I live in a small town on the prairies. It does not have much in the way of services, but one thing it does have is a very large and active classic car restoration club. Each summer, this classic car club puts on a spectacular show of restored old iron and early muscle cars. I have become acquainted with some of its local members. This fraternity of old car afficionados, connoisseurs, and enthusiasts belong to a fascinating species from which I have learned something about the nature of “mind”.
Perhaps few of these small town men and women have advanced education, and their behaviours are often highly stereotyped – what you might call “the good ole’ boy”. They are not deft in the handling of abstract thought and generalisation. For that reason, others who have gone on to advanced academic studies (and whose behaviours are just as highly stereotyped in another and slightly different direction) might think of them as “mindless” yahoos, while these “good ole boys” often distain those educated in the ways of abstract reasoning and logical generalisation as impractical “elitists” or “ivory-towered academics” and so on.
Yet, regardless of these apparent differences, the local yahoo and the cosmopolitan share in common a certain consciousness structure — what we call “mind”. This consciousness structure has a certain common logic and orientation that we call “the modern outlook”, or what the sophisticated and cosmopolitan would call, after the German, a Weltanschauung — a world view or perspective. This modern shared “mind” or logical structure is what cultural historian Jean Gebser called “the mental-rational structure of consciousness”, or what some might call “the common sense” of this particular era.
My interest turned to how these young men, who don’t demonstrate much in the way of refined dialectical thinking or abstract, syllogistic logic, appropriated this contemporary “mind” even if they haven’t gone too far towards a more formal education and aren’t entirely reflective or conscious of the process of abstract thought and the ways of generalisation. How did they appropriate, nonetheless, this “mind” or “modern outlook” while equally nonetheless considering themselves “practical”, “hands on”, and “common sense” types. And I came to realise that they appropriated the fundamental logical structure of the modern mind through working with the internal combustion engine, which is perhaps the specific artifact par excellence which exemplifies the logical structure of the modern mental-rational consciousness. The internal combustion engine is the objectified, embodied architecture of this particular consciousness structure.
The artifact educates. As the old cathedrals have been described as “the Bible in stone”, and reveal the logic, shape, structure, and attributes of the mythological consciousness structure, so the internal combustion engine serves equally for the modern or mental-rational consciousness structure. The logical interconnection of the components and parts is largely a matter of proper symbolisation — of learning these components proper names and how they fit together into a kind of grammar. The internal combustion engine is, basically, a symbol system. It has a grammar which prescribes its assembly, and that grammar is the grammar of the mental-rational consciousness structure.
I recall, now, an anecdote from the life of the current Dalai Lama who, as a young boy, expressed endless fascination with the workings of watches and motor-cars (he still claims to have a watch fetish). It was through his tinkering with the innards of the watch and the motor-car that he acquired familiarity with the Western mind — the mental-rational consciousness. He learned its grammar, as it were.
What we call “mind” is a particular systematic, symbolic and symbolising construct with its own identifiable grammar which can be interpreted. Any artifact reveals a people’s and a society’s self-understanding, and that self-understanding is the objective projection or expression of its structure of consciousness. And just as cathedrals were “the Bible in stone”, and (like all temples) expresses the grammar and self-understanding of the mythical consciousness structure, the internal combustion engine is the shape or grammar of the mental-rational consciousness or “modern mind” and its world outlook.
In that sense, the fate of the internal combustion engine is tied to any mutations in the consciousness structure which it manifests. There are already signals that the internal combustion engine is on its way out, perhaps a signal also of a change in human self-understanding and the structure or pattern of “mind”. And this fact, it seems to me, is closely connected with the climate change controversy, for it is a most peculiar thing how this love affair with the internal combustion engine and climate change denialism so frequently seem to coincide in the same mind.