[percy-l] Re:Seminal events of consciousness

Parlin, Steven PARLINS at culver.org
Mon Dec 16 15:01:48 EST 2002

Karey,  I think you misunderstand me on at least two counts: First, the word
consciousness; second the word knowing. I'll address "knowing" first because
it segues into my discussion of consciousness.  You said, "So for Percy,
symbol was not an event that happens so we can RELATE, but an event that
happens so we can KNOW."  But, I don't think this is entirely accurate. 

Know and relate: You make a mutually exclusive distinction here, but I don't
think these words are unrelated. 
For they are getting at the same thing. It's no coincidence that the words
"know" and "relate" are used interchangeably in some instances, particularly
in the scriptures. A fitting example for the season: Mary emphatically
questions, "How can this be when I have not known man."  She of course,
means that she hasn't had sexual relations with any men -the most corporeal
form of intersubjectivity of inter-knowing, of inter-relating. She did not
relate (sexually) with man. She did not know man, so she could not
"conceive". (Though, she did conceive the Word, because she knew God in a
very particular way). Knowing precedes "conceiving", or arriving at a
"concept". (See how I worked that back in:)). 

Percy was primarily interested in the role of symbols in "intersubjectivity"
-in other words, relating. The knowing can only be understood in the
relating. As I said in a previous email, "There could be no misunderstanding
[in our discussion] if the meaning of the word was, as you suggest, the word
itself.  We all have to agree on the meaning of a word in order for it to be
useful. Hence, meaning is independent of the representation of it. It can
only be achieved in the context of relationship." 

That concept is worth repeating: "meaning is independent of the
representation of it". I say it is worth repeating because I think we are
actually DEMONSTRATING this principle in this discussion. I'm fairly certain
that you are not fully understanding my point, and I don't think it's
completely the fault of my inability to write. You see, I think we are
mostly in agreement about what it is we are trying to get at here, even Jim
with his rocks, but the "thing" still keeps evading us, and has evaded the
most salient minds of our species, and I'm willing to wager will continue to
evade us. Yet we know its there. No words to capture it, but its there. 

The "thing" (which may very well be unnamable) that is at the center of our
discussion is something we are attempting to reveal to each other -relation.
We use words like awareness, consciousness, thought, sense, knowing, etc.
However, I don't think any of these words adequately name what it is we (at
least I) are trying to describe. Nevertheless, something is there and we are
trying to reveal it to each other. In other words, we KNOW, its there, we
SENSE its there, its our THOUGHT, our CONSCIOUSNESS, our AWARENESS. Its
there even though these words are insufficient to name it. The meaning
precedes, and is independent of, our attempts to represent it. Naturally...
it's God. Yahweh. The unnamable (Old testament). That which cannot be named.

I am still working this stuff out, and so I am certain that I have failed
again to make my point (not MY point really). 

Have to run. 


Thanks Karey, 

Another thought occurred to me at Mass this morning during the Nicene Creed.
Christ -THE word-was "begotten, not made". Maybe, since we are created in
his likeness, our words (and other symbols) work like this also. That is, we
"conceive" them like children. Concepts, names for things, are born in our
minds; they are begotten, not made. 

 -----Original Message-----
From: 	Karey L. Perkins [mailto:karey at charter.net] 
Sent:	Monday, December 16, 2002 1:50 PM
To:	percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject:	Re: [percy-l] Re:Seminal events of consciousness

I'm behind on reading and answering these e-mails-it's midterms for me and
Christmas is hectic-but I wanted to respond briefly if incompletely:
I'm not sure what either Marcus or Wade mean by the word Gnostic-could you
clarify?  If by Gnostic you mean "out there" or too "abstract" in all of
this relationship of language to the Bible and creed, I would disagree.  I
think the truths in the Bible are beyond what we normally perceive on the
surface:  i.e.: examine it more deeply and it has profound clues as to the
nature of man, the world, God, and life (Percy's radical anthroplogy).  The
ancients were on to very many truths that we have now forgotten or that the
Enlightenment has marginalized or that just don't fit in our paradigms- but
that doesn't mean they don't work or aren't true.  At the very least the
exploration of that can be an illumination into what the Biblical writers
were intending to say, whether or not you believe it is a material import to
the nature of the world.
>>>>>>>If someone loses his ability to speak or to write or read or even
portions of his experience drop out of thought, does he lose who he is?  If
he loses part of his language, does he lose part of himself?  What is it
we're all saying here?<<<<<<<<<
Percy said it was "symbol-mongering" that really defined the difference
between man and the animals:
"The truth is that man's capacity for symbol-mongering in general and
language in particular is.intimately part and parcel of his being human, of
his perceiving and knowing, of his very consciousness." (Message 29)
He also says later that art, etc. is symbol mongering, as Steve and others
have pointed out.  So language is just an example of this symbol mongering,
and losing language is not losing self, or what it is that makes one human.
Language is just the platform Percy used to study symbol mongering.
I think the real issue is, does losing "symbol-mongering" result in losing
"self" or a more human way of thinking, or a "soul" or whatever it is that
differentiates man from animal, or whatever it is Percy meant?  For Percy, I
DO think he is saying that without the capacity for symbol-mongering, you do
not have "consciousness" in the way that other humans do.
And to Steve and Jim's discussion on which came first, chicken or egg, cited
partially below:
>>>>>>Further, "worlds" are not created by symbols as if out of nothingness.
If that were true, that worlds or consciousnesses were merely the sum total
of our abstract representations, we could not think without words, which is
absurd. We do it all the time. (Steve)<<<<<<<<<<<
>>>>>>>Knowing and consciousness are not contingent upon whether our
thoughts can be represented. We frequently find ourselves in situations that
defy language or representation. But, its our relational need that compels
us to find and create symbolic form for our thoughts. We want to share our
thoughts. (Steve)<<<<<<<<<<<
>>>>>>>>The phrase didn't tell us something new; instead we recognize in it
what we knew but had not yet named ourselves. You can't name something
unless it exists. Thought exists before we name it. (Steve)<<<<<<<<<<<
>>>>>>>Our knowledge of a thing precedes our naming it; it is formless and
therefore uncommunicabe and unrelational. However, it's in the naming that
we give form to the formlessness of it, as God did when he spoke and
creation was.(Steve)<<<<<<<<<<<
>>>>>>>>In the same way, in our own Genesis, we create symbols not because
our consciousness is dependent upon it, but because we have a relational
need (perhaps even a relational need with our own self (Steve)<<<<<<<<<<<<
>>>>>>>I do not agree with your view below that thought precedes
representation.  That representation is perhaps just a vehicle for conveying
our thought to others.  On the contrary I think representation is the very
essence of thought.  It's what divides (triadic) thought from mere
(dyadic)mechanistic re-action.(JIM)<<<<<<<<

It seems from my reading Percy and Jim agree:  In fact, we can only "know"
the world, on a conscious level, through the naming/language act. If we
cannot name a thing, we cannot know it except as it relates to our
instinctual nature and physical survival (This is all over Percy's works,
but see especially Signposts 261, 274, 282).  And also, he says
symbolization is the "very condition of our knowing anything" (Signposts
132).  And, Percy says:  symbol is what enables us to know "being," to KNOW
the things we name, since we cannot know it directly. We must, instead,
"sidle up to it" through symbolization (Message 264).   So for Percy, symbol
was not an event that happens so we can RELATE, but an event that happens so
we can KNOW.  (Although later, the triadic theory becomes tetradic, and
Percy says that we must know within community-that we can only symbolize
and know if there is another person there-and at one point I think he
does offer that that can be talking to yourself, but I don't have the
reference to that right now.)

So relating IS very important.  But it seems that KNOWING comes first, and
also the need to know is first, before the relating need:  Percy and Susanne
Langer, insist that humans NEED to symbolize; in fact, it is THE basic human
need (Message 288-296). But is this need to symbolize the need to relate or
the need to know?  Percy says it is "ontological" not "biological"-
When I ask what is this strange flower, I am more satisfied to be given a
name, even though the name may mean nothing, than to be given a
classification. If I see a strange bird, ask my bird-watcher friend what it
is, and he tells me it is blue-gray gnatcatcher, I am obscurely
disappointed. I cannot help thinking he is telling me something ABOUT the
bird-that its color is blue-gray and that it catches gnats - and what I
really want to know is what it IS. He will tell me that I am only falling
victim to primitive word-magic.[but] there is another reason for my
satisfaction. It has to do with the new orientation which has come about as
the result of naming. The orientation is no longer biological; it is
ontological. (Signposts 133-134)
Ontological has to do with "being"-which could mean we understand (even
create?) the essence of that thing by naming.  Definitely, the essence of
the thing for YOU is created when you name, though it exists in the outer
environment.  But you know it only insofar as you perceive it through the
word.  So all of our knowledge of the external world is mediated by
symbol-by our "world" or paradigm.
As for me personally, I'm still trying to figure out this concept in many
different ways.  One of the things I'm trying to figure out, besides what
kind of need is being met, or which came first, the thought or symbol, is:
What's going on?  That is, what's going on inside the human, inside the
coupler, or inside the "Language Acquisition Device" for which Percy had
these final words in "Message in a Bottle":
"The apex of the triangle, the coupler, is a complete mystery. What it is,
an 'I,' a 'self,' or some neurophysiological correlate thereof, I could not
begin to say" (Message 327).
Does he solve it in later writings?  I don't know.  I'd be curious to see
what Ken Ketner had to say about what is going on in the "coupler" or the
"human" when symbols happen there.
>>>>>>>>>>Why must thought precede representation or vice versa  -- why
can't they be the same thing?  I'm not convinced poetic words are just the
vehicles of thought  -- I think they are the thought itself  (Jim) <<<<<<<<<
This is the big issue.  Of course, all of us Percyians agree, language is
not dyadic, it is not stimulus-response, and language is not two events
separated by space and time in the external world.  Those two events are
interacting inside the human, the coupler, and that's where language occurs.
But what IS occurring, now that we agree on what is NOT occurring?   At one
point, I had thought that symbol was a UNION of these two-the object and the
word.  Somehow, they become one.  Then I thought not quite that-but almost
(kind of like consubstantiation instead of transsubstantiation.)
Percy says that:
The use of symbol is a "pairing [as opposed to a succession], a laying of
symbol alongside thing" (Signposts 134) which imples two things, side by
But then he goes on to say:
It is "intentional relation of identity" (Signposts 134).  Which implies
they are one?  Or almost one?  inside the human.
Any thoughts or insights on:  What Percy thought was happening in the human?
What anyone else things is happening in the human?
Also Steve, I was wondering if you could clarify the "begotten not made" and
how that relates to the topic...


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