Tuesday 3 December 2019

What does it mean to become conscious? - Romantic Christianity notes on 'moments of clarity'

An aspect of Romantic Christianity that is given special emphasis by Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield is the need to become conscious of that which was previously unconscious.

(Or, this is not so much a need, but our divine destiny (at least, in The West) - it is what we are incarnated to do during our mortal lives in this era; and something which if rejected will seriously imperil our salvation, and our culture. As indeed it has.)

By my understanding, with the modern development of consciousness there is an element of returning to the spontaneous 'animism' of young childhood, a recognition that the world is 'made of' Beings - alive and conscious, with motivations - in relationships with each other; but this time the animism is one with awareness of all elements of our world view (not merely a perspective passively resulting from instincts and socialisation).

The importance of consciousness is that it enables agency, or freedom (as in the title of Steiner's 1994 Philosophy of Freedom) - because only when we are conscious of some thing, are we free to to embrace or reject that thing. Without consciousness we are 'slaves', automatic products of our environment and instincts.

That development of consciousness which is desired is a necessary step towards a full quality of divinity that may participate in creation; without consciousness we are a part-of creation, with consciousness we are participants in creation; potentially able to join with God in this work.

Thus in this current phase of culture we have separated from God; our task (if we wish for Life Eternal in Heaven) is to rejoin with God, but this time with consciousness and by personal choice - and this entails awareness of that which was previously unconscious.

But what does this becoming conscious actually mean - and what does it Not mean?

First, we need to take into account that this is mortal life, and our world is one or impermanence - of decay, disease and death. So nothing in this world is permanent for us (as mortal Beings). That recognition immediately clarifies that the attaining of consciousness aimed-at is something that may not be remembered, may not have permanent effect, may not be acted-upon...

(...At least so far as our knowledge in this world is concerned. We have faith that such temporary attainments in this world do indeed have permanent reality in the post-mortal context of resurrected life  eternal in Heaven - but not in this world.)

So in seeking consciousness, what we are seeking us something much like 'a moment of clarity'.

This is the intuitive sense of direct knowing - and typically of becoming, for a moment, clear about something we already 'knew' but unconsciously... We knew, but until this moment did not know that we knew...

The key point is that these (and there may be many, should be many such) moments of clarity, awareness and direct knowing are IT. These moments are precisely what we seek in the evolution of consciousness - and indeed, such moments are all that we can seek.

They are our maximum attainment because the moment may be forgotten, it may be distorted by memory, may be misinterpreted retrospectively... it is only in the moment, at the moment, that it is what it should-be.

We need to understand this; because otherwise (given our habits, and Men's habits for the past couple of millennia at least) we will try to seek consciousness in the form of articulated concepts, of models - that is, we will attempt to capture the direct knowing in words or symbols and to make it part of a system.

And this is an error; because these are secondary phenomena. Direct intuitive knowing cannot be reduced to a few words or a few symbols or a simple model - of course not! Nothing can be - not even such everyday matters as the appearance of a daisy, the performance of a song, the smell of a pine forest can be described accurately and completely!

Ineffability - inexpressibility, incommunicability... this is the mystical insight, but not at all specific to mystical experiences; it is just an obvious fact.

Our experience is not pre-divided into chunks that can be separated completely - no, all is interrelated to the extent of creation. And there is no end to the inner detail of anything. We are confronted by open-ended limitlessness of complexity both as we look without and also within.

So, all that we symbolise in actual words, or communicate in language or image - all such is necessarily simplified, distorted, incomplete, secondary. The direct and immediately apprehended knowing is the only primary experience; and our awareness likewise cannot be captured nor can it be communicated except as a model - which is certainly wrong!

Therefore we should avoid going down that path which was pursued by Rudolf Steiner; in which he attempted to describe, summarise and communicate his transitory experiences of direct knowing in a truly vast, intricate and interlinked system - of a form suitable for presenting in lectures and diagrams, and publishing in scores of books, and teaching to tens of thousands of 'followers' at that time and for another century, so far.

Steiner's compounded error led to the illusion that it was necessary - or at least desirable - for us to learn, understand, memorise, further communicate this systemic model of reality, as if it was a description of real-reality. Which it not only cannot be - but the gap between such a model (any such model) and directly apprehended reality is unknowable.

The vastness and complexity of Steiner's communicated model therefore misled bot Steiner and his followers into assuming that it really captured reality, better than a simple model would or could. Yet the gap between a simple model and reality and a complex model and reality are equally limitless! Complexity does not allow us to approach closer to the truth - the truth remains as far away as ever; but the potential for delusion does increase with a model's complexity and difficulty of mastery.

(We can explicitly know that a model is simplified and distorted - but not how much it is wrong, nor in what ways it is wrong. And this fact is not affected by the 'size' of the model. Typically, a more complex model is more precise. We will tend towards ever more more-precise error - precision is a false promise of accuracy. Hence the greater potential for misleading.)

This all helps explain the sorry history of Steiner's Anthroposophical Society - which has now become just-another converged secular leftist organisation that embraces the Global Totalitarian agenda; albeit one that, currently, expresses a lot of eccentric pseudo-factual beliefs.

What of coherence? Well, coherence is also a thing that needs to be directly known. The coherence, or incoherence, of our knowing is something that we already know but unconsciously - our task is to bring this knowing to awareness.

For example, we may intuit that our knowledge is incoherent still, and needs more work, more clarification - or we may realise that it is indeed coherent, and we have grasped reality - for a moment.

But we cannot take things further than that moment of clarity, nor should we seek to do so - because any such attempt will fail, and in attempting to describe direct knowing in communicable language, we may become (as Steiner apparently did) dominated-by that false model - and assertive of its rightness, true-ness; we may assert that our ridiculously simplified System is actually itself reality and truth and that to 'know' this System is necessary, or even that to understand the System and be able to expound that System is equivalent to, or better than, the momentary clarify of direct knowledge.

Such an error is likely (and very tempting) because the System made-from direct knowing is durable and discussable, it can be a part of 'objective' public discourse; while by contrast the actuality of direct knowing is evanescent and private.

Making a fake model (untrue, but presented as if true) is therefore a possible route to status and power. For instance one might found a society, a religion or a business, which purports to be based-on direct knowing - but which is inevitably only a distorted, summarised and systemised account of the experience.

Setting aside such temptations and recognising that that which we seek will be temporary and will not be articulable; we find that becoming conscious, direct knowing, Final Participation is a much more attainable life strategy than might have been supposed.

This is great news!

Our task is (merely!) to seek such momentary clarity of insights, clarity of coherence's; and to be satisfied with that quality of experience - but (the difficult thing...) to continue to keep seeking for such moments for as long as we are alive.

Because, for as long as we are alive, we have important work to do; and that is why we remain alive.

Note: All this has been clarified for me by reading Philip K Dick's Exegesis (2011), which strikes me as exactly the book I most needed at exactly this point of my life. 


Brief Outlines said...

Have you written anywhere about distinguishing between authentic and counterfeit forms of final participation? It seems like an interesting and little discussed theme of study.

With regards to our dear Dr Steiner and his "models"... I very much feel that, as with life and everything else in the world, one gets out what one puts in. If I study how to draw a leaf, I will all of a sudden notice leaves in a completely new way.

As Goethe pointed out, reality discloses her "open secrets" to us when we approach her with living and loving interest. I think Steiner's extensive descriptions of the reality are to be taken as this sort of Goethian style interest in the world. He is giving us concepts that don't die when we think them. That is why his descriptions cannot suffer the fate of so many other ideas; people either become engaged with them due to their content, or are disturbed and put off by them. But they can never be consumed by the unquenchable furnace of idle curiosity, as just one more interesting "angle" on things.

For those who are not completely put off, Steiner hopes that we might try these concepts out for ourselves and see what happens. To then ask the question as to the "gap" between these concepts and reality is like wishing to set sail by never leaving land.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ama - "Have you written anywhere about distinguishing between authentic and counterfeit forms of final participation?"

I think this is again something that one has to discover oneself. It is not a technique or method. It is not following instinct.

I don't think the question can be answered in that way - any more than we could answer: "How could a person know that they *really* loved someone?" - anything like a checklist would show the wrong attitude, but just 'doing what comes naturally' would be equally wrong.

The answer may indirectly be given in poetic, symbolic terms. But - like love, and related to it, the answer is actually part of a whole different way of being that we may recopgnise when it happens; and which we are indeed innately equipped to recognise - if we alloow ourselves.