What is a medium? – translation from german – Wolfgang Hagen part five


What got lost with the induced “medium” in Aristotles’ empirical theory of perception, that avoided to speak of any ontological medium of perception, was its fragility. The air, water, moisture, the transparent – everything became in Aquin’s text to this one, all-encompassing medium. Wheras Aristotle avoided this to emphazise the natural philosophical realism of his psychology. It is not the same, whether we get sound through the air to our ear, or smells in the nose, or saltywater on the tongue or an image into our eyes. It made no sense for Aristotle to put all into one pot of the medial. With Thomas Aqunias and its canonical translation of De anima did the term media became ontological. And it did so as contraband of a text which ever since every university student had to study up until the modern period.

On the one hand Aquinas medium term remains abstract enough to give the necessary impetus [in the early modern period which lead, in the 16th century] which lead to the generalization in the optics. [in the law of refraction by Willebrorod Snellius] And also to Newton’s indifference of any provision in relation to media content.

On the other hand it stays ontological enough – because the medium is indeed being and itself the content of the being – to mediate a true magic of being. Thus Lichtenberg speaks of “the medium of fashion” and Kant of the time as the “Medium of all synthetic judgments“. In Herders’ work the world is multiplied in the media in unknown quantities. “There may be more media in the creation of which we know nothing at all, because we have no organ for them” states in Ideas on the Philosophy of History of Humanity. “Indeed, there must be many [media] because we see their effects on almost all creatures which we cannot explain out of our own organisation” [ja es müssen derselben [Medien] viel sein, da wir fast bei jedem Geschöpf Wirkungen sehen, die wir uns aus unsrer Organisation nicht zu erklären vermögen].

It is clear what was meant with it in the 18th century of the Leyden jar. It goes on: “How many things once unknown are beeing discovered in the medium of air. The electrical matter and magnetic current, the flammable and acid air, chilling salt crystals and maybe light parts which are only stimulated by the sun: All in all mighty princibles of nature on earth, and how many others will be discovered!” – “In the deepest depths of becoming, where we see budding life, will we be aware of the unexplored, and so effective element that we relate to the Names imperfect light, ether, life, warmth and perhaps identify the sensorium of Allerschaffenden is, therefore everything he maketh alive, everything warms.”

[In den tiefsten Abgründen des Werdens, wo wir keimendes Leben sehen, werden wir das unerforschte und so wirksame Element gewahr, das wir mit den unvollkommenen Namen Licht, Äther, Lebenswärme benennen und das vielleicht
das Sensorium des Allerschaffenden ist, dadurch er alles belebet, alles erwärmet.]

How much a term that proves itself as an ontological contraband effects scientific thought can be demonstrated in the ether-physics of the 18th and 19th century. Herder and later Schelling and Hegel treat it in the idealistic and transcendental dialectic physics. From now on, the medium turns into a mediated being, which is directly penetrated by ether and is thus coupled to perception itself. “Therfor nobody will understand nature” wrote Novalis in the apprentices at Sais, “who has no organ, … who not, in and of itself recognises nature in everything … in intimate relationship with all varied bodies, through which the medium of sensation, with all creatures of nature is mixed, which equally feeds into itself.

„der kein Naturorgan … hat, der nicht, wie von selbst, überall die Natur an allem erkennt … in inniger mannichfaltiger Verwandtschaft mit allen Körpern,durch das Medium der Empfindung, sich mit allen Naturwesen vermischt, sich gleichsam in sie hineinfühlt.“]

This seduced Hegel in his Phenomenology of Spirit, where it swarms from media phrases, to a mediumisitic epistomy directed against Newton and his prism experiment: “If the test of knowledge”. Hegel writes, “That we have to imagine as a medium, teaches us the laws of its refraction, it is of no use to deduce it from the result; for not the breaking of the beam, but the beam itself which touches us is the truth, and to deduce it, would be known to us only as the pure direction or the empty place”.

[„Wenn die Prüfung des Erkennens“, schreibt Hegel, „das wir als ein Medium uns vorstellen, uns das Gesetz seiner Strahlenbrechung kennen lehrt, so nützt es ebenso nichts, sie im Resultate abzuziehen; denn nicht das Brechen des Strahls, sondern der Strahl selbst, wodurch die Wahrheit uns berührt, ist das Erkennen, und dieses abgezogen, wäre uns nur die reine Richtung oder der leere Ort bezeichnet worden.“]

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