Friday 1 February 2019

Some new thoughts about consciousness...

If we imagine the Real Self as the yolk of an egg, surrounded by the white which is Consciousness - and the egg being immersed-in the World - then the evolutionary development of consciousness can be (crudely!) envisaged as the thickening of the white (Consciousness) until the yolk-Self is absolutely cut-off from the World.

This thickening, and reducing permeability of Consciousness develops through the lifespan, and also through the history of  Man - reaching its maximum in The West: first and at the greatest extreme in England. We begin with our Self in direct contact with the World - but this contact diminishes through development.

What happened is that our sense of perspective, our sense of who we are, became located in the white of the egg, in Consciousness - from-which we can look-out at the World; or inward at the Real Self... thus we get the separation of the objective and the subjective; and modern alienation.

The usual solution is to try and weaken Consciousness, to obliterate the white - for example by trances and other altered states, perhaps by taking intoxicating drugs such as alcohol. This creates a simulacrum of the childhood/ early man state of the yolk-self immersed in the World. But it is only partly effective, and at the cost of generalised behavioural impairment, reduced memory etc.

Another idea is to try and strengthen Consciousness by some kind of training in concentration, meditation or the like. This also fails, because we are still alienated; because when Consciousness leads, it will be all about planning, simplified modelling, narrowing and focusing... It is like trying to live by a flow chart, or by protocols.

Such life - located in Consciousness - feels dry and two-dimensional, and is prone to gross error; because it forces its simple systems onto reality - it imposes itself, and Man remains isolated.

What, then, is the proper (divinely destined) future? It strikes me that we need to regard Consciousness as more like a forum, a medium; a place where the Self and the World meet and join-up. 

Our real self, our Being, generates thought; and the Beings of the World generate thoughts; and these thoughts both meet in our Consciousness, so that we are no longer cut off.

But Consciousness does Not impose itself; does Not attempt to control either the Self or the World. We need to cease to strive, plan, organise, choose... instead we need to allow the right behaviours to emerge, in full consciousness, from the interaction of Self and World.

This is what intuition ought to be; that 'knowing' when something is true, beautiful and virtuous because we observe it is real; because we observe it is creation. But this happens, consciously, 'in' the egg-white of Consciousness - whereas in childhood, in early Man, it was un-conscious - we then simply were; we were being but did not know it. Now we know it; because the joining of Self and World happens in Consciousness; instead of (in the past) joining directly.

This is to have a creative relationship with the World, it is to participate in divine creation, and to know we participate, and how. 

There is no place for our Consciousness to try and impose itself on creation - when we are in the proper mode of Consciousness our original thoughts meet with the thought of the Beings of the World; and naturally these are harmonious and coherent aspects of the totality of creation.

What I get from this, is that the attempt to stand-outside the process is the mistake. We want to be a part of it; which means that our Consciousness ought to be much more like observation than (a failing attempt to) control.

Another mistake is to suppose that Free Will is conscious choice; or that Agency is about consciously inserting our-Selves into reality... 'Agency' ought to be a matter of our real Self Participating-in reality; and this must be a loving co-operation - there is no place for 'will'.

We should neither strive to obliterate Consciousness, nor to pump-up Consciousness into a pseudo-God; instead we acknowledge that the Consciousness can 'watch' as our thinking emerges from the primary source of the Self, but cannot penetrate the Self; can 'watch' as the thoughts from the Self interact with the thoughts flowing in from the World - but ought not to try and distort or compel what happens between these realities.

It can't anyway - but the attempt to do so is what keeps us alienated.


Jack said...

This generally fits with my experience, both in what I remember of the gradual formation of consciousness in my lifetime, and also with my experiences trying to practice meditation and mindfulness over the years. It is indeed very possible to make the "egg white" into a kind of prison from which one feels alienated from everything happening around you.

My question, though, is whether this metaphor allows for the notion of man as fallen. A Buddhist or New Ager might say that the egg yolk of the true self is inherently good, primordially pure, or some such thing, and therefore it's no problem to let it have free reign and just let consciousness observe. (Actually a Buddhist would say there is no yolk, but the absence of the yolk is primordially pure.) On the other hand, much of the Western tradition, and also much of the Eastern disciplines as well, cultivate the watchfulness of consciousness as a guard and corrective measure over base impulses.

Looked at another way, Plato hypothesized a tripartite soul, with higher and lower faculties, and said that the properly ordered soul is one in which the higher faculties rule over the lower. The egg yolk of the true self then, has to be discerned by something, because there are unconscious elements that are higher than consciousness, and also unconscious elements that are lower than consciousness. This also fits somewhat with the notion of man as fallen, a being with a disordered soul that has to be corrected.

Would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack - Thanks. I didn't pepper this post with links, because I'm trying to get something clear to myself - but a lot of this comes from Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield and William Arkle - so there is implicitly the idea that human consciousness has changed over time.

And because we no longer experience the world as did people in Plato's time and place; the world itself is no longer the same - because there cannot be a separation between the subject and object, because they are not really separate.

The apparent separation is the result of the 'insertion' of consciousness into the world; and consciousness is also the cure for the separation it has caused: what was separated By consciousness needs to unite In consciousness.

Intrinsic to this is the Assumption that more consciousness is a Good Thing - that to become more divine, we must become more aware.

So the direct unmediated unconscious situation of the yolk immersed in the world is not 'evil', but is less divine, because it is less conscious - and it is our destinty to become more divine hence more conscious.

Becoming more conscious is 'growing up' spiritually - and Arkle explains that behind creation is God's desire to have more Beings like himself and herself (I regard God as our Heavenly Parents, and Man as composed of complementary male and female parts, as the basis of primordial love-creation - but this is not crucial to the present argument).

God wants more gods, to dwell in creation and participate in creation with God. But - because God is loving, and wants fully 'agent' companions (or else they could not be truly creative within the context of the primary creation) - all this can only happen 'voluntarily', and only when individuals want it. It is a gift and an offer.

I tried for many years to make personal sense of the 'fallen' idea; but I find it ultimately misconceived. Sense can be made of it, but why? It isn't something Jesus teaches, and it causes all sorts of deep problems and inconsistencies.

But if the fallen world idea is retained, it could be linked to the evolution of consciousness, to the separation of the self from the world.

"the properly ordered soul is one in which the higher faculties rule over the lower. " This is, of course, an alienated condition. It recognises that more consciousness is higher; higher in the sense of more divine and later developed; but it sustains that shallow, disconnected, provisional quality of existence which is such a misery for modern man.

The alienation problem (subjectivity cut-off from the world) was nothing like so bad for the Ancient Greeks as for us; since their consciousness was 'thinner', much less 'opaque' than is ours. They were, in this respect, more child-like than us (although more grown-up than the peoples around them).

I am beginning to understand that the way we formulate 'free will' and 'agency' is in error, and locks-in a state of alienation - I hope to write more on this soon.

Jack said...

Thanks for your reply. I am not familiar with Arkle or Barfield, but I will check them out. A cursory look at Arkle's wiki page makes me think of Austin Osman Spare. What is it with English painters and mysticism?

Your yolk / egg white metaphor seems to have some overlap with the concepts of Essence and Personality from Gurdjieff. I've never been sure what to make of Gurdjieff and his system, though this particular idea fits with my experience. There is a rather good presentation of it here:

I think the idea of the Fall, and the fallen state of man, is basically something that can be empirically verified. As St. Paul says, the good that we would do, we do not, while the evil we would not do, we do. For several years I practiced Buddhism and was taught that the core of human beings is "basic goodness." What this ends up doing, in the West at least, is becoming a "spiritual" justification for licentiousness and hedonism, while denying our fallen nature - that is, our selfishness.

Jesus may not have taught the Fall per se, but He did call out wickedness in persons and in the entire generation, and he taught a kind of self-struggle such that one should be willing to pluck out one's own eye or cut off one's hand.

It may be that the unconsciousness of the self is not evil but rather just less divine, but I think abandoning the notion of evil is a very dangerous idea and seems to always end badly. There are certainly those who will say that satan is not evil, just less divine, or even "differently divine." I've been around the block enough to have concluded that whenever a spiritual teacher or system talks about going "beyond good and evil," I politely excuse myself and run. I'm not accusing you of promoting this view - I only recently discovered your blog and writings, so I don't know what your views are by and large. Looking forward to reading more. Thank you for sharing them.

Julius the Jules said...

This is such a meaningful, delightful and thought-provoking article! I have always believed this way. I finally found the best way to represent my beliefs regarding consciousness through your post, Dr. Bruce Charlton!

I have always tried to blend or fuse science with religion. Though, I try not to mix either with politics. Ha Ha! But anyway, I hope you won't mind that I'm sharing this particular blog post with my university's Facebook group. I don't know how to submit Leads through the Abide University online school site.

Thank you, Dr. Charlton for contemplating and sharing your views with us on consciousness. You've been an amazing help with this post! I take things like this to heart as a Dudeist.

~Julius the Jules