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!”



16 responses to “Intent, Will, and the Philosophy of Assent”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I visited the blog of “the zeno of being”, and he has this great quote from Groucho Marx ( )

    “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.”

    In one sense, you can say that this is the comedic side of the “deficient mental-rational”.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Given what I’ve written in the past about “species change” and the transhuman as the real depth of what we’re calling “paradigm shift”, it was interesting to come across this quote from Thomas Berry in his “The Great Work”

    “We might describe the challenge before us by the following sentence. The historical mission of our times is to reinvent the human — at the species level, with critical reflection, within the community of life-systems, in a time-development context, by means of story and shared dream experience.” (p. 159).

    So, “reinventing the human” is the issue of “The Great Work”. Pretty much also the sense of Gebser’s “mutation”.

    • OneSmatBunny says :

      This makes me think of pterosaurs.

      Not that we’re going to sprout skin stretched from our ankles, but maybe the brain will do some creative stretching how fun. At any rate, I must read more about it to be well-informed. Downloaded that 99 cent Amazon thanks for the recommend.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Just reading Pogany’s article on Gebser’s “law of the Earth” as linked to by DavidM

    Click to access GebserConferencePaper2010.pdf

    and came across this quote from Gebser in Pogany’s paper that speaks to what I wrote above about “intent” as formative,

    “To the extent that consciousness is an intensity and thus intangible (said Gabser), the space-time world represents the corresponding tangible phenomenon as an extensity.” (EPO 137)

    That, simply put, is just another way of saying “you create the reality you know”.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Mohammad said , all deeds are the work of intent,positively and negatively. So setting your intent in the realm of the divine,the aperspective ,aperiodic, integral vision, save us all the sickly down road movements, and this is the purpose of all religions,to raise your intent to the whole and avoid falling in the separation of the parts.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    After reading Pogany article on Gebser, I like to add that we can not confine the law of earth in term of the second law of TD only, that is in the term of the tangible only without having the most important aspect of the non-tangible,that is the spiritual as emphasized by Gebser. Intensity and extensity,extropy and entropy, life and death. The whole problem as it is becoming very clear is the one-sided vision,the left side vision excluding the right or the right excluding the lef. When are we going to leave this duality and encompass the law of the opposites in our life. When Al Bastami was asked how did you come to know god, he said through his incorporation of the opposites, which I can not but abide by.

    • davidm58 says :

      Yes, I would agree we cannot confine the law of the earth ONLY in terms of the 2nd law. As I wrote in the other thread, ” I’ve come to believe the “law of the earth” refers to the ever present polarity of expansion and contraction. Impermanence by any other name. This is consistent with abdulmonem’s idea of the law of the earth as continual change. .”

      I wrote about this in my paper last year, considering a “final cause” to be the polarity between what has been called the Maximum Entropy Production Principle (the 2nd law), and what Howard T. Odum called the Maximum Power Principle (the so-called 4th law of thermodynamics). This Maximum Power Principle can also help us understand this concept of the universality of “will to power.”

      I wrote:
      “As a new flow of energy enters the system and interacts with a resource, transformation of energy can happen, where some quantity of energy is liberated from the resource and transformed into a higher quality energy. The Transformity Pattern, Winton states, “is a major structural aspect of how the universe works, and its structure is complexification.” (Winton, 2012a). H. T. Odum argued that all processes entail a reduction of energy quantity as they are transformed into a higher quality energy, a new quality of energy available for use by the system to function in a new and more powerful way. The reduction in energy quantity is the 2nd law of thermodynamics at work – the energy that is dissipated out in all processes to increase entropy. This is where some amount of energy “sinks” (into the Void) in every process. The 1st law of thermodynamics is not violated, however – the total quantity of energy in the larger system is conserved, but a portion of it has now become unavailable for additional work.

      The loss in total quantity of energy for any system or organization to entropy is the price paid for higher quality energy components that represent greater complexification and a resultant ability for increased power. Odum identified this as the Maximum Power Principle[5] of increased order and complexity that allows a system to be competitive in its niche and to accomplish its goals – “maximizing the work rate to the extent that the energy flow will support,” in Winton’s words (2012a). Winton defines the Power Pattern as “Work rate – productivity per unit of time” (ibid).”

  6. abdulmonem says :

    Another two opposites that are worth mentioning are the somatic and the non-somatic as the extra-somatic( technology) is the product of the intellect divorced from the spiritual, the balancing factor in the human construct. This is the whole vision of Gebser as I visualised, the path of integrality in all the realms of life including death as the other extension of life.

  7. davidm58 says :

    Another excellent, thought provoking post – thank you!
    With this statement by Seth, that “You create the reality you know,” I think it is important to note that this is quite a different statement than “you create your own reality,” which seems to be a common new-age statement. The reality “you know” is to be distinguished from what we might call concrete reality.

    I myself find in resonance with the statement below which attempts to clarify the stance of radical empiricism, from Nancy Frankenberry’s book “Religion and Radical Empiricism.” The radical empiricists (William James, et. al) didn’t didn’t distinguish between brain hemispheres, but there seems to be a parallel attempt to find the appropriate balance with the cognitive/non-cognitive polarity. Frankenberry writes:

    “From the perspective of radical empiricism, the basic criticism of Kan’ts philosophy is that it neglected the role of what Whitehead calls “physical feelings,” which form the nonconceptual element in experience. Although radical empiricists can agree with Kant that “intuitions without concepts are blind,” they want to add, with Whitehead, that this is so for a different reason: there are objects for knowledge in every act of experience, but knowledge arises only when intellectual functioning is included in that act of experiencing, and such inclusion is not always the case. For Kant there was nothing to know apart from concepts, since it was intellectual functioning which introduced order into what was otherwise a mere spatio-temporal flux of sensations. Mental operations were the foundation rather than the culmination of experience in Kant’s system.

    By contrast, radical empiricism involves an important inversion of Kant’s philosophy…For Kant, the world emerged from the subject; for radical empiricism, the subject emerges from the world.”

    Radical empiricist Bernard Meland tended to emphasize what we would call the right brain. He said this:
    “Much of the meaning we appear to find in life, we bring to it, as Kant observed, through our own forms of sensibility and understanding. But, as James and Bergson were later to remark, countering the stance of Kant and Hume in one basic respect, the nexus of relationships that forms our existence is not projected, it is given. We do not create these relationships; we experience them, being given with existence…thus I am led empirically to speak of God as the Ultimate Efficacy within relationships.”

    – Bernard Meland, quoted by Frankenberry, p. 134

    Meland’s mentor, Henry Nelson Wieman, tended to emphasize the opposite side. Frankenberry summarizes Wieman’s view:

    “It was Wieman’s view that every event accessible to human experience is a quality or a complex of quality and every event is an instance of energy. He argued on this basis that whenever energy is experienced by the human organism, it is quality or a complex of qualities. The name “structure” is given to the demarcations and interrelations of events whereby events are experienced as different and yet as related. Whereas concrete events as qualities are immediately apprehended by feeling, they are known cognitively only through the discrimination of their structure or character or form. The discrimination is always an abstraction from concrete reality.”

    We see in the above section that Frankenberry is beginning to tease out the distinction between the non-cognitive “flow of felt quality” that is “immediately apprehended by feeling” as concrete events, and the cognitive abstractions that can be articulated via language.

    She next discusses “The importance of the claim that experience is not in itself knowledge,” as acknowledged by both Dewey and Wieman. “Since qualities cannot be described in their immediacy, they can be known only by the structures pertaining to them. Description of those structures is cognitive. Awareness of the immediacy of quality is noncognitive, Wieman maintained.”

    I’m very interested in how all this can apply to my interest in PatternDynamics. (

    My thought here is that the Patterns found in PatternDynamics can represent to some degree these “qualities of felt experience,”(or the matrix of Patterns as the “complex of qualities”) thus giving name to experiences, which helps us to translate experience into a form of knowledge we can then communicate about via this new language of PatternDynamics. The concrete events are always “more” than can be articulated, but the more skillful we become in attempting to articulate these experiences, the richer those experiences become. This can move in a cycle back and forth between the non-cognitive and the cognitive, allowing ever richer experience, and growing awareness to emerge. The challenge is to never reify the Patterns that have been articulated, continuing to be open to and looking for the creative good, and not holding too tightly to the created good.

    [Much of my reply here is borrowed from portions of a thread of posts I wrote about Radical Empiricism on the Integral Post-Metaphysical Spirituality forum here:

    • Scott Preston says :

      After I posted this blog, I thought to myself that perhaps I should have mentioned reason and revelation too, as these might pertain to the bihemispheric brain, and also in terms of what McGilchrist says about this. Evidently, Bolte-Taylor didn’t reason her way to the perceptions of the left-hemisphere (and probably couldn’t anyway), they came to her as revelation, even an apocalyptic one. So there’s a prima facie case for revealed knowledge right there.

      Hmmm. “right there”?

    • davidm58 says :

      I should have included this quote from Bernard Meland to demonstrate his emphasis on right-brain. Meland’s favorite statement seemed to be “We live more deeply than we can think.”:

      “This stark contrast between the language we use in attending the religious realities, of whatever faith, and the realities themselves should not strike us as strange. Simple acknowledgment of the fallibility of our human forms and symbols should offer precedent enough for insisting that every creature, however elevated or humble, however committed in . . . heart and mind to the truth of the faith, stands under the judgment of reality as lived, of reality as encountered in experience. With the use of language, [we] may appropriately grope toward understanding and toward some degree of intelligibility in responding to what meets us in the lived experiences. But, since we live more deeply than we can think, no formulation of truth out of the language we use can be adequate for expressing what is really real, fully available, fully experienced, within this mystery of existing, in the mystery of dying, or in whatever surpasses these creatural occurrences of such urgent moment to each of us.”

      – from “Fallible Forms & Symbols: Discourses of Method in a Theology of Culture” (1976) by Bernard E. Meland

      In another passage from the same book:

      “I am led to assert as an ontological judgment that our human structure both participates in, and to a decisive degree is in tenuous continuity with, if not in certain respects discontinuous with, the ultimate structure of reality. This is simply a way of acknowledging the creatural limits of the human structure of consciousness without disavowing altogether its creatural participation in that ultimate structure. Human reason is not directly, or wholly, consonant with the ultimate structure of order; yet it bears witness to it, and in marginal ways is expressive of it.”

      “…The reality of our situation thus presents us as moving ambiguously and in tension on a frontier of awareness between our human structure and the infinite structure of the Creative Passage.”

      • Scott Preston says :

        You will, I think, find Thomas Berry’s thoughts in The Great Work to be quite consonant with Meland’s.

        • davidm58 says :

          I would expect so. Another classification in which to put Wieman and Meland is that of “religious naturalist.” In Jerome Stone’s “Religious Naturalism Today,” he references Wieman and Meland as foundational, and Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme (who often worked with Berry) are referenced in this book as well. BTW, Swimme has some nice videos that have been shown on PBS and are worth checking out.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    I just finished reading Berry’s The Great Work, too, and I’ld like to take a few moments to comment on how Berry, Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy intersect. (And I’ll probably go into more details about this after I read Berry’s The Dream of the Earth too, which I just started). A synopsis of this intersection might read as follows (which I’ve taken from my notes while reading Berry)

    What we are headed towards is a crisis of general well-being, as should be evident. This crisis of well-being is the prelude to the fifth revolution event, which will be a world revolution and close and seal the modern era, and will be based on the principle of health, as forecast by Rosenstock-Huessy. Nature and the non-human world, formerly excluded from the councils of the nations, will take its place in the councils of the nations. Democracy will mutate into biocracy. This reflects Rosenstock’s view, also, that biology, rather than physics, is destined to replace physics as “queen of the sciences”, with all the parallel historical implications of that (just as physics dethroned theology as queen of the sciences). Biocracy is, in effect, realised political ecology or ecodynamics. Biocracy is the form of politics for the Ecozoic Era, which is the integral era, and decidedly not of the “Anthropocene” or the anthropocentric perspective.

    I think this is the gist of the issue in a nutshell. All the rest is just detail or a process of unwrapping the meaning of this transition, and suggesting the evidence for it. It seems very likely.

  9. abdulmonem says :

    I think there is an interesting article posted by Mr Greer on his Well, addressing the question of will and intent, through looking in Schopenhauer book, The world as will and representation, which pours in the question your are addressing.

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