10/27/01

Participation

"[There is a] false antinomy between logical and prelogical mentality...The savage mind is logical in the same sense and the same fashion as ours, though as our own is only when it is applied to knowledge of a universe in which it recognizes physical and semantic properties simultaneously. This misunderstanding once dispelled, it remains no less true that, contrary to Levy-Bruhl's opinion, its thought proceeds through understanding, not affectivity, with the aid of distinctions and oppositions, not confusion and participation." (Levi-Strauss, pg. 268, 1966)

"Participation is the extra-sensory relation between man and the phenomenon." (Owen Barfield, pg. 40, 1988)

"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, pg. 182-3, 1988)

"[Levi-Strauss'] main objections are to Levy-Bruhl's categorical distinction between mentalities and to the characterization of mythic thought as emotional and participatory rather logical or conceptual. While these are genuine enough differences, I think that the two writers are actually somewhat closer in conception than Levi-Strauss allows... The synthetic aspect of "savage thought" is the meaning-constructing impulse of mind, an impulse that Levi-Strauss attributes to the primitive bricoleur but which is more accurately identified with religious thought in general. What Levi-Strauss identifies as synthesis, Levy- Bruhl characterized as participation...both reflect the same romance with meaning and the misleading overidentification of meaning constructing cognitive processes with "primitive people." " (Bradd Shore, pgs. 31-2, 1996)

"Meaning has no meaning apart from intention. Each act of consciousness tends toward something, is a turning of the person toward something, and has within it, no matter how latent, some push toward a direction for action...The patient cannot permit himself to perceive the trauma until he is ready to take a stand toward it...the intentionality in which he is trapped makes it impossible for him to see it." (Rollo May, pgs. 230-231, 1969)

I. Introduction: Participation as a fundamental aspect of existence and awareness of participation as a dimension of embodied human consciousness.

The approach to human consciousness and brain function that I am working on will ultimately take into account the different roles of the two cerebral hemispheres. It will be an ecological approach because it will focus on human cognitive accomplishments and achievements - such as knowing, perceiving, feeling, and understanding - without regard to any particular reductive approach to neural mechanisms. It will, however, be related to contemporary neuroscientific information by means of a very general model of the human brain and mind, the notion of neurons as prehenders. It will also be a historical approach because it will explicate how our consciousness has changed from the time we first became human beings in the middle of the last ice age (or earlier) until the present. The notion of participation is the key to the approach. Participation, which comes in three flavors, original, contemporary, and post-critical, is a qualitative (right hemisphere generated) dimension that refers to our felt relationship with self, others, the world, and the ultimate ground of being.

Participation is an important, but mostly unacknowledged, component of modern human consciousness that seems to have been relegated to a subconscious role during the last three thousand years or so. By making it an explicit dimension of embodied human consciousness we extend the reign of consciousness (and history) back to at least the middle of the last ice age and move toward regaining an appreciation of our primordial wholeness. The model of brain and consciousness that I am working on seeks to legitimize the conscious recollection of participation (post-critical participation). This step, the conscious recollection of our participation, allows us, I believe, to begin to act as ecologically whole, accountable individuals, i.e., in ways compatible with a sustainable society and with our own needs as individual Self-aware persons, in spite of a cyclic climate pattern that periodically turns all of us into renters.

The terms "participation" and "prelogical processing" derive from Lucien Levy-Bruhl, How Natives Think (1926), where he notes that it is a form of thought that "is not antilogical; it is not alogical either…it does not bind itself down, as our thought does, to avoiding contradiction." (pg. 78). He considers it a state of being where the 'law of participation' dominates, individuation is minimum, and allegiance to the collective representations of one’s tribe or clan is unquestioned. For such a mind, he suggests,

"rather than speak of collective representations, it would be wiser to call them collective mental states of extreme emotional intensity, in which representation is as yet undifferentiated from the movements and actions which make the communion towards which it tends a reality to the group. Their participation is so effectually lived that it is not yet properly imagined." (pg. 362)

The individual experiences, at a "very emotional" level, "one or more coexistent and intertwined participations, as yet not merged into distinct consciousness of an individuality which is really one. The member of a tribe, totem, or clan, feels himself mystically united with the animal or vegetable species which is his totem, mystically united with his dream-soul, his forest-soul, and so on." (pg. 89) To be subject to the law of participation, one is subject to a "symbiosis effected by identity of essence." (pg. 91)

"Every individual is both such and such a man or woman, alive at present, a certain ancestral individual, who may be human or semi-human, who lived in [a previous] fabulous age, and at the same time he is his totem, that is, he partakes in mystic fashion of the essence of the animal or vegetable species whose name he bears." (pg. 91)

Such incipient individuals seem to be enmeshed within a vital principal common to man and Nature. Levy-Bruhl cites an observer of North American Indians, Miss Alice Fletcher, who described thier experience as follows:

"...a common life, which was continuous to the will power they were conscious of in themselves. This mysterious power [related] all things to man, and to each other…between the seen and the unseen, the dead and the living, and also between the fragment of anything and its entirety." (pg. 103)

Levy-Bruhl also cites Kruijt, an anthopologist, who suggested that two stages occurred in the development of the ancestral mind. In the first, individualization has not taken place and "there is a diffused principle capable of penetrating everywhere, a kind of universal and widespread force which seems to animate persons and things, to act in them and endow them with life." At this stage, "the individual consciousness of every member of the group is and remains strictly solidary with the collective consciousness. It does not distinctly break away from it; it does not even contradict itself in uniting with it; that which does dominate it is the uninterrupted feeling of participation." The second stage occurs later, when "...the human individual becomes clearly conscious of himself as an individual, when he explicitly differentiates himself from the group of which he feels himself a member." Only then "...do beings and objects outside himself begin to appear to him as provided with individual minds or spirits during this life and after death." (pg. 365) This latter stage, at which time the term "soul" first becomes appropriate, is the foundation for a possible transition from original to contemporary participation, a transition that effects a change from an ancestral to a contemporary mind.

Such changes only occur, and then only for certain groups, when conditions permit, e.g., during an interglacial period when improving conditions and resources permit a fairly rapid transition into a literate historical period. As the experienced sense of continuity with Nature (that is to say, with everything) diminishes,

"... participation is no longer directly felt by every member of the social group, it is obtained by means of an ever-increasing display of religious or magic practices, of sacred or divine beings and objects, by rites performed by priests and members of secret societies, by myths, etc..bonds which are more or less explicit tend to take the place of the feeling of direct communion... In a word participation tends to become ideological.." (pg. 366)

Thus, original participation and oral history transition into contemporary participation and literate history. Thus, begins a process of emancipation from the tribal mentality that leads to individuation. Barfield (Saving the Appearances, pg. 182-83) succinctly describes the emergence of self-awareness out of the mystery of original participation:

"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."

That universal experience is the ground from which self-consciousness sprang is an important point because it speaks to the critical need for us today to both re-cognize and accept the notion of participation. Participation either reflects an aspect of the universe that is real (an aspect of quantum entanglement?) or it constitutes a real, and unavoidable, human cognitive capability that creates, at the very least, a sense of awe and an appreciation for the mysterious, numinous beauty of the interconnected universe. I believe that a failure to incorporate it into our notions of consciousness will be a serious oversight. I am doubtful that we can deal in a reasonable way with the climate crisis without a source of spiritual strength and comfort. After all, many of our external supports may have to be sacrificed for the good of our Nation.  In this regard, it is germane to remember Einstein's aphorism:

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." Albert Einstein in What I Believe, cited by M.S. Gazzaniga, The Mind's Past, pg. 103.

In closing this section, I would be remiss not to mention Claude Levi-Strauss' somewhat justified critique of Levi-Bruhl's notion of participation (Levi-Strauss, 1966). As witnessed by the extensive quotation below, Levi-Strauss' criticisms were not aimed at the idea that our former modes of consciousness were not distinct from the contemporary mode. His criticism was aimed more at Levy-Bruhl's claim that participatory consciousness constituted a qualitatively different mode of consciousness, one radically separate from rather than on a continuum with contemporary consciousness, that accounted for the "primitiveness" of tribal societies. My approach is to make use of the concept of participation while accepting Levi-Strauss' notion of the continuity of ancestral and contemporary consciousness. Recognition of such continuity is key to the development of a recontructive postmodern neuroscience.

"Certainly the properties to which the savage mind has access are not the same as those which have commanded the attention of scientists. The physical world is approached from opposite ends in the two cases: one is supremely concrete, the other supremely abstract; one proceeds from the angle of sensible qualities and the other from that of formal properties. But the idea that, theoretically at least and on condition no abrupt changes in perspective occurred, these two courses were destined to meet, explains why both, independently of each other in time and space, should have led to two distinct though equally positive sciences: one which flowered in the neolithic period, whose theory of the sensible order provided the basis of the arts of civilization (agriculture, animal husbandry, pottery, weaving, conservation and preparation of food, etc.) and which continues to provide for our basic needs by these means; and another which places itself from the start at the level of intelligibility, and of which contemporary science is the fruit.
We have had to wait until the middle of this century for the crossing of the long separated paths: that which arrives at the physical world by the detour of communication, and that which arrives at the world of communication by the detour of the physical. The entire process of human knowledge thus assumes the character of a closed system. And we therefore remain faithful to the inspiration of the savage mind when we recognize that, by an encounter it alone could have foreseen, the scientific spirit in its most modern from will have contributed to legitimize the principles of savage thought and to re-establish it in its rightful place."

II. Failure to acknowledge participation and develop an awareness of it may lead to a "post-human" world.

Participation (see Figure below) can be seen to begin with an original form, wherein one is such a part of the ongoing process of nature – or, for the child, development – that there is little or no separation from it, little or no individuation.  One is the process and conscious appreciation of participation is low.  From an evolutionary perspective original participation, where self-awareness is just dawning, is the period before which we were simians. Everything and every action is bound to context and is sacred; the 'other' is either a god, a member of your own family, clan, or tribe, or an enemy. Death of an enemy is considered an act of god. Subsequently, consciousness of participation grows, but is interpreted egotistically, leading to alienation from nature. With the further development of language and, especially, writing, participation becomes increasingly contemporary. Self-awareness crystallizes into the ego-consciousness, self as 'subject' stands along side (or outside) nature as 'object,' and gods are so removed from the world that a special mediator (priest) and a special process (religion) are required to regain contact. This is alienation. Instead of experiencing ourselves as an integral part of the universe, we see ourselves as cursed by original sin or as accidents of a blind evolutionary process - in either case, naught but a bag of genes and chemicals flung on the shore of life by accident and chance. This is the pathway to the posthuman or the destructive postmodern world (see, for example, Hayles, 1999; Griffin & Falk, 1993). At the apex of the period of contemporary participation, roughly corresponding to the 20th century, alienation from the ultimate ground, self, others, and the world is maximum and corresponds to an unprecedented success in gaining knowledge of the presumed stuff of the world (matter).

EHC_gendered.jpg (49240 bytes)

While the consequences of this path of development, with its peak of alienation, are in many cases darkly horrific, there is a very definite silver lining. This follows from the fact that alienation is a prerequisite for the capacity to abstract oneself out of original participation.  This means that alienation is, in the absence of divine intervention, a prerequisite for the development of science, not to mention for the development of any religions that require a special mediator to establish a link between god and individuals.  It is important to remember that original participation was involuntary, that, initially, we were slaves of nature; in particular slaves of the cyclic and sudden, unexpected changes in climate that have characterized the planet during the entire period of origin of the hominid line. Even this unpleasant fact of our early existence may have its positive side, however. William H Calvin and Steven M. Stanley have argued that the difficult conditions associated with the ice age played a major role in the separation of the human line from its simian forebears (See Calvin, 1991; Stanley, 1999). It is not hard to imagine, for those early hominids that moved out of historically established homelands and into new lands that became habitable during each interglacial phase, that the periodic requirement to have to unexpectedly and precipitously accept moving or die could have had a significant influence on the psyche of our forebears.

It seems that two extremely important advantages accrue from going through the phase of alienation that developed during this (the current) interglacial phase. The first is the development of scientific knowledge. The fact is, that among other things, we will need the very best science and technology to insure the survival of the freedom-promoting aspects of civilization across the transition into the next glacial phase. Thus, we have the opportunity to break out of our enslavement to cyclic climate pattern only because we have gone through a phase of significant alienation. For this, it seems to me, we should be grateful. The second advantage is that only by developing a strong sense of self are we able to consciously re-discover participation. Remember, Nature's way of having us rediscover participation is via the loss of self in a catastophic reversion to orginal participation and a tribal mentality! Thus, it is only because we know of our ego-consciousness that we can become willing to let it go in order to achieve conscious knowledge of a higher Self, one in conjunction with which we appreciate our participation with the ultimate ground (Brahman = Atman). For a very great many people, such a choice may only be possible subsequent to alienation.

Unfortunately, letting go of one's ego is no small task. This is especially true in our literate American society where the success of science and technology seems to promise a world without limits. The flight into abstraction that characterizes the contemporary mind has been well described by Darren Tofts and Murry McKeich in Memory Trade: A Prehistory of Cyberculture (North Ryde, NSW [Australia]: Interface, pgs. 50,51, 1997):

"To be literate is to inhabit a higher, extended order of engagement with systematic abstraction, as well as a space of ever-present abstraction from immediate, first-hand experience of the world... The unavoidable consequence of the full cultural appropriation of alphabetic literacy, and the complete interiorization of the technology of the alphabet, is that the literate individual is always immersed in a conceptual space contoured by the alphabet. Consciousness is a kind of interface, which alphabetically mediates the empirical world in such a way that it is difficult to comprehend what a non-literate view of the world might look like. The idea of mediated apprehension and understanding of the world, so central to cyberculture, is something that comes into being with the advent of the alphabet and literate societies."
Under these circumstances - and especially when we ignore the past, disregarding the reality of climate imposed limits to development, and take ourselves and our property too seriously - a splitting of consciousness may occur. The part of ourselves that allows us to consciously recollect and appreciate our own participation may become suppressed. Like the patient who is consciously unaware of his paralyzed left arm following a right hemisphere stroke and who claims to be able to accomplish a bimanual motor task, we may claim to be able to generate a sustainable future when we are, in fact, not able to do so. Under these circumstances, our capacity for voluntary self-restraint with regard to distracting interactions with the world, e.g., such as wealth accumulation, is diminished. Alienated consciousness adopts a rigid worldview that, in the extreme, denies the reality of participation, our ability to know a real world, and the importance of embodied consciousness. Some of these individuals are materialists who believe that all true knowledge must ultimately reduce to chemistry and physics. Some of these individuals are frightened by sex and chthonic nature. Some of these individuals believe themselves (or their enemies) to be so sinful that they deserve God's punishment. Some of these individuals think that Jalaladin Rumi's poetry is meaningless and do not understand that 'the kingdom of heaven is within.' Theirs is a consciousness restricted to the plane defined by alienation and self-awareness. Their denial of alienation, generally maintained by constant activity, including, but not restricted to consumption and accumulation of things, is the outward manifestation of an inner refusal to accept the limitations necessitated by living on a difficult planet. More and more effort to control the world and others carries them further and further into the posthuman world, away from the goal of post-critical participation, unitive knowledge of the ultimate ground of being, and the possibility of prospective action with regard to abrupt climate change.

Alternatively, conscious appreciation of the importance of abrupt global climate change can act as a "cognitive capstone" to convert the upward, posthuman trajectory to a more natural arc-like one. The movement of consciousness along its arc brings more and more people toward post-critical participation. In post-critical participation, the human knower is acknowledged to have equal if not superior ontological status as the matter that makes up the knower. In post-critical participation, consciousness is ecological and whole. Each individual recognizes his or her own Self, a Self that consciously recollects its connection with the ultimate ground of being, a Self that relishes freedom and the origins of our bodies and brains in nature, a Self that accepts death as part of life and the planetary climate cycle, a Self that is willing to forgive. In post-critical participation, each person recognizes his or her freedom and capacity to alter the level of consciousness, sliding forth and back, so to speak, between contemporary and post-critical participation - between ego-consciousness and Self-consciousness - depending on the circumstances and goals at hand. The path of Scientism, where allegiance to the god of matter must be sworn, is not sufficient to produce a viable, sustainable future. It is not however, to be rejected, for it is not wrong so much as it is incomplete. Science informed by a participatory consciousness, one that recognizes quantum entanglement (i.e., prehensions) amongst all organisms (in the Whiteheadian sense), is the science required for the third millennium.  Hopefully, that science is currently coalescing in the hearts and minds of individuals all around the world.

III. Participation and alienation during one's life trajectory.

Participation refers to the felt relation between an individual and his or her world. It varies for different individuals, perhaps as a function of gender (see, for example, Paglia, 1999), as well as for peoples of different societies as a function of historic time. For individuals in Western culture, it varies during one’s life trajectory. For example, one’s sense and awareness of participation may change drastically in the passage from childhood to adulthood. In utero and immediately postnatal the infant’s participation is maximal while his or her conscious awareness of participation is nil. With the development of an ego-self in the course of growth and maturation in modern society, the sense of participation may be mostly obscured. In principle, in a society that honored participation as a normal dimension of embodied human consciousness, conscious awareness of participation could wax, leading to post-critical participation. When this is the case, the somewhat inarticulable appreciation of interconnection with Self, world, and the ultimate ground of being is consciously recollected. This process produces, at the very least, a sense of awe, and may be numinous and accompanied by a "peace that passes all understanding." Such a state might be equivalent to a societal inoculation against an involuntary, catastrophic slide into original participation in the event of an abrupt global climate change. Unfortunately, some cultures, by accident or design, invalidate participation to such an extent that both the sense and awareness of participation are practically lost to adults. Then alienation is high and dread (existential tension between knowledge known and knowledge felt) threatens to overwhelm one’s sense of being. Attempts to avoid dread, while still denying participation, lead to virulent, self-destructive forms of maya (see Narada's story for a definition of maya) and an accelerated movement toward a post-human world with increasing vulnerability to abrupt global climate change.

References:

Barfield, O. (1988) Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Calvin, William H. (1991) The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence, New York: Bantam Books.

Gazzaniga, Michael S. The Mind's Past

Griffin, David Ray and Richard Falk (1993), Postmodern Politics for a Planet in Crisis, Albany, NY: State University of New York.

Hayles, Katherine (1999) How We Became Posthuman, Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, The University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Levi-Strauss, Claude (1966) The Savage Mind, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, Translated by George Weidenfeld, 1966

Levy-Bruhl, Lucien (1926) How Natives Think

May, Rollo (1969) Love and Will, NY: W.W. Norton

Paglia, Camille (1996) Sexual Personae,

Shore, Bradd (1996), Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning,New York: Oxford University Press.

Stanley, S.M. (1996) Children of the Ice Age: How a Global Catastrophe Allowed Humans to Evolve, New York: W.H. Freeman.