5. Does Consciousness Really Precede Form?

This is the fifth of nine articles that lay out guiding, foundational principles for this project:

Studying and observing the way physical life works, and yielding the mind’s fancies to evidence, provides a vital framework for human achievement and insight. The scientific method can indeed serve to ascertain ethical standards aligned with truth.

There may not actually be a perfect, Platonic Ideal of “family” floating in the ether. Rather, we can of course consider that biological instincts and survival are at the root of our drives to protect and love those closest to us (unless there has been a break in this drive to love and protect family caused by perversions and abuse).

The fact remains that most people experience familial love; it is a level of life that we exist in and experience as real.

Different kinds of love propel us to create, or at least respond to, works of art and beauty. Our appreciation and capacity to be moved by such things demonstrate that we engage with the level, the “life layer” of ideas, symbols and energy. (1)

Many people report that the most inspiring moments of love, awe, and beauty offer them quick glimpses into a more complete reality–again, the transcendent, where circumstantial loves melt into a unifying, cosmic Love.

One could argue that even our experiences of love and attraction to art and beauty remain but mere expressions of biological imperatives to survive and reproduce. That there is no level “up” from the materialist, physical survival layer of life.

A quick consideration may shed some light on this.

If humans are indeed only more complex animals, and brute force is everything,  then artists and shamans/priests would have been bred out of the populations by now.

One could say that artistic creations are ornaments to represent a fit mind, and thus gain access to sex–that all works of art are essentially mating calls. But art (which unlike crafts, serves no utility) is only really created by a small sub-set of the population.

Most people in a culture are the receivers of works of art. Most people in a given culture function as the audience to take in and psychically ingest the artworks.

This feedback loop of artist and audience serves as a primary way that a people understands themselves, tells stories about themselves, grow, find inspiration, learn, and indeed celebrate life (one role of the priest/shaman as well is “celebrant.”)

Every culture in every era also has religion. Yes, religion can be perverted to lead people astray, incite wars, and we may debate varying religions’ literal vs. figurative truths–but that is not at all the point of the present discussion.

The roles of the priests and shamans may be explained away as markers of primitive cultures’ beliefs that they had to appease gods to gain favor. While I’m certainly not arguing that wasn’t the case, it remains apparent that certain individuals still play that broader priest/shaman role in society today, though dressed up in different ways.

It is not too much to say that certain rock stars and other types of public figures have played the role of “shaman” in modern times. Such figures embody the role of celebrant and mediator between our regular, ordered lives and the more chaotic (yet creative and transformative) realm of dreams, symbols, inspirations, and raw energy.

Religion and art demonstrate that humans have a receptivity, a part of their being seemingly wired to reach for the transcendent, for something well beyond fight-or-flight survival.

In the video below, scientist Jill Bolte Taylor shares the story of her profound experience in having a stroke that temporarily halted the functions of her brain’s left hemisphere (the hemisphere known for controlling linear, logical thinking).

For a scientist who studies the brain, experiencing the loss of logic brought stunning insights.

The discussion in the video serves to demonstrate that both within and without, it is the symbiosis of apparent “opposites”–positive and negative charges, masculine and feminine, linear logic and web-like intuition–that creates life.

A person solely focusing on either logic or intuition, would be like a person attempting to walk only using one leg. Both are here for us in this life–use them!

(Direct YouTube Link)

To ground the considerations of abstract ideas for a moment and use a very commonplace example that cuts to the point of consciousness and form having a symbiotic relationship:

Most everyone has at some point concocted a sexual fantasy, prior to feeling any physical signs of arousal, at will, entirely in their mind. The physical body, clearly, begins to respond at some point as the mental fantasy creates changes in your physiology. You become aroused. Thus, thought preceded form.

Now consider: where was the thought of the sexual fantasy before you began thinking it? Sure, neurons and chemicals in your brain were re-arranged to create the physical responses of the sexual fantasy. But it all began with your will, it all began with something immaterial.

To use another example, this time to demonstrate that innate drives, instincts, and ideals necessarily carry out differing, but complementary, expressions, depending on circumstance:

When not impeded by perversions and misguided thinking, a drive for health and fitness ripples outward.

The ways you steward your own body and well-being, your self-love, morph into different expressions when applied to your spouse, children, wider community, nation, and natural environment…but those varying expressions all start from the same seed, the same primary urge.

All of these expressions are mutually supportive as well. For example, if my family and I participate in a park cleanup, the beauty of that park in turn inspires us to actively use it, supporting our health. Thus we see in this example a self-generating, upward spiral.

We also don’t necessarily have to wait until we ascertain all of the principles, until we get all of our theories worked out, to take action.

In fact, such a posture can render someone weak and impotent for their entire life. Action can beget principles, we can intuit principles through our actions (intuition is discussed more in the 8th foundational article). Action can helping us discover and articulate principles.

Arguing about whether consciousness precedes form or whether the physical produces consciousness, while interesting, remains but an exercise in the old “chicken and egg” metaphor.

Either way, the point here is that an order permeates life (2).

A more complete understanding shows that material is creating consciousness and consciousness is creating material simultaneously and constantly.

You exist as an instant conception and germination, ever renewing.

You are kept in a sweet tension between poles, flickering imperceptibly between potential and form. On a most basic level, cells die and renew in your body all of the time. You receive energy and build up as you inhale, and you release energy and cleanse as you exhale, all of the time.

Life-creating cycles meet in you again and again each moment…flowing through you, keeping you fastened in the constellation of body, mind, and spirit that you recognize as yourself.

You yourself are in turn an echo of how the cosmos work, an image of the fractal, nested in your level, your position in the Russian doll that is existence.

But we’re not entirely fixed in our position.

Humans are dynamic. We live, absorb information, and experience things on different levels of being. These are the sheaths of consciousness.

These layers we began to identify and define in the previous article: transcendent, psychic, physical. You find and act out these layers both “within” and “outside” of yourself. You are a little universe.

A true metaphysics, a complete science, helps us ride through the different levels, up through the rays of physical and mental life, back up to that metaphorical Sun itself, the transcendent, whole Source.

Perhaps we can glean a glimmer of that absolute Sun while we walk the Earth as its sons and daughters.

The rays of life’s light can continually circulate upward and downward within and around us, fully addressing, opening, and illuminating all levels of our being. This is the symbolic meaning of the straight spine in yoga and meditation, with the life force “kundalini” energy traveling its circuit around the body. We find a similar concept in Taosim, the “microcosmic orbit.”

When an aspect of this chain is broken or compromised, our life suffers, and we receive feedback to address it.

This is why, in the example that started the previous article, viewing human behavior at a bar or nightclub and simply concluding that all of the details of human life boil down to survival and reproduction, while not wrong in and of itself, is incomplete.

Incomplete, siloed off, overly-specialized ways of understanding and living life throw us off of our equilibrium, our balance, our orientation.

The next two foundational articles will bring these considerations into the challenging aspects of human identity, and from there, the means of navigating between individual and group interests.

This concludes the fifth of nine foundational articles for this project. The next article in this series is Layers of Identity.


Notes:

(1) For what it’s worth, in the concluding section of Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, he writes:

Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man’s nature is concerned there are other agencies more important… For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, etc. than through natural selection; though this latter agency may be safely attributed the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development the moral sense.

The above quote can be found in the context of the book here.

 

(2) Anyone who cites that nature is messy and violent as a demonstration that there is no inherent order to life would do well to consider the following. This documentary shows that the health of aspen trees in Yellowstone Park, USA, was affected by a whole chain of factors that had actually started with the removal of wolves. Once seen as a nuisance and danger, when the wolves were re-introduced into the ecosystem, balance was restored.

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