Lakoff & Johnson, in Philosophy of the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999), make some bold statements that challenge many of our preconceived assumptions about not only spirituality but the very nature of consciousness itself. Often for us integralists the latter is intimately tied to the former, as if through consciousness or awareness practice we attune into the nature of existence. Here is their challenge:
“The very existence of the cognitive unconscious…has important implications for the practice of philosophy. It means that we can have no direct conscious awareness of most of what goes on in our minds. The idea that pure philosophical reflection can plumb the depths of human understanding is an illusion. Traditional methods of philosophical analysis alone, even phenomenological introspection, cannot come close to allowing us to know our own minds.
“There is much to be said for traditional philosophical reflection and phenomenological analysis. They can makes us aware of many aspects of consciousness and, to a limited extent, can enlarge our capacities for conscious awareness. Phenomenological reflection even allows us to examine many of the background prereflective structures that lie beneath our conscious experience. But neither method can adequately explore the cognitive unconscious—the realm of thought that is completely and irrevocably inaccessible to direct conscious introspection” (12).
The cognitive unconscious operates via embodiment, and as such through differentiation and categorization. They continue:
“Living systems must categorize. Since we are neural beings our categories are formed through our embodiment. What that means is the categories we form are part of our experience. They are the structures that differentiate aspects of our experience into discernible kinds. Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience…. We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, get 'beyond' our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that” (19).
L&J spend considerable effort providing numerous empirical neuro-cognitive studies supporting these theses. It seems odd to me that neither the integralists nor the more general developmental researchers take this work into consideration, much less how it challenges many of the assumptions and premises of their theoretical models and experiential practices of “everything.” Given that 95%+ of our mind-bodies are unconscious perhaps we should rename our endeavors as “theories of less than 5%”?
Rorher goes into artifacts, including language, and how we interact with them as part of our socio-cultural embodiment. In that regard he discusses (with Johnson, cited below) the concept of continuity, originally elucidated by Dewey. This eliminates the dualism between inside and outside, or between body and mind, due to the foundations of mind in the basic bodily functions of perception and sensio-motor movement. However while grounded in these basic functions more complex functions evolve like abstraction and self-reflexivity that cannot be simply reduced to the earlier foundations. Here we are on the same page as Wilber and developmental studies in general like the MHC.
However continuity is also applied to the individual-social dimension, thus not maintaining this as a duality. That is where the socio-cultural meanings of embodiment come into play. They recognize that “cognition does not take place only within the brain and body of a single individual but is in part constituted by social interactions and relations.”
Mark Edwards criticisms are relevant here, particularly his three-part essay “The depth of the exteriors” (cited below). It becomes clear that Wilber and developmentalists generally see continuity within an individual but not in the individual-social matrix. Edwards sees this as an individual-interior reduction. This manifests in Wilber’s emphasis on Piaget with little to no integration of Vygotsky, Cooley or Mead etc. Not surprisingly there is also little to no integration of the modern-day heirs to that pragmatic tradition, the cogscipragos like Lakoff, Johnson and Rorher. Edwards goes on to how this duality can be reconciled within the AQAL framework.
Edward, Mark (2003-04). “The depth of the exteriors” in the Reading Room at Integral World. www.integralworld.net.
Johnson & Rorher. “We are live creatures” in Body, Language and Mind, volume 1, Mouton de Gruyter, 2007, 17-54.
Here’s another take on the critique of the fully conscious subject, aka the metaphysics of presence, and how it relates to the notion of individual-social “continuity.” From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Merleau-Ponty:
“Merleau-Ponty does not intend to suggest…an absolute awareness of one’s own ’subjectivity’…. Lived relations can never be grasped perfectly by consciousness, since the body-subject is never entirely present-to-itself….There is ambiguity then, precisely because we are not capable of disembodied reflection upon our activities, but are involved in an intentional arc that absorbs both our body and our mind (PP 136). For Merleau-Ponty, both intellectualism and empiricism presuppose ‘a universe perfectly explicit in itself’ (PP 41), but residing between these two positions, his body-subject actually requires ambiguity and, in a sense, indeterminacy.
“Merleau-Ponty seems to be suggesting that the relationship that we have to ourselves is one that is always typified by alterity, on account of a temporal explosion towards the future that precludes us ever being self-present…. There can be no self-enclosed ‘now’ moment because time also always has this reflexive aspect that is aware of itself, and that opens us to experiences beyond our particular horizons of significance. Indeed, it is because of this temporal alterity, that Merleau-Ponty asserts that we can never say ‘I’ absolutely (PP 208).
“Given that he rarely makes any distinction between the structure of our relations with others and the structure of our relations with the world, his descriptions also pertain directly to the problem of the other, which has come to be accorded of lot of attention in recent times under the auspices of what is frequently termed alterity. Merleau-Ponty’s chiasmic ontology ensures that in some sense the other is always already intertwined within the subject, and he explicitly suggests that self and non-self are but the obverse and reverse of each other (VI 83, 160)…. the alterity of the other’s look is always already involved in us, and rather than unduly exalting alterity by positing it as forever elusive, or as recognizable only as freedom that transcends my freedom, he instead affirms an interdependence of self and other that involves these categories overlapping and intertwining with one another, but without ever being reduced to each other.”
A quick point on the above statement: "both intellectualism and empiricism presuppose ‘a universe perfectly explicit in itself.’" This was also a point in the "real and false reason" thread, the presupposition of false reason as being perfectly explicit. That would be more of the "intellectualism" side of the above. The more "empirical" side would be the more phenomenal, meditative approaches, at least those that assume a fully conscious awareness of reality-as-such.
Pertinent to this discussion is of course G. H. Mead, but we’ve gone over him at length before (see link). Just a tad from that discussion follows:
“The essence of Mead's so-called ‘social behaviorism’ is his view that mind is an emergent out of the interaction of organic individuals in a social matrix. Mind is not a substance located in some transcendent realm, nor is it merely a series of events that takes place within the human physiological structure. Mead therefore rejects the traditional view of the mind as a substance separate from the body as well as the behavioristic attempt to account for mind solely in terms of physiology or neurology. Mead agrees with the behaviorists that we can explain mind behaviorally if we deny its existence as a substantial entity and view it instead as a natural function of human organisms. But it is neither possible nor desirable to deny the existence of mind altogether. The physiological organism is a necessary but not sufficient condition of mental behavior (Mind, Self and Society 139). Without the peculiar character of the human central nervous system, internalization by the individual of the process of significant communication would not be possible; but without the social process of conversational behavior, there would be no significant symbols for the individual to internalize.”
“…things continue to function alone and discourse continues to articulate itself, but ‘outside the subject.’ And this place, this ‘outside the subject,’ is exactly what we call the unconscious….In other words, if I have tried to elaborate something, it is not a metaphysical theory but a theory of intersubjectivity.”
"Freud's original discovery led classical analysts to view the unconscious as an individual construction. Object relations theorists studying not only the individual patient but also the analytic relationship provided a more elaborate view of the influence of parents and the social environment on development, but object relations theory remained essentially an individual psychology. From more recent experience of applying psychoanalysis to couples and families, and from contemporary studies of attachment and neuroscience, we have widened that perspective. It is time, more than 100 years on, to re-frame the unconscious as the product of interpersonal interaction. "
…consciousness is primarily a social property, and as such is associated first and foremost with social organizations of organisms, and only secondarily is experienced by individual members of these societies. In making this argument, I am not necessarily claiming that there is a unified group consciousness…but that consciousness is distributed or intersubjective. As it is almost always experienced, it is associated with the interactions of at least two and usually many organisms…
For us, the intersubjective web of relationships is associated almost entirely with language. Language evolved through human social interactions, and it is difficult to see how it could have been otherwise; as Wittgenstein (1958) famously argued, it has no use or meaning for isolated individuals. To the extent that our experience is language bound, therefore…it appears that this experience must be first and foremost that of a social network, and secondarily that of its members. The language that each of us individuals uses is a property of the entire society…Intersubjectivity, however, is one of those terms that may mean many different things, depending on how strongly one believes it affects consciousness (de Quincey 2002b). To make my understanding of it a little clearer, it’s useful to compare and contrast it with two current views of consciousness. The prevailing view among most scientists today is that consciousness is an individual or intrinsic phenomenon, totally determined by, or at the very least localized to, some specific portion of the brain or some other nervous structure. This is commonly expressed in the view that there are neural correlates of consciousness, or NCCs (Crick and Koch 2003). As defined by philosopher David Chalmers:
"An NCC is a minimal neural system N such that there is a mapping from states of N
to states of consciousness, where a given state of N is sufficient, under conditions C,
for the corresponding state of consciousness."
In other words, the assumption is that any state of consciousness—some specific experience of the external world, for example—is associated with activity in some defined set of neurons…
Does language have neural correlates in this sense? Is there a specific set of neurons that is activated when we have the experience of using or understanding a particular word, phrase, sentence or longer linguistic construction? There is no question, of course, that there are fairly specific areas in the brain dedicated to language, and some studies suggest that particular classes of words or concepts may have locations somewhat distinguishable from other types of words (Mitchell et al 2003; Shinkareva et al. 2008). But as Deacon emphasizes, the distributed nature of language—the fact that the meaning or meanings of any one word emerge only through its relationships with many other words—seems to render fruitless any attempts to localize it: it does not make sense to think of the symbols as located anywhere within the brain, because they are relationships between tokens, not the tokens themselves; and even though specific neural connections may underlie these relationships, the symbolic function is not even constituted by a specific association but the virtual set of associations that are partially sampled in any one instance. Widely distributed neural systems must contribute in a coordinated fashion to create and interpret symbolic relationships.
The key phrase in this passage is “virtual set of associations”. It is virtual because it does not exist in toto in the brain of any single individual. Language, to emphasize again, is a social property, meaning that only society as a whole has a complete (or the most nearly complete) understanding of a language. The meaning of any particular word belongs only to the society. Any individual, of course, experiences a meaning when he uses language, and perhaps we can talk about a neural correlate of that experience; but to the extent that that meaning can be shared and communicated with others, it only points or refers to the social meaning. And it is this social meaning that allows language to function at all, to prevent it from being Wittgenstein’s impossible “private language”.
Very few species other than humans use language, of course. However, some philosophers and scientists have argued for a distributed form of consciousness based on non-linguistic social interactions outside of the brain…The basic argument, as summarized by Noe and Thompson (2004), goes as follows:
"If the content of perceptual experience depends crucially on the environment, as well as on skillful motor capacities and capacities for directed attention on the part of the perceiver as a situated agent in the environment, then it cannot be assumed without argument (as the NCC programme does) that there is any such thing as a minimal neural substrate sufficient to produce conscious experience. Rather, the substrates of consciousness — in particular of visual perceptual consciousness— seem to cut across the brain–body–world divisions."
In other words, to the extent that experiencing the world involves acting on it and modifying it (Sherman et al. 1997; Liebert and Starks 2004), the correlates of that experience include aspects of the external environment. The environment, and particularly other organisms, is intimately involved in the generation of the experience. Rather than neural activity in some localized part of the brain causing or generating conscious experience, there are large scale or dynamic patterns of activity involving body and environment as well as brain, which may have causative or constraining effects on neural activity as much as the latter has on them.
As the above quote indicates, this view, which some researchers refer to as embodied consciousness (Thompson and Varela 2001; Noe and Thompson 2004), is generally presented as an alternative to the concept of an NCC. Its adherents claim support for it in studies of humans and other higher vertebrates showing that the parts of the nervous system activated by/associated with a specific form of perceptual recognition are not necessarily fixed, but can be modified by such factors as early development, learning, and environmental context (Hurley and Noe 2003)…
The view of consciousness that I present in this book is consistent, I think, with the essential tenets of both these views. On the one hand, I believe the notion of an NCC is valuable, and it may be that every conscious experience has some neural correlate (in lifeforms that have a nervous system). However, I also contend that the preoccupation with identifying NCCs obscures the much more important point that consciousness, as it is almost always experienced, is extended or distributed. It is part of a web of interacting consciousnesses, each of which is influenced by others. This understanding goes beyond the embodied view, for as we shall see, it is true even for the experiences of organisms that are not in dynamic interactions with any other organisms at a particular point in time. Just as language is something all of us carry around with us all of the time, and use to interpret the world in virtually every encounter with it, so I will contend, the perceptual processes of simpler organisms, though they evolved to facilitate their social interactions, are used to interpret every encounter with their external environment. And one major feature or outcome of this interpretive process is the experience of a certain number of physical dimensions.
What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?
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