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This 'peculiarly delineated submission to beings themselves' done by Man who is thus reduced to the status of 'one being among others' is reminiscent of Gleizes's complaint that in humanism Man is reduced to being an observer of a reality that is situated outside himself. And perhaps also of Henry's view, which Gleizes would endorse, that the distinction between the observer and the external world is false. The external world insofar as it is knowable at all exists as a function of human being. 

Nowhere in any of this is there a suggestion that the perceived world is an illusion, nor is this a call for 'introspection' - the idea that we should enter into ourselves in preference to the perceived world - but the simple fact is that without ears and eyes and noses there would be no sounds or colours or smells. What is studied when we investigate the external world 'scientifically' as something that we imagine existing independently of our perception of it, is, necessarily, an abstraction and in the process we ourselves, the sensibility that is creating the external world, are abstracted out of the picture. What is left is still a phenomenon of consciousness but without what John Locke called the secondary qualities of sound, colour and smell. The primary qualities, those John Locke argued had an objective existence independent of the observer's sensibility, are the measurable qualities of weight and mass. But the distinction is spurious because, Henry would argue, colour, sound and even smell are also measurable - we know at what speed a vibrating string will stop giving rise to sounds and start giving rise to colours. [7]

[7]   The idea that sensation was measurable and could therefore be expressed mathematically was the basic contention of Fechner, developed in the field of aesthetics by Henry. It was however contested by Henri Bergson and by his disciple Georges Sorel. See for example the letter by Sorel criticising Henry in the Revue philosophique de la France et l'étranger, tome xxix, 1890, pp.182-4 and his article 'Contributions psycho-physiques à l'étude esthétique' in ibid., tome xxix, 1890, pp.561-579 and tome xxx, 1890, pp.22-41.

This will all be familiar territory to anyone who has dipped into any philosophy of the past four hundred years or so, and prior to that it would have been so much taken for granted it wouldn't have been worth stating. It is the belief that the essence of things lies in an external reality accessible to the senses (otherwise known as 'materialism') that is the anomaly in human history that requires explanation. This explanation is given by another mathematician engaged in the world of 'psycho-physics', one whose name will be familiar to those interested in the history of Bolshevism - Ernst Mach, famous for inspiring the Bolshevik school of philosophy that was attacked by Lenin in his book Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (it was also attacked by Plekhanov who, as part of his polemic, also attacked the first book published under the name of Albert Gleizes - Du "Cubisme"). [8]

[8]   For Mach see Ernst Mach: The Analysis of Sensations, and the relation of the physical to the psychical, Chicago and London, Open Court Publishing Company, 1914 and The Science of Mechanics: A Critical and Historical Account of Its Development, Open Court Publishing Company, 1919. Both eds as at Plekhanov: 'Art and social life' in Georgi Plekhanov: Selected philosophical works, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1981, pp. 631-687 (Gleizes and Metzinger discussed pp.677-8. The essay was first given as a lecture in 1912). It can also be found in the Plekhanov section of I venture into this territory again in my essay Materialist Theories of consciousness in the 'Politics and Theology' section of this website.

Mach argued that the scientific study of 'nature' was indeed an abstraction which, rather than bringing us closer to the essence of things, was separating us ever further, bringing us instead - and Mach, like his leading Bolshevik disciple, Alexander Bogdanov, [9] saw this as a positive gain - into another world, the world of mechanics. What was being abstracted from the 'natural' (that is to say, the human) world, is precisely what is needed to create a simulacrum of the natural world perfectly adapted to our human needs, or at least to some of our human needs - the world of mechanics, of technology.

 [9]   Alexander Bogdanov: The Philosophy of Living Experience, translated, edited and introduced by David Rowley, Leiden, Boston (Brill), 2016. Available on the internet at The book was originally published in Russian in St Petersburg in 1913, republished in Moscow, 1920 and 1923.


And here I'd like to refer back briefly to the duality of soul and body, the 'ghost in the machine', that became dominant about the same time as humanism, in which the body is an inert lump of matter animated by a soul, rather in the way in which a machine is stirred into an appearance of life by an electric current. It is related to the Aristotlean idea of God as 'First Mover' of an essentially immobile material world. In his essay 'The Question concerning technology', Heidegger evokes 'standing-reserve' - immobility [10] - as part of the essence of technology, as opposed to the constantly living process of an engagement with the natural world - which, we will hopefully remember, is an engagement with our own nature:

'Wherever man opens his eyes and ears, unlocks his heart, and gives himself over to meditating and striving, shaping and working, entreating and thanking, he finds himself everywhere already brought into the unconcealed ...'

On the other hand:

'when man, investigating, observing, pursues nature as an area of his own conceiving, he has already been claimed by a way of revealing that challenges him to approach nature as an object of research, until even the object disappears into the objectlessness of standing-reserve' ('The Question concerning technology' in Basic writings, p.324).

[10]  The German word here translated as 'standing reserve' is bestand. The reader might think that a chair made by a craftsman is also 'standing reserve' until someone sits on it but the point is, I think, that what we call 'technology' is not an end of production, the thing produced, but simply a means. The chair produced by a craftsman is produced by a means (the craftsman) whose essence is mobile; the chair produced by a machine is produced by a means whose essence is static. Both cases are for Heidegger an unconcealing but in the case of the craftsman's chair what is revealed comes from the essence of the craftsman ie from Dasein which is a human reality and as such closer to Being than the essentially dead (immobile) essence of the machine.

But precisely because 'nature' is our nature, our treating nature as a dead thing (mechanics, 'standing-reserve') - our separation from the essence of nature - is a separation form our own nature, our own essence:

'As soon as what is unconcealed [Heidegger's term for 'truth', the aim of scientific research] no longer concerns man even as object, but exclusively as standing-reserve [which we might understand as a dead thing waiting to be put to a practical use - PB], and man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall, that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. Meanwhile, man, precisely as the one so threatened, exalts himself and postures as lord of the earth' (ibid, p.332). 

We can begin perhaps to understand why Heidegger attached such importance to a heading towards Being as a means of saving or, as he says at the end of the 'Letter on Humanism', 'healing' human being, as opposed to the (literally) deadening consequences of heading towards technology, in the modern sense of the term. The resemblance with the thinking of Gleizes is astonishing, especially since, so far as I know, neither of them was aware of the existence of the other.