CAN PHILOSOPHY MEET THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE TRANSFORMATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS?

by Steven M Rosen

I think it would be accurate to say that many of us are attending this symposium with the feeling that nothing less than a fundamental transformation of consciousness will be needed to meet the challenge now confronting our civilization and planet. When I say "transformation of consciousness", of course I mean a change that does not merely involve rearranging externals, but an inner change as well, a transmutation of who we are, of our individual and collective identities.

For today's plenary session, I have been asked to consider the role of philosoply in understanding consciousness. Responding pragmatically to this, I would like to pose the question of whether the philosophical way of knowing is equal to the task of transforming consciousness. First I need to explore the nature of the anticipated metamorphosis and try to bring into focus some key requirements for its occurrence. Let me begin by offering a succinct, highly condensed statement of what I believe the transformation in question will involve: COOPERATIVE PARTICIPATION IN AN ACT OF SELF-UNDERSTANDING.

 

1 THE TERMS OF TRANSFORMATION
1.1 Cooperative Participation

What do I mean by cooperative participation?

The nature of the expected change is such that it requires our action. No internal transformation can occur without an internal locus of action; inner change, change at the core, is not just something that happens to us, but something we must help to happen. But will the necessary action entail an act of will originating within the individual human ego?

Phenomenologist Martin Heidegger has said that "History is neither simply the object of written chronicle nor simply the fulfilment of human activity" (1977, p 24). I believe Heidegger's understanding of historical transformation lends itself to understanding the transformation of consciousness we are anticipating. To say that the change at hand is not simply an "object of chronicle", would be to say that it is not merely objective, not a sealed fate passively received by us from a source that lies outside us. But neither would it simply be "the fulfilment of human activity", i.e., simply subjective - meaning that it would not be the mere product of human design, not the arbitrary construct of particular human egos. Seen from the standpoint of the old consciousness, apparently it must be one or the other. We either are relegated to passively witnessing the objective working out of what was predestined for us by external powers, or our actions derive from the subjective will power of the circumscribed ego. By contrast, it seems the new consciousness requires CO-action, a cooperative participation that integrates objectivity and subjectivity.

I want to emphasise that, by "cooperative participation", I mean something more than what is usually meant. I am not merely referring to individual persons operating in concert, but to a more direct, transpersonal "cooperation". That is, I am proposing that we must act together in such a way that the action is not coming from each of us as separate beings, each making our separate contributions. The action must come from what is "between" us, from a concretely communal "us", a directly shared subjectivity that goes beyond our present sense of ourselves as being "in here behind our eyes", encased in these finite bodies, and therefore closed off from each other. In short, the source of the impending metamorphosis would be neither outside nor within us but between us.

Though such a process indeed would be thoroughly communal, rather than being one in which our individuality simply would be lost, participants actually would be more individuated. It is the paradox of individuation of which Jung so often spoke. In superseding the individuals we presently are for a communal identity, human individuality - no longer fettered by hidden dependencies - truly would come into its own. Said a little differently, the anticipated change in consciousness would not involve a transition from individuality to community, but from the splitting of individuality and community to their full fledged integration.

1.2 An Act of Understanding

Having located the source of the transformative action in the "between", let me now identify the kind of action that seems required of us: an act of understanding.

Ordinarily, our actions are divided from the understandings on which they are based. That is to say, first we arrive at an understanding of what we must do, a plan for how to proceed, then we go out into the world and implement the plan. The underlying assumption here is that our plan, our understanding of the method by which we are to achieve our goal, does not in itself bring about that achievement. It is only a plan, a mere potentiality for action which must be "made kinetic" afterwards, by independent means. Here action and understanding are divided in a fundamental way, the latter being taken as strictly passive, merely what is possible, with no "kinetic energy" of its own. This being the case, any understanding we may gain must be brought to fruition by forces that are external to it.

I submit that the impending change in consciousness will heal the split between action and understanding. It will not just transform our thoughts and actions, but transform the relationship between thinking and acting so as to fuse these hitherto separate spheres of functioning. Here we will be doing more than reaching new understandings, obtaining new knowledge which then would need to be "applied" in separate steps. And we will be doing more than just changing our behavior (donating more to the poor, feeding the hungry, conserving natural resources, and the like). The anticipated transmutation will involve a process akin to what physicist David Bohm (1980) called an "act of understanding". Bohm spoke of "active meaning": "Since meaning is active", he said, "the perception of a new meaning is the creation of a new active factor in reality. So to see a new meaning is actively to change the world" (in Rosen, 1993). Similarly, Heidegger foreshadowed a kind of meditative, whole-bodied thinking called gedanc, which is "not merely a receptive process but an active taking before us [...gedanc] seems to be neither completely receptive nor spontaneous [i.e., neither passive nor active alone]" (Speigelberg, 1982, p 402). A further intimation of the integration of action and understanding appears in the Zen writings of D T Suzuki:

When we say, "see into thy self-nature," the seeing is apt to be regarded as a mere [passive] perceiving, mere knowing, mere statically reflecting on self-nature [...] But as a matter of fact, the seeing is an act, a revolutionary deed on the part of the human understanding. (Suzuki, 1969, p 42)

Finally, I suggest that the same radical union of understanding and action underlies the strategy of depth psychotherapy. Here therapeutic goals are not primarily achieved by formulating plans and subsequently enacting them through a series of deliberately executed steps, but by direct and spontaneous insight. The client, in collaboration with the therapist, sees deeply into the source of his disturbance, deeply into herself, and this opening up of self actively transforms it. To facilitate this process, no action external to it has to be undertaken; nothing more need be 'done'.

I propose that our anticipated metamorphosis indeed could be regarded as a kind of 'depth psychotherapy', involving as it does a process of mind-body healing. But it would be important to recognise that, since the 'self' to be healed in the present case supersedes particular egoic selves, the 'psychotherapy' in question would not be limited to 'fixing people up' in isolation from each other, but would be inherently collective or communal.

1.3 Self-transformation

Let me now expand on the proposition that the transformation of the self we are considering would be a self-transformation. I suggest that the impending shift in consciousness will entail a turning around of consciousness upon itself. What has consciousness been doing until now? How has it been oriented, if not toward itself? It has been directed outward in forgetfulness of true self, this being the process by which an 'objective world' has been projected, in division from the 'subject in here'. Standing in as a surrogate for original self is this finite subject, and the way the game has come to be played, the subject induces whatever changes are necessary in its surroundings - manipulates and exploits its environment and other people - in order to maintain itself unchanged, preserve its fragile identity intact. The 'bottom line' then, has been an avoidance of self-transformation.

No longer would this be the case with the metamorphosis I believe is at hand. Consciousness would change its orientation, withdraw its projective splitting of subject and object, turn back toward its authentic self; in the process, the rigid grip of the change-denying substitute self would be eased. But this 'backward', retrograde movement actually would not merely bring us backward. For consciousness would not remember its unitive origin simply by reimmersing itself in what was, thereby erasing the division it had created during its phase of self-forgetfulness; rather than eliminating division in favor of original unity, divided and unitary consciousness would themselves become 'united'. Or, as Heidegger (1977) expressed it in the language of ancient Greece, the self-transformation would be such that lethe - consciousness split in self-forgetfulness - and a-letheia - unconcealment of original self - would thoroughly permeate one another and be identified. This would not occur as an Hegelian synthesis in which opposites merely dissolve in favor of a higher-order oneness, but, in the words of Jean Gebser, as a paradoxical synaireses, "an integrating act of completion 'encompassing all sides'" (1985, p 312) without subordinating or annulling any.

To reiterate the crux of what I am proposing, the transformation of consciousness that appears in the making must be a self-transformation involving our cooperative participation in an act of understanding.

II Can Philosophy Accomplish the Task of Transformation?

Having considered the requisites for metamorphosis, we may now return to the question of philosophy. Is the philosophical way of knowing conducive to meeting the requirements set forth?

I suggest that philosophy - at least in the form it has taken until now - has been neither cooperative, nor active, nor directed toward the self - not as I have defined these terms. Yes, there is a 'community of philosophers', but it is a community of isolated persons, often competing with each other, sometimes 'cooperating', but never co-acting in the directly transpersonal way I have intimated. The philosophical stance has been decidedly individualistic. And never in the past has philosophy engaged in an act of understanding in the sense I mean. That is to say, conventional philosophical activity has involved abstract understanding, and this has perpetuated the schism between cognition and concrete action. Finally, it should be clear that traditional philosophy, in its essence, is an objectifying activity, one directed away from the authentic 'subject', from original self.

In referring here to 'philosophical tradition', I am not so much raising the question of what philosophy says, but of its implcit, preconsciously determined manner of speaking. It posits, it postulates, it predicates. It says, "subject is ...", "identity is...", "Being or God or Self is ...". And in assuming this predicative posture, whatever philosophy attends to - be it a particular self or original cosmic self - is implicitly cast before it as an objectified other: a circumscribed thing, a finite entity that in fact has already been uprooted and distantiated from its original source.

It has been this way with philosophy from its inception (especially as manifested in the West). According to cultural anthropologist Jean Gebser (1985), Western philosophy arose just at the moment in history (some 2500 years ago) when human consciousness was shifting out of its concrete, mythic participation with original self (Gebser speaks here of the 'itself'), into the abstract mental/rational mode wherein self and other are split, self now becoming the narrowed-down, pale reflection of what it is in origin. I suggest that the essential role played by philosophy in fact has been to preserve original truth, but in a form which obscures it, precisely by obscuring the all-embracing, original self. As I have already indicated, the concealment is effected tacitly, in the implicit posture traditional philosophy assumes. In predicating, it directs itself outward, projects its glance away from the concrete Being that is its source, except when objectifying even that. Never has philosophy looked back into itself without objectifying that self, never has it caught sight of its own seeing process. The self-transformation that such a 'sight' would bring is out of the question for philosophy as we know it. (Let me say parenthetically that, had I the time, I would explore more deeply the critical question of the nature of original self. Are we to view it as 'infinite spirit', for example, or perhaps as 'infinite Body'?)

Now, I must point out that the concelament of original truth is no mere deviation, but part and parcel of that very truth. In the paradoxical words of Heidegger, "self-concealing, concealment, lethe, belongs to a-letheia (unconcealment or remembrance) not just as an addition, not as a shadow to light, but rather as the heart of aletheia" (1977, p 390). Perhaps we can say, then, that the path of objectification upon which philosophy has led us has been necessary, even desirable; it has created sharper understanding, a greater capacity for reflection and intellectual achievement, and in this way has helped us fulfill our human potential. Nevertheless, when we look around ourselves at present-day indications of the overlong, one-sided rule of intellect - at the pervasive effects of our profound alienation from our bodies, from each other, and from nature - we well may get the sense that we are nearing the end of philosophy's path, and that a transformation of consciousness is required to see us through.

Indeed, contemporary thinkers like Heidegger (1977) and Gebser (1985) have spoken explicitly of the task we face at what they call the 'end of philosophy'. I must try to be brief here, so I will limit myself to intimating the transition foreseen by Gebser, from philosophy to what he termed eteology. According to Gebser:

The age of systematic philosophy of an individual stamp is over. What is necessary today to turn the tide of our situation are not new philosophemes like the phenomenological, ontological, or existential, but eteologemes.

Eteology must replace philosophy just as philosophy once replaced the myths. (Gebser, 1985, p 309)

What is 'eteology'? In a footnote, Gebser explains that, "The Greek word eteos means 'true, real'; as an adverb, eteon means 'in accord with truth, truly, really' and comes from the root se:es, meaning 'to be'". (Gebser, 1985, p 312) According to Gebser, whereas philosophy essentially involves representation, a re-presenting of truth, eteology "allows origin to become transparent in the present" (Gebser, 1985, p 309; emphasis added). In other words, eteology involves an intuitively direct apprehension of original truth. This coming to immediate presence of the truth would make true self diaphanous, permit it to shine through the surrogate self that, until now, has kept it enshadowed; as a result, the one-sided rule of that narrowed-down self would come to a close. Clearly this would be no mere transformation of an objective other carried out so as to maintain the 'subjective self'; it would be a self-transformation. And since such a 'turning around' of consciousness upon its own source would not just abstractly re-present that source, not mediate that self as other, but grasp it in its immediacy, the 'turning' would amount to a concretely meditative act of understanding. To quote D T Suzuki again, such self-seeing would not be a mere passive knowing but an "act, a revolutionary deed on the part of [...] human understanding" (1969, p 42). Finally, it seems to me that when Gebser speaks of superseding systematic philosophy with its "individual stamp", of switching to eteology, which is "free of ego" (1985, p 309), he is speaking of a participatory, cooperative venture - in the strong, transpersonal sense of cooperation I noted earlier.

In conclusion, I am suggesting that we are poised on the threshold of a fundamental shift in consciousness, and that, to open ourselves to this transmutation in such a way that we effectively help to bring it about, we must overcome the rule of philosophical knowing and embrace an approach like 'eteology', one entailing our cooperative participation in an act of self-understanding.

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