What “Haunts” Everyday Reality

There is a common trope in science fiction that does arise from philosophy, and is largely disseminated by science itself. The idea shows up in numerous science fiction books and films, and consists of the notion that reality “in-itself”, prior to interpretation, lacks fullness. It is often represented as if it were a sort of wire-frame lacking solidity, colour, etc. The section of Hegel’s Phenomenology titled “Sense-Certainty” is an example of this idea expressed at its clearest.

The problem is not Hegel’s, but rather interpretations that ignore the second part of the title. Hegel is not describing sensation per se, but sense-certainty, which implies a being, ostensibly the subject, that is certain of the sensed. It is this certainty, not reality, that Hegel describes as completely abstract. Since this certainty is reflexive, it is aware not only of the sensed, but also of the means by which it apprehends the sensed, and in this apprehension prepares to comprehend it in the rational, conceptual sense. The wire-frame trope is nothing other than our experience of the means by which we apprehend that which is already re-presented as a sense-object of which we can be certain, rather than a description of what is initially presented.

Sensation, however, occurs prior to the reflexive apprehension of sense-certainty, since the most immediate sensation doesn’t yet include the notion of a being accomplishing the sensing, which in any case is not initially the subject but the self, but only awareness and that only in a vague way. For those who have, in an aware but pre-rational manner, experienced sensation as directly as possible (any more direct would negate the possibility of it being an experience of which we can be aware), the experience is diametrically opposed to the lifeless wire-frame trope.

Precisely what’s missing is any structure that isn’t immediately overwhelmed by the over-fullness of presencing itself. Along with that fullness is an uncanniness, an unfamiliarity; we are never truly “at home” in reality. Rather than flat and meaningless, reality is already over-full with an excess of meaning, is even threatening in a certain manner, and certainly disturbing, long before man applies any symbolism to it.

What haunts our familiar everyday reality is not a super sensuous “meta-reality” above or beyond reality, but precisely the excessiveness of reality when it is not limited by the acquired habits that make it familiar, safe, everyday, or as we say without considering what we say, habitual. These acquired habits and the way in which they function are precisely what Hegel is describing, beginning with sense certainty.


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