S. David Stoney, Jr., Ph.D.
August 14, 2008
In These Last Days <1>
"The reasonable assumption is that human beings have an ethology, just as other species do; that the morphology of our cognitive capacities reflects our specific modes of adaptation. Of course, we are in some respects badly situated to elucidate its structure... From in here it looks as though we're fit to think whatever thoughts there are to think... It would, of course, precisely because we are in here. But there is surely good reason to suppose that this is hubris bred of an epistemological illusion. No doubt spiders think that webs exhaust the options. (Fodor, J.A. Reply to Putnam, In: Language and Learning: The Debate Between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky, Piattelli-Palmerini, M. (Ed.), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980, cited in Ray Jackendoff, Languages of the Mind: Essays on Mental Representation, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pg. 159, 1992.)
"...the transcendentalization of God and the concomitant 'disenchantment of the world' opened up a 'space' for history as the arena of both divine and human actions." (Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, pg. 110, 1969.)
"History... has become not [just] a record of events and their consequences, but a record of the evolution of consciousness from compactness to differentiation...serious disturbances in the understanding of reality are inevitable if and when awareness of the contextual wholeness is lost." (Kenneth Keulman,The Balance of Consciousness: Eric Voegelin's Political Theory, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990, pgs.135, 136.)
"'History' does not exist on it own but comes into being when human consciousness focuses on certain points in its temporal existence, isolates certain connections, and thereby frames certain elements into what consciousness can register as 'events.' What in a given society constitutes history - true well-founded history, for we are not concerned here with unfounded or false history - will depend on a society's ways of constituting and selecting events from the continuum around it, its ways of appropriating its past." (Walter J. Ong, Interfaces of the Word, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pg. 109, 1977)
"The grooves into which social behavior falls, for the most part, are laid down by the decisions we make in those particular circumstances in the past. The automation of those decisions of the past... results in their being made for us nonconsciously in the present. The automation of the goals we pursue in each of a wide variety of social situations we frequently encounter enables us to deal effectively or ineffectively with the world; they produce either satisfaction or hardship, friends or enemies." (John A. Bargh, Automaticity in action: The unconscious as repository of chronic goals and motives, In: The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior, Peter M. Gollwitzer & John A. Bargh (eds.), NY: The Guilford Press, 1996, pgs.476-77.)
"Recent research ...suggests that there is a possibility that this gradual global warming could lead to a relatively abrupt slowing of the ocean's thermohaline conveyor, which could lead to harsher winter weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more intense winds in certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the world's food production. With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth's environment" (Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security, Report prepared for the Department of Defense, circa 2003.)
Are human beings fully conscious? Will we be able to come to grips with and mount a sustainable response to the threat of rapid climate change? The obvious - though perhaps somewhat self-aggrandizing - answer is "Of course!" Nevertheless, Morgan's canon, that contemporary action should not be interpreted as "the outcome of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of one which stands lower in the psychological scale," applies to us just as much as to any other living creature. Unfortunately, because of the long time-spans involved in the earth's climate cycle, we have no previously learned conscious mechanisms of adaptation. So, at the present time, it is not clear that the citizens of the US (the only country I really know well enough to talk about) will be able to mount a progressive, adaptive response to the rapidly accelerating climate crisis. Failure to bring the reality of rapid global climate change into conscious awareness so that it is reflected in our behavior and actions could spell the end of civilization as we know it and bring about an involuntary reversion to a persistent, more conservative, more tribal-like mode of embodied consciousness. If that were to occur, then it would not be possible to argue that being a conscious human being involves foresight. Consciousness without foresight is an empty concept, for being conscious always intails being able to choose. Absent foresight, our vaunted human consciousness shows itself to be just another, albeit quite exuberant, variety of animal awareness, and we are - now and forever - blind to our own instincts and, because of that, slaves of Nature. If this is, in fact, the case - as some deconstructive postmodernists advertise - then the development of science must be recognized as an unconscious and possibly unique accident of this particular interglacial period. Civilization and the kind of individuated consciousness that it supports, which knows about religion, history, science, individual freedom , and now, finally, the earth's climate cycle, may, if allowed to slip away, never develop again.
Early Origins of Human Consciousness - Thank goodness for the long duration of this interglacial period <2>, which has seen the development of individuated human consciousness, the notion of freedom, and reconstructive postmodernism. I much prefer reconstructive postmodernism over deconstructive postmodernism <3>, particularly in so far as it encourages us to abandon some of those arbitrarily constructed boundaries and outmoded ideas that developed or were carried over into our thinking from the premodern era. One such idea is mind-body dualism <4>.Another outmoded idea is that "history" began a few thousand years ago. To the extent that such thinking implies that prehistorical human beings were, somehow, less human than modern humans, this is nonsense. The human brain has been about its current size everywhere on the planet for at least 50,000 - 100,000 years or more and our prehistoric ancestors were generating history, albeit a more overtly mythopoetic, cyclic, nonliterate, and local history, for many tens of thousands of years <5>. Several factors have contributed to the scarcity of knowledge about early human history:
Maximum glaciation of the North American continent at the peak of the last glacial period about 18,000 years ago. Note the changed shoreline. Sequestration of water as ice at the poles resulted in sea levels being around 100 meters lower than today's sea levels.
Please note that I am unabashedly in favor of the modern variety of embodied human consciousness with its accompanying features of self-awareness, individuation, and freedom. However, modern consciousness seems deficient with regard to its capacity to enhance our appreciation of holistic aspects of things (see <7>) and, without a deeply felt sense of belonging and interconnection, it seems likely that modern humans will destroy civilization and threaten much of earth's life. As David Ray Griffin expressed it, "the continuation of modernity threatens the very survival of life on our planet" (Griffin, 2000, pg. xii, in <3>). The fundamental problem seems to be one of ignorance energized by fear (see figure below and <8>). Our ignorance is multifaceted but three important areas are ignorance of the true nature of self and world, ignorance of the bimodal nature of human consciousness, and ignorance of the past. I believe that a variety of human consciousness that maximizes individuation and freedom - but which also encourages awareness of quantal wholeness, participation, and cooperation - is possible if we can get past our fear. If not, if we just "keep on doing something" as a hedge against realizing our fear <9>, then I contend that modern trends will lead to a "posthuman" condition (see below) of ever increasing alienation, environmental destruction, and vulnerability to abrupt global climate change. The stage will then be set for a reversion to a mode of consciousness where our concept of self will be something quite different than what it is today. See Understanding Our Predicament for information about the new, disquieting world that climate science has revealed and which we must, somehow, as a people begin to come to grips with.
|"But anonymous man still has his fears...Just as the shadows, here, become more solid that the walls - so, too, do his intangible fears become more solid than steel - confining him in a kind of cage wherever he goes." Clarence John Laughlin, "Our Prison Bars are Shadows, 1949," In: Haunter of Ruins: The Photography of Clarence John Laughlin, John H. Lawrence and Patricia Bradly (Eds.), Boston: Little, Brown, 1997.|
Three important dimensions along which our early embodied consciousness varied from contemporary embodied consciousness are participation, the subtle, felt sense of connection with the world (see below), alienation, one's appreciation of his or her place in the world, and self-awareness, the extent to which one appreciates his or her individuality. Primordial awareness (A0) is fundamental to all occasions of experience, but is ineffable. Awareness of awareness (awareness squared, A2) is fundamental to self-consciousness and becomes strong in living creatures with nervous systems. Awareness of awareness, which implies a certain separation from the environment, i.e., a certain degree of alienation <8>, is also fundamental to the development of language and science. A further development of human embodied consciousness (awareness cubed, A3) is deemed possible, wherein one appreciates the limitations of ego-consciousness and consciously re-cognizes one's participation with universal creativity (Atman = Brahman). Human embodied consciousness can be modeled as movement through a space defined by the self-awareness, alienation, and participation. With appreciation of the impending onset of abrupt climate change (i.e., a possible 1-2 punch of rapid global warming followed by global cooling, conscious knowledge and acceptance of which forms a "cognitive capstone") the trajectory of embodied consciousness describes an arc. Living in this truth leads toward post-critical participation, a postcritical mind, and lower levels of alienation. Living in the absence of such knowledge, i.e., in denial of impending climate change, the trajectory of embodied consciousness is an upward progression toward increased alienation, fragmentation, and a posthuman mind <9>. The trajectories of embodied human consciousness and its dimensions are further defined and discussed at the Iced Neuron website. See part III. Embodied Human Consciousness and Climate Change, especially A Model for Embodied Human Consciousness.
|Embodied human consciousness naturally describes an arc from low levels of self-awareness to higher - and ultimately self transcendent - levels. Arcs are likely somewhat different for males and females, but considerable variation is possible. Failure to consciously appreciate the participatory dimension leads to increasing alienation. The space in front of the tallest arc is a space of madness. The dotted line represents the possibility of unembodied consciousness.|
Recent experiments in cognitive psychology show that mind is not encapsulated within the brain and that detailed "internal" neural representations of the world are unlikely to exist <12>. These and other findings force a rejection of the sensationist doctrine and throw into crisis the issue of how we know the world. Rejecting idealism, I believe that the only way we can come to know the world is by joining with its objects, i.e., by prehending them - when we know an object, the knower, the object of knowledge, and the act of knowing form an inseparable, dynamic whole. While I cannot honestly say that I understand how this occurs, it seems to me to require that awareness, or a capacity to experience, be part and parcel of the fundamental nature of things<13>. Perhaps it is part of what David Bohm called the "implicate order." I believe that there is little doubt that quantum mechanics and consciousness are intertwined. From a holistic point of view and taking a Whiteheadian/Bohmian perspective, we are quantum organisms of universal extent. As ever unfolding dominant occasions of experience (i.e., as a mindful organism), we can (very roughly) be considered to have particle-like (explicit, local, objective) and wave-like (implicit, non-local, subjective) aspects. Our interconnection with the universe, via the implicate order, is an important basis for our ability to know the world. Without it, out brains would be of little use. However, until recently most of modern science seems to deny wholeness, restricting quantum theory to the realm of the very small. This is a short-sighted paradigm, based on a perspective from a disembodied consciousness that has so lost touch with its true nature that it is only able to recognize matter as objectively real. Appreciation of quantal wholeness, and the applicability of aspects of quantum theory (such as non-locality) to human consciousness requires that the issue be approached from the perspective of an embodied human consciousness comfortable with one foot in the implicate order (the aware universe) and one foot in the explicate order (brain/body). To recognize and discover the humanly important dynamics of quantal wholeness cannot be done from the perspective of classical physical or neural theory. These approaches begin from a fragmented (dualistic) position <14> and, logically, must lead to further fragmentation. In short, we must be prepared to proceed with an "...unflinching determination to take the whole evidence into account" (<15>), part of which evidence is the interconnectedness of the universe. We, with our modern/postmodern psyches, may not like to think that way, but if we ignore that aspect of the nature of things we put in harm's way any further advance of human consciousness.Dealing with the challenge of abrupt global climate change in a manner that rescues liberty in the USA will require courageous leadership at political, religious, and scientific levels. Unfortunately, our political leaders appear not have the courage and integrity to honestly face the climate crisis (<16>). Given the rampant corruption, dishonesty, and secrecy of the current administration, it becomes increasingly clear that we can no longer look to Washington for protection from climate change. Thus, it is up to us to mount a grassroots effort. What needs to be realized by those in the higher echelons of leadership who genuinely care about freedom for all the people is that they really have no choice in the matter. As detailed in a recent report commissioned for the Pentagon (<17>), failure to prepare for abrupt global climate change will very likely lead to a humanitarian, political, religious, and scientific catastrophe for the whole world. On the other hand, coming to grips with abrupt global climate change - and striving for a post-critical consciousness that incorporates that knowledge - is actually the solution to our problems, the true test of our character and of our commitment to freedom. Abrupt global climate change is the one truly impersonal threat which we can, if we have the courage to do the right thing, use to rally the republic to a sustaining, life-enriching vision. It will also restore our great country to a place of participatory leadership in the world, allowing us to let go of the reigns of coercive leadership that our fear currently dictates. Absent a positive vision, fragmentation will continue to dominate politically, religiously, and culturally as each and every special interest seeks to protect its own stash of privilege and wealth at the expense of everyone else. And, the voters, especially the young voters, will continue to abandon the system as too hopelessly corrupt to be worth a vote. Sadly, this empowers the "minority of the opulent"(<18>) who then simply buy the government. Surely we can do better than that. Surely we can at least try for the 21st century Jeffersonian republic that former Senator Gary Hart described in his recent book, Restoration of the Republic (<19>),
"Disillusionment with the ethos of materialism, privatism, and personal aggrandizement coupled with a renewed sense of community, the common good, the national interest, and the notion, most notable in wartime, that we are all in this together may spark the renaissance of the republic. Unlike the ancient republic, however, a twenty-first-century Jeffersonian republic must be democratic in character, open to all and owned by all. Founded on the classic qualities of civic virtue, duty, popular sovereignty, citizen participation, and resistance to corruption, the new American republic can and should be the forum in which the government is for the people because it is by the people. Most of all, this republic will be worthy of the allegiance of future generations of young people, who will come to know what they are saluting and why they are saluting it."
Perhaps, since civilization has failed, the way to get there is, as Daniel Quinn suggests, to move beyond civilization - "the culture of maximum destruction" - by recognizing that "There is no one right way for people to live"(<20>).
Notes, References, and Links
1. Each note is intended to be read in context. You may return to its text location by clicking on the"Return to text" at the end of the note. Some of you will recognize that the phrase I have used for a title is from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. It seems particularly apt here in 2008. These days are either the last of the reign of deconstructive postmodern (and posthuman) consciousness that denies the earth's climate cycle and man-made global warming or the last days of civilization as we know it. Return to text.
2. For additional information
on glacial and interglacial periods, see Understanding
Our Predicament and associated links. Some authors refer to the last
glacial phase as an "ice age," but this is technically incorrect. The current
ice age, which we are still in as far as anyone knows, has been going on for
three million years and has included more than two dozen glacial phases. (For a
brief, understandable summary of earth's climate history, with figures showing
how the earth's temperature is thought to have changed over the last 1,000,
15,000, 150,000, 1 million, and 100 million years, see Thomas J. Crowley's
article in CONSEQUENCES: The Nature & Implications of Environmental
Change, Volume 2, Number 1, 1996, Remembrance
of Things Past: Greenhouse Lessons from the Geologic Record.) During this
ice age the planet's climate has been continuously cycling between long (about
100,000 years) cold, dry glacial periods and short (about 10,000 years) warm,
wet interglacial periods. The present interglacial period has been going on for
about 12,000 years.
Over the course of the last 20 years, climate scientists have discovered that the transitions between warm and cold phases can occur quite rapidly, in periods of time as short as a decade or less. (For a very recent, brief presentation concerning the reality of abrupt global climate change see Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises by a Committee on Abrupt Climate Change of the National Research Council, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001. For WWW version click here.) Thus, the modern view, that global climate change only occurs with glacial slowness, leaving human societies plenty of time to make gradual adaptations, is now known to be erroneous. Nevertheless, most modern ideas of human nature, our consciousness, and our societies are implicitly based on the idea of gradualism and uniformitarianism. It's going to take some very hard work indeed to extricate ourselves from the 'mind-forged manacles' that we have inadvertently constructed for ourselves. Return to text
3. Modern neuroscience seems, in large part, to have tumbled into a deconstructive postmodernist stance, namely that all we really know is the activity of our neurons and that, as bags of chemicals and genes, the world, self, soul, and meaning are solipsistic illusions. The disutility of this point of view has been addressed by the author Tom Wolfe in a piece for Forbes magazine (See The Perils of Neuralism). M.R. Bennett & P.M.S. Hacker, in their fine paper, "Perception and memory in neuroscience: a conceptual analysis" (Prog. Neurobiol. 65: 499-543, 2001), point out that this is a metaphysical perspective:
"It is important not to lose sight of the extraordinary nature of this ancient conception. If it is right, then we are subject to perpetual illusion. The world as it is, independently of our perception of it, is profoundly different from the world as we perceive it to be. If colours, sounds, smells and tastes are 'mental constructions created in the brain by sensory processing', and if they 'do not exist, as such, outside of the brain', then, to be sure, what we perceive when we perceive the golden sunset, blue sea and silvery waves is no more than a mental construct created in the brain, and what we taste when we dine is not the taste of the food we eat, but a mental construct in the brain. The world as we experience it, is largely a figment of our imagination, i.e., of our image-making faculty. Nature as it really is independently of our perception of it, 'is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material' (Whitehead). This is a metaphysical, not a physical, conception of reality." (pg. 519)I subscribe to a progressive, reconstructive form of postmodernism. David Ray Griffin, editor for the SUNY series of books on reconstructive postmodern thought, has described the differences between reconstructive and deconstructive postmodernism and has pointed out the absence of a logical foundation for radical postmodernism (in Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pgs. x-xii, 2000):
"Insofar as a common element is found in the various ways in which the term is used, postmodernism refers to a diffuse sentiment rather than to any common set of doctrines - the sentiment that humanity can and must go beyond the modern...
Closely related to literary-artistic postmodernism is a philosophical postmodernism inspired variously by physicalism, Martin Heidegger, a cluster of French thinkers - including Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Julia Kristeva - and certain features of American pragmatism. By the use of terms that arise out of particular segments of this movement, it can be called deconstructive, relativistic, or eliminative postmodernism. It overcomes the modern worldview through an antiworld view, deconstructing or even eliminating various concepts that have generally been thought necessary for a worldview, such as self, purpose, meaning, a real world, givenness, reason, truth as correspondence, universally valid norms, and divinity. While motivated by ethical and emancipatory concerns, this type of postmodern thought tends to issue in relativism, Indeed, it seems to many thinkers to imply nihilism. It could, paradoxically, also be called ultramodernism, in that its eliminations result from carrying modern premises - such as the sensationist doctrine of perception, the mechanistic doctrine of nature to the logical conclusions. Some critics see its deconstructions or eliminations as leading to self-referential inconsistencies, such as "performative self-contradictions" between what is said and what is presupposed in the saying.[See <11>for an example of a performative self-contradiction.]
The postmodernism of this series can, by contrast, be called revisionary, constructive, or - perhaps best - reconstructive. It seeks to overcome the modern worldview not by eliminating the possibility of worldviews (or "metanarratives") as such, but by constructing a postmodern worldview through a revision of modern premises and traditional concepts in light of inescapable presuppositions of our various modes of practice. That is, it agrees with deconstructive postmodernists that a massive deconstruction of many received concepts is needed. But its deconstructive moment, carried out for the sake of the presuppositions of practice, does not result in self-referential inconsistency. It also is not so totalizing as to prevent reconstruction. The reconstruction carried out by this type of postmodernism involves a new unity of scientific, ethical, aesthetic, and religious intuitions (whereas post-structuralists tend to reject all such unitive projects as "totalizing modern metanarratives"). While critical of many ideas often associated with modern science, it rejects not science as such but only that scientism in which the data of the modern natural sciences are alone allowed to contribute to the construction of our public worldview.
...Going beyond the modern world will involve transcending its individualism, anthropocentrism, patriarchy, economism, consumerism, nationalism, and militarism. Reconstruction postmodern though provides support for the ethnic, ecological, feminist, peace, and other emancipatory movements of our time while stressing that the inclusive emancipation must be from the destructive features of modernity itself. However, ...the modern world has produced unparalleled advances, as Critical Theorists have emphasized, which must not be devalued in a general revulsion against modernity's negative features.
...From the point of view of its advocates, however, this revisionary postmodernism is not only more adequate to our experience but also more genuinely postmodern. It does not simply carry the premises of modernity through to their logical conclusions, but criticizes and revises those premises. By virtue of its return to organicism and its acceptance of nonsensory perception, it opens itself to the recovery of truths and values from various forms of premodern thought and practice that have been dogmatically rejected, or at least restricted to "practice," by modern thought. This reconstructive postmodernism involves a creative synthesis of modern and premodern truths and values. Return to text
4. Mind-body dualism is a fundamentally mysterious concept that is simply inappropriate for dealing with embodied human consciousness, i.e., the variety of consciousness that each of us actually knows the best. Konrad Lorenz describes the process whereby we become historically conditioned to thinking in terms of a substance form of mind-body dualism in his book, The Natural Science of the Human Species: An Introduction to Comparative Behavioral Research, The "Russian Manuscript" (1944-1948), Agnes von Cranach (Ed.), Robert D. Martin, Translator, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press,1996, pg.157:
"The concept of the mind is an age-old inheritance of ancient and oriental philosophy. From a tender age, everything to do with the problem of body and mind or soul has been influenced by every word or our parents and teachers, by the entire authority of the Christian religion and idealistic philosophy, by every book written by our great poets, and even by the expressions of idiomatic speech. As a result, the conviction has been hammered into us that the mind is something that exists in its own right and is independent of the body. In addition to this, any contemplation of the mind must necessarily be an introspective contemplation of one's own mind. And this very mind, the presence of an individual ego, is the most certain of all things. Indeed, it is the only thing that is beyond any doubt. The concept of the mind is one half of a pair of opposing concepts which could not exist at all without the counterpart, the concept of a mindless body."
Bertrand Russell was of a similar opinion:
"While physics has been making matter less material, psychology has been making mind less mental... Thus from both ends physics and psychology have been approaching each other, and making more possible the doctrine of 'neutral monism' suggested by William James' criticism of 'consciousness.' The distinction of mind and matter came into philosophy from religion, although for a long time, it seemed to have valid grounds. I think that both mind and matter are merely convenient ways of grouping events. Some single events, I should admit, belong only to material groups, but others belong to both kinds of groups, and are therefore at once mental and material. This doctrine effects a great simplification in our picture of the structure of the world." (Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, cited in Evan Harris Walker's, The Physics of Consciousness: Quantum Minds and the Meaning of Life, Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, pg. 164, 2000)Arguably, the process philosophical (panexperiential) approach I am working with in the development of an 'Ecological Neuroscience' (See Sections III - VIII) solves the mind-body problem:
"Probably the most obvious advantage of panexperientialism is that it allows us to solve the notorious mind-body problem. By rejecting the dualistic assumption that lower individuals such as cells and molecules are absolutely different in kind, rather than merely different in degree, from our conscious experience, the problem is dissolved. In Hartshorne's words: 'cells can influence our human experiences because they have feelings that we can feel. To deal with the influences of human experiences upon cells, one turns this around. We have feelings that cells feel." (David Ray Griffin, Charles Hartshorne, In: Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy: Pierce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne, Griffin et al (Eds.), SUNY Press, pgs. 197-234, 1993.) Return to text
5. For example, see Steve Mithen (1996), The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science, London: Thames & Hudson, concerning the development of the hominid line. See also Mircea Eliade, The Myth of Eternal Return, translated by Willard R. Trask, NY: Harper & Row, 1959; David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, NY: Vintage Books, 1996; and references in note #6 below for insights into the more participatory consciousnesses of our preliterate ancestors. Historically, the distinction between "prehistory" and "history" seems to coincide with the distinction between periods when an oral tradition predominated in human societies and when literacy developed and became more and more widespread. It is tempting to assign the development of spoken language to the transition between our prehuman simian and ancestral hominid pasts, i.e, the transition between A0 and A1 levels of awareness. While this may be true, it is important, I believe, to keep in mind that language is, at least to some extent, both the cause and the effect of whatever it was that, metaphorically speaking, jerked us out of the Garden of Eden. Similarly, one might argue that the development of written language (literacy) contributed to the further development of individuated self-awareness, i.e., the transition between A1 and A2 levels of awareness. This, I believe, is a good starting point. Orality could be considered as the highest cognitive achievement of the ancestral mind. Writing, print, and electronic media could be considered the highest cognitive achievements of the contemporary mind. And the highest cognitive achievements of post-critical mind, which depend on our ability to accept the world as it is, are yet to be seen. In any event, my position is that we deny the humanness of our forebears of the oral tradition, whose brains were as large, if not larger than ours today, with peril, for doing so cuts us off from knowledge of a variety of perception - "nonsensory" perception - without which we cannot develop a true reverence towards self, world, and the divine. Without such reverence, the survival of a modern form of consciousness across the interglacial/glacial transition, should it occur with any rapidity, is, in my judgment, doubtful. Return to text
6. We face a major problem in trying to describe the consciousness of our distant, preliterate ancestors from our perspective as literate individuals, i.e., from the perspective of contemporary postmodern consciousness. While there is no perfect solution to this problem, it appears reasonable to accept, at least provisionally, that there is a real distinction between the primary oral consciousness of our ancestors ("knowledge-by-empathy") and the modern, literate consciousness ("knowledge-by-analysis"). See, for example, Ong (below in 8); Jack Goody, The Domestication of the Savage Mind, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977; Eric A. Havelock, Preface to Plato, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963; Lucien Levy-Bruhl, How Natives Think, Translated by L.A. Clare, Salem, New Hampshire: Ayer Company, Reprint Edition 1984(1926); Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, Translated by George Weidenfeld, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966(1962); Brad Shore, Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996. Kurt Hubner, in Critique of Scientific Reason (Translated by P.R. Dixon, Jr., and H.M. Dixon, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pg. 245, 1983) has, focusing on the mythopoetic consciousness of preliterate Greece, aptly described the problem:
"We cannot, and will not, simply turn back to the mythical mode of thought. It is something to which our entire realm of experience would be foreign and unintelligible, since the latter is determined in terms of completely different notions drawn from science... However, we can say that no one today can predict whether, and in what manner, our horizons for viewing the world might actually be changed in the future so that the mythical could again become a living force and a new realm of experience: It is important to recognize this sheer possibility and to keep in mind that such a change could take place in that moment when the power of the one-sided technological-scientific [i.e., literate] world in which we live becomes less evident and imposing than it has been, while the questionableness of this world becomes more readily visible than has hitherto been the case." Return to text
7. Charles Hartshorne described both the utility and the disutility of the analytic mode of thought that dominates the modern era (Charles Hartshorne, Beyond Humanism, Chicago: Willett, Clark & Company, pg. 294, 1937):
"...discoursive knowledge is as distinctly human and all too human as anything else, since although it multiplies the items of knowledge and the power of accurate dealing with them one at a time, yet also, unless continually balanced by the resort to integral intuitions and concepts capable of eliciting these, it tends to destroy the power of seeing life steadily and as a whole."
More recently, Paul Shepard eloquently expressed the consequences of failing to maintain an appropriate balance of thought in his book, Nature and Madness (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, pg. 117, 1982):
"Repudiating myth in content and ritual act, western man broke bonds with the earth, soil, and nature... and dissociated the human spirit from the seasons and celestial rounds. To do so was to awaken fear of the body and world in their rhythms and inherent liveliness, to make man alien, to glorify separation anxiety. Perception and philosophy at the desert edge confirmed a split universe, sentencing the person to a lifetime of ambiguity and forcing personal identity at the terrible cost of unrelatedness." Return to text
8. The sort of fear I am speaking about here is akin to the fear of death, but it often masquerades as its own first cousin, a fear of loss of property. Aaron Ben-Ze'ev was speaking of this kind of fear in The Subtlety of Emotions (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pg. 395, 2000) when he said:
"Anger and hate contain a kind of fear regarding the continuation of the undesirable situation. The fear in anger addresses continued effects of the unjust harm, and in hate, our future existence... Anger is distinguished from fear by the temporal dimension: anger involves past harm, whereas fear refers to future harm...It seems... that fear is more central in hate than in anger"
Walter J. Ong, in The Barbarian Within and Other Fugitive Essays and Studies, NY: The McMillan Company, pg. 9, 1962, was speaking to this primal fear when he said:
"The world of voice is not at all the same as the world of space, for it is less an object-world than a temporal one. Since space is the universal symbol of order, an oral-aural world holds special terrors for the emotionally or the intellectually insecure, for whom order is at best a precarious pose. Unlike constructs in space, which create an illusion of permanence, the vocal performance of man, like his acts of intellection, has no permanence, but alternates with silence."
So, too, was C.J. Jung in The Undiscovered Self, NY: Little, Brown and Company, pg. 48, 49, 1958, when he said:
"[It] is the common psychiatric experience that the devaluation of the psyche and other resistances to psychological enlightenment are based in large measure on fear - on panic fear of the discoveries that might be made in the realm of the unconscious... It is this fear of the unconscious psyche which not only impedes self-knowledge but is the gravest obstacle to a wider understanding and knowledge of psychology. Often the fear is so great that one dares not admit it even to oneself"
So, too, was Sigmund Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents, Translated and edited by James Strachey, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, pg. 99,1930/1961, when he said:
"...there are types of patients who are not aware of their sense of guilt, or who only feel it as a tormenting uneasiness, a kind of anxiety, if they are prevented from carrying out certain actions."
And, now, in abrupt global climate change, we see before us the possibility of a fear that might supercede even the fear of death: the fear of death in life, i.e., the loss of everything but one's life, of all of the external supports for one's ego identity. This very well may happen when civilization and the modern mind relapse into the savagery of tribal survival as a shattered, over-populated and unprepared world slides into its glacial phase. Timo Jarvilehto (Theory of the organism-environment system: IV. The problem on mental activity and consciousness, Integ. Physiol. Behav. Sci. 35: 35-57, 2000, pg. 55) succinctly described the basis for this situation:
"Any organism may be defined only in the frame of the system to which it belongs. If the organism was absolutely alone it would have no properties, because there would be no relations defining it."
And this situation resonates with the archetype of the apocalypse. As Edward Edinger said near the conclusion of his last book, Archetype of the Apocalypse: Divine Vengeance, Terrorism, and the End of the World, Chicago: Open Court Press, pg. 182
"Apocalypse imagery for the individual signifies disaster only if the ego is alienated and antagonistic toward the realities that the Self is bringing into consciousness. It is then that the archetype of the Apocalypse must manifest catastrophically. But if the ego is open and co-operates with the "coming of the Self," the very same imagery can signify, as Jung puts it, a "broadening out of the man to the whole man." Return to text
9. Of course the best thing is to explore your own fear. Sadly, that requires more spiritual health than most people currently have. Perhaps, you would be willing to read about fear? A March, 2003, Discovery magazine article on "Fear" by Steven Johnson leads off with the following statement: "Recent research shows that when something bad happens to you, part of your brain begins thinking independently, storing its own memories so it can save you next time. That worked fine a million years ago." Johnson goes on to describe how unconscious fear can control the response of an individual who has no conscious awareness of her fear. Sadly that is what seems to be going on in our society and leading politicians are aiding and abetting in keeping the public's fear levels high while mining that fear for personal gain.
In spite of the best of intentions, fear often breeds intolerance and fundamentalism (see the University of California press release about the recent Psychological Monitor article). It also locks a person into the society's time, i.e., secular time, and makes it difficult or impossible for the individual to understand the Sufi saying:"The human's progress is that of one who has been given a sealed book, written before he was born. He carries it inside himself until he 'dies'. While man is subject to the movement of time, he does not know the contents of that sealed book" (Shah, Idries. The way of the Sufi, New York: E.P. Dutton, pg. 100, 1970). Of course, many people will believe that they know those 'contents' even when they do not. Return to text
10. Walter J. Ong (in Interfaces of the Word) and Eric A. Havelock (in Preface to Plato) have emphasized the parallel development of self-awareness and alienation and orality, writing, literacy, and print. For example Ong (pgs. 35, 36) noted that with increasing alienation consciousness moves away from its "physiological and psychosomatic roots" toward "an artificial base in writing."
"Alienation can at times be serviceable [there] are certain advantages in keeping the human lifeworld at a distance... writing made possible the [further] separation of the knower and the known, the substitution of knowledge-by-analysis for knowledge-by-empathy, that lay at the base of abstract Greek though... writing initially helped thought to separate itself from the human lifeworld so as to help establish and manipulate abstract constructs." Return to text.
11. In a rich field, N. Katherine Hayles (1999), How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pg. 286, has provided an interesting description of this trajectory. Note the apparent "performative contradiction" (basically, a contradiction between one's words and one's actions), where she claims to have written this fascinating book without being an "autonomous" self, without "individual agency and choice." Perhaps she channeled it while in a trance state?
" What do these developments mean for the posthuman? When the self is envisioned as grounded in presence, identified with originary guarantees and teleological trajectories, associated with solid foundations and logical coherence, the posthuman is likely to be seen as antihuman because it envisions the conscious mind as a small subsystem running its program of self-construction and self-assurance while remaining ignorant of the actual dynamics of complex systems. But the posthuman does not really mean the end of humanity. It signals instead the end of a certain conception of the human, a conception that may have applied, at best, to that fraction of humanity who had the wealth,power, and leisure to conceptualize themselves as autonomous beings exercising their will through individual agency and choice." [No doubt somewhat like N. Katherine Hayles. See <3> regarding the performative self-contradictions that haunt deconstructive postmodernism.]
Of course we desperately need a "teleological trajectory" other than the prevailing one of accumulating more and more stuff while we await the end of time. Simply put, without a positive vision the people will perish! In fact, we must live today the future that we desire for our children's tomorrow. Such a prospective approach to the 'now' was developed by Gaston Berger. In André Cournand & Maurice Lévy's book about Berger, Shaping the Future: Gaston Berger and the Concept of Prospective (1973), Paul Valéry was quoted regarding the status quo, "We walk forward with our backs to the future." The authors continue, pointing out with respect to a prospective approach that
"we must look it [the future] in the face, grasp its intrinsic nature... This turning of our faces, which seems quite easy and natural, actually requires sustained efforts because it runs counter to our most ingrained habits. Doubtless we often think about the future but we dream about it rather than construct it. Dreaming is at the opposite pole from planning. Instead of starting us off along the path of action, it turns us away from it; it allows us to enjoy in our imagination the fruit of a labor we have not accomplished." (pg. 245)
I would be very interested to hear how Professor Hayles believes that ridding ourselves of the notions of agency and choice - and abandoning goals - will help us come to grips with the escalating climate crisis. If, as suggested by the English psychologist, Alexander Bain, "belief is 'that upon which a ... [person] is prepared to act,'" then it is hard to imagine a person who doesn't even believe in him or herself choosing to believe in the reality of the earth's climate cycle. This is no small matter, for if we correctly reject the dualistic conception of the soul as strictly incorporeal substance, then what is left? Are the deconstructive postmodernists correct, that we are but bags of genes and chemicals, each solipsistically trapped in an illusory world inside our skull? The answer is surely "No!" What is left is, as here described by Peter Ochs (in Griffin et al, 1993, see <11>), a pragmatic Peircean soul:
"the 'soul' of anything, human or extrahuman, is its tendency to act in certain ways in certain circumstances... As a complex of tendencies to act, the soul must be corporeal (as well as incorporeal), knowable, relational, and other-referring; it must mediate between subjects and objects of knowing, among other selves and the world. The modernist self appears only as the negation of the actual life of such a soul." (italics added).
We are, it appears, obliged to deal with the climate crisis. For those who do not, the penalty may be a limiting of the durations of their embodied souls to a very small portion of a repetitious human history. Return to text.
12. See O'Regan, J. K. (1992) Solving the "real" mysteries of visual
perception: the world as an outside memory. Can. J. Psychol.
46:461-88; Simons, Daniel J. & Daniel T. Levin (1997) Change
blindness, Trends Cog. Sci. 1:261-67. See also Pessoa, L.,
Thompson, E. and Alva Noe (1998) Finding out about filling-in: A guide to
perceptual completion for visual science and the philosophy of perception,
Beh. Brain Sci. 21:723-802 and Noë, A., Pessoa, L., and
Thompson, E. (2000) Beyond the grand illusion: What change blindness really
teaches us about vision, Visual Cog. 7: 93-106. Noë et al
(2000), discussing "the widely held view that vision is a process whereby the
brain constructs an elaborate representation of the visible world," state that
"the evidence in favour of the hypothesis that the visual system lacks detailed
representations of the visual world" is strong but that this evidence "provides
no support for the much stronger thesis that the 'visual world is an illusion.'"
In this regard it is noteworthy that Kevin O'Regan, in his commentary on the
Pessoa et al (1998) article, admits that his use of the of the term "illusion"
is "more of a literary device, designed to shock people into realizing that
vision is not what they think it is."
Meanwhile, what O'Regan refers to as his "magnum opus," A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness, Behavior and Brain Sciences 24, 2001, is for the most part available on the web. (See http://nivea.psycho.univ-paris5.fr/index.html In their responses to the commentaries on that article, O'Regan and Noë state:
"We can have a flawless, unified, continuous experience of the environment without having flawless, unified, continuous internal representations. The reason is that seeing is not contemplating an internal representation, but doing something of a visual nature with the information available to the brain... The claim... that we reject concerns perceptual consciousness: that seeing could be a matter of having certain kinds of representations in the head. The existence of representations of the environment are neither sufficient nor necessary for seeing. That they are not sufficient is shown by consideration of the fact that people have very nice representations of the environment in the form of the images on their retinas. But having the retinal image does not make people see. Seeing is in the making use of the representation, not in the having of the representation."For another take on this issue see Thompson, Evan and Varela, F.J., Radical embodiment: neural dynamics and consciousness, Trends Cogn. Sci. 5: 418-425, 2001:
"... the processes crucial for consciousness cut across the brain-body-world divisions, rather than being limited to neural events in the head." Return to text.And for a substantive philosophical criticism of the notion of perception being mediated indirectly ("Indirect Realism") see A.D. Smith, The Problem of Perception, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.
13. The process philosophical approach, rejecting the classical notion of insentient matter and empty space as fundamental, makes this very point (see Sections III-VIII of this website). Insentient matter and empty space are the base assumptions of the dualistic (Newtonian or classical physics) approach to the nature of things and is an article of faith rather than fact in the quantum universe. For other, more specific applications see Hameroff, S.R., 'Funda-mentality': is the conscious mind subtly linked to a basic level of the universe? Trends Cogn. Sci. 2: 119-127, 2000; Woolf, N.J. and Hameroff, S.R., A quantum approach to visual consciousness, Trends Cogn. Sci. 5: 472-478, 2001; and Jarvilehto, T., Theory of the organism-environment system IV: The problem on mental activity and consciousness, Integrat. Physiol. & Behav. Sci. 35: 35-57, 2000. For more general consideration of the panexperiential position see David Skrbina, Panpsychism as an underlying theme in Western philosophy, J. Consc. Stud., 10: 4-46, 2003; Chalmers, D.J., The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996; Max Vellums, Understanding Consciousness, London: Routledge, pg. 278, 2000; David Ray Griffin et al, Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1993; David Ray Griffin, Unsnarling the World Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem, Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press, 1998.
To find out more about process philosophy try the Center for Process Studies, the Australasian Association for Process Thought, and the links at both sites. Return to text.
14. The physicist Roger S. Jones in Physics for the Rest of Us (NY: Barnes & Noble Books, pgs. 211,216, 1999) described the situation in physics quite accurately:
"In classical physics there was no need to deal with consciousness. An observer could always minimize or remove all of his or her traces from the observation. There was an objective world out there that was unaffected by human observation of it. At the same time it was assumed that consciousness, like life itself, somehow evolved out of inert matter. Consciousness would ultimately be explained as the result of complex chemical and physical phenomena in the brain. Because consciousness did not affect phenomena and was ultimately a kind of by-product of the laws of matter, it was quite irrelevant to classical physics...
In the last analysis, modern physics is just as materialistic and reductionistic as Newtonian physics. Whatever role consciousness may play in nature, its ultimate scientific explanation must be given in terms of the laws governing the behavior of matter. The fundamental elements of all natural phenomena are the elementary particles and their interactions. Life and consciousness are simply complex examples of their activity. Consciousness is no independent force or principle in nature; it is an 'epiphenomenon,' an unusual but inevitable consequence of the laws of inanimate matter. It may be a difficult and lengthy road to travel, but the explanation of consciousness (as of life itself) will be reduced, sooner or later, to the laws of physics.
Taken as a whole, these arguments and considerations make clear that consciousness is not a welcome guest in modern physics. But is this the end of the matter? ...can science continue indefinitely to deny the fundamental nature of the human experience of mind and consciousness? The scientific rift between spirit and matter is a deep wound in the human heart. It cannot be left unattended."
With regard to the situation in modern neuroscience, see Stoney (2002) Classical Neural Theory and It's Demise, where it is pointed out that neuralism, the belief that mind is merely neural activity in the brain, is actually a surreptitious dualism and that modern neuroscientific data is, in fact, not very compatible with the idea that - for perception - the brain generates internal images or representations of objects.
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) certainly appreciated the shortcomings of a fragmented approach. F.L. Pogson, translator of the 1913 edition of Bergson's Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, described Bergson's approach as follows:
"For him reality is not to be reached by any elaborate construction of thought: it is given in immediate experience as a flux, a continuous process of becoming, to be grasped by intuition, by sympathetic insight. Concepts break up the continuous flow of reality into parts external to one another, they further the interests of language and social life and are useful primarily for practical purposes. But they give us nothing of the life and movement of reality; rather by substituting for this an artificial reconstruction, a patchwork of dead fragments, they lead to the difficulties which have always beset the intellectualist philosophy, and which on its premises are insoluble." (pg. vi) Return to text
15. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, pg. 187, 1926. Return to text
16. In a June 19, 2003, article in the New York Times, Andrew Revkin and Katharine Seelye report that the "Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs." See Report by the E.P.A. Leaves Out Data on Climate Change. See also the July 28, 2003, article in The Guardian newspaper, Climate expert accuses PM of cowardice, where the former head of the British Meterological Office accuses George W. Bush of "an abdication of leadership of epic proportions." And, finally, see the recent article from the British newspaper Independent/UK quoting Tony Blair's chief scientist: 'US Climate Policy Bigger Threat to World than Terrorism." Return to text
17. The report for the Pentagon by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for United States National Security, details the grim effects of even a very modest abrupt global change to colder conditions. Return to text
18. Noam Chomsky, The secular priesthood and the perils of democracy, In: On Nature and Language, Adriana Belletti and Luigi Rizzi (Eds.), Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pg. 185, 2002. Return to text
19. Gary Hart, Restoration of the Republic: The Jeffersonian Ideal in 21st-Century America, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pg. 10, 2002. Return to text
20. Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure, NY: Harmony Books, 1999. I would be more comfortable with Mr. Quinn's pronouncements if he were to acknowledge the earth's climate cycle, the reality of abrupt global climate change, and the many tools for survival that we have gained through civilization. In fact, if I read his suggestion of a "new tribalism" correctly, he is proposing to abandon civilization's insanities, not its fruits. What he proposes is very similar to the reconstructive postmodernism that I espouse (See <3>, especially the last paragraph). Return to text.