Thursday, October 18, 2012

Husserl as Systems Thinker: Machines, Intentionality and Emergence

In distinguishing between simple and complex intentional acts Husserl refers to machines.  “A compound machine”, he says, “is a machine compounded out of machines, but so compounded, that it has a total performance into which the performances of the partial machines flow, and the like is the case in regard to compounded acts.”  (LI V §18, p115).  It seems to me that it would be useful to extend the analogy further by referring to the property of "emergence" known in systems thinking.  The function of a machine (“a combination of rigid or resistant bodies having definite motions and capable of performing useful work.”) is often not entirely predictable based upon an inspection of its parts.  One might look for quite some time at the interdigitating cogs of a watch before one surmised that the telling of time was the function.  Perhaps a clearer example is that of water where its properties of flow and the properties of its states seem not to be predicable from an examination of the chemical properties of hydrogen and oxygen.  One wonders in a parallel fashion if something of emergence is at play in intentionality?  Husserl insists upon the unity of the intentional act in a manner that seems to be more than just a mere summing up of partial acts. 

I’ll be working on this over the coming weeks for the Husserl Logical Investigations seminar I am taking with Frédéric Seyler.  Primarily I will be reading Logical Investigation III On the Theory of Wholes and Parts and LI V On Intentional Experiences and Their Contents.  Any thoughts on resources? Robert Sokolowski has some useful papers on LI III onwards from the 1960s.

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