Rebalancing Inward and Outward in Personal Identity

The description of human intelligence as “being-in-the-world” is a way of expressing the existentialist observation that the being of intelligence is outside-in. On an extreme version of that, intelligence has no inside at all and has no choice but to construct an external mask or icon to represent itself. Trophy culture, for example, is a version of that. With trophy culture a person demonstrates or constructs a self-portrait by entering competitions and accumulating a record of results, which are trophies when things go well. On that view, you are what you own. Trophy culture has huge mainstream support. Everybody in the star system is committed to it, and evaluates the world from within it. On that ground, envy is the right-wing theory of everything.

Outside is Not Simple

No one is ever aware of nature or culture except as scanned, filtered, sampled, probed, and then imaginatively re-constituted, re-modeled, or re-mixed by their struggling intelligence in desperate flight. These are operations of subjectivity. It isn’t knowledge that fountains up from subjectivity but rather what might be called inspiration, questing. Action does result and skepticism does not apply.

A common concept of knowledge is one in which the consciousness is a receptive slate upon which, little by little, is stamped a representation of the non-personal world, nature. Knowledge consists of impressions, data, projections from the determinate, given, immutable objective nature leaving an imprint on the pristine receptivity of consciousness. “Knowledge” is a sort of property, an appropriation or incorporation of the external not-self.

“Man is the measure of all things” (Protagoras of Abdera, sophist) refers to the fact that anyone’s impression of the measurable world will be edited and evaluated in terms of that person’s location and sensitivities, as well as biases, projects, needs, wishes, and fears, acquired often from ambient culture. There are personal and cultural filters. There is no such thing as a pure disinterested blank slate, no ‘pure’ cognitive rationality. All consciousness weighs and measures the impediments and resistances which enclose and restrict its getting further.

Perception is not an isolated mental condition, but exists in intimate involvement with speculating on probable futures, imagining, negating, remembering, searching and selecting, feeling gratification or irritation, and striving to make some imagined possibility into reality. There is more to thinking than soaking up data and facts about the measurable world. Every individual’s innate mental process is a source of curiosity, orientation, and questioning. Each individual is a source of selective questions and structuring creativity in combination with a specific and limited capacity to sense and make sense of externally supplied data. That is part of the ‘desperate flight’ of intelligence.

The World We Project

The human body’s sense organs are no simple opening between intelligence and the ‘real’ contents of the world. You search for dandelions in your grass and you don’t see any, and don’t see any, and then you see one and then another and then lots that must have been there all along. A curve drawn on paper does not have to be perfectly round and regular or completely closed to be seen as a circle. An observer will ‘fix’ imperfections, and see an ideal circle. We ‘read’ that mark drawn on paper on the basis of the briefest possible encounter, the quickest impression, and read it as ‘meaning’ a perfect circle. Rather than merely opening to let the world in, a person invents and constructs a reading process to relate brief and fleeting sensations with more enduring mental models, patterns, dreams, and narratives which are simple, schematic, and ideal.

To some indefinite extent, see what we look for, we see ideas. The pieces of the world we live among, we’ve domesticated them, made cut-outs and icons, myth-pieces of them. We see the myth of the material object, democracy, socialism, Canadianism, liberalism, or the myth of the wisdom of the free market, the myth of money. Many of these are parts of language-borne narratives taught us by our closest community.

We have a sense of the wholeness of things, the whole world of Eternity, within which local objects and events are placed. That awareness comes with human consciousness and not from sensations of local objects and incidents. The wholeness of the world is not perceivable by the senses, but is known by the perceiving mind. We can be in Eternity by contemplating even relatively simple forms: the beach, the night sky, art. These simplicities enable us to touch something of, or allow an intuition of, an Eternity we ourselves bring to experience. It is an intuition of intelligent subjectivity which cannot be an object to itself.

Copyright © 2011 Sandy MacDonald. The moral right of the author is asserted.