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Extract from: A SHORT CRITIQUE OF KANT’S UNREASON, CHAPTER 4.
The phenomenological truth of human knowledge is exactly the reverse of how Kant views it: first we experience raw data, and then only do we mentally process the information so obtained. Raw experience is experience of the totality of the here and now within the immediate range of one’s consciousness. It is essentially pure of rational interference, though reason is quick to try sorting it out almost as soon as it occurs. Thus, experience is initially unitary and only in a second phase is it rationally made to explode into seeming multiplicity, with variations in space, time and circumstance.
This is a truth evident to anyone who has practiced meditation to the stage of contemplation. One is constantly in the here and now, even though the scenery around one changes continuously in various respects. In this cognitive posture, one is observing without comment of any sort (verbal or non-verbal). And indeed, even if thoughts do arise, they are viewed as just part of the scenery. The non-here and/or non-now are mental projections in the here and now; we here and now remember or imagine things beyond the here and now.
The self in fact always resides in the here and now, even if its attention is usually strongly drawn towards some place else and/or some other time. There seems to be a natural force (of varying intensity) pulling us away from the here and now, perhaps for biological reasons of survival. Nevertheless, through a contrary effort of stillness and silence, we can volitionally bring our awareness back in the here and now; and with much training this can become a habit.
Buddhist psychology has, in my view, well explained what it is that draws us out of the ‘here and now’ into the ‘there and/or then’. It is the pull and push of desire (and aversion). We cling to (or away from) some passing content of the ever unfolding here and now, and become absorbed by it. Our attention becomes locked onto it for a while, fed by and feeding memories and fantasies. To avoid this malady, it is necessary to practice non-attachment.
The content of raw experience is essentially a continuous field, not only at any given moment but also from moment to moment. The division of experience into moments is already a rational act; experience itself is one across time. More precisely, experience is only of the present, and any consideration of past (memory) or future (anticipation) is rational rather than experiential. We are always in the present, whose changing appearance is all part of the present. Mental impressions of memory or anticipation may float over more present-seeming appearances, but they must be regarded phenomenologically as in the present too, and only separated out of it by rational reflection.
Similarly, the imaginary cutting up of the visual and other phenomenal fields into distinct parts – and on a later, more abstract plane, the distinction between whole and parts of space as such – this is rational activity that comes after actual experience. Such rational acts presuppose phenomena to act on, and therefore must lag slightly behind the experiences they are applied to. Nevertheless, they do not necessarily rely on memory, because what we experience as “the present” is not an instant, but a moment of time – i.e. the present has a temporal extension, it is not a mere point in time.
Thus, it is we who mentally cut experience up and then bind it together, through various rational acts. These acts occur in the present, like all existing things and events. Before we can locate ‘parts’ of experience variously in space or time, or classify them together in any way, we must differentiate them from each other. For example, we may choose to consider visible blobs of colors as distinct things; thereafter we may regard these items as spatially or temporally separate, or this color and that one to be the same or at least similar (the same to some extent but differing in shade, say).