[percy-l] Re:Seminal events of consciousness

James Piat piat1 at bellsouth.net
Mon Dec 16 19:06:46 EST 2002

Dear Steve, Folks--

> 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."
Steve,  if I'm following you correctly you seem to be saying that we need to
know and agree upon what something is in order to talk about it.   Therefore
if we are talking about something that something must not only exist but we
must have some prior common knowledge of what it is we are talking about.

Moreover you seem to be also saying that since what you are talking about is
God it must follow that not only does God exist, and that we know God exists
but that we are all talking about God  -- else how could we be talking to

Of course I may have completely misunderstood your position and I apologize
for even suggesting it might be your position if that is the case.  But what
I mainly disagree with about the position that I have rightly or wrong
attributed to you (and again my apologies if I've wrongly done so) is that I
think the position underestimates the role of representation or
symbolozation in the process of knowing.  I think one can be aquainted with
events in two ways .  First one can have a merely reactive aquaintence.
Objects colliding without any consciousness of the fact that they have
collided would be an example of this sort of mechanical aquaintence.   We as
conscious observers  may know they have collided but the objects themselves
collided without any conscious knowledge of having done so on their part.
Likewise sometimes we humans have been observed to do things by others of
which we have no conscious knowledge of having done. Again,  I would call
this sort of unconscious reactive aquaintence with events mechanistic or non
representational.     OTOH, what I have been arguing is that conscious
knowledge can not occur without representation or symbolization.  That it is
the act of symbolization that makes full human consciousness possible.  In
particular the symbolozation of existence or context itself.  Granted the
world may exist apart from our collective consciousness of it (indeed I
believe probably does) but I don't think we can prove this and at a minimum
I think there is an enormous difference between our unconscious experiences
of events and our conscious experience of them.  True we breathe whether we
are aware of it or not  -- but still awareness adds a whole new dimension
(seemingly of choice and knowledge of good and evil).  I have been trying to
suggest that it is representation itself (symbolization) that provides the
added dimension of awareness.  That is what I think was partially meant by
the old testament Garden of Eden parable and what the Jews and of course
many others have been pondering the meaning of for over 4.000 years.  I
credit Percy with expressing this view in a very compelling way.  Had he
lived long enough I think he would have eventually come full circle and
converted to Judaism but that is another story with a very long radius.

Jim Piat

 and that this therefore demonstrates that if we are talking about something
that is ipso facto proof that what we are talking about exists and that we
know it exists.  You then go on to say (if I am understanding you) that we
since we are all talking with you we must all be talking about what you are
talking about or else how could we all be talking to one another.  And since
you are talking about is God we must all be talking about God.

> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> least I) are trying to describe. Nevertheless, something is there and we
> 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.
> it's God. Yahweh. The unnamable (Old testament). That which cannot be
> (I-Ching).
> 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.
> Cheers!
> Steve
> Thanks Karey,
> Another thought occurred to me at Mass this morning during the Nicene
> 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,
> "conceive" them like children. Concepts, names for things, are born in our
> minds; they are begotten, not made.
> Steve
>  -----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).
> ancients were on to very many truths that we have now forgotten or that
> Enlightenment has marginalized or that just don't fit in our paradigms-
> 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
> the nature of the world.
> Wade:
> >>>>>>>If someone loses his ability to speak or to write or read or even
> large
> portions of his experience drop out of thought, does he lose who he is?
> 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,
> 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
> and losing language is not losing self, or what it is that makes one
> 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,
> DO think he is saying that without the capacity for symbol-mongering, you
> not have "consciousness" in the way that other humans do.
> And to Steve and Jim's discussion on which came first, chicken or egg,
> partially below:
> >>>>>>Further, "worlds" are not created by symbols as if out of
> If that were true, that worlds or consciousnesses were merely the sum
> of our abstract representations, we could not think without words, which
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> the things we name, since we cannot know it directly. We must, instead,
> "sidle up to it" through symbolization (Message 264).   So for Percy,
> was not an event that happens so we can RELATE, but an event that happens
> 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
> Langer, insist that humans NEED to symbolize; in fact, it is THE basic
> need (Message 288-296). But is this need to symbolize the need to relate
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> But what IS occurring, now that we agree on what is NOT occurring?   At
> point, I had thought that symbol was a UNION of these two-the object and
> 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
> side.
> 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
> What anyone else things is happening in the human?
> Also Steve, I was wondering if you could clarify the "begotten not made"
> how that relates to the topic...
> Karey
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