Folding the Manifold: Philosophy as the Practice of Perception

I’m heading down to the Esalen Institute next week to give this talk . . .

The philosopher Pierre Hadot famously advocated for an image of philosophy as a way of life. For Hadot, philosophical insight emerges in the context of spiritual exercises he collected under the term askēsis. Examples of askēsis include contemplative prayer, meditation, fasting, examinations of conscience, dialectics, discursive reasoning, physical training, aesthetics, and visionary experience. It was Hadot’s emphasis on spiritual exercise that led him to affirm Henri Bergson’s definition of philosophy as a transformation of perception. But in what does this transformation consist? More specifically, what is the relation between askēsis and perception? Using resources from phenomenology and transcendental philosophy, I will show that askēsis acts upon what phenomenologists call the intentional structure of perception, and that what is shaped through such practice is the manifold of sensibility described in transcendental philosophy. What emerges from this discussion is a view of perception as itself a type of practice, where attention is an act of shaping the arrangement of consciousness. Philosophy, then, is the art of folding the manifold.


  1. I’m thinking that transformation occurs more through the practices that Hadot advocates for, but Kant gives us this whole descriptive language that lets us understand how it all hangs together—it allows for something like a general language of practices of transformation. Though now that I think about it, once the CPR really clicked for me, it was a pretty transformative encounter, too.


  2. congrats…and Illich talks about precisely this askesis (or conviviality)….or virtue (a word which he says is difficult to pronounce today…
    There are good comments in ‘The rivers north of the future’ – the Gratuity chapter and partic ‘The gospel and the gaze’ chapter….
    Custodia oculorum…..the guarding of the eye.


  3. This sounds great, Adam! I’m so sorry I’m going to miss the Esalen retreat this year. I hope you record the talk (please, please).


  4. No doubt that Bergson is deeply under-appreciated in terms of the importance of his ideas. I am currently reading Deleuze’s ‘Bergsonism’ and it has really been a deeply enlightening experience. And the idea of engagement in asketic practices as a means of attaining a state of equilibrium, of equanimity, and a means of achieving practical wisdom, insight and understanding in the face of challenge and division, in the general context of a panentheistic theological framework is an incredibly important and profound insight. From the perspective of cognitive neuroscience and Iain McGilchrist’s ‘Divided Brain Hypothesis’, it offers the opportunity to achieve a sense of balance between the basic complementary operative modes of the left and right hemispheres. Given that we have been driven so far into the divisionary mode of the left hemisphere in the West since Descartes effectively unleashed its power by privileging language over experience, and given that the global existential catastrophic situation that we now face as a species has been the end result, the need to re-equilibrate is greater now than ever. It is fascinating that one has the capability of transforming perception through practices that heighten interoception and appreciation, so that exteroception can be re-oriented from the contemporary default to the ipseity and egological focus of the left hemisphere and shifted toward the alterity and otherness-focused (but mute!) mode of the right hemisphere, a re-equilibration of ration and relation, of logic and love–that can be conceptualized in terms of the ‘Spock-Kirk’ dialectic, for those of us who get their philosophical kicks, insights and inspiration from watching the original Star Trek series.

    There is a deep connection here also to the process evolutionary metaphysics of CS Peirce (to whom Whitehead referred as the ‘American Aristotle’ in a letter to Charles Hartshorne) and the critical concept of mediation, of Thirdness, and, in the context of Peirce’s Synechism, to the construct of ‘Evolutionary Love’ that truly makes the world go round.

    And speaking of the ‘folding of the manifold’, there is an important distinction to be made between a ‘smooth’ continuous analogue manifold, and a ‘striated’ discontinuous or ‘interpolated’ digital manifold. The former being the basis for ‘possibility’, and the latter being the basis for ‘actuality’. Which begs the question, ‘what is real?’–that which shapes and forms actuality, or actuality itself. The contention is that the experiential perspective of the right hemisphere sees potentiality as real, while the linguistic perspective of the left hemisphere sees actuality as real.


  5. This also relates, I think, to Gebser’s concept of the ‘aperspectival’ (ie. that which transcends and is thus freed from the limitations of the perspectival) and the emergence of the integral structure of consciousness. But that is a whole other discussion.


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