Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Who Let the I AM In?

Consciousness itself is a mystery; but that it should be so simple, so unified, and yet, dependent upon -- or inclusive of -- so many billions of macro- and micro-processes, is even stranger.

Truly, human subjectivity is either the ultimate or penultimate case of E Pluribus Unum, depending upon whether or not one believes in God. But if one doesn't believe in God, then our self-evident I AM goes from intriguing mystery to annoying impossibility.

Yes, one could say that, just as there can be no inside in the absence of an outside, there can be no object without a subject. The two are complementary. In other words, a thing must have a kind of interior prehension in order to be a thing at all -- otherwise, it's just an indistinct blob. So existence as such implies interiority, because to exist is to exist as an intelligible thing or unit.

Any form of life represents conscious interiority, a bounded area of awareness. But in the case of human beings, this interiority is not just a vague and diffuse, preconscious apprehension of interior wholeness. Rather, it is a highly focused ingathering of interiority that we all fondly refer to as I.

As we've discussed in previous posts, it is as if both the general evolution and individual development of consciousness represent a conquest of dimensionality. This movement is precisely what confers meaning upon time. Otherwise, time is just abstract duration. Watch a child grow (outside and in) and you will intuit time's substance.

The consciousness of, say, a snail, is of surfaces only. Thus, it exists in a kind of quasi-timeless two-dimensional space: forward, toward what facilitates life, and backward, away from what doesn't.

But anyone with a dog or cat can "see" that they live in a more expansive space. For example, they listen for and interpret far off sounds, and are at the center of a rich olfactory matrix we can scarcely imagine. But more importantly, they are tuned into their human masters, which itself expands the intersubjective space in which they live and move.

Now think about the hyperdimensional space in which human beings live. It includes not only our personal past, but the past of the entire species, depending upon how much history one knows. It extends outward, to the farthest horizon of the celestial lightstream, and backward, to the very genesis of this whole cosmic affair. It reaches into humans and other animals via empathy, and deep into oneself via introspection. And some say it can extend so far -- via mystical experience -- that it may know the cosmic Subject, the great I AM from which our own little spark of interiority is derived.

Until hitting page 197 of The Experience of God, I thought I was alone in the bewilderness on this subject. Alert readers will recall a passage on p. 49 of The Book for which the blog is named, where it is written:

"Without the principle of wholeness woven into the very fabric of the universe, it would be impossible for true wholeness to later emerge at the levels of life and mind. The integrated wholeness we see in a living organism discloses a fundamental principle that is absolutely intrinsic to the universe."

Likewise -- and here's the important part -- the transcendental unity of our own subjectivity, "the ordered whole we all effortlessly refer to as 'I,' is another accurate intuition of the wholeness of nature." In the absence of this principle, "there is simply no explanation as to how the billions of individual cellular processes taking place in your brain and body so neatly resolve themselves into the simple, transcendent and unitive experience called 'I.'"

Multi-undisciplinarian that I am, I have a tendency to make a point and quickly move on. It's not just that I get bored easily, but that the Adventure of Consciousness must continue on, in, and up. No looking back!

But Hart spends a few pages expanding upon this notion of the unity of consciousness, agreeing that it ultimately converges upon -- I would say returns to -- God.

"Consciousness is, in its subjectivity, one and indivisible," writes Hart. Yes, there is diversity -- even inconceivable diversity -- "but in order for there to be such a thing as representation, or reason, or conceptual connections, or coherent experience, or subjectivity, or even the experience of confusion, there must be a single unified presence of consciousness to itself, a single point of perspective that is, so to speak, a vanishing point, without extension or parts, subsisting in its own simplicity."

I would modify this somewhat, in that what we discover at this vanishing point is not so much an abstract being but a concrete activity -- an irreducible experience in becoming. In my view, human consciousness is, so to speak, the metabolism of experience. We cannot possibly stop experiences from occurring -- i.e., we cannot stop time -- so it is our unending task to weave this ceaseless flow of experience into our psychic substance, forging ever greater wholeness and unity.

Hart implies something similar, for example, vis-a-vis left and right brain activity. The existence of differing modes of consciousness in the two cerebral hemispheres does not imply that we are somehow inhabited by two different subjects. Rather, what we experience is "a single consciousness" that attempts "to integrate the experiences and behaviors that each hemisphere makes possible."

Indeed, just as the existence of two eyes with slightly different perspectives facilitates the perception of depth, the integration of our "two hemispheres" (and there are more than just two such perspectives) results in a much richer and deeper psychic space.

There are always going to be "discontinuities" in consciousness, or semi-autonomous areas which are poorly integrated into the whole. At a certain point these become mind parasites, but in general, most any form of psychopathology can be understood as a failure of integration.

For example, one person fails to integrate his childhood experience via denial and repression, while another fails to integrate, say, sexual appetite into the human subject. Instead, it exists as a kind of impersonal animal instinct, unconnected to any higher striving or purpose. You might say that it is reduced from a hyperdimensional modality to a two-dimensional one. Or, it falls from a sacrament to a mere genetic whip.

So, what have we learned? For Hart, "Only the 'vanishing point' of a subjective perspective allows the diversity of reality to appear to the mind as a unified phenomenon, to which consciousness can attend."

I would only add the caveat that it doesn't end there. Rather, each end is a fresh new beginning -- or an annoying rendezvous with time, if you allow it to be.

But in any event, "there is no good reason not to accord serious consideration to the ancient intuition that the true order of ultimate causes is precisely the opposite of what the materialist philosopher imagines it is, and that the material realm is ultimately dependent upon mind rather than the reverse..."

Or, just say that I is prior to AM, but that, like God, our I never stops its AMing.

10 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

But more importantly, they are tuned into their human masters, which itself expands the intersubjective space in which they live and move.

I was watching a Youtube compliation of soldiers' dogs welcoming their masters after a long deployment. I'm sure the animals had been well-cared for in the interim -- often by a spouse. But it's like suddenly they have their world back.

11/06/2013 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Instead, it exists as a kind of impersonal animal instinct, unconnected to any higher striving or purpose.

I'm thinking about that sidebar thing Gerard had on the gay serial killer. I have a very personal acquaintance with a man who has a similar personality. He can be charming and was, at various times, an exceptional salesman. He was also a serial rapist and is sitting in jail today. In a couple of weeks he goes on trial for the brutal beating and rape of an underage girl. He's guilty.

I've known him for more than thirty years, since he was a teenager. He has always been able to sit and chat and joke, look you in the eye and lie to you. It's crazy. Because he's sort of family, I've always been under pressure to "like him" or at least cut him slack when I'd rather have cut his throat.

I don't understand it. Nobody would believe what I was saying when he was fifteen, and they are all so shocked now.

11/06/2013 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I feel the same way about Obama.

11/06/2013 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

Kerouac wrote a short poem titled Poem: "I am God."

11/06/2013 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Consciousness itself is a mystery; but that it should be so simple, so unified, and yet, dependent upon -- or inclusive of -- so many billions of macro- and micro-processes, is even stranger.

It is an ever-present source of wonder to me that somehow, two half cells come together to form one cell, and from that comes forth a new being. Though not wholly, even then; it seems like the more we discover, the more seemingly unrelated parts it takes to make one fully-formed individual, for we are not made only of the cells we began with, but also of a host of passengers who come to us through an assortment of external paths, but without which we could not function.

Truly, we are wondrously made.

11/06/2013 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Indeed, just as the existence of two eyes with slightly different perspectives facilitates the perception of depth, the integration of our "two hemispheres" (and there are more than just two such perspectives) results in a much richer and deeper psychic space.

Going back to intersubjectivity for a moment, this is true also of relationships. For instance, when a relatively whole man and a relatively whole woman come together in a healthy relationship, the marriage between the two creates a unity that is far greater than the simple combination of those two individuals. The different perspectives provided by male and female results again in a much deeper and richer psychic space.

11/06/2013 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

From Holly Fritsch on AT, Artisans vs. Guardians

Reading through it, it doesn't ring true for me. I don't see the left as "artisans" or creative. I also don't see people like McCain as logical, left-brain types either.

11/06/2013 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"I would modify this somewhat, in that what we discover at this vanishing point is not so much an abstract being but a concrete activity -- an irreducible experience in becoming. In my view, human consciousness is, so to speak, the metabolism of experience. We cannot possibly stop experiences from occurring -- i.e., we cannot stop time -- so it is our unending task to weave this ceaseless flow of experience into our psychic substance, forging ever greater wholeness and unity."

And I would modify that somewhat as well. I've always liked the image of matabolizing experience, but something about the context today strikes me as being too biological, to mechanical... picking up on the other end of the passage, Weaving seems more to the point, and 'forging ever greater wholeness and unity' seems more worthwhile if does more than simply add tensile strength and substance, adding to and enhancing actual imagery as we go.

There's the myth of the three fates, weaving their cloth, with each of us a thread within their pattern; well I like that image more if we are less a single thread biding time till being snipped, and instead a continuous 3-D fractal, as we experience our way through time. The fuzz of the moment is all around us, like cotton fluff, and we can either let it ball up, clump, blow by, or go to the effort of teasing it into threads & weave them into a pattern of our own... a coherent one, or a jangled fritz... but how well we pay attention to the overall pattern, and how well what we gather up will integrate, as complement or discord, into it, is up to us to attempt, and to One with the wider perspective, to judge.

It can't be just about digestion, but conception, imagination, creation.

11/06/2013 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I suppose that when I refer to the metabolism of experience, I mean using all of our faculties to do so, including imagination, creativity, reason, feeling, empathy, etc. More perspectives = more depth.

11/07/2013 05:17:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Yep, that's usually the way I take it, but something struck me oddly yesterday... which btw, I think the context was on this side of the htmlOverse, not the OC side.

Maybe one of those days that was one too many of those days from inside this apartment... another month & we'll be back home... hopefully.

There will be much metabolizing when moving home day comes!

11/07/2013 05:40:00 PM  

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