Will and Intent, II
Attempting a systematic approach to the matters of will and intent is proving to be tricky, providing ample opportunity for misconstrual and confusion. “Fools go where angels fear to tread” might apply especially in my case here. But I think it may be worth the risk of failing miserably. There is no real dividing line or boundary between intent and will, just as there is no real division or boundary between Self and Ego. And yet there is. It’s a paradox.
What I will attempt, though, is a kind of map of the terrain — a suggestive series of hints and clues by which one might “feel” one’s way into discerning between the issues of intent and will or volition.
If you had an opportunity to read a ways into Ronald McIntyre and David Woodruff Smith’s essay on the “Theory of Intentionality“, as recommended in the last post, it may become somewhat clearer that what Edmund Husserl and the phenomenologists mean by “intent” or the “intentionality” of consciousness does not bear directly or immediately on what we usually call “will” or “volition,” which, at best perhaps, we might consider the most remote expression or performance of pure intent within the space-time or physical system. To speak in a metaphor (and perhaps not a very adequate one), what we call “will” or volition is somewhat akin to the resistance offered in terms of drag or friction to an extraterrestrial object as it penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere, slowing it down to a different time scale and velocity. Such might be one way of describing the relation of will to intent. Intent is the intensive constitutive activity of consciousness, which has been called in other places “the formative force” or “creative forces.” In that sense, intent is instructive and informative, in the true sense of those terms — of imparting structure or form. And in this way, intent is this same formative force that is involved when you read statements like “you create the reality you know”, even despite what you will.
One of the best sources of information on “intent” is, of course, the writings of Carlos Castaneda, and there is an anecdote mentioned by Castaneda in an early interview that he once discussed with his teacher, don Juan, from the work of the philosopher Edmund Husserl on the intentionality of consciousness and in which don Juan enthusiastically approved of Husserl’s explanation. By way of further elucidation on the operation of intent, don Juan resorted to an example which may be helpful. He mentioned that The White House would be simply another building and not the seat of political power without the operation of intent. It is intent that invests the building with power so that it becomes “The White House”. In that sense, intent is the constituting act, the making or shaping power that bestows form, purpose, meaning on an otherwise ordinary building. In a similar vein, the psychologist Carl Jung once remarked that one can indeed analyse to smithereens the mineral constituents that make up the stone that went into the construction of a building. But by such analytical methods, no one could arrive at the meaning or purpose of the building itself, which is the manifestation of intent. This is clearly something different from, although related to, what we typically mean by “will”.
In the Author’s Commentaries to the 30th anniversary edition of Castaneda’s first book The Teachings of Don Juan, this is how the author described the significance of “intent” as shaman-sorcerers understood it,
“They saw that the entire universe was a universe of intent, and intent, for them, was the equivalent of intelligence. The universe, therefore, was, for them, a universe of supreme intelligence. Their conclusion, which became part of their cognitive world, was that vibratory energy, aware of itself, was intelligent in the extreme. They saw that the mass of intent in the cosmos was responsible for all the possible mutations, all the possible variations which happened in the universe, not because of arbitrary blind circumstances, but because of the intending done by the vibratory energy, at the level of the flux of energy itself.”
It may occur to you as you read the above quote, that what is here called “intent” has been otherwise described as the “will of God” in other places and circumstances; and that what is called “will of God” is there given as something distinct from human volition or willfulness.”The ways of man are not the ways of God,” it is said, and the basis of what is called “sin” is the dissonance and lack of synchronisation or cooperation that emerges between this universal intent and the human will and volition. “Not my will be done, but thy will be done” has been the programme of all human history — an attempt to consciously align the human will with that universal intent, even when it came to be called in the Enlightenment, “Universal Reason”. For when Rene Descartes discovered his “wondrous strange method,” and Isaac Newton built his new “Frame of the World” upon the principles of motion and gravitation, European society as a whole re-ordered itself to ensure it was in harmony with the Cosmic Will or intent. Today, evolution is the new paradigm supposedly reflecting the same universal intent, and human societies are once again busily adjusting themselves to harmonise with this “intent” as they conceive of it. And for some it has even become something of a new religion and a religious imperative — Social Darwinism, for example, is a kind of successor ideology to Social Newtonianism.
Consequently, it is possible for what we call “will” or volition to act contrary (or perversely) to the workings of intent, and that this conflict sets up an inner division of the psyche that has come to be expressed in shorthand form as a conflict between Self and Ego, or Soul and Ego since, for the most part, the workings of intent are largely unconscious, but are experienced as “fate”. And here is where Joseph Campbell’s notion that the personal life of every human being is guided by a ruling myth (or ruling “idea”) becomes intelligible as the ruling intent which shapes the historical circumstances of their personal and collective lives, which structures the largely invisible context or invisible environment in which their perception and experience of objects and events takes on meaning. For Campbell, to become conscious of one’s ruling myth is a great spiritual accomplishment, for it is this largely unconscious ruling myth that provides the psychic pattern, model or paradigm for the construction of personal and collective experience. In that sense, “you create the reality you know”.
It is in this regard that we might recall Harold Waldwin Percival’s observation in his book Thinking and Destiny that consciousness functions in two modalities: consciousness as, and consciousness of, and this is very similar to the theory of intentionality as found in the philosophy of Edmund Husserl. Consciousness as can be described as the intentional mode of conscious functioning, and this is largely unconscious. For otherwise, it would be consciousness functioning in the second modality, consciousness of its own functioning. This mode — consciousness of — can be correspondingly described as the attentional mode of consciousness functioning, or what Buddhists call the “mindful” modality. The two modalities of consciousness as and consciousness of, or the intentional and the attentional, function together in the sense of hidden context and overt text, or latent circumstance and manifest event, or invisible environment and visible object. Or, equally, in Seth’s terms, they function much like the relationship that exists between what he calls Framework 2 of the “inner ego” and Framework 1 of the “outer ego”. And these may be said to relate to each other as intent , in this special sense, relates to will or volition.
The integral consciousness can be said, then, to be one in which the ruling intent of one’s life and the personal will are in harmonious alignment, and not in contradiction. What has hitherto been called “sin” is the condition in which the personal will acts in contradiction with the ruling intent, in which case you have that situation which Gebser described as “the inner division of modern man who thinks only in dualisms”. That is to say, as a disunity and therefore, in a disintegrate condition.