Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/28/2010

“Man. . . who alone has given to the world its objective existence”

. . . the profoundest night of non-being down to its unknown end. . .

. . . the profoundest night of non-being down to its unknown end. . .

When I try to put thoughts such as mine this morning into words, I am convinced that in those writing moments I’m either a teenager thinking about “the meaning of life” or an adult whose mind is so fragmented (or confused by a former life of too much vodka and other harmful substances) that I shouldn’t be wandering about in public, much less putting my writing in a place where anyone can read it. That can’t be helped. This is what my brain (the one I have so little control over) wanted to write about this morning. Far be it from me to try to stop it.

My Self. What an odd concept. Am I but a “principle of organization?”

In order to define the self in terms of being, it is necessary to distinguish between those definitions of the self that refer to the phenomenal world of matter and psyche and those that refer only to conceptual abstractions such as the self as a ‘principle of organization’ (1).

In order to define the self in terms of “being,” one would have first to accept (believe, understand) that being is. I’m not sure being is. (Bill Clinton’s questioning what “is” is never seemed to me to be preposterous, but the basic question.)

Yesterday as part of an long and bizarre ramble which made little sense even to me, so I didn’t post it, I wrote the following:

An account beginning with my first experience of “counseling” or “therapy” (with the university chaplain when I was nineteen):

We talked about a great many subjects besides my being gay, which he dealt with summarily—if I could get my emotional house in order that would go away (remember, this was the mid-‘60s).

Getting my emotional house in order meant first dealing with my odd belief that I could—although I had never proven this to myself—walk through walls. An idea based on the certainty my mind and body were, a good portion of the time, separated. My mind was “here” but it was not constrained by my body and could (did) drift off and climb walls and float around looking at the world from many different angles at once (or not at all).

Fifteen years later, neurologists at Beth Israel Hospital (Harvard Medical School), through a series of what some would call coincidences and others would call God’s providence, diagnosed these out-of-body (or in psychological parlance, “dissociative”) experiences as one of the presentations of my Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Thirty years later I don’t know what that’s all about except I have other symptoms indicating the diagnosis is correct. I won’t go into the medical stuff here except to say it’s strange and amorphous.

a series of what some would call coincidences

a series of what some would call coincidences

So a kid (the dissociative experiences began when I was in second  grade as nearly as I can remember) or a college gay boy—or anyone who had these experiences—would have some propensity to question what is real and what is not real. Clearly my mind never has actually left my body (Oh, Yes?), but I have felt as if it has and continue to feel it periodically although I take medications strong enough to kill a horse, and I know how to avoid most situations where sensory overload drives my mind right up the wall. Literally. I wonder if my mind is real. Or my body.

I complain, both to myself and to others, about the discomfort I feel when my mind floats off from my body. I have hated (perhaps “hate” is a word too strong or not accurate) the feeling since the first time I remember it, putting my head down on my second grade desk hoping it would go away, and being reprimanded by Mrs. Hall for sleeping and/or not paying attention and then turning into that wise-ass kid everyone dislikes because he answers all questions and gets everything right—mainly out of self defense—to prove to myself that my mind was part of who I was.

My questioning whether or not I, the discreet individual that I seem to be running around inside, exist leads directly to my questioning if anything is real (I assume that’s the progression of thought, but how would I know?).

In his article, Colman quotes Jung’s well-known (I should think) description of his experience seeing large herds of wild animals in Kenya

. . . the world as it had always been, in the state of non-being; for until then no one had been present to know that it was this world. . . .Now I knew . . . that man is indispensable for the completion of creation; that, in fact, he himself is the second creator of the world, who alone has given to the world its objective existence – without which, unheard, unseen, silently eating, giving birth, dying, heads nodding through the millions of years, it would have gone on in the profoundest night of non-being down to its unknown end (2).

What arrogance. Jung can have his epiphany looking at herds of wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus mearnsi), in Kenya, and I can have mine sitting here in a kitchen in Oakland on vacation.

I suppose saying I have an epiphany is a direct contradiction of my epiphany: neither the wildebeest nor Carl Jung ever exist(ed).

Coleman (this is not a report on his essay—it’s what I’m currently reading) says other writers “point us in the direction of recognizing that the self is not purely a psychic phenomenon but a psychosomatic unity.” This understanding comes, he says, from writers such as John Searle (Philosophy Department, UC Berkeley) who posits that

From the very start, from our earliest experiences of perceiving and action, the body is central to our consciousness. My conscious experience of my own body as an object in space and time, an experience that is in fact constructed in my brain, is the basic element that runs though all of our conscious experiences (3).

OK. So other contemporary philosophers think John Searle has a handle on the mind/body problem, the question of what makes us conscious beings (read the reviews on Consciousness lies in our physical brain. My own body as an object in space and time.

. . . the world as it had always been, in the state of non-being. . .

. . . the world as it had always been, in the state of non-being. . .

Perhaps it takes someone like me with physical brain synapses that don’t work the way most people’s brains work to ask the even more basic question: Quite apart from your consciousness, how do you know you even exist? Leave the brain out of it. Being a “conscious” being is one level up from the basic question of being a being. Even Plato doesn’t answer that one.

Or I’m weird enough not ever (EVER!) to be taken seriously.
(1) Colman, Warren. “On being, knowing and having a self.” Journal of Analytical Psychology 53.3 (2008): 351-366.
(2) Jung, Carl. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Trans. Richard and Clara Winston. Glasgow: Fountain Books, 1977. Quoted in Colman.
(3) Searle, John. The Mystery of Consciousness. London: Granta Books, 1997. Quoted in Coleman


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