Kant’s Phenomena and Noumena
Posted by allzermalmer on February 26, 2012
This blog will be based on what Immanuel Kant had to say about Phenomena and Noumena. Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who lived from 1724 to 1804. The views are presented in his books Critique of Pure Reason and Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics.
One of the big points that Kant made was about the structure of the Human Mind. What he pointed out was that there are certain, what we can call rules, that govern our mind. For example, one of them is causality. This is one of those rules that runs the human mind. There are other rules, but that is one of them that he used as an example. Think of it like a clock that there are certain rules that it follows in order for it to work, or some box that has an internal way in which it works and certain rules that it follows. Now these rules are a priori, which means they aren’t derived from experience. For example, Time and Space are those rules that also govern our minds, and these are a priori, and not something that is learned from experience, a posteriori.
Now Kant held that there is a world that is external to us, which is to counter some forms of idealism and especially of that of David Hume who showed that there’s no way we can come to know of it through experience or through thought. This external world affects our senses, and we form a representation of what we take this external to be like. A simple picture can help show the Representational theory of Perception.
Now, as a basic idea, anything that is logically possible can exist external to our senses and affect our senses. There is something out there, but with the representational theory, we don’t know exactly what it is. We don’t directly perceive these things, but our mind creates a representation of it. But here is the thing, we can only experience those logically possible things in the external world that meet with our internal structure of mind, or the internal rules of how our mind is structured. For example, imagine that you have a box with a 5 inch circular hole in it. We are throwing objects at it, which are logically possible things in the external world. This means that only those objects that can fit through the whole, which are logically possible, would get through. And yet there are other objects that are logically possible and in the external world that wouldn’t be able to get through into the box. More importantly, the 5 inch circular hole is what constitutes the structure of our mind, and those rules of the mind. It can only work with those things that those rules can work with. If it can’t, then we don’t experience it.
Here is another point, Rudolph Carnap once said that what is logically possible doesn’t mean that we can think of it. What he is pointing out is that there are things that we just can’t psychologically think about or visualize. This is partially what Kant is talking about. The Phenomena are those things that are possible for us to experience and that we do experience, because they are in agreement with our mental structure. The Noumena are those things that are external to us, but we can’t experience them because they don’t fit in with our mental structure. One of the points is that we look in the mirror and see what we take to be our bodies. Now take it that we somehow jump outside of our mental structures and see things as they are, and see how our bodies look at it as the noumena, then would look completely different than what we take it to be.
Let me try to give another loose analogy. Take a new planet that is supposedly discovered by NASA. Now, we can possibly experience it because it fits in with our mental structure. We might not be experiencing it now, but it is within the confines of our mental structure to experience it at some time. This is a Phenomena. But now take something like a new particle similar to that of a quark. We can’t experience this at any time because it doesn’t fit into our mental structure in which we can ever experience it. Now this new particle is logically possible, but it’s not possible for us to experience it because it doesn’t fit into our mental structure to experience it. That means it’s not possible for us to experience. Phenomena are what is possible for us to experience (based on our mental structure), and Noumena are what’s impossible for us to experience (based on our mental structure).
As a side note, Kant said that everything we experience is experienced in space and time. But what Kant said was that what we experience, our mental structure makes it so that it’s experienced in space and time, even if there is no space and time outside of our mental structure. In other words, what we experience, or impinges on our senses from the external world, is adjusted so that it fits into our mental structure. This is how the mind adjusts things for us to have as perceptions, even though what we experience isn’t how they are in the external world.
What Kant is saying is that we don’t’ know what objects are in the external world, and we can’t know. All we know is that there is an external world, not what is out there or what it looks like or any of it’s qualities. With the picture of the Representational theory of perception, the “object” is the noumena. The “perception” is the phenomena, and we experience after our structure of our mind has manipulated things in order to present them to the “perceiver”.
There was an episode of the NBC show called Grimm, which had an episode called “Organ Grinder”. There was a certain scene at the opening of the show that slightly touches on this episode. Here’s a link to the show, and watch from the time stamp of 2:00 minute to 4:05. It deals with the part in where one of the characters says “Their brain turns to mush”.