Consciousness and its Transfiguration (1): Introduction, Preliminaries, Ordinary Consciousness and the First Enhancement

Introduction

Awareness is a condition for consciousness and experience as sound is a condition for a piece of music. Consciousness and experience, in turn provide the ground for all other endeavours of human life, including science, knowledge, and philosophy. The results of such an intensification consist in three states of consciousness that transcend the ordinary one. Indeed, it is only from a consciousness above the ordinary one that the true nature of our everyday experience can be correctly understood: “Superior vis comprehendendi amplectitur inferiorem” (“Vision that is higher comprehends that which is lower”) as Boethius wrote.* Because consciousness provides the foundation for all perception—perception without consciousness would not be—any change in consciousness will naturally affect perception. Because our perception of the world enjoys a reciprocal identity with our conception of it, climbing the ladder of consciousness is an ascent to higher worlds, which are first concealed from above by clouds of unknowing and inconceivability. At the same time, our self-concept is intrinsically bound together with our state of consciousness. To ascend this ladder, therefore, is concomitantly an evolution of the self, which at any moment, may retrospect upon the rungs that it has traversed but which can only intimate its future prospects in a faint surmise. To pull one leg of a three-legged stool is to pull the other ones as well. Similarly, self, world, and consciousness evolve together.

Preliminaries

I will briefly articulate the theoretical ground for the study to follow: every change in consciousness naturally discloses a different conception of

(i) the self,

(ii) the world, and

(iii) consciousness, or their relation.

The nature of each is defined by its particular relationship between (a) what is given and (b) what is not. By the former is denoted everything that appears without any initiative on our part, while the latter refers to that which, except for such initiative on our part, would not exist. Intensification, or Steigerung** of attention leads to three higher stages of consciousness.

—The first consists in (I) concentration of attention, which brings clarity.

—The next consists in (II) an enlivening of thinking by imbuing it with will. This begets insight.

—The third enhancement is reciprocal to the second and thus it consists in (III) an illumination of willing with thinking. This leads to enlightenment.

The first stage will be the subject of this post, while the subsequent stages will be explored in posts to follow.

Ordinary Consciousness

TO the mundane state of consciousness, thinking is experienced as something notgiven because it seems to depend on our own activity. Perception and its objects, by contrast, constitute what is given in that they appear to confront us as brute facts without any initiative on our part. Thinking and perception—the not-given and the given—appear to persist side-by-side, as it were: we (a) perceive objects and also (b) think about them. Precisely this side-by-side persistence of what is given with what is not is what constitutes this state of consciousness and has been the standard in the Western world since at least the time of Descartes. Whether the de facto standard of consciousness today has been the de facto standard of all ages is a topic outside of the scope of this study, though the reader is kindly referred to other works by the present author in which he has attempted to explore this question.

Returning to the subject at hand: the concurrent existence of something that confronts one as given fact and something else whose existence one feels to one’s own act is what engenders the ordinary sense of the objective, external world (res extensa, as Cartesius called it) in juxtaposition to the subjective, inner one (res cogitans). If both were experienced as given, we would lack consciousness of our own existence. If both were perceived as not-given, we would not experience the existence of an objective world and instead only hallucination. Thus, ordinary consciousness must contain both aspects. In fact, ordinary consciousness can be perceived to pendulate or respire between them. To be (a) entirely given over to a particular activity, like bull-fighting, represents a pendulation towards the first pole. To be (b) fast asleep, conversely, exemplifies the second. In the twofold condition of ordinary consciousness, however, both aspects of experience are more-or-less concurrent and are moreover insinuated into the other. This admixture of elements constitutes ordinary consciousness. The insinuation of the not-given into the given appears as self-consciousness in (a) the first example while the insinuation of the given into the not-given appears as dreams and periodic awakening in (b) the second. Both of these examples, however, present exceptional boundary conditions for ordinary consciousness and as such may be regarded as limiting cases. The majority of our experience lies in a condition of convolution lying somewhere between these poles. The result of this unrecognised meddling of each aspect with the other is a muddle that prevents a clear perception of either the objective or the subjective world in its reality. A concentrated attention, however, will find the possibility to alight upon one or the other aspect of experience to the exclusion of the other and, through careful analysis, carve each along its natural junctures.*** As we indicated in the introduction, it is only from a consciousness that transcends the ordinary one that the latter can be understood.

The First Enhancement

IN the first Steigerung or intensification of attention, the mind is withdrawn from its usual capricious associations and habitual distraction. The result of such an initiative is a concentrated mind. Put another way, attention stands in to fill the vacuity of everyday mindlessness. This step is the causa sine qua non of any legitimate psychological investigation, which is otherwise mere speculation or theorising without experimental basis to substantiate it. To concentrated attention, the objective, external world immediately appears in a comparatively different light than to mundane consciousness. Neither “outer,” nor “external,” nor “objective” is meant as a spatial designation such as “outside of one’s skin.” This is, in any case, a specious conception that dissolves under conscientious scrutiny. After all, the physical body is just as much a part of the physical world as any other spatial object and “externality” is itself a concept and not a spatial object and certainly not accessible to pure sense-perception. Technically, “externality” is a posit or intentionality with which we structure our perception, and not itself an object of it. The terms above, therefore, are not spatial but conceptual designations which refer to “extrinsicality,” which is to say, “givenness.”

Returning to the matter of the present study: the outer world, which formerly appeared as merely given, is revealed in sum, following the first intensification of attention, to be the product of cognition. More specifically, what before appeared as an extrinsic world of brute facts and objects is revealed to contain two aspects, only one of which is given. (a) The latter consists in every form of stimulation, of which the senses are the principal media or channels. Put another way, the sense-organs convey, as stimuli, the elements of the external world that are merely given. (b) The sense-making of these stimuli, however, is not given in the same way that the former are. Instead, perception—which implies making sense of sensory stimuli—is revealed as something not-given. Percepts are immediately given but perception is not. Perception, which demands at the very least a rudimentary understanding of what is perceived, depends on an inner, cognitive activity of the subject. Perception always implies conception and both together are products of cognition. It is, for instance, not by percepts or sense-stimulation, but by thinking, which links the former with concepts, that I am able to make sense of them and thereby perceive any object whatsoever. Percepts do not contain their own explanation. They are mute. They depend on concepts to serve as their interpreters.  This hold for even the most rudimentary objects. “Object” itself is a concept and thus not perceptible to the senses alone, but only through them. No thing is perceptible to the senses, which do not perceive things but only relay stimuli. Trumpeters of materialistic science who imagine that an understanding of the brain is also an understanding of the mind and who also care about the truth of their propositions, only reveal with their beliefs that they have failed to think through the implications of the above. The objective world, therefore, in sum, is revealed as a product of knitting together of (i) percepts—which are given—by (ii) thinking—which is not—with (iii) concepts, which also are not. This picture is subject to transformation with further intensifications of attention, which will follow in the next section.

I must first, however, address that pole of experience which ordinary consciousness designates as the inner world. I will attempt to bring the same degree of scrutiny to bear on it as anyone would expect in a careful investigation of an outer phenomenon like a matchstick or a chrysanthemum. By “the inner world,” one means to designate that sphere of experience which includes such entities as discursive, logical, associative, and pictorial thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc…. To ordinary consciousness, the inner world appears as something subjective or not-given, and largely arbitrary. Turning to this inner world with an attention that is concentrated, however, would reveal that it is not homogeneously subjective or not-given. In respect to the external world (treated above) concentrated attention could discover something not-given amidst a landscape of the apparently given. Now, in regarding the inner world, the same attention may discover something given amidst a mindscape that is apparently not-given. Thinking, as an activity, seems to depend on the initiative of the I, the self, the soul, or the subject (which terms are interchangeable for our purposes at this point in the present study) for its existence. Thinking as an activity would seem to be, therefore, something not-given.

At this point, however, a careful distinction is necessary. It will be noted with conscientious observation that while the activity of thinking is indeed something which depends on the subject for its perpetration, the objects of this thinking activity, by contrast, would appear as something that do not. In other words, the latter would be objectively given. This is to say that the conceptual elements, which appeared to depend on not-given thinking activity for their elaboration and appearance, are actually themselves something given. In experiencing this conceptual content irrespective of the subjective activity that brought it to manifestation, we would touch an entirely objective noetic, immaterial world that is the counterpart to the objective material one. This deserves emphasis: the essence of concepts—their actual import and being—rests in itself. In other words, contrary to the manner by which they appear to ordinary consciousness, concepts and thoughts are not subjective. Instead, they are objective; they are given. Only the activity that presents them to awareness and which posits relations between them is not-given. A confusion of the former for the latter, together with a hammerheaded association of objectivity with what can be kicked, accounts for the seeming subjectivity and arbitrariness of concepts. This should be very obvious to anyone who has studied mathematics or learned to speak or read. As a result, someone who has followed the present line of thinking has corroborated the objectivity of conceptual content in the very act, and to deny it would be a performative contradiction, since a denial would depend on an understanding of the objective proposition that is subsequently disputed. Obviously, no amount of dialectical posturing or polemics will suffice to convince someone who is unwilling to check: “don’t think, but look!” as Wittgenstein enjoins. To recognise the objectivity of the conceptual world is an inversion of ordinary consciousness, which regards concepts as subjective creations. 

Before we move on to the second stage of enhancement, it is fitting to briefly address an obvious objection. One can patently go astray in one’s thinking. Indeed it happens all the time. Given the disposition of thinking to go wrong, how then can one claim that the conceptual world is objective? On the contrary, it seems grossly fallible and even arbitrary. To fully understand this objection will simultaneously reveal its impertinence to the assertions above. One is hardly apt to dispute the claim that error is a hallmark of a great deal of thinking. By error, however, one has already implied an ideal and yet objective world that is correct, which is to say, “not an error.” Otherwise, “error,” having no foil to set it off, would also have no meaning. Moreover, “error” refers not to ideal elements in themselves, but to subjectively-posited relations between such elements, which may be variously designated as judgments, predications, or propositions. Concepts do not contain errors, only propositions do. The idea of “roundness” in itself, for instance, is neither correct nor incorrect. The same must be conceded in respect to “triangle.” Clearly, however, to predicate the former of the latter is an error. There is no need to wonder about this: the error will be self-evident to the one who understands the meaning of the terms. Concepts consist just in this transparency to thinking. All errors consist essentially in impertinent predication. For this reason, they have no bearing on the objectivity of the concepts or subjects which are being predicated. All truth, conversely, consists in correctly disclosing objective ideal relations amongst concepts and phenomena with the light of thinking. “Roundness,” for instance, subsists as a nexus amidst an infinite Indra’s net of direct ideal relations to other concepts and phenomena…just not to triangles.

A continuation of this study will follow in future installments. Special thanks to Rudolf Steiner and Walter Johannes Stein.

 

 

*Consolatio Philosophiae 5.4.31

**Goethe’s term Steigerung could alternatively be translated as “enhancement,” or “sublation.” Literally it means “ascent.” 

***Socrates: That of dividing things again by classes, where the natural joints are, and not trying to break any part, after the manner of a bad carver. As our two discourses just now assumed one common principle, unreason… (τὸ πάλιν κατ᾽ εἴδη δύνασθαι διατέμνειν κατ᾽ ἄρθρα ᾗ πέφυκεν, καὶ μὴ ἐπιχειρεῖν καταγνύναι μέρος μηδέν, κακοῦ μαγείρου τρόπῳ χρώμενον: ἀλλ᾽ ὥσπερ ἄρτι τὼ λόγω τὸ μὲν ἄφρον τῆς διανοίας ἕν τι κοινῇ εἶδος ἐλαβέτην…) Phaedrus 265e.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Antonio Dias says:

    An exciting beginning! So much is gained by looking at these basics and laying out these fundamental relations.

    One small quibble: The animated illustration is exciting on opening the page but then devolves into a major distraction. I could see it might act as a Migraine initiator for some!

    Looking forward to further installments!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Max Leyf says:

      Thank you; I have replaced the image

      Liked by 1 person

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