Embodied Human Consciousness, Abrupt Global Climate Change, and Freedom - S. David Stoney, Ph.D.

III. EMBODIED HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS AND ABRUPT GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE - Consciousness is notoriously resistant to facile definition.  I have chosen not to attempt a complete, abstract (third-person) definition, but instead to focus on first-person, receptive aspects, in particular awareness of self and world. Since self-awareness is first and foremost an awareness of the world via one's own human body, the consciousness it supports must be called "embodied human consciousness." Accepting self-awareness from an embodied perspective as fundamental to human consciousness seems like a good, honest place to start, since this is an aspect of consciousness that most of us can agree upon, both in theory and in practice. The other dimensions of embodied human consciousness that I have chosen to emphasize are alienation, which I regard as an unavoidable accompaniment to the development of a strongly individuated self-awareness, and awareness of participation, by which I mean the felt appreciation of one's embeddedness and interconnection with the world (universe). As with any first-person model, it is meant to be actively used. For the model to make sense, one must imagine him- or herself as a conscious person with a direction of motion in the space of self-awareness, alienation, and awareness of participation. Needless to say, embodied human consciousness incorporates additional dimensions, but these three are, in my judgement, especially critical for understanding.

"Obviously any thinking a human being can do is human thinking. Any thinking a dog can do is doggish thinking. There is, however, one difference. A dog cannot think that it is thinking doggishly; but a human animal can think that he or she is thinking humanly. Every animal is in the prison of its own nature, but only genuinely 'thinking' animals can know that this is so. To know a mental limit as such is to be, in some sense and degree, beyond that limit." (Charles Hartshorne, Wisdom as Moderation: A Philosophy of the Middle Way, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pg. 95, 1987.)

"The elimination of original participation involves a contraction of human consciousness from periphery to centre...- a contraction from the cosmos of wisdom to something like a purely brain activity - but by the same token it involves an awakening. For we awake, out of universal - into self - consciousness."(Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, Wesleyan University Press, pg. 183-3, 1965/1988.)

"...the mark of modern human behaviour is its self-awareness, its 'mindedness'". (William Nobel and Iain Davidson, Human Evolution, Language and Mind: A Psychological and Archaeological Inquiry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.)

"...the doctrine of self as basal fact of consciousness is essential to the adequate description of our actual experience." (Mary W. Calkins, Psychology as a science of self. III. The description of consciousness, J. Phil. Psychol. Sci. Meth. 5: 113-122, 1908. See Christopher D. Green's Classics in the History of Psychology website.)

"[T]he key assumptions of scientific materialism: objectivism, monism, universalism, reductionism, the closure principle and physicalism ...lead to an impoverished understanding of reality as a whole." (David Lorimer, The need for a noetic revolution: Review of Alan Wallace's The Taboo of Subjectivity, J. Consc. Studies 9:89-91, 2002)

"Our own first-person nature is as much part of the natural world as is the functioning of our bodies, and, in the long run, our theories of mind need to accommodate all the data. If, after our best efforts, we cannot squeeze what are, in their essence, first- person phenomena into a third-person 'box', so be it. The alternative is to broaden our theories of mind to encompass first-person phenomena. Once one accepts that first- and third-person accounts of the mind are complementary and mutually irreducible, this is easy to do." (Max Velums, Understanding Consciousness, London: Routledge, pg. 278, 2000)

"Human subjects never simply have a body; rather the body is always necessarily the object and subject of attitudes and judgments. It is psychically invested, never a matter of indifference." (Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, pg. 81, 1994)

"Consciousness creates in the sense that it conceives its knowledge; but this is a continuous reciprocal, attracting, and counter-attracting, responsive relationship between subject and object, not unlike sexual intercourse." (Rollo May, Love and Will, New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, pg. 237, 1969)

"A fully interpretive theory of consciousness must... be a critical theory. It must acknowledge the nature of its own existence as the product of a particular culture at a specific point in time. And it must be willing to begin the task of striving to examine and critique both its relation to its own subject matter and its own historical situation - [the personal,] ... social, political, and economic contexts from which its own interpretive practices have emerged." (Kenneth Keulman, The Balance of Consciousness: Eric Voegelin's Political Theory, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pg. 174, 1990)

"Man is a product of a very unusual epoch in earth's history, a time when the claws of a vast dragon, the glacial ice, groped fumbling toward him across a third of the world's land surface and blew upon him the breath of an enormous winter. It was a world of elemental extravagance... For over a million years man, originally a tropical orphan, has wandered through age-long snowdrifts... In the end it is no wonder that he himself has retained a modicum of that violence and unpredictability that lie sleeping in the heart of nature. Modern man, for all his developed powers and his imagined insulation in his cities, still lives at the mercy of those giant forces that created him and can equally decree his departure." (Loren Eisley, The Unexpected Universe, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, pgs. 98-99, 1964)

A Model for Embodied Human ConsciousnessHow knowledge of abrupt, global climate change requires us to develop "new eyes" and my attempt to do so.  A brief description of embodied human consciousness modeled as awareness cubed, dynamic topological structures that underlie dualistic and complementary thinking, and a first attempt at describing the natural history of embodied human consciousness in a space defined by participation, alienation, and self-awareness.  Slightly modified and updated version of a poster presented at the 1998 Society for Neuroscience meeting.  The presentation itself is now somewhat out of date, so be sure to have a look at the revised versions of the principal figures, especially Figs. 7 & 8, which are included at the end.

Transition from ancestral to contemporary mind: A fanciful story outlining the transition from "prehistory" (ancestral mind) to "history" (contemporary mind) in the context of one cultural scheme. This little story may make sense to those with the courage to remember (See Alienation).

The power of illusion: Copy of a children's story from India. Perhaps it is mere conceit whenever an embodied mind thinks that maya can or is being avoided.  Scientific knowledge helps us spot illusion, but science itself is not immune to maya.  For example, the sensationist doctrine, that the brain somehow generates internal images of the external world, is a persistent illusion that has led scores of neuroscientists and neurophilosophers into never-never land.

Alienation as a dimension of modern consciousness: A brief commentary with quotations from R.D. Laing, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Quinn, and Indries Shah on aspects of alienation. Alienation is a necessary waypoint on the human journey.

Imagination as a dimension of modern consciousness: An exercise in imagination that poetically summarizes the ascendence of an unlikely band of primates that becomes the dominant, but tragic organism on the third planet from the sun. Embodied human consciousness simply cannot be understood without the exercise of the imagination. By imagining, one opens oneself to past knowledge and, as God only knows, we need all the help we can get.

Participation as a dimension of modern consciousness: A somewhat detailed consideration of the three flavors of participation, their relationship to the shift from ancestral, to contemporary, to postcritical mind. The threat of a further shift towards a "posthuman" world if the importance of participation, and the unwelcome knowledge that it brings, continues to be unappreciated is also discussed, as are the changes in participation that occur during individual and societal life cycles. For additional information on the shift from the ancestral to the contemporary mind see the discussion about the subject-object dichotomy at Freedom and Other Considerations

Entrainment of embodied human consciousness to cyclic climate change: Abstract of my poster session for the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness meeting in Tucson, AZ, in April, 2000. Because of consciousness' trimodal locus in brain, society, and quantal wholeness, events like the forthcoming abrupt global climate change can lead to a reversion of embodied human consciousness to its default mode, original participation.

* * * * * * *

Would you care to comment in the guestbook?

View Guestbook

* * * * * * *

Go to Table of Contents.   Go to Next (IV. Anosognosia From a Process Perspective) page.

* * * * * * *

Last Modified February 21, 2003

Comments are invited. Send mail to S. David Stoney, POB 523, McClellanville, SC 29458 - dstoney@tds.net

* * * * * * *