Who Let the I AM In?
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.