Explore BrainMass

Nature of Logic and Perception: perceptual blocks, critical thinking process

Read and discuss the perceptual blocks while explaining the critical thinking process and how it is changed or manipulated by their perception.

Nature of logic

What is the question to which humans are the answer? Narrowly speaking, this was the riddle the Sphinx posed to Oedipus: "What walks on four feet in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?" When Oedipus knew the answer--man--the beast was defeated. But thousands of years of our history, and especially the scope of environmental damage in the last few hundred, have changed the beast's appearance and posed the riddle anew. Before we give our answer, we must first understand the environmental beast's question. As an approach, in this essay I explore the cultural and conceptual history of nature in the Western tradition and the reasons and chance for a shift toward a philosophy of nature centered in nature, in physis rather than anthropos. (Meyer 1997)

Humboldt's Discovery
Alexander von Humboldt, the scientist and explorer, has been called the second European discoverer of America, particularly of South America. Today, we might rather recall Humboldt as a discoverer of humanity itself in nature. Even in the present we usually take for granted that "here we are as human beings," and that some of us refer ourselves, scientifically, to the rest of the world around us. The universe then appears to be our environment, the human habitat. This approach is consistent with the anthropocentric dualism of being and having, namely, to be human and to have everything else at our disposal. Quite differently, Humboldt accepted the riddle of the Sphinx as an open question. How, then, did he look for an answer?

In his comprehensive work, Cosmos--Outline of a Physical Description of the World, (Humboldt 1845) Humboldt started with the universe as the great garden of the world (Weltgarten). He presented its cosmogony and cosmology, and only finally pointed out that among and with many other celestial bodies in that great garden there is also a little planet called Earth. Humboldt proceeded to describe how this planet emerged from the sun and how it continues to depend on the sun's light and warmth. Next, the elements of life--earth, water, air, and fire (or energy)--are considered with respect to their physical and chemical properties. These elements then give birth to or become alive in the biosphere so that "the geography of organic life . . . directly follows the description of the anorganic phenomena on Earth," (Humboldt) with the same forces and basic substances prevailing in both spheres. Finally, humans are recognized as part of the biosphere, which itself is part of Earth and which again Humboldt points out as a particular place within the great garden of the universe.

Humboldt's answer to the riddle of the Sphinx is Copernican. He neither presumes that Earth is the center of the universe, nor that humanity is the center, but openly accepts the question of how and where we fit into the world. His answer is that we participate in the whole as part of a part of a part of it, and that we find ourselves at our place within a family of living beings, or together with others. These others are essentially with us, not around or for us. In accord with Humboldt I call them the co-natural world, instead of the "environment" with its unfortunate anthropocentric connotation.

Humboldt went further, and this next step may justify attributing to him the modern scientific self-recognition of humanity in nature. Thus far humanity has been identified materially as part of the biosphere, but a truly holistic description must consider "nature. . . in both spheres of her being, in the material as well as in the spiritual." (Humboldt) Humanity is organically equipped with reason, as a fish is with the faculty to swim. As Immanuel Kant wrote, "Reason is a gift of nature." (Kant 1964) In the study of the history of language, a preeminent tool of reason, Humboldt specifically considered humanity as a living natural whole (lebendiges Naturganze). In fact, he wrote that "language is . . . part of the natural history of mind" (Naturkunde des Geistes). "The natural history of mind" sounds strange to the modern philosophical ear, but is not the perception of nature itself a natural process, so that human awareness--and that of other beings--of the co-natural world and of the whole itself must be considered within the description of nature? In this sense, the first part of the second volume of Humboldt's Cosmos deals with the perception of nature in the poetry and visual arts of Homo sapiens. A historical outline of the scientific perception of nature follows in the second part.

Humboldt asserted that nature should not be conceived "as if mind were not included in the whole of nature" (als ware das Geistige nicht auch in dem Naturganzen enthalten). Among the millions of species, nature rather has produced quite a few with faculties of language (many more have consciousness, and all, as we know, have DNA, a "syntactic language"). One has a particular awareness of the whole, so that nature recognizes herself by means of reason in the human mind. In fact, after billions of years in natural history, one of the many beings that had emerged from evolution raised its head and, in Greek antiquity, called the whole what it is: cosmos and physis. Humboldt's approach to science bears a chance to avoid the basic inconsistency of modern science as otherwise developed, that is, to comprehend the world except for a blind spot with respect to the most basic fact of that comprehension--namely, that the world includes scientists who strive to comprehend it.

The mainstream of modern science did not absorb Humboldt's Copernican insight but has only replaced geocentricism with anthropocentricism--one wrong answer for another. I state this easily, observing the environmental crisis of industrial society, but the challenge to develop a truly Copernican science still seems almost beyond human capacity. Even the theory of evolution has yet to be well understood as the basis of a natural history of the human mind. With respect to the recognition of the scientist within scientific knowledge, quantum theory in Niels Bohr's understanding seems most advanced, but the industrial economy is still based on classical physics. While the Copernican challenge to Western thought five hundred years ago evoked a development that comprises anthropocentricism as well as evolution and quantum theory, this development has impetus apart from such elements. Identifying this development further may help in considering the chances to stand up for the Copernican challenge within the next five hundred years--time scales of centuries being required for the profound penetration of major ideas into human cultures.

Meyer, Klaus Michael. Abich, Praktische Naturphilosophie (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1997)
Humboldt,Alexander von, Kosmos. Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung, 5 vols. (Stuttgart/Tubingen: Cotta, 1845-1862)
Humboldt, Kosmos. Entwurf einer physischen Welt-Beschreibung, Vol. I,367f. (Quotations from non-English texts are given in the author's translation, except for The Critique of Judgement on page 231.)

Solution Preview

Sphinx arrested all travelers who came to Thebes, proposing to them a riddle, with the condition that those who could solve it should pass safe. All of the travelers before Oedipus failed to give the correct answer because they all stereotyped the human being as a two legged creature. The answer was "man", who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in manhood walks erect, and in old age with the aid of a staff. Some of us may still have doubts about this reasoning due to the strong effects of preconceptions which is a common perceptual block. More than five million years ago there lived the common ancestor to humans and apes, a dog-sized primate who wandered the African grasslands on four legs. We can consider the human life span as a shorter and simpler ...

Solution Summary

In a 521 word solution, the response discusses the concepts requested.