Alva Noë, Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (NY: Hill and Wang, 2015).
In this note, I want to focus on the presentation of philosophy as a “level 2 reorganization practice” in Strange Tools.
Chapter 4 of ST is entitled “Art Loops and the Garden of Eden.” Here Noë lays out many of the most important ideas of the work. (In my next post, I’ll tackle the notion of “writerly attitude” laid out in Chapter 4; here I’ll focus on philosophy.)
Noë begins by recapping the difference between Levels 1 and 2. Level 1 is that of organized activities (see the previous post); level 2 is that of the practice that provides a perspicuous representation of the organized activity, where “the nature of the organization at the lower level gets put on display and investigated” (ST 29). For instance, choreography displays dancing to us, as (bio-culturally informed) organized activity.
Now, for Noë philosophy is also a level-2 practice: it “stands to our level-1 cognitive undertakings – reasoning, argument, belief formation, and crucially, the work of science – [as] choreography stands to movement and dancing, or painting stands to picture-making activities” (ST 29-30).
So, to fulfill the analogy that Noë leaves implicit, if dancing taps into a “culturally shaped motion bank” that is informed by downward looping of choreography so that our “spontaneous” dancing is “cliché-like,” (ST 31), then we have a culturally shaped thought bank whereby our everyday thoughts are informed by previous philosophical concepts. (Keynes said that the most hard-headed practical business people are ruled by the thoughts of long dead philosophers; Dreyfus diagnosed the Cartesianism of AI; there are many other diagnoses, grist for the mill of cultural critics.)
I would say that these “banks” are virtual or potential or transcendental with regard to the actual / empirical thoughts we think. But that virtual / potential / transcendental realm is not unstructured; far from it. There are lines running through it, lines that make it more or less likely that we will have a certain thought at a certain time. In other words, by being organized in cultural thought activities we become predisposed to have certain patterns of occurring thoughts.
But, and this is the key, those virtual / potential / transcendental lines are not static Platonic Ideas; they are instead experimentally made and remade by the interplay between philosophical re-organization and cultural organization. The transcendental realm of our “thought bank,” in other words, is always in relation with the empirical realm of our reading and writing philosophy. So that philosophy is a practice of de-organizing our thought patterns and thereby alerting us to our having-been-organized in a particular way so that we might undertake a re-organization of our virtual thought bank.
Now, “undertake” might be too voluntaristic, or at least it’s not the whole story; sometimes I think we “undergo” a de- / re-organization, in relation to our “undertaking” it: sometimes you are shocked into incomprehension but then find glimmers you can follow, by a concentrated undertaking, that might lead you into a new set of thought potentials.
The same conditions of plasticity and multiple processuality we talked about yesterday are the conditions for this de- / re-organization of thought that philosophical practice affords us. So we find philosophy here as the art of thinking.