Intent, Will, and the Philosophy of Assent
“Will to power” was identified by Nietzsche as the fundamental operative force pervailing in the cosmos. Until Castaneda came along, it really wasn’t possible to properly interpret this “will to power” other than as a drive to domination. But don Juan’s understanding of “intent” as the fundamental force operative in the cosmos provided a proper context for understanding what Nietzsche intended to say by “will to power”. In actual fact, “intent” is not quite identical with “will” at all.
What Phenomenologists call the “intentionality of consciousness” is a reference to this same will to power as being also don Juan’s intent. Don Juan also uses “intent” almost synonymously with “the force of awareness”. That is to say, similar to the principle of Phenomenology in which the act of attention or perception simultaneously intends the world it perceives. Consciousness creates form. In effect, what is called “intent” is what is also called “creativity” or the “creative force”. It is this implicit “force of awareness”, understood as intent, that gives substance to “Seth’s” oft repeated remark: “You create the reality you know.”
“You create the reality you know” — through this “force of awareness” called “intent” — and is what also informs Nietzsche’s principle of amor fati, or love of fate. This “fate” is not so much some force external acting on the subject, but is the intent implicit in the will. “It is so because I willed it thus”, is Nietzsche’s ideal of amor fati. This precisely corresponds to the maxim of Heraclitus that states: “character is fate” (ethos anthropos daimon). Character becomes a fate because of the force of intent implicit in the act of awareness. Awaring is forming.
This is fundamentally important in understanding also McGilchrist’s reflections on the divided brain and their different “modes of attention”. The attending is simultaneously an intending — an act of creation.
“Attention is not just another ‘function’ alongside other cognitive functions. Its ontological status is of something prior to functions and even to things. The kind of attention we bring to bear on the world changes the nature of the world we attend to, the very nature of the world in which those ‘functions’ would be carried out, and in which those ‘things’ would exist. Attention changes what kind of a thing comes into being for us: in that way it changes the world.” (p. 28)
“Attention is a moral act: it creates, brings aspects of things into being, but in doing so makes others recede. What a thing is depends on who is attending to it, and in what way. The fact that a place is special to some because of its great peace and beauty may, by that very fact, make it for another a resource to exploit, in such a way that its peace and beauty are destroyed. Attention has consequences.” (p. 133)
This also clearly bears on Heraclitus’ ethos anthropos daimon. And McGilchrist’s “metaphor” of the divided brain (which is what he calls his approach) helps clarify the distinction also that must be made between “intent” and “will” (or motive). “Will” is the image of this “intent” in the left-hemisphere of the brain, and that hemisphere’s attempt to interpret “intent“. When Jill Bolte-Taylor, for example, says in her TED talk that “we are the Life Force Power of the Universe with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds” (or something like that) when we shift our mode of perception to the right-hemisphere of the brain, this “Life Force Power” is what is called “intent“, and also corresponds in that sense to Nietzscche’s “will to power” as fundamental operative force in the cosmos, too.
The fundamental issue in human existence has always been to align the “will” with “intent”, as for example, the mystic’s plea “not my will be done but Thine, O Lord”. The personal will is what sustains the “I am”, so the fear of surrendering the personal will to intent is also a fear of personal extinguishment, or unselfing. This does, I believe, account for why the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention inhibits the awareness of the right-hemisphere and suppresses it. For although “will” has its roots in intent, which is also related to the intuitive mode of perception, it persists as this delusion of being “self-made” or sui generis. But, in fact, don Juan insisted that the path to “total freedom” lay in surrendering the private will to the universal force of intent. And that is, indeed, what you find in Jill Bolte-Taylor’s experience. And as McGilchrist puts it, it’s a matter of “not saying no” to the force of awareness that is the first attention of the right-hemisphere of the brain, and which is, we might conclude, associated with what Gebser calls “the archaic structure of consciousness” and so somewhat identical with what Seth calls “the ancient force”.
Ironically, Nietzsche’s “will to power” implies an implicit subjectivity to the universe — a Great Self or Self-Awareness. And, in fact, this is also affirmed by Castaneda’s don Juan, who refers to this as “the great sea of awareness”.
Now, the relationship between intent and will which are, as we might say, “the same but different” (a phrase sure to arouse the wrath of the strict logician) is also reflected in the relationship between the symbolic and the diabolic. This relationship (like the relationship of intent and will) is only indirectly addressed by McGilchrist, and he could have saved himself many words and pages by addressing it directly. The symbolic and the diabolic correspond in meaning to the integrate and the disintegrate. The symbolic means to bring together and the diabolic to separate or drive apart. This is quite fundamental, and McGilchrist speaks rather of the mode of attention of the right-hemisphere as metaphorical, and that of the left-hemisphere as analytical, so that what the right-hemisphere binds together, the left-hemisphere contrariwise, loosens apart. Gnostic Christianity, as previously noted, refers to this difference as “Christic Light” and “Luciferic Light”. This is also reflected in the description of Christ’s tongue in the Book of Revelation, which is “a two-edged sword” (symbolic or integrate) while that of the serpent, as emblem of the Prince of Lies, is a forked-tongue, divided at the root.
It is not difficult to see these issues as being related to brain asymmetry and the two different modes of attention as described by McGilchrist.
And so we may also speak of “awareness” and “consciousness” in similar terms — “same but different”. Just as intent is implicit in “will”, but suppressed, so the greater awareness that we are implicitly is present as “consciousness”. What we understand as “consciousness” is only a narrow sliver of the greater awareness that we are, which has become very highly and narrowly focussed. Consciousness is, in similar terms, only the image of the awareness as it is isolated in the left-hemisphere of the brain. So, we are not really dichotomous beings. We are, however, paradoxical beings. And even what we call “self-contradiction” is simply a reflection of this paradox in terms of the left-hemisphere’s particular mode of functioning, its logic. A diabolical situation exists when the two hemispheres of the brain, with their unique modes of attention (and intentionality) do not commune. “Communion” is the integration, and this is the image of Christ’s tongue as “two-edged sword”.
And it can also be concluded that the “discovery of the soul” came about with the growing hyperactivity of the left-hemisphere of the brain and its distantiation from the attention of the right hemisphere, seat of the ego-consciousness.
There’s an old Buddhist saying, too, that speaks to this paradox: “he who sees the action that is in inaction is wise indeed”. This very much bears on the relationship between intention and attention, or the active and the passive (ostensibly). McGilchrist demonstrates that the separateness of the active and passive is not so cut and dried as conventional logic would have it. They are simultaneous. And this coincidentia oppositorum is also reflected in Blake’s vision: “the universe in a grain of sand”, “Heaven in a Wild Flower”, “Eternity in the hour”, or “eternity is in love with the productions of time”. We see this way all the time ourselves, only we ignore it. We are trained and conditioned to ignore it.
McGilchrist’s model also accounts for Nietzsche’s understanding of nihilism or “devaluation of values”. It occurs when the values of the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention become isolated from their original roots in the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention — the hyperactivity of the left-hemisphere of the brain. The left-hemisphere’s mode of attention thus becomes the proverbial “castle in the air”. This hyperactivity must be subdued somehow. The Monkey Mind must be silenced. The internal monologue we hold with ourselves from morning to night must be interrupted. We must return to that state of “silence at the dawn of time”, as Rosenstock-Huessy called it, that is true “listening” or “vigilant attention” (as McGilchrist calls it).
This state of “vigilant attention” was the “Void” in the Book of Genesis, and it remains ever-present still, still waiting patiently for its imperative, its calling — “Let there be Light!”