Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What is Consciousness?


Again, it's a work in progress. As it takes shape, it goes through a variety of forms and, at times, in my mind, becomes something of a collage. In the beginning there was this amorphous, ever-expanding thing... notes notes scribble scribble ...given a shape of sorts, it becomes a composition, loose, a little chaotic, but a composition nonetheless--a "collage," a combination or collection. So it is we move from William Blake (last entry) in communication with Catherine, his wife, to a remarkable work by Akasha Gloria Hull titled Soul Talk: The New Spirituality of African American Women.

“Communication with the physically dead is very much a part of African and African American culture. In traditional African thought, for as many as four generations the dead continue to visit with family and friends who knew them when they were alive. They give advice, regulate behavior, and, most important, act as intermediaries between the world of God and the human realm...

“Lucille Clifton’s first word from her mother was Thelma’s announcement of her name. The calling of the departed one’s name helps to keep him or her ‘alive’ in the human world. When no one remembers the dead person by name, they then totally cross over into the spirit dimension, dropping out of the realm of time and the present into all-consuming timelessness.” (p. 59)

Later, in Hull's interview with Alice Walker the novelist says,

“All of it is natural. I mean, speaking to spirits, whoever is around you, whoever is inside you, it’s perfectly natural; there’s nothing supernatural about it... we’re here on the Earth, we’re on the planet. They’re here on the Earth, they’re on the planet. Nobody has ever gone anywhere. That’s why they’re still here.” (p. 81)

Alice Walker, in speaking of Celie, the main character from The Color Purple, says,

“...So I would lean toward my memory of her sound and try really hard but gently just to get any little sentence, any little word, any little expression, any little grunt. And for that –I mean, to get one of my stepgrandmother’s grunts in a clear way—is why I had to move from New York to California and go into the country, because I needed to be able to really hear it. I couldn’t hear it anywhere else, other than in real peace and silence... But after I could remember her saying, ‘Sho do,’ you know, I could make up, could say anything and it would sound like how she would say it. And at that point it would be so real that to me it would feel like she had just taken wing and that she was talking.” (p. 121)

* * *
It's a stretch, but I'm bouncing between Akasha Gloria Hull and Alberto Villoldo, medical anthropologist and author of Soul Retrieval, and reflecting on what it is they are saying and how that ties in with what I am hearing from my podiatrist father. I haven't yet put my cards on the table, but there's another kind of scribbling going on, poems.

And then there's the question of the nature of consciousness.

* * *

"If evolution is to work smoothly, consciousness in some shape must have been present at the very origin of things. Accordingly we find that the more clear-sighted evolutionary philosophers are beginning to posit it there. Each atom of the nebula, they suppose, must have had an aboriginal atom of consciousness linked with it; ...the mental atoms ...have fused into those larger consciousnesses which we know in ourselves and suppose to exist in our fellow-animals."

--William James, The Principles of Psychology, 1890.

* * *

"...the part of the world that is most recalcitrant to our understanding at the moment is consciousness itself. How could the electrochemical processes in the lump of gray matter that is our brain give rise to--or, even more mysteriously, be--the dazzling technicolor play of consciousness, with its transports of joy, its stabs of anguish and its stretches of mild contentment alternating with boredom? This has been called 'the most important problem in the biological sciences' and even 'the last frontier of science.' It engrosses the intellectual energies of a worldwide community of brain scientists, psychologists, philosophers, physicists, computer scientists and even, from time to time, the Dalai Lama."

--Jim Holt, Mind of a Rock ["Is everything consciousness?"], New York Times Magazine, Nov. 18, 2007.


hs said...

I love what Dr. Sward tells his son about - "Melancholia. Black Dog. Depression. Call it what you want. 14 million people a year got what you got," says my Russian-born podiatrist father.
Humorous, poignant, honest!

Robert said...

Thank you Hmm... and on the subject of consciousness, consciousness...

what is it? For you... what does it connect with? Mean? And, well, with melancholia, what happens then, how does that, m., how does that impact consciousness?

Robert said...

Hello, hs, you still there?

qwadro said...

I love what Dr. Sward tells his son about - "Melancholia. Black Dog. Depression. Call it what you want. 14 million people a year got what you got," says my Russian-born podiatrist father.
Humorous, poignant, honest!
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