[percy-l] Re:Seminal events of consciousness
PARLINS at culver.org
Tue Dec 17 09:19:48 EST 2002
You said "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
Yes. This is precisely my point. However, I think we can still demonstrate
the nature of the thing. Take the following analogy: Light that is emitted
from a source can't be used to illuminate the source of the light. In the
same way, the words that we use can't be used to "illuminate" the "source"
of the words. The source exists independently of the words and furthermore
defies our attempts to render it in form. Again, I think poetry is the
finest example of this. Poets, even the good ones, or perhaps especially the
good ones, know that they are ultimately powerless to name. They know that
the things most in need of naming can't be rendered in form. That is the
tragic condition of the Poet. Poet's know they are trapped.
You also said "I have been trying to suggest that it is representation
itself (symbolization) that provides the added dimension of awareness."
Yes, exactly. It does provide the added dimension of awareness. I don't
think a FORMED or FORMULABLE awareness of the world is possible without
symbols. Helen Keller comes to mind. And, like Percy I think there is a
bootstrapping effect, i.e. the words provide a vessel for meaning, and
meaning fills the vessel (This image of a vessel works nicely, I think,
because Percy was also interested in how words can be "emptied out" or
"evacuated" or "cracked and leaking". If they can be emptied, WHAT is being
poured out?). My point is that there remain things that we want to say about
the world that no symbol fully comprehends. In this way, the mind is
ultimately intractable and unnamable.
You said, " 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
Hmmm. I dunno Jim. Percy couldn't really have converted to Judaism since he
already considered himself Jewish. He was Catholic, yes, but he understood
Catholicism, I think rightly, as the fulfillment of the Jewish drama, God's
story. In converting to Catholicism, he converted to the whole story.
"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."
You're close to my meaning, Jim, but your misunderstanding about what I mean
by "God" only serves to further illustrate my point, and I think Percy's
point. God is not limited in scope but infinite, and therefore ultimately
unnamable. (Similarly, Saussure ultimately considered meaning
"unrecoverable". Though, I wonder if he knew just how apt the word
"unrecoverable" was in relation to the Fall; he sensed that something had
been lost and needed recovering). So when we use the very word "God", we are
referring to that incomprehensible infinity, that unfathomable nexus of
being, thought, power, love, goodness, beauty, truth, justice, etc. This is
the realm of consciousness (which literally means "to know together") that I
am getting at. We know it. We try to name it. Our words ultimately fail.
Trying to name God is a slippery thing. What I meant by God was the
From: James Piat [mailto:piat1 at bellsouth.net]
Sent: Monday, December 16, 2002 7:07 PM
To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [percy-l] Re:Seminal events of consciousness
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.
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
> 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 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
> 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.
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