One of the earliest philosophical conversations I had with myself involved oranges. With the odd subtleties of childhood memories, the focal length of the memory is adjusted oddly. I remember exactly where I was sitting (in front of the close in my sister's room), but I don't remember my exact age (I was probably 4 or 5) or why the idea got started. But I do remember being perplexed about the question of whether I could choose to like oranges.

I didn't like oranges. Or many other fruits, I was a picky eater as a young child (and still am). This caused some difficulty for me, as family and friends and daycare workers all told me that I should like oranges, that they were healthy and full of Vitamin C. But I didn't like them, for reasons that I didn't know. So would it make things better if I could just decide that I liked oranges? If I could make myself like oranges, would my life be better? It would certainly be more convenient, but would I want to like something that was unpleasant to me?

I can't remember how far the conversation went in my head way back in 1983, and what I have added to it since. Those of you who like oranges are probably thinking that picky young me was silly to not like oranges in the first place. And it is easy to think of things that we could easily choose to like, that would make our lives more easy and more pleasant. But it is also easy to start thinking of things we would not choose to like. Both in terms of cleanliness, and in terms of morality. If we could wake up with the taste of cardboard being an orgasmic delicacy, that would be one thing. But if we could wake up with coprophagia suddenly being delightful, we would probably wish we hadn't. We also probably wouldn't want to suddenly realize that the pain or suffering of others were appealing to us.

At a certain level, liking the things we do is a sign of our identity. If we somehow could like certain things that we don't, while it might be convenient, at a certain point we would no longer be ourselves.

Edmund Husserl is considered to be one of the most important, and most dense, philosophers, of the 20th Century. I read one of his most important books, "Ideas", but I must admit that I understood very little of it. Partly this was due to a host of idiosyncratic terminology, but mostly it is just a very complicated book. Husserl was the founder of the school of philosophy called phenomenology, where phenomena themselves are investigated, without recourse to "larger" explanations. And a key part of this is his idea of the "poles" of a phenomena, "noema" and "noesis". (I actually was not really sure of what those terms meant until I read their meaning in another book, Being and Nothingness). The noema is the object or thought as it is conceived in our mind. The noesis is the intention that our mind forms towards the object. In Husserl's philosophy, the relationship between these two poles defines much of phenomenology.

So in the phenomenon of the orange, the physical appearance and shape and color and taste of the orange is the noema. The noesis is my intentionality towards it, which in the case of my young self was one of aversion. The noema could remain unchanged, but the noesis could change totally.

One claim that Husserl made about his work was that phenomenology is not psychology. The study of the mind as capacity can be done without reference to the mind as entity.

Although the thought experiment that I came up to before I was in elementary school seems to contradict that. Because it seems hard to establish the pole of noesis, of intentionality or attitude towards a phenomena, without some recourse to the idea of identity. Without identity or sense of self, without memory and ego, it would be hard to have any type of noesis outside of random strings of impressions. Outside of a fever dream, it would be hard to guess what phenomena would look like without some type of identity.

This being said, there really isn't a definitive answer to the question I first posed to myself as a young child. For one thing, tastes do change. Things that I thought of as core to my sense of identity have changed widely in thirty years, yet I still think of myself as the same person. Our identity could be seen as the sum of our reactions, possible or actual, to phenomenon we encounter. But no phenomenon is possible to understand without the intentionality that our identity brings to it. In other words, the entire question of identity and phenomenon is just as puzzling now as it was when I was four years old, wondering if I would choose to like oranges if I could.

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