I’ll leave aside for the moment the larger conversation one could develop around Hadot, Foucault, and Sloterdijk, because doing justice to such a dialogue would require a whole new project unto itself. Instead, I’ll just mark simply—and inadequately—that the nexus of this conversation, in many ways precipitated first by Foucault’s picking up in his later works of a few central themes found in Hadot, and then carried forward by Sloterdijk’s discussion of both his predecessors, centers around askēsis and its meaning. Each figure draws us back to practice in his own way.
My talk for the ( æthos ) Salon Series: Intuition as Sensemaking event held on November 4. It’s about linking perceptual learning to intuition and in so doing starting to frame an account of the genesis of intuitive abilities, or, as I’m framing it, a process we could call intuition-making. Full notes below.
For those of you interested in transformative exercise, psychotechnologies, ecologies of practice, and so on, here’s a short thread on askēsis, a word I think you’ll find useful.
Askēsis is exercise or training aimed at a transformation or overcoming of the self by the self — examples include contemplative prayer, meditation, fasting, examinations of conscience, dialectics, discursive reasoning, physical training, aesthetics, and visionary experience.
Askēsis is a practice of self-discipline, and includes training the body, athletic exercise, training the senses, and communing with the divine. Terms like ascetic and ascetism are also linked to notions of self-discipline but carry a greater emphasis on abstinence and austerity.
The etymology suggests connections to asketikos, “rigorously self-disciplined, laborious,” which is connected to the “skilled worker, one who practices an art or trade,” as well as askein “to exercise, train” with reference “to fashion material, embellish or refine material.”
Thomas Merton offers this, “It [ascetisim] comes from the Greek askein: to adorn, to prepare by labor, to make someone adept by exercises. . . . It was applied to physical culture, moral culture, and finally religious training. It means, in short, training — spiritual training.”
Along these lines, many ascetic practices have been concerned with the development of the inner and outer senses, in other words, with the development of perceptual ability, seen both as the introspective quality of attention to oneself and as the refinement of the body’s senses.
Askēsis, then, may often involve renunciation of some kind, and in that sense it does point to a kind of rejection, but this act should be understood as a productive rejection. In other words, something new is acquired through the deployment of renunciation.
You can find further references, discussion, and examples in longer form here.
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 the 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? We all know practices work, but how do they work?
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.
I’ll be speaking at the ( æthos ) Salon Series: Intuition as Sensemaking event on November 4. The description of my talk is below. Check out the invite link if you’re in the Bay Area and are interested in attending.
Scientists, philosophers, and contemplatives have long sought to understand the connection between rationality and intuition. In many cases, this relation has been expressed through a bifurcation of discursive, conceptual, and propositional faculties and emotional, sensory, and impressionistic ones. The former have often been associated with cognition, intelligence, and creativity, while the latter have historically taken a back seat, forced into the world of illusions, errors, and bodies. Recently, however, new fields of research have challenged this binary, suggesting that the bright line between these capacities should be rethought. Cognitive scientists and psychologists working on perceptual learning represent a leading edge of this discussion. In this talk, I will explore the basic premise of perceptual learning—namely, that embodied sensory systems are flexible, trainable, and intelligent—to reexamine the relationship between rationality and intuition. While people readily accept that humans can acquire new knowledge, concepts, and languages to influence how they generate interpretations and make inferences about their environments, I will suggest that the body’s physiology is likewise capable of learning, and that intuition has its own form of intelligence that can be developed in the direction of increasingly subtle, spontaneous, and creative engagements with the world. To this end, I will use examples from contemplative practice, art and aesthetics, and athletics to express the premise of perceptual learning. On this view, perceptual learning is a mode of intuition-making, an integral component of larger sense-making efforts that include rationality and intuition alike.