Mind and Identity
Typically, when we speak of “consciousness” what we mean by that is “mind” — as in “mind over matter”. In those terms, people often become confused when Buddhists (just as an example) speak of “No-Mind” and yet at the same time of the practice of “mindfulness”. Often, I think, this is a problem of translation, for we tend to use “mind” and “consciousness” interchangeably, whereas it is more correct to view “No-Mind” and “No-Self” (the teaching of anatman) as synonymous. By “consciousness” we tend to mean the “ego-consciousness”, and by “ego-consciousness” we mean mind and also the identity (the self-consciousness).
But “mind” isn’t independent of the body and is, in fact, considered a sixth sense in Buddhism. More accurately, mind is an aggregate of the impressions made upon the physical senses, and is bound and beholden to them. Thus “mind” actually corresponds to “sensate consciousnesss”, and is therefore called “mortal self in time”. In those terms, then, the “Fall into Time” and the fall into mind as sensate consciousness (or ego nature as “Selfhood”) is the same process.
Mind is an aggregate, and is therefore described as “originated” or “conditioned” consciousness, which is the identity or the ego-consciousness. Mind is what Jean Gebser calls “the mental-rational consciousness structure”, which is to say “mental” in its effective form and mode of functioning, but “rational” in its defective or “deficient” mode of functioning. Hence there is a distinction to be made between the “reasonable” and the merely “rational”, while by “rational” is meant a ratio of the sense impressions. That aggregation, which aims for totality, is readily enough confused with integration, which otherwise pertains to the whole rather than any sum total. The important point to remember here is that aggregation is not integration. Aggregation is the shadow of integration just as the Totality is a shadow of the Whole.
Most thinking about “consciousness” is really only about “mind” — mind trying to see itself, and it never gets beyond the level of mind. It’s tautological thinking which is called both “Monkey Mind” in Buddhism or as “the dark Satanic Mill” by William Blake. Mind, because it is sense bound, is Blake’s (and also Jean Gebser’s) “cavern” for the “dark Satanic Mill” is what Blake also means by his remark that “man has clos’d himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern”. Mind is, therefore, equivalent to Iain McGilchrist’s “Emissary” function of the human brain, as he described in his book The Master and His Emissary.
Our experience of physical reality is acquired through our physical senses. The effective mode of the mental consciousness (mind or intellect) is the proper coordination and synchronisation of the information streaming in through the physical senses functioning as “the sensorium”. Mind, or intellect, is not functioning effectively whenever this coordination or synchronisation of the sense impressions fails. Mind, or intellect, functions effectively when the information streaming in through the physical senses is properly coordinated into a coherent “world picture”. There is a concord of the senses. There is also a discordance of the senses, a fragmenting of the sensorium, when the mind, or intellect, becomes dysfunctional, as in cases of delirium or pandaemonium. These words pretty much describe the current world situation, or what we’re calling “chaotic transition”.
“Some assembly required”. It’s even implied in the word “con-sciousness” itself — a kind of bringing together or aggregation of the sense impressions. In those terms, mind is a kind of interface between physical reality and something else altogether.
Mind, or intellect, is functioning effectively when there is concordance in the sensorium. Discordance in the sensorium, and in the proper “ratio” of the senses, speaks to breakdown of the mind’s effectiveness. There’s a Yiddish saying that speaks to that: “Did your ears even hear what your mouth just said?!” This is an incoherence, or discontinuity, between ear and mouth, between listening and speaking. This saying resembles, in that respect, the parable about the five (or sometimes six) blind scholars who are presented with an elephant, without knowing what it is, but know only one particular aspect of the elephant which they presume to be the whole of the elephant. The five (or six) are the physical senses.
Mind makes a very good servant, but a very poor master. That is the nutshell summary of books like Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary or Jean Gebser’s critique of the mental-rational consciousness structure.
In contradiction to the assumptions of our contemporary rationalists, there is yet something “beyond”, “behind”, “before” or “within” mind itself that is always overlooked, what we might call a “metanoia” (an “after” or “beyond” mind) as opposed to a “para-noia” (or a state of being “beside oneself”, which is also synonymous with the Latin term “delirium”). In past postings here on The Chrysalis, we have argued that “awareness” and “consciousness” should be recognised as somewhat different states, and that “consciousness” is a term for a narrower focus of the greater awareness. This “metanoia” or greater awareness is what Gebser calls “the Itself” (and Gebser also uses the term “das Wahren” in German, which translates as “awareness or “a-waring”.) This “Itself” is synonymous with “ever-present origin”, and in those terms with what Buddhism also calls “the unoriginated” and the “unconditioned”. In those terms, “mind” is a structured interface between this “Itself” and physical reality, and mind can also be “deconstructed” or de-structured to reveal the implicit or latent “Itself”.
This “Itself” corresponds to McGilchrist’s “Master” awareness or mode of perception. And you see this process of the self-revelation of the “Itself” in neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s experience, where this “Itself” is called by her “Life Force power of the universe”.
That this “Itself” is ultimate reality or “ultimate truth” is the testimony of the Perennial philosophy. Furthermore, being the “unorginated” and “unconditioned”, it is not limited by space or time in the way that mind is limited by space and time — our ordinary everyday consciousness.
Gebser was convinced — a lot of people are persuaded that it is so — that the self-revelation of this “Itself” was occurring in our times, which self-revelation in the human form he called “the diaphainon“. This “diaphainon” is what allowed William Blake to perceive the transparency (or diaphaneity) of the world: “Heaven in a Wild Flower” or “the world in a grain of sand” or “Eternity in the hour” or “the infinite in all things”. The “diaphainon” corresponds to what Gebser calls “the vital centre”. It is mind that constructs the “veil of Maya” or what Blake called “Ulro”, which we might call the “opaque” world. Blake calls this “diaphainon” by the name “Albion”.
Neither Blake nor Gebser (nor Rosenstock-Huessy for that matter) thought that this “metanoia” (Rosenstock-Huessy’s term) or new consciousness structure would come to pass without undergoing a “maelstrom of blind anxiety” as a result of the disaggregation of the mind and the corresponding “loss of self” (the current “identity” crisis) that could very well result in a “global catastrophe”. Delirium is another way of describing this “maelstrom of blind anxiety”, which we see everywhere today (Latin “delirium” having much the same meaning as Greek “paranoia”, where both pertain to the loss of the “vital centre” which is sometimes called “self-alienation”). In effect, “mind” is being deconstructed and replaced by the diaphainon (or equivalently, what Aurobindo calls “supramental consciousness”).
This is a paradoxical situation, then — the paradox being what Gebser calls “the double-movement” of our times. What Buddhists or Sufis and others attempt to do under very disciplined conditions and with sobriety — the deconstruction of mind — or “monkey mind” — in order to discover and reveal the “jewel in the lotus” — is also the same process of deconstruction of the mental-rational consciousness that makes for the present delirium, only the latter is happening without discipline or sobriety, but quite unconsciously and mindlessly, full of anxiety, and paranoia, and fears about the loss of “identity”.