Dr Eugene Stockton...
This two-part essay from Fr Eugene Stockton seeks to explore more deeply some ideas that were on the table in our series of video conversations recorded late last year [LINK]. All of us human beings "think" — we have minds and neurons and they are active. Few of us probably think about how we think. Is that surprising? Do any of the animal species think about how they think? In this extended essay Eugene seeks to depth some thoughts about how we think — how consciousness operates. ...Brian Coyne
Plumbing the Depths Of Consciousness, Part 1
by Fr Eugene Stockton
Following the first steps in exploring what I have called "Archetypal Theology" it is timely to widen the exploration into the other processes of the mind in deep consciousness. Exploration has meant analysis of one's own experience of consciousness and proposing it to another to see whether the results of their own self-exploration matches the original.
In The Deep Within consciousness was imaged as a well with successive layers of perception. At the surface is the consciousness which we use in everyday life and in which we hold discourse in areas as diverse as science, history, philosophy, politics, technology, commerce, industry, economics, etc.. Less often do we penetrate deeper layers of consciousness and less familiar are we with how it works and how we can use it.
(I use the term "deep consciousness", rather than "subconscious" or "unconscious", to underline that there is no discontinuity between the two, but one can pass readily from one to the other).
Without repeating the detailed critique of surface consciousness as found in The Deep Within, one might summarise it as follows.
The other is known by its external qualities (shape, colour etc.) through the five physical senses (sight, hearing, touch etc.), reconstructed in the brain, objectified in the mind as concepts (abstract universal ideas), expressed in words (spoken, written). Concepts are linked by the identification of subject and predicate (A is B) and can be further extended by syllogistic chains of reasoning (A is B, B is C, ∴[=therefore] A is C).
The inclusion of class A in class B gives rise to a hierarchical structure of knowledge, and so to a hierarchical world view. Information is linear in that it grows by the addition of successive "bits" of knowledge. Degree of difference ("how much") is quantified by number, allowing for unlimited differentiation. Thinking is highly analytic and discriminative. To the dualism of subject and object is added the dualism of true or false (whether the statement of fact corresponds to reality), good or bad, right or wrong and other sets or dryads of contradictory opposites. I call these dialectic attributes, in that one delineates, or sets the boundary of, the other. Thinking and discourse in this ordinary mode of consciousness is rational and objective. It represents knowledge about the other.
The "Playground" is the area of the arts, music, storytelling — the work of creative imagination. Here metaphor and other figures of comparison ("types") supply form to the formless feelings arising from deeper down in the consciousness and allow their endless juxtaposition in playful mode. Certain juxtapositions of types are seen to give new meaning to actual events, patterns of experience or life directions on the way to human intentionality. The types thus juggled in creative playfulness include metaphor, allegory, symbol, ikon, maxim, parable, myth — indeed the whole spectrum of figures covered by the Hebrew mashal or Greek parabole. Some types are casual and ad-hoc for the player's immediate purpose. Many, including biblical types, are cultural, varying from culture to culture. Some are universal, common to all humankind. With a suffix denoting superiority or anteriority, archetypes are powerful forms for feelings arising from primordial experience. Besides the visible and audible forms objectifying feelings there are also mental images or sounds which swirl around in the mind as one "plays with ideas" in seeking a solution to a problem.
A distinctive characteristic of the Playground, by contrast to the rational discourse of the surface, is the non-dualism it shares with deep consciousness. Since there is no statement of fact, which might or might not correspond with reality, there is no question of truth or falsity. Opposites are not contradictory but complementary. The True, the Good, the Beautiful, the One are not dialectic values (delineated by their opposites) but transcendental, merging as the positive goal of human intentionality.
Psychologists' terms "subconscious" or "unconscious" suggest discontinuity between ordinary conscious and what lies deeper within. Yet these depths are readily accessible in meditation and in the habitual deep awareness of certain people. This is the "heart" in biblical language (followed by patristic and spiritual writings), and it has its own internal senses, analogous to the physical senses, "the ears and eyes of the heart". The Chinese word Xin can be translated "heart-mind", so that to know with Xin means to know intuitively, with passion and commitment. The experience of the other gives rise to distinctive feelings with their own emotional tags. Some biologists, such as Charles Birch, propose that all things have a certain subjectivity or awareness of their environment, that is they behave not only as separate particles, but as waves interacting with their peers. So perhaps my hear-mind resonates with the subjective experience of the other and registers that internally as a feeling, which remains formless until given form in the Playground. Unlike the abstract objective concepts and their rational identification at the surface (A is B), deep consciousness recognises the patterns of things and the assimilation of like patterns (A feels like B, A suggests B). Such knowledge is not objective but subjective, intuitive, rational. One no longer knows about the other, but knows the other.
The experiences which give rise to feelings probably operate at successively deeper levels. At one end of the spectrum are trivial, passing experiences, at the other are deep primordial experiences, which in the Playground take the form of archetypes. Whereas Jung and his disciples posit the collective unconscious as the ground of such feelings, to me sufficient grounding can be found in the experiences of early childhood ("unremembered memories"), in possible ancestral experiences (as suggested by epigenetics) and even in the primitive drives of the limbic system.
In this kind of knowing the knower is felt to be engaged with the known. One's subjectivity resonates with the subjectivity sensed in the other. The knower can be likened to an amoeba which consumes a nutritious particle by encircling it with its pseudopodia, an embrace which makes it part of itself. The following stages of engagement were originally proposed for the engagement with God in prayer, but were seen applicable to other forms of engagement, such as eating and sexual intercourse, and are here applied to knowing (to the degree that subjectivity is sensed in the other).
Eugene Stockton. Submitted to Catholica 03 Apr 2014.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
Landmarks is an exploration of an Australian spirituality. Drawing on the cultural influences now in our land, it offers a graded, comprehensive presentation of gospel teachings, with an Australian diction and imagery. The reader may find in it fresh insights into traditional spiritual themes. Each theme is introduced in terms of an 'Australian setting', focusing on one particular aspect of the Australian experience. The body of each chapter analyses that experience, exploring the parallels with its biblical counterpart. The bible is used, not as a book about God or a store of normative texts, but as the story of a people, who are our spiritual ancestors. The attempt is made to insert ourselves into that story, with all its ups and downs, to identify our own experience in its unfolding, and through it to catch the vision of God which the past projects onto our present and future.