Perception and Merleau-Ponty

(Note that this is a translation from Dutch to English of a piece I have written for school about a year ago)


Perception is more than receiving of impressions, as it goes hand in hand with a conceiving of “this” or “that”.
An explanation of which it is difficult to separate. Perception is the action of perceiving and the result or the content of this.

Science teaches us that the entire reality, including our body, consists of small particles and radiation. But the world we differentiate in which colour and form, scent and sound occur; in which we experience warm and cold, rough and smooth, hard and soft; that captivates us and touches us and in which we live and work with others: that is the world that is created by our perception.

When it was still warm and the sun was shining, in the days of the summer holiday, when the days where long and the nights short, when the air felt warm to the touch, the streets smelt dusty and the people voluntarily and without necessity dared go outside, I decided to walk to the beach. I put on my headphones and walked bare feet through the familiar streets of Scheveningen. I have lived here my entire life, I know every street, I know every door, this route is etched in my memory. When something so very familiar you don’t see it anymore, I mean that you no longer perceive it. As a robot I crossed the distance and I walked towards the sea. There I stood in the surf, I felt the water around my feet and saw the sea, the sky and the seagulls. I felt how I sank into the sand and I felt a sensation of serenity and unity. While I stood there I realized that I am one with everything around me, the world that I see. And I realized that everything I see I also feel and that what I see is a reflection of what I feel.

In his work the Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty sets the problem of the traditional dichotomy, primarily mind and body, apart. The moment the body was viewed as an “object”, gave birth to the idea of an objective outside world, which exists completely apart from us.
With the thought of the “object body” unraveled, the idea of the separate outside world would be unraveled as well, thought Merleau-Ponty.
According to Merleau-Ponty it took a wrong turn with the 17
th century philosopher Descartes with the following complications to Cartsianism:
The person does not see the object but a mental illusion of the object,
The seeing of mental illusions thus then assumes a “third eye”,
Seeing is reduced to a purely mental process, and the art of painting is viewed as illusionism.

According to him perception not only the result of the functioning of the individual organs, but also a vital and effective human action in which the ego perceives through the organs.
Perception is unimaginable without the functioning of the senses. Each of the senses informs the others in relation to their general behavior pattern, or in relation to a specific human exercise.
Thus Merleau-Ponty claims that we are our body and that our experiences of this body denies the separation between subject and object – mind and body.
He doesn’t want to deny or ignore the things in this life that are usually associated with the mind, but he suggest that using these mental senses are in-separately connected with the body. This means that he enriches the body by letting it think and perceive.
The acting body-subject and the perceiving body-subject are inseparable, because it is through the body that we have excess to the world. Perceiving implicates the perceiving subject in a situation, in stead of positioning it as a viewer that has separated itself from the situation.
Thus there is a connection between action and perception. Thus human beings are not positioned outside or opposite from the world; humans are in the world directed toward the world and at the same time surrounded by the world.
Things only exist for us because we as subject-bodies are concerned about our surroundings.
“Nature is within” cites Merleau-Ponty Cézanne, who in turn paraphrases Goethe: “what is outside, is inside”

Elseviers filosofische en psygologische encyclopedie
De mens in de filosofie van de twintigste eeuw – J. Sperna Weiland
In gezeldschap van filosofen – Roger – Pol Droit
Lesson notes


About alastor993

artist, Art teacher Interests: Drawing, Painting, Experimental film making, writing, philosophy, motorbikes, sleeping!
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