Consciousness and its Transformations (2): Second Enhancement, the Reverse-Will, Narcissism

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A second stage of heightened attention provides for the discovery of another state of consciousness beyond the first enhancement, which was treated in an earlier post.  The former will be the topic of the present post.

Ordinary thinking is both ephemeral and capricious. One may, however, take initiative to transform this condition. Such an initiative would consist in beginning to will thinking. As a result, thinking would no longer consist in spontaneous concatenations of associative happenstance. Instead, thinking would become a deed; an act of will and not an accompanying throng of will-o’-the-wisps.

One method to extinguish the usual arbitrary thought-sequences and to set in their place a thinking that is purposeful is to set about to think something intentionally. In this exercise, it is critical that the thought-object does not magnetise one’s subjective inclination. If the given thought-object is inherently interesting, then to think it will fail to evoke the necessary inner initiative of will on the part of the one who is undertaking the exercise. The purpose of the exercise is demand such an exertion. One strives to gather up and marshal into thinking, the same will that we employ to do anything else. Typically, this will is kindled by the desire for an imagined object. It is then shuttled into the limbs with the effect of manipulating the external world towards the end of attaining the object of this desire. To employ the will in this manner is exactly what anchors consciousness in the subject-object dualism that constitutes ordinary experience. The enhancement of consciousness that is the concern of the present study demands a reversal of the ordinary usage of the will. The result of such a reversal is that the mind or soul itself becomes the object upon which the will is exerted. Clearly the accomplishment of such a reversal entails the discovering of a will that is not self-centered.

The third enhancement of consciousness, which will be the subject of the next study, will explore the eccentration of the will that is made possible with a concentration of attention. Now, however, we will return to the consideration of the present study, which is the enlivening of thinking. Above we introduced a method for imbuing the thinking activity with will by sustaining an uninteresting thought in the mind. The will, in this exceptional situation, is focused on the mind or soul itself and not on an object or outcome in the external world. The more difficult it is to maintain such a direction of the will, the more effective is the exercise of reversal. A boring object of thought will demand greater initiative than a profitable one. For this reason, the shape of a book is a much better object for the exercise than any of its content. In the same manner that a violinist might practice scales for the sake of developing technical proficiency with her instrument and thereby become more-fully a violinist, so a human being may exercise her cognitive capacities with an analogous intent. This is to say, we can train ourselves in more skillful use of our brains and nervous systems, and ultimately develop a caliber of thinking that transcends them, and in this manner, become more-fully human.

It is tempting to suppose that the enhancement of consciousness is something private or esoteric. In a way this is true, since it would be contradictory to imagine that one person could accomplish such an evolution on another’s behalf. At the same time, however, the caliber and quality of thinking ultimately both frames and decides questions of society. As it is said, “the flower that adorns itself adorns the countryside.” Flightiness and inconstancy characterise ordinary thinking today. As a result, it lacks the fortitude to follow any chain of reasoning through to completion. For instance, many economists and politicians attempt to promote economic prosperity while simultaneously undermining the basic trust and goodwill between individuals upon which every economic transaction itself depends. For this reason, one ought not to allow the apparent simplicity of an exercise such as the one above to deceive one into supposing that it is without value beyond personal improvement. On the contrary, the value of such exercises to fortify thinking is immeasurable, and contains the seeds for a New Jerusalem. The purpose of the current study is to present the results of epistemological research for which such methods are a condition but not the object. Any further description of specific exercises, therefore, will be reserved for a separate occasion.

As we indicated above, any intensification of attention provides a new possibility for research. It is research of a unique kind, however, because its object is the very instrument of investigation. In other words, the instrument by which all other things are investigated is to become its own object. Thinking, which is best conceived as permutations of attention—or specific forms that attention may assume—can be observed in its own right. This observation is accomplished through the very same attention. This situation at once presents a paradox, since, as we explored in the last study, what is given can become an object of observation. What is not given, however, demands our own participation to bring it about. Thinking as an activity was specifically identified as something not given in this respect. Thus, unless we first think, we will have nothing to observe, but in thinking we are engrossed in the deed and not an observation of it. Nevertheless, what is transparent, invisible, and only faintly intimated in ordinary consciousness—as a consequence of the self’s subjective identification with it—may become an objective occurrence following such developments as we have outlined above. In this manner, the thinking activity can become an object of investigation. This stage of our study, therefore, consists in taking the thinking activity itself as a given departure-point, which may subsequently be investigated as any other phenomenon.

***

Ordinary thinking, though it is done in presence, is only known in retrospect. We can be certain that it was done as a verb in the present tense, because otherwise it would not have been done at all: it is a contradiction in terms to do something in a time other than that in which it is done. Still, ordinary consciousness discovers an apparent mutual exclusivity of doing and knowing. Recollection reveals that one has been thinking. This, however, is only a backward glance at thought; an experience of thinking in its reflection and not in its origin and incidence. As a corpse indicates, but is not identical to, a living thing which was its cause, so ordinary consciousness only knows this noetic thinking activity* once it has become extinct. One awakens to find that one has in fact been thinking, but during the act itself, one’s initiative was sleepily absorbed in doing and not in knowing.

If the mind could manage to achieve a higher wakefulness, however, it could indwell the activity of thinking in its very actuality. The result would be an enhancement of consciousness that would amount to a fundamental restructuring. The partitions of thinking and perception, inner and outer, given and not-given that appear self-evident to ordinary consciousness would no longer stand. These structures were erected as the conceptual scaffolding for a particular state of consciousness and it is natural, therefore, that they should be impertinent to a different one. The external world, which to ordinary consciousness appeared as a mere given and which to the first intensification appeared to consist in both given and not-given aspects, would now reveal itself to be the product of the I’s own initiative. As a shining needle darting through a warp of percepts, bearing threads of conceptuality in tow, the sense-world would appear as a tapestry woven by the I in active cognition. In this manner, perception of the external world would be a deed of the I. As such, it would no longer present something merely given from the outset.

Clearly, it is necessary at this point to distinguish between the self as a concept—which we might call the “me” or the “ego”—and the self as the condition, creator, and minister of concepts, which we have called the “I.” We might also designate the latter as the “self” and the former as the “self-image”—its frozen reflection a concept. Put another way, narcissism emanates from the very structure of consciousness that is general today. It is, therefore, naïve to imagine that narcissism could be counteracted in a direct manner. On the contrary, it less of a deviation from the psychological norm than an expression of ordinary consciousness itself. To dismantle narcissism would demand a transformation of ordinary consciousness. Anything other than this would represent a dissembling of narcissism under the pretense of having disassembled it. To the second enhancement of consciousness, the distinction between the self and its image is perfectly manifest.

Taking into account our assumed departure-point for this moment of inquiry, the I would recognise its own identity in the noetic activity of thinking*—the force and intelligence which weaves the outer world and the egocentric conceptualisation as well. This generative activity would be experienced as a given fact while its products would appear as something not-given. This is to say that the activity of thinking—thinking as verb—would be something merely given. The products of this activity, by contrast—thoughts as nouns—would present a distinctly contingent aspect of experience. Such a picture would be an inversion of ordinary consciousness, indeed. For the latter, thinking appeared as a not-given against an external world, which appeared as given. Following the second enhancement, the noetic activity of thinking may be taken as a given. As a result, the objective world is disclosed before the I as the fruits of its labour.

The Orion Nebula, one of the most studied objects in the sky. Image: NASA

*The creative Logos, we might also call it.

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