Thursday, October 23, 2008


Every living system is generated, grows to maturity, ages and dies. We humans are apparently no different. But as soon as one says that, something within us says, ‘wait a minute’ and we pause to reflect. We are similar to a tree that sprouts, grows, turns gnarled, withers, falls and rots; but we are clearly different from it only because we appear to have the ability to reflect upon this banal biography. We appear to ourselves different, too, from the animals that move around the world, scurrying, crawling, climbing, running around their habitat in an instinct-impelled daily busyness, the object of which is to maintain their own existence and that of their offspring. We appear to be different from them because we are not so comprehensively programmed to do what we do: we think we have to the ‘freedom’ to choose our own existence. How far this is a delusion is an interesting question. We are not like the trees in that we thrive on the society of our fellows. We are not like the animals in that we have a point of view that we call our ‘person’ that is endowed with the ability to entertain abstract thoughts about experience, thoughts that we express in symbolic languages of various types.
In growing to personhood, in ‘becoming what we are’, rather than in acting out what our genes compel us to be, we consider that there is more to us than the chunk of matter that is our body. We are convinced that we are really and truly what we invent, what we discover, what we create that is entirely new and not just the enactment of a mechanical routine. We believe that what issues from the unique set of circumstances that combine to form our unique point of view is ours and ours alone, though it may ultimately be of benefit to the whole of mankind. This being the case, we are convinced that there is something essential in us that cannot be captured by the description of those physical characteristics that we share with all the members of our species and in certain cases with the members of other species, also. Thus there is little point as we grow to personhood in striving to define ourselves by reference to either all or to any part of our physique. The brain, be it human or non-human brain, is a very sophisticated machine, tinkered together by countless generations of adapting to circumstances, countless creative leaps in strategies for living. The brain is a programmable device that permits the most staggering range of behaviour. Some of the most amazing brains are not human. One only has to watch a wildlife programme to be convinced of this fact. But in our case, the brain is not us; or at least it is impossible to get at the essence of what we are by means of a description of our grey matter. We are by a whole dimension different from even the most gifted of animals; and this dimension puts us in a quite different league from them. Even if we were to understand in the minutest detail of their brain chemistry how the animals perform their amazing feats, this would not help us to understand ourselves. The reason for this is that the brain does not control us: we control it – at least in those areas of our consciousness in which we create radically new interpretations of our own experience. In discovering new angles on our experience, we rise above the level of creatures whose daily lives are governed by obeying what their brains command them to do. We for our part, if we have become conscious of our non-functionaity - our 'uselessness' in nature's terms - ‘play’ the brain as a virtuoso his Stradivarius. The playing is for most of our lives so self-evident to us that we do not realise that we are doing it. It seems to be self-evident in this sense for the animals. But in order to understand ourselves, in order to grow to personhood and gain our independence from the tyranny of our brain, we have to unlearn this instinctive virtuosity. We have to learn a different sort of unique, creative and non-functional play. We have to get beyond the brain and reach the level of conscious awareness at which we apprehend our pattern and our connectedness within the implicate order, rather than the explicate order, of the world. The implicate order is that order of the world that is not available to direct sensory examination but that includes the mind and all mindlike entities. This development beyond the brain may be accompanied by a loss of that supremely competent functionality that we may share with the animals. What we gain, however, is nothing less than a mode of being that begins to transcend the mode of existence that is entirely governed by the biographic archetype of a particular species - in our sense that of the human.
To grow to personhood is in a sense to get beyond any imprisonment in those cycles of nature that are detectable by the methods of natural science. It may not be equivalent to the apprehension of that World of Forms that Plato presented as the ultimate goal of the individual mind; but Plato’s images are not bad as instructive myths. They express in pregnant form the nature of the trajectory that takes the individual consciousness from brain-bound functionality to unique, post-human personhood.

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