Apprehension, comprehension, surprise and transfiguration

To apprehend (“toward taking hold of”) is to intuit that something in one’s experience is significant, but one cannot yet conceive (“together take”) what is signified, and one is unable to orient (“find east”) oneself to the meaning of this situation (“placement” within a context).

To comprehend (“together taking hold of”) is to resolve an apprehended significance into a concept of a thing. The mind reaches out toward something significant and “takes hold of it” in a way that allows it to be “taken together” as a concept, with an objective form.

But some types of significance are not essentially objective. They do not point to conceptual objects, but rather to situations in which we are embedded as participants (“part takers”). In these situations, if we try to create objective significance (which is what minds find easiest and nearly always try to do) we end up with distorted, “magical” conceptions — things which lack the normal attributes of things.

These kinds of significance are not comprehensible, but that does not mean they are unintelligible. It only means we must find other modes of knowing — relate ourselves to this significance differently.

The two primary modes of knowing a situation are 1) disposition & orientation (knowing how one is situated within the situation), and 2) response (knowing how one’s action will change one’s situation).

When one is relating oneself to a situation, one is trying to understand the nature of his participation in the situation, and how to participate in the situation.


In an objective conception, the knower stands beside what is to be known in a side-by-side peer relationship. The knower is distanced from the object (“thrown in front”) of knowledge.

In a subjective conception the knower stands inside what is to be known. The knowledge encompasses the entire situation: the knower and the known together, as well as the knowledge itself which affects the knower’s participation in the situation. This kind of knowledge does not dispense with the objective factors of the knowledge, but seeks to grasp them and relate them to what underlies them and gives them their significance. It wishes to grasp what can be grasped, but also to understand (find that upon which the objective facts stand) the subjective truth (that which has been “thrown under” the situation and makes it intelligible.

(Contrary to popular belief, subjectivism does not have to be non-objective or romantic and anti-objective. The most profound subjectivism is super-objective. Also, subjectivism also does not have to be idealist, at least not metaphysically idealist. In my opinion, subjectivism means that objectivity is a product of subjects, and is best understood as such — through the method of phenomenology. A physics that moves outside the bounds of phenomenology has trespassed into metaphysics.)


Think about perspective. One has a point-of-view from which a situation is seen. Some things appear larger and some smaller, according to where they fall in relation to the viewer. They, themselves don’t change size, yet from the point-of-view of the viewer they do, and those sizes change together as a whole based on where the viewer is situated relative to each. One can map the situation from above, but the map is meaningless to that perspective until it is translated into perspectival terms.

Here is what is really interesting about a perspective: It cannot be ascertained and is in fact meaningless without reference to both viewer and objects.


To comprehend an apple — an object one can grasp in one’s hand and consume at will — is one kind of knowledge; to understand oneself as a participant in the life of a garden is a very different type of knowledge which contains elements of comprehension within it, but is not reducible to objectivity.

Objectivity, on the other hand is reducible to subjectivity.

But this does not mean that the entities known through objectivity are subjective. We have phenomena, and we have conceptualizations, and we have a sense that phenomena is more than appearance — it is entities existing beyond phenomena showing themselves to us (phainein ‘to show’) — that something transcends mere appearance.  That’s all we have.

But phenomena are always surprising us. We are shown things we do not expect, and these surprises force us to reconceptualize objects, again and again. And sometimes we are surprised so profoundly that we have to conceptualize the world as a whole — our whole situation — transfiguring its meaning.

Surprise is (to use William James’ ugly but apt term) the “cash value” of transcendence: we can never assume our experience has shown us all there is of things. We certainly cannot sanely assume we are inventing what we are shown. Things surprise us, and other people — if we are open to learning from them — are the most surprising feature of reality.