the fact of consciousness

The source of emotion is the primary instincts.  Mankind is devoted to the aims of his drives.  Sex and aggression give rise to the multitude of conditions that man can construct.  The force of aggression is to disintegrate and the force of sex is to integrate.  Who we are, our lives, character and behaviors emanate from the interplay and discharge of our primary urges born out of biology as surely as a jungle is born out of ecology.

Beginning with 17th century philosophies of Galileo and Decartes and moving toward quantum physics and the Heisenburg principle, Gerald Edelman states that the observer is embedded in his scientific measurements.  It is not sufficient to leave the concept of the mind aside like the behaviorist have done and it is not sufficient to consider the laws of syntax added to behaviorism as the cognitivist do.  Although cognitive science has contributed much to the interdisciplinary concepts necessary to begin to understand the mind, we cannot put it aside because it does not lend itself to scientific study the way the natural sciences do.  Cognitivists are guided by syntax and semantic representation of symbols but the theory is not sufficiently grounded in biology to satisfy Edelman.  Humans are born with a linguistic capacity, as Chomsky would say.  Language acquisition is built into the thinking organism in the same way that sight or capacity to hear sound is built in.

The brain is a self-organizing system.  Edelman compares the brain to a jungle rather than to a computer.  “The chemical and electrical dynamics of the brain resemble the sound and light patterns and the movement and growth patterns of a jungle more than they do of an electrical company” (Edelman, p. 29).  No two patterns ever repeat, each element of consciousness is a new set of interacting sensations and synaptic connections, based on the fusion of drives.  The unconscious, always ready to help us to hide from the ugly sensations in life organizes itself below consciousness.  However the multitude of ways in which we are challenged poses for mankind an opportunity for aggression to release itself from the grips of internal biology.  Frustration/aggression once digested must find an outlet.  Loss and the anticipation of separation arouses biology toward an impulse to discharge.  This experience of sensation gathers a life of its own and becomes a quantity of energy seeking discharge.

The fact of consciousness has always posed curious questions for scientist and average man alike.  Newtonian physics did much to compartmentalize the particles from the waves and drew mechanistic conclusions about the world and the nature of man.  Since the dawn of civilized man we have been grappling with the question of consciousness.   Philosophers like Marx, Darwin, Copernicus and Freud have each in their own way contributed to the “disturb” of the world by removing first, man, from the center of existence than removing God so that modern man is left with very little guiding consciousness. What was once taken for granted is now the subject and the unquestionable soul of science.  Our relationship to Nature and to each other has become almost exclusively utilitarian.  We are temporary creatures on a planet hurling through space and time rapidly toward extinction and annihilation.  Technology further widens the gap to the point that humans in a new Matrix are portrayed as nothing more than batteries charging a questionable cyber existence.  The irrefutable fact of death is no longer attributable to man’s life alone, but the entire universe is displaced as also having no permanence and no meaning.  Bertrand Russell wrote at the beginning of the last century “that man is the product of causes which had no provision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve the individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruin…”(Russell, 1957, p. 45).  So, what is consciousness?

Psychoanalysis and Quantum Physics take up the gauntlet and probe deep into unconscious, sub-atomic regions where things are questionable, facts are ethereal, and questions are asked against a backdrop of futility and against a framework of unconscious id like darkness.  Are we accountable for anything, living as we do in so impotent a world?  What kind of by product are we and can the subjective become as valid a subject of inquiry as are dreams and things? A new kind of uncertainty has gripped modern science and a new psychoanalysis must meet its challenging questions?

With quantum matter having no separate identities can the unconscious as a non-place shed light on human behavior, thinking and feeling?  As students of psychoanalysis we hope so. If by displacing Newtonian thought we have made room for the fact that we have no facts, and things are not things in and of themselves without a relationship to everything else, then the unconscious is as elusive as the rest of matter and a valid subject of science.

Determining that something is real in the quantum world has to do with following quanta as it jumps from one axis or orbit to another.  Each electron is a miniature universe with a center and planet like particles and waves moving in concentric circle around it.  Nothing is separate from anything else and it seems random that these wave/particles begin to occupy a construction that we recognize as a thing.   In quantum physics there is a term called “virtual transition” that describes the behavior of a particle as it becomes ready to become something else or as it prepares to revolve in another orbit.  I am interested in this virtual reality as a way of talking about feelings and thoughts.  In quantum physics unconscious is as plausible as conscious neither having a more permanent quality than the other.  Human dynamics can be understood or reviewed through this concept of virtual transition.  Thoughts and relationships being waves of energy manifested as consciousness, as surely as other waves and particles can be manifested as tables or chairs.  The wave/particle duality of quantum physics is the same condition as that of consciousness to the body.  Danah Zohar in her book, The Quantum Self:  human nature and consciousness defined by the new physics, suggests that consciousness is a relationship where the physical side of life originates in the particle side of the duality and the mental side of life exists as wave.  “In this way, human being is a microcosm of cosmic being.  We are in our essential make up, composed of the same stuff and held together by the same dynamics as those which account for everything in the universe” (Zohar, 1992).  In this model, consciousness is no different in kind from any other life form, but is different only in degree and complexity. (Zohar, p. 104).

As this paper is leading to the study of a psychosomatic condition in a patient that I have known for some years, the backdrop for the study includes the possible role that subconsciousness may have on a physical condition.  Can thoughts and feelings alter biology and cause, say, colitis or dermatise?  Can the application of psychoanalysis have an impact on a physical condition that has a relationship with thoughts and stress?  It must be remembered here that in quantum theory the observer is not a separate entity from the observed–mind and matter are not separate.  In order to study my patient’s symptoms, I need to be present and the very fact of my presence will alter the occasion that I am studying.  It is a well-known fact in quantum theory that the act of measuring has an impact on what is being studied.  We need to begin by agreeing that a tree did fall in the forest before we can inquire if the fall indeed made any noise.

In physics this interdependent construct is call contextualism.  This principle holds that the observer participates in the construction of reality, and indeed man’s observation and participation occur simultaneously.  Before I proceed with the actual analytic study of my psychosomatic patient I would like to spend some time and thought on the nature of consciousness.

Observations are made with consciousness.  In earlier days man’s soul was thought to exist outside of the body.  From the religious traditions of the last two thousand years we get the idea that man was made in the image of God and everything else was just a fringe benefit based on God’s generosity. Also in line with this tradition we are asked to consider chemistry and biology and physics as objective areas of study, but consciousness was relegated to the trash bin along with the discarded notion of soul because neither fit within the constructs of science.  But, if an electron can make a quantum leap what stops consciousness from being quanta?  When I had nothing in common with monkeys, or rabbits or dirt and clay, it was easy for me to hold myself apart from what was being studied; but now in the quantum world “consciousness” has as much legal rights to be studied as do other “things.”

Right now as I sit down to study the mechanisms of a psychosomatic patient, I am crucially aware that his consciousness has similar texture and color to my consciousness and your consciousness and, indeed, everybody’s consciousness.  I am pretty sure that I know something about him if from no other observation than we share humanness.  But beyond this evidence which is pretty much irrefutable there lies the consciousness of ants and seaweed, and mosquitoes.  Anyone who has spent any time battling with a mosquito in the darkness knows that the mosquito has some “consciousness” mechanism which it uses to stay alive and outside of the reach of our slap happy hands looking to annihilate it.  It knows enough to attempt to survive in the face of a human’s frantic attack on its life.  It behaves as if it knows what it is doing.  It’s action are seemingly purposeful, or for our purposes–conscious.  Electrons have that same property.  They behave purposefully and engage in various relationships with other electrons to form material things.

Actually, if we go back in time to the writings of the American scholar, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his views on pantheism it would not be hard for us to imagine some continuity between all living material.  In the children’s movie, Harry Potter, the young wizards struggle with a patch of vegetables which argue profusely about being pulled up from the ground in which they are planted.  Fact and fiction begin to blur as we attempt to draw the line at where or in what phylo system consciousness fails to appear.  At least everything on the food chain seems to “want” to live while at the same time a force to de-unify pulls it toward death.  Survival of specie is based loosely on the will to live, and on the idea that all things as we know them possess or are possessed by the same matter.  Everything we know is matter.

Consciousness is as biological a process as matter is.  The combination of new physics and new psychoanalysis give us a new point of view from which to observe and record the matter of thoughts and feelings. We must assume that there is a mind body connection and that it is not a far-fetched thought that one could influence the other in a myriad of ways.   In the past number of years countless authors have attempted to parallel the mind of man to that of a computer.  As interesting as this is, because there are so many things that a man can do that a computer can also do, Edleman (1992) suggests a more ecological view.  He draws the analogy that the human mind is more an eco system like a jungle than it is like a computer–by the way as many things as a computer can do it still does not know the difference between a cat and a dog.

We have been looking for the body/consciousness connection since the beginning of recorded time.  The soul was thought to live in the liver, the blood, the head, the heart, and it was presumed to be made up of particles that act very similarly to matter.  Joyce MacDougall wrote of theaters of the body and theaters of the mind.  Physicists talk of quanta; most modern day analysts would agree that the mind can only be studied by observing the behavior of the body as it renders itself in spoken words, or body language.

We must not let ourselves become restricted by mechanical, cognitivist behaviorism and the analogy of the computer only works so far as recognizing the multitude of connections that must be made in order for a concept to be produced.

Consciousness is about a multitude of connections being made at once.  The greenness of the leaves, the bark of the trunk, the plantedness in the ground, its need for water, for sun all these and more collaborate in producing a tree in my mind.  A picture is a cerebral symphony made up of the individual notes of the composition, yet much larger in scope than any individual note.  All of philosophy, physics and biology up until recent has been based on the fact that things are separate from each other.

Freud’s libidinal drive acts as the unifying agent in the mind as surely as death is a de-unifying agent.  Consciousness is living matter unified in a particular manner to cause us to experience sensations and feelings which are connected and held together by a concept or a thought.  The feeling-thought-word is a unification of existing matter in the body.  Lacan makes the point that the unconscious is structured like a language.  The material of the unconscious holds together like atoms of matter holding together.  It is the very being held together that is consciousness.  It is not produced by being held together, it is the actual being held together that gives It its quality of a living experience.

For a while it seemed that Chomsky’s idea of the deep and the surface structure of linguistics might act as a model for understanding the unconscious, or the repressed unconscious.  Eventually it became just one more mechanistic way of describing separate thing/thoughts.  As words with symbolic overtones were ‘dropped’ into the unconscious they resurfaced with buried material stuck to them.  Actually this notion of a word having the ability to attach to or cathect to an affect is right out of Freud and his theory of the repressed unconscious.  It was difficult to conceptualize consciousness as matter or as separate particles being attached to a non-matter thing.  We are continuing to ask questions like, “Can words be applied to the brain?” Is there a kind of word turbulence that can trigger neurotransmitters to fire, thereby having a direct effect on the chemistry of the organism?  Although these questions may seem more suited for neurobiology or linguistics, psychoanalysis and its evolution of verbal concept of “just sat everything” opens a similar door to the quantum question of a mind attempting to study itself.

For Chomsky, linguistics is a part of psychology.  “No discipline can concern itself in a productive way with the acquisition or utilization of a form of knowledge without being concerned with the nature of that system of knowledge” (Language and Responsibility, 1978, p.43).  I understand this to mean that in order to study the internal dynamics of a person one must first possess some knowledge of innate consciousness and its origin and function.

The “word” is constructed in the deep structure of the body, perhaps the unconscious; and the unconscious is structured like a language (Lacan, 1954, Chomsky, 1957).  We genetically inherit the part of language that is biology.  The science and study of consciousness is in part located in the study of language.  Lacan, a philosopher, psychoanalyst and linguist comments, “it is not a question of passing into consciousness (by some magical elevator) but a passage into the word” (Lacan, p. 103).  By exploring consciousness, we formulate a concept of man as a biological organism whose most sophisticated feature is his linguistic competence.

One does not speak from memory, but rather out of a system of rules and laws like those that conduct matter.  Again from Chomsky, the mental structure, the cognitive domain suggest that the mind like the body is a system that we could call mental organs (mental apparatus)…that is to say highly organized specific systems operating according to some genetic encoding that determines their function, their structure, and the process of their development.” (Noam Chomsky, Dialogues avec Mitsou Ronat, Paris, 1977.)

Consciousness is our greatest evolutionary development, like the accomplishment of civilization; consciousness is a functional adaptation of survival.  In “Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness” (1908), Freud wrote, “…generally speaking, our civilization is built up on the suppression of instinct.”  This languageless instinct-region of the brain is only languageless from the perspective of semantics and phonemes.  The unconscious from which all civilization is built is structured syntactically like a language.

Although brain research goes back several centuries it is only recently that we are beginning to dismantle the dualism of the mind/brain conundrum.  Consciousness and its implications took a back seat to biology.  The relationship between and among parts is only beginning to be understood.  From tissue and muscle to atoms and quarks and the infinitesimally smaller, we are discovering a flow or linkage within the organism that demands of us that we view all living matter as a process of energy and material and information.

In 1945 the term, “psychosomatic” was considered modern.  When a category of physical dysfunction was thought to have an unconscious meaning it was said to have a “body language” and was seen as accessible to psychoanalysis.  Fifty years later very few among us would argue the point that every human condition is psychosomatic.  “All affect (archaic discharge syndromes that replace voluntary actions) are carried out by motor or secretary means” (Fenichel, p. 237).  Likewise, Fenichel talks of the “disturbed chemistry” of the unsatisfied person.  Meadow says,   “When we deny our nature, the results are illness, sadism, and war” (Meadow, 2003, p. 23).  Freud stressed that all conditions would turn out to be organic in nature; and some day neuro biology and quantum physics together with linguistics and psychoanalysis will stumble against the elusive quark that connects fiber and hormone with squirts of aggression and libido.  For the modern analyst, the body speaks its pathology and treatment is that interface that becomes the rearrangement of neuronal energy–a sort of electroconvulsive therapy administered through the use of words to a synaptic origin where energy was previously blocked.

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4 comments on “the fact of consciousness

  1. Wow. This is your masterpiece. Have you thought of publishing this?

  2. Heisenberg's Eyes says:

    Consciousness is a quantity which has fascinated me for some time. So much so that I have sought out and consumed numerous opinions and ideas as to its nature. Daniel C. Dennett; Ken Wilber; Allan Combs; the list goes on.

    I have read and considered ideas propounded by physicists,connecting consciousness with laws governing inanimate matter, atomic structure and an expanding universe.

    There are also neuroscientists who believe that inasmuch as life and physiological process are part of a world which must obey certain laws of physics, consciousness must have its origins/foundations there.

    Now, few things are as simple as black and white. But there are physical facts (inertia, motion, friction, etc.) and there are metaphysical possibilities(apparitions, telekinesis,intuition.)It is at least possible that we are conscious—we think we are and by all accounts, we must be.

    Steven Pinker has said: “mind is what the brain does.” My suspicion is that consciousness is what the mind does. Classical notions of inertia, motion and friction have nothing to do with that. And, finally, if anyone ever explains how consciousness happens, it will not change the fact that it does.

    I called consciousness a quantity. But that is not precisely true. It is more of a property—and not one which can be easily measured. Not now. Maybe not ever. For better or worse, we have that need to quantify—to measure. That is what WE do.

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