Consciousness and Awareness
In my last post, I referred once again to an apparent contradiction, or paradox, that has bedeviled some readers of The Chrysalis in the past — that a distinction must be made between consciousness and awareness. These are different states, although the terms are ordinarily treated as being equivalent, interchangeable, or synonymous.
But this is yet another example of the present confusion of the mental-rational, and of a reductionism or fundamentalism now becoming, not just dangerously close to a loss of discernment, but even worse, complete dissociation. It is this condition of apparently increasing “dissociation” that I have referred to as our present “epidemic of the crazies”. “Dissociation” is just another term for what Jean Gebser has referred to as the “dis-integration” of the mental-rational consciousness structure, of what Erich Kahler (in The Tower and the Abyss) described as “the breakdown of the human form”. “Dissociation” is also an adequate term to describe William Blake’s images of the fragmentation, and the loss of integrity, of the primal “Adam” into the Four Zoas.
Among the anecdotes I have used to illustrate why we must differentiate consciousness and awareness is the seemingly minor article that appeared recently in The Guardian about Christmas shopping, in which the writer, Patrick Fagan, referred briefly to a study which purported to show that, at any one moment, we consciously attend to barely 40, or 0.0004%, of the possible “11,000,000” factoids within the horizon of our possible perception (“Eight reasons why you’re only 0.0004% in control of your Christmas shopping“).
These numbers are somewhat meaningless, really. They are symbolic or philosophical numbers. “11,000,000” corresponds to what the Taoists refer to as “the 10,000 things”, which means everything that exists or the phenomenal world — “Myriad”, as I call it (but which Blake calls “Ulro”) or “Legion”. So, the 11 million factoids, or potentially perceptible events, has the same significance as the Taoists “10,000 things”. The precision or imprecision of the numbers is quite beside the point, despite the fact that there are plenty of people who might want to make of it an issue of exacting evidence, and quibble about the accuracy of the numbers.
The issue being highlighted by these philosophical numbers is that, amongst the near infinity of phenomena for our possible perception, only a very, very miniscule spectrum of events is selected for our conscious attention and focus. Our perception is very selective, and also very, very narrow. It is so narrow in fact — the 0.0004% — that one can barely speak of there being “consciousness” at all, and something closer to the condition of an automaton. The principle of selection is regulated by the self-interest, and also in a way that is not conscious, but simply mechanical, routine, and habitual.
It is William Blake’s conviction that this condition is something new in human affairs, and this accounts for the urgency of his message. Early man, he asserts — and this is very contrary to the current wisdom — was far more conscious and aware than he is presently.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narow chinks of his cavern.
This “closing up” corresponds to the growth of the Selfhood or ego-consciousness (the historical development of which was masterfully explored by Jean Gebser in The Ever-Present Origin). The corollary to this “closing up” or contraction (which describes narcissism) was “the discovery” of the so-called “unconscious” in a double-movement. In Blake’s terms, something we now call “the unconscious” does not and did not exist as a thing, but is a consequence of consciousness now closing itself up within the skull (or the mental-rational), a narrowing to a mere point and angular perspective which he refers to as the culture of “the Eye and the lens” (that is, focussing) or mere point-of-view-line-of-thought consciousness.
And corresponding to this narrowing is the expansion of that realm called “the unconscious”, but which Blake simply calls “ignorance”. This envelopment of the ego consciousness, in which the mental-rational approaches the condition of an automaton, is what Blake refers to as “the dark Satanic mill” of the realm of the Ulro.
The double-movement here is that “development” is simultaneously an “envelopment”, and this engulfment also gives rise to that condition of anxiety that is formally called “Angst” — a free-floating sense or atmosphere of dread. The word “anxiety” is related to the word “angle” — a narrowing — or, as Blake put it, a “closing up”.
I’ve discovered concrete evidence for the justice of Blake’s views (and also the significance of his remarks on the self-limiting culture of “the Eye and the lens”) in, of all places, a peculiar illustration done by Rene Descartes himself, in which Descartes attempted to communicate the meaning of his metaphysical dualism,
Here in Descartes’ own hand and conception, following the prescription for perspectivising perception after da Vinci, is perfectly depicted that “double-movement” of “Eye and lens”, or of simultaneous expansion of sensation with a contraction of perception. On the one hand, we have the perspective eye opening up the world of space — the res extensa or “extended world” — literally extended in the form of a pyramidal cone of sight with an ever-expanding base.
Simultaneous with that, however, there is an inverted pyramid-like structure within the larger frame which narrows to a point or focus, and moves in the exact opposite direction of the eye. This is Blake’s “lens”. The double-movement here is that sight expands, even while vision contracts.
In his manifesto “There is NO Natural Religion”, Blake takes aim at this contraction of vision (which he calls “Single Vision & Newton’s Sleep”) by insisting that we are aware of far far more than we allow ourselves to consciously perceive.
Man’s perceptions are not bound by organs of perception; he perceives more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover.
Here, in a nutshell, and with the testimony also of Blake, is our justification for discerning between “awareness” and “consciousness”. The so-called “unconscious” is not unconscious at all. It is the ego-nature that is the increasingly unconscious factor, tending even towards obliviousness, which it then tends to confuse with engulfment, envelopment, or being devoured, but which is really its own narrowing and self-enclosure.
We can state therefore, that a condition of dissociation exists between awareness and consciousness without being too obscure. There is part of us that is completely aware of everything in the realm of the “11,000,000” factoids, while another part of us — the ego consciousness or the self-interest — restricts and limits our perception to a mere few grains of sand of the whole beach. But it is this discrepancy that makes self-transcendence or self-overcoming possible.
It is this state of dissociation between the awareness and the consciousness that lends to Goethe’s “two souls” its meaning,
“Two souls, alas, reside within my breast,and each from the other would be parted. The one in sturdy lust for love with clutching organs clinging to the world, the other strongly rises from the gloom to lofty fields of ancient heritage”
These “two souls” — or awareness and consciousness — in dissociated state are also addressed by Nietzsche, too, as “Self” and “Ego” in the passage from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “The Despisers of the Body“,
“Behind thy thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage—it is called Self; it dwelleth in thy body, it is thy body.
There is more sagacity in thy body than in thy best wisdom. And who then knoweth why thy body requireth just thy best wisdom?
Thy Self laugheth at thine ego, and its proud prancings. “What are these prancings and flights of thought unto me?” it saith to itself. “A by-way to my purpose. I am the leading-string of the ego, and the prompter of its notions.””
The lament of Goethe and Nietzsche — the sense that Self and Ego exist in a condition of mutual antagonism and conflict — is the condition of dissociation of awareness and consciousness. The proper relation of awareness and consciousness is summarised in Seth by his statement about “the You of you”, or the “energy personality essence” that is the source and root of the ego-consciousness itself. There are not “two souls”. There is no real separation of “mind and body” or “soul and ego”, etc. These dualisms attest only to the condition of dissociation. The Buddhist practice of “mindfulness” is the attempt to overcome the condition of dissociation, and often the intent alone, even more than the practice, is adequate.
The state of dissociation is called “narcissism”, and is the entire meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son.
I would like to see this polarity of “conscious” and “the unconscious” done away with entirely, for it is highly misleading and distorted. But, it seems we are stuck with this idiom for the time being.