The Neutral Science of Appearances in Stumpf

Stumpf (1907) maintains that phenomenology is a “neutral science,” whose objects are different from those of natural and human sciences.

As a paradigm of natural science, physics “deduces” its objects from expe­rience. Unlike the pre-modern view of science, this does not mean that the objects of physics are constructed directly from appearances of color, sound, temperature and smell as the forces and causes underlying their change. Stumpf emphasizes that the objects of modern physics are the hypothetical carriers of transformations in conceptual spatial and temporal coordinates whose ordering depends on the mathematical determination of the admitted variables rather than on experience. Nonetheless, perceptual experience pro­vides the basis for such constructive definition. Indeed, physical objects are constructs derived from positing external entities independent of the mind, whose causal laws account for the regularities of appearances by explaining away the irregular changes, just as astronomy removes the irregular trajecto­ries of the planetary motions. Yet natural scientists never posit anything that is not legitimized by appearances, nor do they formulate laws that cannot be verified through them. Forecasting and testing require observation of the variations in selected series of appearances. For this reason, quantitative local properties can be abstracted from the perceptual space and time in order to build at a conceptual level the constructs and posits of natural science. Other­wise, physics could not achieve the scientific aim of understanding the world by subsuming phenomena to universal laws.

Human sciences “extract” their objects from the domain of psychology, which for its part deduces its objects from experience. Stumpf (1906) calls “psychic functions” noticing, unifying appearances, judging, forming concepts, desiring, willing, feeling, which are the psychic correlates of appearances. Both are immediately given in the sense that they are facts whose direct experience may have the same evidence as understanding a logical axiom. This does not imply that a description of their features is not difficult, any less than in logic. Indeed, psychology deals with the concepts and laws of functions. Linguistics, economics and ethics extract their objects and constructs from the psychologi­cal concepts and definitions.

Instead, phenomenology is a neutral science because it is the autonomous science of what natural and human sciences imply either directly or indirectly. Stumpf (1906) intends the concept of appearance as what is immediately given or directly ascertainable as an evident fact of experience. In a strict sense, it includes qualitative phenomena of the various sensory modalities with their properties, like tones with pitch and loudness, and quantitative phenomena such as spatial and temporal determinations, the rhythm intended as the distri­bution of an attribute of the appearances, the duration. In a broad sense, it also includes relations such as plurality, increment, similarity and fusion, which are grasped by psychic functions but are given solely in appearances. The relations form aggregates of appearances that are ordered according to the variation of an attribute like color lightness, or configurations like chords, whose integral attributes are the basis of consonance or dissonance. In the broadest sense, the configurations (Gebilde, Forms) are also immediately given in appearances, although they are the structures of the appearances that arise as phenomenal correlates of psychic functions, like the melody that is preserved through the transposition of tones.

Stumpf points out that the science of what is immediately given is not limited to platitudes. As logic describes the axioms that are immediately evi­dent, so phenomenology aims at a complete, consistent description of what appearances imply. Stumpf (1907) argues that phenomenology is an autono­mous science because (1) there are predicates about appearances that cannot be transferred to psychic functions; and (2) appearances are separable from psychic functions. On the one hand, no predicate about loudness, lightness and brightness, or extension is ascribed to psychic functions. They are mean­ingful if applied to color, sound, form and motion. On the other hand, the con­cept of psychic function is not connected by logical necessity with the concept of appearance. Psychic functions and appearances are correlated much like color and surface in perception. However, as colors can be separated by ab­straction from surfaces to study the inherent properties that are required for a complete description, so appearances can be separated from psychic func­tions and treated independently. Indeed, being noticed, unified and judged by psychic functions is not a distinctive feature of appearances, although it is impossible to conceive of any function without a phenomenal content. Accordingly, it is not contradictory to treat sound only in terms of pitch and loudness, because the characteristic of being perceived or judged is not an in­herent feature, since it is not an attribute that distinguishes sounds among one another.

Stumpf supports this tenet with the argument of the mutual independent variability of appearances and psychic functions. At least within a certain limit, appearances may remain constant at varying psychic functions and there are variations of appearances that do not require variations of psychic function. As the same appearance can bear different psychic functions, so different ap­pearances can bear the same psychic function. Perceiving a tone in a chord, which had appeared as a unity, does not imply that it has changed, but rather that the parts of the same appearance are noticed. In accord with Brentano, Stumpf calls “noticing” the function of making the parts and properties of uni­tary appearances phenomenally stand out (1906: 85). One may hear a unitary sound in a succession of bell tolls or see a unitary object in a row of street lights. Then the single bell strokes and lights may stand out as parts of the unitary sound or row, which even preserves the loudness and brightness as before. Stumpf argues that it cannot be reasonably held that these parts are created or added to the appearance of a group of sounds and lights as soon as subject attends to them. They are the parts of the unitary appearances that are subsequently made explicit or noticed. Accordingly, perceiving a tone as part of the chord implies only a variation of psychic functions: the same appear­ance is first perceived as an undivided perceptual unity and then its inherent parts are explicitly perceived (1883: 107b).

Appearances have an inherent structure that belongs to them before a per­ceptual reference is made to it through noticing. Stumpf also discussed the question of the “attributive parts” of appearances, that is, the qualitative and quantitative properties that are perceived as partial determinations of appear­ances, like pitch and loudness for sounds and color qualities, extension and localization of visual things. He claims that these parts are neither created by psychic functions, nor added by the consciousness to the sensory material, nor do they arise through a comparison of similar appearances. They emerge through the experience of multiple variations of appearances. For example, a sound is perceived to vary along qualitative or quantitative dimensions and the variations can be grouped into series that form a system according to the following scheme (1873: 136):

B and C represent a possible change of feature for the appearance A that can be forced on perceivers in various circumstances. The subscript integers denote distinct series in which the features in B and C may vary. Each series consists of partial determinations whose possible values are orderly arranged. The particular order and the perceptual belongingness to A make them further parts or features of A. The principle of the unilateral variation of psychic func­tions for constant appearances applies also to the relations among appear­ances, which are immanent to them rather than added or created by psychic functions. The similarity can induce one to mistake one thing for another, and the corresponding judgement might be a proxy for similarity. Yet it can never define similarity, because the latter occurs without the former.

The same holds for the relation of the tonal fusion (1890). Two or more si­multaneous tones are fused if they appear as a unitary sound rather than as a sum of separated tones. The fusion is not a psychic function. It is perceived if and only if the tones have the adequate qualities for it to take place, like the three notes of a triad for the chord perceived as a whole. The perception of fusion does not require that tones appear as one. On the contrary, expert listeners do notice the partial tones (1890: 64b, 128). Indeed, the fusion is dif­ferent from a simultaneous plurality of tones, because the partial tones of a chord are perceived as contributing to the coherent whole on the grounds of the relations they hold with one another (1890: 67ff., 193ff.). The fact that the tones do not lose their qualities accounts for the varying degrees of unity in fusion (1890: 135). In the octave, the phenomenal unity varies from the octave to the fifth, the fourth, the major and minor third and sixth. It is perceived more in the octave interval, wherein the constituent tones merge in the whole appearance, than in the third and the sixth. It is perceived least in the second, the seventh and all other musical and sound intervals. Another observation supporting the i ndependence of appearances is that they vary at constant psychic functions. The progressive change of lightness or darkness in a room can occur without being noticed by a perceiver. Moreover, the changes of pitch in a sequence of tones, of lightness in a sequence of colors, of duration for different time intervals also have different phenomenal magnitudes depending on the perceived increase (decrease) of pitch, lightness or duration, regardless of whether the subjects pay the utmost attention to them or not.

Source: Calì Carmelo (2017), Phenomenology of Perception: Theories and Experimental Evidence, Brill.

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