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Die Enge des Bewusstseins, ‘the narrowness of consciousness’

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

To invent, I have said, is to choose; but the word is perhaps not wholly exact. It makes one think of a purchaser before whom are displayed a large number of samples, and who examines them, one after the other, to make a choice. Here the samples would be so numerous that a whole lifetime would not suffice to examine them. This is not the actual state of things. The sterile combinations do not even present themselves to the mind of the inventor. – Henri Poincaré

As part of his response, Albert Einstein writes:

… It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play with the above-mentioned elements. But taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought — before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others.

…It seems to me that what you call full consciousness is a limit case which can never be fully accomplished. This seems to me connected with the fact called the narrowness of consciousness (Enge des Bewußtseins)*.

Here Poincaré and Einstein are discussing the nature of creativity and the particular issue of how our personal awareness both does and does not generate novelty. Like the debate over free will, I see this as largely about the hierarchical flow of subjectivity. The personal level of awareness, as noted by Freud and Jung among others, is sandwiched between what could be called a sub-personal or sub-conscious range (Id) and a super-personal or metaphenomenal range (Collective Unconscious). Jung picked up where Freud left off, seeing that Super-Ego was not necessarily just a facade of social pressures against which the Ego cowers, but a living, trans-personal terrain of archetypal influences. The Jungian view looked at this terrain as being tied up in his idea of synchronicity – meaningful coincidence which can be decoded through a language of cross-cultural metaphor. Joseph Campbell wrote and spoke extensively on this language (‘The Power of Myth, ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’, etc.).

What I have not seen is a physical theory which takes the synchronicity and myth seriously. When we do take it seriously, I think that it meshes perfectly with the implications of the Theory of Relativity, and with what Poincaré and Einstein are talking about with the narrowness of consciousness. All that needs to be done is to relocate the concept of literal inertial frames of reference with a more figurative notion of phenomenal inertial framing. The idea of levels of consciousness is probably one of the most ancient and enduring concepts in mysticism. Whether they are seen as levels which can only be attained through a proscribed path or as introspective potentials which we can all access by ourselves, the desire to partition human experience as a hierarchy seems to be irresistible. Irresistible, that is, until recently. Contemporary psychology has largely moved away from hierarchies and grand schemas, focusing instead (with debatable success) on more modular, pharmacologically addressable functions.

While I appreciate many of the hierarchical maps of consciousness, like those so diligently compiled by Ken Wilber, I suggest that we begin from scratch, with an eye toward simplicity and correlation with general systems. In addition, the foundation for this view should be sensory-motive rather than information-theoretic or material-energetic. By sensory-motive, I refer to what Einstein talks about above. While the effect of creativity is teleological and communicative, the process itself is driven by what he calls combinatory play:  ‘the essential feature in productive thought — before there is any connection with logical construction in words’.

Just as this sub-cognitive sensible engagement is overlooked in modern, computational theories of mind, so too is the possibility of microsensory  phenomena overlooked in modern physics. I see this not as an accident, but rather the same oversight on a different scale. The idea that our own sensations emerge from a different source than the sensations which are telegraphed from the source to instrument of detection to scientific observer is not necessary if we generalize Einstein’s ‘combinatory play’ to the outer-shell of all of physics.

The MSR hypothesis is called Eigenmorphism. It is that what separates our body from our sub-conscious experience, and our sub-conscious from our personal experience can be understood in terms of a psychophysically extended narrowness of consciousness. There aren’t any inertial frames which simply exist, but only those which can be inferred through the combination of sensed perspectives. Modes of description, whether in the aesthetic of substances, quantities, or qualities are all ultimately narrowed channels of fundamental sense-making, which must be absolutely primordial. The various forms and functions which can be measured publicly are comparable to what Einstein meant about what is logically motivated and communicable, but what the deeper participation cannot be seen as the object of sight. Light, as a the most pervasive version of sense, is not a thing or an energy, but a participation multiplier – a way of being simultaneously here, there, and not literally here or there. I project my narrow attention through a mind which is already narrowed by a hierarchy of sub-personal and super-personal filters, each of which are also narrowed from scales of sensory participation so vast and unfamiliar that I read them only by the mechanical, impersonal traces that they leave. The universe that we live in is not a solipsistic narrowing of consciousness, but a nested universality of aesthetics – a combinatory play.

*The narrowness of consciousness which Einstein mentions is from William James:

“The sum total of our impressions never enters into our experience, consciously so called, which runs through this sum total like a tiny rill through a flowery mead. Yet the physical impressions which do not count are there as much as those that do, and affect our sense-organs just as energetically. Why they fail to pierce the mind is a mystery which is only named and not explained when we invoke die Enge des Bewusstseins, the narrowness of consciousness’ as its grounds.”.

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