality in-itself. The in-itself is itself split within itself by nature. Since one becomes who one is by way of internalizing the work of nature, one projects onto nature what one has already introjected from nature. Kant’s thought is a circle, but it is in no way a vicious one, quite the contrary, it revises and updates itself as it goes along the way, increasingly resembling a spiral as time goes by.

What Neuroscience lacks is a cultural context, likewise what humanities and social sciences lack is a natural basis. Situated in-between the dualities of ontology/epistemology and phenomenology/noumenology, the goal of this project is to establish a non-reductive interaction between neuroscience and philosophy, nature and culture, organic and inorganic, empirical and conceptual, epistemological and ontological, transcendent and immanent, the objective and the subjective. In the way of establishing the link which has come to be considered missing between the mental phenomena and the physical entities, I shall attempt to test and implement new modes of being and thinking in and through which the subject constitutes itself as object of knowledge in contemporary social and natural sciences in accordance with a non-reductive account of the relationship between reasons and intuitions, thoughts and sensations, causes and effects, intentions and actions, inferences and references, concepts and percepts. And this is where Badiou’s formalisation of politics, art, science, and love as the conditions of philosophy becomes relevant. For Badiou’s whole project is itself an attempt at a potentially evental act situating truth as a process of eternity in time. His materialist dialectic opens up the possibility of producing new common-senses in and through political, artistic, scientific, and amorous practices as procedures of truth. By way of carrying out condensed reflections as well as intense meditations on the creative process as it presents itself in Sellars’ manifest/scientific images and Badiou’s mathematics-as-ontology/philosophy-as-truth-procedure, I intend to put social and natural sciences in a progressively productive relation with art and philosophy so as to overcome the problem of transmission among and communication between different temporalities, as well as the varying modes of being and thought within the same temporality.

There is an interstitial time whereby thought takes it upon itself to transcend itself towards the unknown. That’s where abstraction, formalisation, and visualisation take on a temporal modality of being in and through which differential individuation and inferential rationality constitute new normative judgments giving form and content to a new common-sense in accordance with a general-intellect driven by the infinity of the noumenal as a regulative idea. That’s where the thought as void consumes itself and a contraction takes place in time, giving birth to a rupture between thought and being, a modal time-space between the past and the present, out of which a progressively altered future continually emerges and change takes place.

Regulative Idea

In a world wherein conscious desire is absent, one cannot know what is to be done, what can be done, and how to do it. The reduction of consciousness to physical matter deprives humanity of the possibility of rationally intended change. The idea that intervening in the workings of nature solely by way of that which nature presents independently of culture is to fall into the trap one sets for oneself. It is not only necessary, but also possible to develop a theory of self-conscious subjectivity as being aware of oneself within one’s own time and space. Thought can mean something only in so far as it is situated within a context indeed, but for thought to mean something worthy of the name of truth it also has to leave the old paradigm behind, change the co-ordinates, reconstruct the context and perchance initiate a new course of continuity in change driven by a conscious desire to transcend the mode of being and thinking in which the subject is embedded and embodies at once. It is a matter of realising that theory and practice are always already reconciled and yet the only way to actualise this reconciliation passes through carrying it out and across by introducing a split between the subject of statement (the enunciated content) and the subject of enunciation (the formal structure in accordance with this content).

Mode of Enquiry

The nature of this study requires a trans-/multi-disciplinary and inter-/mixed-methodological attitude which goes beyond the opposition between merely conceptual and merely empirical approaches. It requires a mode of enquiry which takes its driving force from a gap that opens paths to a new field in which various perspectives interact and constitute a theoretical practice in order to initiate the emergence of a new subject out of the old paradigm. To achieve this one must not only pose new questions, but also provide new answers concerning the workings of the human brain and its interactions with the world surrounding it, out of which the concepts of mind, consciousness, affectivity, and intentionality emerge.

Conceptual Context and Structural Synopsis

As is well known since Kant, the instruments (software and hardware) social and natural scientists have at hand to investigate natural and cultural phenomena play a very significant role not only in the analysis, but also in the production of the object/subject of study itself. This study is a venture into the relationship between the manifest and the scientific images of humanity[5] designated by Wilfrid Sellars in relation to Alain Badiou’s materialist dialectic of the human animal and the immortal subject of truth. In both cases an intersubjective position constitutive of objectivity as a regulative idea is at work. The rigorous disjunction introduced by Sellars and Badiou between sentience[6] and sapience[7] will be investigated in conjunction with the contemporary thought embodied by and embodying transcendental realism/materialism, embedded in and extended to non-reductive naturalism. By way of referring to Laruelle/Deleuze as the representatives of non-reductive naturalism on one side, and Sellars/Badiou as the representatives of transcendental realism/materialism on the other, with Kant as the vanishing mediator in-between, I hope to demonstrate, at least in theory, that the constitutive link which has come to be considered missing between the mental phenomena and the physical entities is actually a non-relation rather than an absence of relation, for it is neither transcendent nor immanent to the subject, but is rather the manifestation of a purely immanent affectivity (Michel Henry), intervening in the ordinary flow of things, initiating a rupture in time as the subject itself.

The model of mind conceptualized by Gerald Edelman shows us that the mind is an embodied and embedded substance which has the ability to adapt to changes surrounding it.[8] I intend to use Edelman’s A Universe of Consciousness to reconfigure the relationship between the manifest and the scientific images of humanity and the transcendence of the human animal towards the immortal subject of truth. Taking into consideration the emerging technologies within the field of neuroscience, I hope to render a timely reconstruction of Kant’s theory of the subject and the role of representation in its self-constitutive process, which associates the algorithmic dynamics of the neuroplasticity softwares, as well as the programs visualising the neuronal interactions and even analysing the data provided by the synaptic network in all its complexity.

The investigation will begin by tracing Kant’s affinities with and differences from Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Bergson. This genealogical exposition will be followed by Kant’s links to the three other forerunners of German Idealism: Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. In the third part the reflections of Kant in contemporary philosophy – as embodying and embodied by Heideggerian Hermeneutics and Existential Phenomenology, Adorno and Horkheimer’s Negative Dialectic, Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism, Michel Henry’s Material Phenomenology, Laruelle’s Non-Philosophy, Sellars’ Psychological Nominalism, Badiou’s Materialist Dialectic, Žižek’s Transcendental Materialism as attributed by Adrian Johnston, Metzinger’s Phenomenal Self-Model, Meillassoux’s Speculative Materialism, and Brassier’s Transcendental Nihilism – will be explicated and developed in light of the recent advances in neuroscience (Gerald Edelman) and temporal-modal logic (Rudolf Carnap).

The next step will be to situate Kant’s conception of the subject into the context of neuroscience and the subject of neuroscience into the context of Transcendental Realism/Materialism and Non-Reductive Naturalism. I intend to reconstruct Kant’s edifice by theorizing a temporal metaphysics of modality transfiguring Kant’s paradoxical configuration of Transcendental Idealism and Empirical Realism. I shall therefore attempt to update Kant’s transcendental critique and metaphysical construction by situating it in time in such a way as to reconfigure the Kantian conceptual/critical apparatus. Resolving the tension between the transcendent and the immanent inherent in the Kantian enterprise, the project will culminate in a discussion of the different ways in which science, art, and philosophy may cast a focused view on current research in cognitive computation manifest in digital epistemologies and actualised in new neuroplasticity softwares in the service of a more effective pedagogy taking into consideration the embodied, embedded, and extended nature/culture of the living and learning subject.

Lastly but by no means least significantly, the eventual subject-matter of this research project is  simply the idea that ideas are objects we are embedded in and embody at once. In the light of this idea Kant’s conceptual/critical apparatus has the potential of functioning as a tool-kit to aid in laying the foundations of a new mode of the relation between being and thought, which would bring transcendental critique and metaphysical construction together without subsuming one under the other. Laruelle’s and Deleuze’s analogical mode of thinking (non-reductive naturalism) can be coupled with Sellars’ and Badiou’s digital mode of thinking (transcendental realism/materialism) in such a way as to split as one unites Kant’s Transcendental Logic and Transcendental Aesthetics in and through a disjunctive-synthesis. It is indeed possible to rehabilitate Kantian concepts and methods so as to infer, derive, and present a future oriented, non-reductive, and non-physicalist account of the contiguity between being and thought, the organic and the inorganic, the psyche and the soma, the subject of enunciation and the enunciated subject. Sustaining the conditions of possibility for a continuity in change is precisely the reason why I would like to put forth some theoretico-practical steps in the way of thinking reflectively within and determinatively without a Kantian frame at once, hence contributing to a mode of existence which proceeds by modifying itself ad infinitum – albeit only until the end of time.

Reference Matter

[1] Dogmatic Rationalism: the mind can have a priori cognitive access to reality, reason deduces features of reality. For Descartes correlation between thinking and being is given.

[2] Sceptical Empiricism: takes the intelligibility of sensory experience as given, reason cannot access a priori knowledge of a mind independent reality. For Hume objective correlates of sensory experience, sensations can be intelligible.

[3] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Alan Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 348, A252.

[4] Laruelle introduces a unilateral duality (a non-correlation) of time and space, which privileges time over space and intervenes in the symmetrically balanced nature of Kant’s neutrality constitutive of a bilateral relation (a correlation) between these two conditions of possibility for cognition to take place. Non-philosophy’s method of dualysis disrupts the equilibrium of the two terms at work in a dialectical process, subsuming the Two under the One as the None.

[5] The Kantian relation between conception and sensation is at work in the relation between the scientific and the manifest images of human behaviour. The distinction between thinking and sensing can be traced back to Kant.

[6] Sentience: phenomenal and experiential aspects of mind (consciousness).

[7]Sapience: psychological and functional aspects of mind (self-consciousness, awareness of consciousness).

[8] “Imagine a peculiar (and even weird) string quartet, in which each player responds by improvisation to ideas and cues of his or her own, as well as to all kinds of sensory cues in the environment. Since there is no score, each player would provide his or her own characteristic tunes, but initially these various tunes would not be coordinated with those of the other players. Now imagine that the bodies of the players are connected to each other by myriad fine threads so that their actions and movements are rapidly conveyed back and forth through signals of changing thread tensions that act simultaneously to time each player’s actions. Signals that instantaneously connect the four players would lead to a correlation of their sounds; thus, new, more cohesive, and more integrated sounds would emerge out of the otherwise independent efforts of each player. This correlative process would alter the next action of each player, and by these means the process would be repeated but with new emergent tunes that were even more correlated. Although no conductor would instruct or coordinate the group and each player would still maintain his or her style and role, the player’s overall productions would lead to a kind of mutually coherent music that each one acting alone would not produce.” Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi, A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 49.

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3 thoughts on “Kantian Reflections on Science, Metaphysics, and the Future of Time: Situating Kant’s Spatio-Temporal Modalities of Being and Thought in Contemporary Philosophy and Neuroscience

  1. That’s a great post. The only issue I really have with it is how you avoid The being of thought or the thought of being? At what moment does the discussion about thought remain thought and at what point is it removed from being?

    I feel like you have a good analysis and yet somehow I feel like you missed the meaning of your own analysis. ?

    Can you explain this or otherwise disentangle it?

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