ALL LIFE IS ONE (PART TWO) September 18, 2008Posted by wmmbb in Life Experience, Peace.
The question has been put to me: What is consciousness? I am completely insensible when it comes to answering such questions, other than in this case to suggest that consciousness is awareness combined with language. “Insensible” as you might gather is a refinement, but failure to answer is a frustration nonetheless.
Still, I like the simple proposition that consciousness is language. One can go to work on it. I know all the people on their acid trips and similar experiences are likely to know better and disagree. The corollary is equally true, at least in the Freudian sense, unconsciousness is also partly language, except when it is symbols from dreams. Dreaming must be telling us as much about consciousness as it does about unconsciousness. When we are awake do we dream, and if we did, would we know?
Let me stick with the proposition that consciousness is language. “Cogito ergo sum“, said Rene Descarte. How could I forget! I wrote an essay about “I think, therefore I am”. But that was then. Would you really know if what is being said now is being written by a clever computer? Or do you just feel that it isn’t, but how can you be sure? OK it depends then on what you call thinking.
The different languages can be different modalities of thought, sometimes informed, sometimes instant and instinctive. The drawing of the bison on the cave walls, or the kangaroos on the rock walls, is one form. Then there are beats and rhythms, the language of music. There are numbers and the mental manipulation of numbers, to use a metaphor. Then there are words that have their calculus, and for each language spoken it is different, because each language has a different history, a separate evolution, much like the different species of birds that Darwin noticed on the Galapagos. Maybe languages shape consciousness, as in turn languages create communication environments. The parrots, I hear, call and question. The dogs bark.
There are some hidden attractors at work right? And they have something to do with totality of consciousness, with the operation of the system, as distinct from the semi-autonomous and sometimes covert sub systems. We can do consciousness by numbers some say: “sensing, feeling, thinking and willing”. I think it a neat scheme, but do we see the skull beneath the skin, or the interrelationship and pathways between the sensors and the brain? Did you know that if I shrug or wave at you, or smile and say hello, I am playing with your mind? If you do, you know about mirror neurons. I think you could also call them the compassion, or empathy, neurons, as V.S. Ramachandran makes clear. Sure Google knows about stuff like this, but does our imaginary super intelligent computer? Does it need to?
Or to put that question another way, does it need to be a being? And that leads to the speculation that our evolutionary history underwrites our consciousness, even as in the past five hundred or so years of Western History as least, we seem to have lost our awareness of intimate connection with the natural world. The problems with the atmosphere may make a difference. Or that mentality of trashing the environment merely reflect the dominant theology and ideology?
The climate crisis seems to be bringing those chickens home to roost, to repeat what the preacher said caught in the closed loop of the 24 hour news channels – the new televisual consciousness machines. Isolate us, then blind our consciousness with imagery and indoctrinate our minds with messages both overt and covert, explicit and implicit, then you can control us as we imagine ourselves to be free. We see the shadows but not the cave. And what we see, we understand and believe, and what we believe we become.
Consciousness might be an “optical delusion”. So you see this stream of consciousness is flowing somewhere. I leave you with the words of Albert Einstein (via Francisco “Pancho” Ramos Stierle):
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Our consciousness must be leading somewhere, other than as a expression of hubris that destroys the one planet for which we are most fitted. Was not the primeval purpose of sensation and then an evolved consciousness to avoid injury, harm and untimely death, individually and collectively? Seen in that light, nonviolence might truly be the highest expression of consciousness?
(I know 850 words or so about such a large subject is crazy, but it might be a start. You know the aphorism:too many words and not enough meaning. Others, of course, have a grounding in this topic that I never have had.
Part one was similar. I am wondering whether the conclusion was tendentious and simply presented itself to my mind. What are the internal contradictions and misunderstandings?)
I am not happy with the conclusion. I agree with what I understand Gandhi to say that truth is the most important test, otherwise what is thought and said turns out to be inconsequential rhetoric.
Part Three, which I promise will not resolve the issues, or if it does, create others, in already in the mix. I want, for example, to explore the evolution from the abacus to the computer.
UPDATE – Political Consciousness and Personal Responsibility:
(via Oorvi in comments and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
“Ernst Janning was worst than any of them because . . .” He knew.
What a novel idea, I decided I should read the books I have close to hand and see if I can learn more.
Fritjof Capria, THE TAO OF PHYSICS (Fontana, 1975)