I’ve been writing recently about epoché as an exercise (or askēsis) of perception. I take epoché in this context to mean something like bracketing or suspending one’s immersion in perception so that one can evaluate the construction of experience from a different angle.
Pierre Hadot describes something like an epoché when he writes about interrupting or intervening in the automatic functioning of what he calls our “inner logos.” Our perception of things, Hadot says, is conditioned by our regular habits and acquaintances with the world around us.
This conditioning has a way of sedimenting itself into our experience. The inner logos is an interface between our habituated knowledge of the world, on the one hand, and the way this knowledge grows implicit within our perception, on the other.
The ever-present reality is that the inner logos is always becoming automatic. And this in many cases is as it should be—the inner logos is a system of embodied knowledge-habits that guide our navigation through the world.
It lets us abstract expectations and qualities across events so that we don’t have to discover everything anew every time we walk out the door. However, at the same time, and for the same reason, the inner logos periodically requires intervention, interruption, and surprise.
Epoché is something like this kind of interruption. It’s a skill of perception that takes many forms. In other words, there isn’t one kind of epoché but a variety of modes of practice that suspend, interrupt, and defamiliarize sensation. The act creates a space for novelty.
Novelty in turn allows for a reconfiguration of the inner logos, of the internal system of associations and expectations that render available our understanding of the world, and even of the very way in which a world shows up for us in experience at all.
In the works of people like Edmund Husserl, epoché is a phenomenological move that takes place within the purview of some person. But as Peter Sloterdijk observes, there are also material forms of epoché, architectural affordances that provide something like an extended epoché.
This is the thought I had while in a float tank yesterday: It’s something like a material epoché, a way of bracketing out, to the extent possible, the inflowing rush of external sensory stimulation. It makes space for a reorientation of the inner logos.
The float tank is based around the idea of limiting sensory stimuli, including by reducing the sense of an inside / outside boundary (the floater rests in a tank of salt water maintained at body temperature, reducing the difference between the outside atmosphere and the body).
This is, strictly speaking, a kind of environmental scaffolding for practicing epoché. In such an environment, it grows easier to achieve, at least temporarily, the kind of reordering of the inner logos that Hadot describes as essential to the spiritual exercises of philosophy.
I don’t think a float tank is a replacement for regular contemplative practice, which must realize itself in the real world of everyday interactions, but it is for me a healthy antidote to the overstimulated world I find myself in most days. I recommend giving it a try sometime.
I’ve been thinking about how one can learn to appreciate the craft/materials that goes into making an artwork work in the ways that it does, Heidegger noted how we become aware of tools when they don’t work and I think that learning about the crafts/engineering that gear in with our skills to provide affordances is a way to become aware of some aspects of the enabling background without something failing first or some act of destruktion, not so different I think from minding one’s breath or the support of a chair and the floor beneath one’s feet in a bit of body scanning.
Not sure any of that is as grand/rad as Husserl was after but still something to work with perhaps.
maybe time to abandon the pipedream of epoche and adopt niche as building/assembling ecological performance?
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A worthy practice.
Wondering if this way of life can be constant in our “overstimulated world” …
“However, at the same time, and for the same reason, the inner logos periodically requires intervention, interruption, and surprise.” Periodically…intervention…surprise? Why, I surprised my inner logos five times before breakfast this morning! It still has not found a way back in!
How far can we drop out? How long? How deep and how wide is this practice? Floating in tanks is nice. Floating in space is better and a constant. There are invisible epochtic architectures being built all around us… if we just learn to stop looking for them.