One of the deeply peculiar things about being human at this particular point in history is our tendency to ally ourselves with split consciousness or self awareness, deeply identifying with an identity at a single level.  We exhibit little desire to shift scales by assigning identity to levels beneath or beyond that of our body.

From a Hegelian point of view, we’ve emerged from a present tense consciousness characterized by no self awareness.  We used to be locked into a single time and single place, with no ability to intuit something’s opposite.  Before language, we lived in primary process.  This is the consciousness of animals, very small children, the unconscious, the severely autistic and hypnotic trance.

Acquiring split consciousness, we obsess on our peculiar station in existence, featuring existential isolation and an ability to view everything as separate.  We not only focus on our own self interest, but we do so in a step-by-step, focused, goal-oriented fashion that often fails to notice the direct, indirect or larger repercussions of our behavior.

That ability to obsess is integral to being human.  I’ve proposed that we sexually selected each other in the context of choosing the best dancers as copulation partners, growing bigger brains because a dance aesthetic requires a massive number of synapses.  In the process, those best at being obsessed made more babies.  A Fisherian runaway sexual selection encourages obsession, with one sex obsessed with display and the other sex obsessed with evaluating display.  Obsession became integral to who we were.

When our minds split and we emerged from primary process, we stayed obsessed.  Instead of obsessing over how exactly to leverage art into procreation opportunities, we instead obsess over how exactly to leverage anything we do, say or imagine into a procreation opportunity.  This obsession is often diverted into profession, hobby, recreation or even relaxation activities, with each of us engaged in behaviors that will draw us positive attention and respect.  At the foundation of these behaviors is our deep desire for physical union.  (See Geoffrey Miller’s Spent.)

So, we evolved in a manner that reinforced obsession, blossoming into self awareness, still obsessed.  The Hegelian synthesis to this primary process thesis, split consciousness antithesis, is an obsessed or deeply focused state of consciousness that provides an experience of primary process and split consciousness both at once.

One of the genuinely peculiar things about being a human is our connection to primary process that features symbol with associations displayed in places like dreams while at the same time we can line up a series of sounds that behave as signs associated with meanings that when displayed in a row over time collect more than one context so that together they compel imagination or an ability to be two or more places and times at once.

We maintain two very different awareness systems.  Primary process, the language of the unconscious, allows us to be in the present, with no multiplace perspective.  Split consciousness allows us perspective, multiple experiences, with little ability to be present.  Being human, we tend to obsess, regardless.

Back to Hegel.  Finding the synthesis requires some facility with both paradigms.  This is, of course, paradoxical insofar as one would think a person is either split or not split, not both at once.  There is a third way.  This involves being split while present to the split.

There are numerous paths that offer specific regimens that address this split.  What we’re doing here is a little different.  We’re defining the problem biologically as part of a hypothetical evolutionary dynamic.  We’re making believe religion or spirituality is biology, that consciousness is an evolutionary condition.

It was Gregory Bateson who described the human condition as an ability to focus on goals in a single-minded fashion, ignoring repercussions while achieving the goals.  What we are discussing here is blending together two separated consciousnesses, allowing the obsessed-with-goal portion of our nature to be embraced by the ancient, obsessed living-in-the-present portion of our nature, providing an ability to move through narrative time while sensitive to the relative nature of identity.

Achieving goals in the context of a larger whole.

Integral to this notion is not taking the split self so seriously.  What might be some techniques, rituals or games useful for learning to accompany our obsessed selves?


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This entry was posted on Monday, January 25th, 2010 at 8:35 am and is filed under 10-Unconscious, Biology, Society, Unconscious. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
3 Comments so far

  1. Elizabeth on January 25, 2010 10:24 pm

    the first question an improvisational actor may ask is, “what’s my motivation?”

    pretending to “be” someone else offers a break from everyday identity, even if the way one arrives at this break is by taking on the new “to do list” of a created character.

  2. S K on January 31, 2010 8:09 am

    some believe biology and environmental science are spirituality. engaging in authentic dialogue with people from different perspectives ideally gets you into their position. maybe more of that is needed…intentional dialogue. I don’t know if I have the imagination to get some of these other perspectives…

  3. Andrew on January 31, 2010 9:13 am

    Sarah Blaffer Hrdy describes the possibility that evolution occurred in no small part due to the naturally selected usefulness of teaching compassion in combination with theory of mind to the young, not just by the mother, but by several intimate adults, what she describes as “alloparents”.

    Authentic dialog might be defined by dialog engaged in, not only to share, but to acquire. If imagination is defined by an ability to assign the presence of content to where it does not exist, then perhaps all we’re talking about is seeking to grasp content where it is not presently clear.

    In other words, biologically and spiritually, it’s not about imagination, but compassion.

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