The Observation of Consciousness

Extracts from the Writings of Georg Kuhlewind

a. "The radical proposition that we can perceive only phenomena for which we have concepts or ideas -- or for which such concepts or ideas can be developed in the course of observation -- applies unconditionally to the observation of consciousness." p14
"The precondition for any empiricism of consciousness is that the observer stand on a higher level of consciousness than the object of observation; otherwise unreliable conclusions and speculations will inevitably flow into the observation. Observation must proceed from the level on which we experience the world as self-evident. Only then does the observing attention, which is directed to pre-conscious and conscious processes of cognition, become trustworthy."
"The first step in the process of observation is to distinguish between conscious cognition -- guided by questioning -- and the given image, which is the object of investigation and results from earlier, nonconscious cognition. ... Observation also reveals the superconscious nature of intuitive cognitive processes, experienced on the level of the present, as abilities or faculties. At the same time, we become aware of the impulses that stem from the soul's sphere of habit, the subconscious. This allows us to distinguish between intuitions and associations."
"It is equally important that we fully understand the difference between perception and mental representation. Because of its immediacy, perception appears to exist here and now. A mental picture or representation, on the other hand, appears more like a memory." p15
"The discontinuous structure of the conceptual world produces the structure of the perceptual world. Both structures are given by language. Language lifts the basic concepts out of what is directly given."
"The life span of the word in a human being leads from the given language (and the thinking bound to it), through abstract thinking independent of language, to meditative thinking, which is also independent of language. Meditative thinking seeks to understand words in their primal or original meaning and remain within that understanding, or even pass beyond it. In the process, a 'thinking' develops that is adequate to the ideas of natural phenomena." p16-17
"Every theory and every science begin with questions. Questions arise when we look at something twice because we were not satisfied with the first view of what we saw. That is, the existence of questions presumes two different glances, two separate views, the second of which is conscious and deliberate. These two different views necessarily originate in two different possibilities of the seeing consciousness, which can be at home on two different planes."
"The first view or picture of reality is given to us, and it is already a picture of that moment, not a reality, as is often supposed. Reality is the last secret and can be attained only through conscious questioning. The first picture (filtered through superconscious and subconscious structure) is dulled ... because of the necessary dependence of the cognizing principle in human beings on the physical organism. As a result, only a part of the totality of the world reaches conscious experience."
"Epistemology deals with the question of how this 'given' arises. The sciences deal with the question of how to complete, correct, and understand the given picture." p19
"When we begin to reflect on consciousness, we discover its processes, as well as their results -- we find thinking, perceiving, speaking, as well as concepts, percepts, words." p23
"This joy, which is kindled by (the discovery that the human faculties are given) ... is the soul's best starting point for a schooling of consciousness."
"The given precedes every question; it is the first image from which questions emerge or are kindled. The given is everything that appears in consciousness without any activity of thought or memory. ... we can call the given 'the appearance to the (inner and outer) senses". p24
"That particulars (things, for instance) appear as given is a consequence of preceding -- not present -- conceptual determinations, as a result of super-conscious, previous 'instruction of the senses' (whereby concepts become integrated in the senses ...). In other words, adults do not have to reflect anew each time they see an object they have seen before: they already see it conceptually."
"When one articulates a theory of knowledge (an epistemology), one must examine the origin and development of the adult's given image of the world and conceive the idea of the given quite radically. This means artificially removing -- in a thought experiment -- the concepts already contained in the given. Once we have removed all concepts, the connections between objects, 'things', separate details, and even the objects of sensation, disappear. Only an undifferentiated continuum ... remains ..."
"By means of this thought experiment, the boundary between the given and what is consciously cognized is drawn most deeply. The unstructured continuum given in this way is called the 'directly given'." p25-26
"The processes by which the given is given is superconscious."
"Since the 'first form' of reality enters consciousness already finished as we become aware of it, we can almost experience -- we may call it a 'boundary experience' -- that the processes that 'give' this reality occur superconsciously. ... we do not know how a perception comes about."
"Even thinking is to be found within the given, even though it is the activity in which we participate most consciously because we ourselves produce it. Thinking does not appear without our active participation. ... thinking is not only formally given, but how it proceeds, its lawfulness, is produced superconsciously. Its rules are not consciously formulated and they can never be exhaustively described. In this sense, thinking is superconsciously given." p26-27
"All these activities, including mental picturing (representation), are actually faculties for doing something without knowing how to do it. This ability enables us to initiate processes in consciousness, although we are not conscious of the processes but only of their results." "It is characteristic of contemporary adults that the connection between consciousness and its superconscious sources is interrupted by ... (a) gap ..." p28
"For instance, in an area where mechanical causality is the general explanatory principle, it makes no difference to speak of 'kindness' or 'friendship', or even of 'cognizing' and 'understanding'. As adults, the structure of the given we perceive is determined by the course of our lives up to the moment when we first begin to reflect upon the given -- that is, by our education, our upbringing, and our family. All these formative influences are based on our ability to speak and can be traced back to it. Hence a person's mother tongue is the basis for all subsequent structuring of the perceptual world." p51
"We have referred to the two separated levels of consciousness between which consciousness can oscillate, with the result that consciousness takes two looks at the given. The second look reveals that existing concepts do not suffice to make the given comprehensible. ... The transition to a questioning consciousness and to the questionableness of the given required a long process of development -- whose results appeared only recently, relatively late in human history, in the sciences, which are based on questions." p55
"To characterize archaic consciousness today we have to describe it alternately in its two aspects of perception and thinking because we now experience these two functions separately. But the essence of archaic consciousness is that these two functions are still united, and representational mental pictures are thus not subject to human whim. If 'thinking' is alive, colorful, warm, saturated with feeling, and pulsating, then 'perceiving' is transillumined within itself by the ideal or ideating 'thinking' that indwells it and not by any instruction; 'perceiving' then is already structuring everything out and reading everything together, including the beings of nature known in every tradition. If nature still speaks to human beings, its speaking must come from beings who are themselves I-beings or who represent I-beings -- if the latter have already withdrawn from their work." p67
"Historically, questions about consciousness only arise when the 'natural scientific' way of formulating questions ('what is it made of?' and 'how?') becomes so deeply rooted that a different style of questioning -- appropriate to problems of consciousness -- becomes possible. This predominance of one style of questioning also influences the concepts that are to penetrate natural phenomena. These new concepts have two distinctive features: first, they are contingent only upon a part, a partial aspect, of the given -- for example, the concepts of mechanics are contingent on the aspect of lifelessness. Second, the connecting principles or explanatory concepts are of the same type as the concepts they are intended to connect. Again, this is typical of mechanics; its explanatory principles do not read reality because the conceptual structure is no longer adequate to the perceptual picture. As a result, part of the perceptual picture remains nonconceptual and therefore not transparent to the understanding."
"The general application of the mechanistic style of thinking and the predominance of mechanical causality arise from the subconscious; they cannot be logically justified. Modern thinkers know of hardly any connections or causes except mechanical ones ... where qualities are reduced to entities without qualities, to particles and forces." p76-77
"... we cannot account satisfactorily for cognition and the cognizer if we do not focus our attention on the cognitive functions of consciousness themselves rather than on what is often taken for their mechanism." p82
"To overcome dualism consciously we have to do exercises of consciousness that neutralize it at its source by temporarily bridging the chasm that separates ... two ... planes of consciousness." p83
"When we have heightened the intensity of attention, we realize that this attention is identical with the picture it weaves. This leads to a monistic experience in pure perception. What is at work here is not human subjectivity; rather, it is the structuring, universal activity of wordlike attention -- received from language, trained through conceptual thinking, and heightened by a schooling of consciousness. The new structuring of the given and the lighting up of higher concepts are one and the same act of consciousness. In and by such conscious activity we realize the ideal of Goethe's contemplative perception. At the same time, we rediscover in full consciousness the concepts that organically structure the given. In this type of meditation, the 'text' and its elements remain ambiguous." p138
"What natural phenomena are 'saying' can be conveyed only in meditation sentences -- if at all. (there is a silence) present in the tones and sounds of nature. It consists of the gaps between tones, and these gaps offer us the room to contemplate the phenomena. This silence is a waiting, in infinite patience and through immeasurable ages of peace that preceded any possibility of measurement." p139
"If we do not elevate ourselves to the level of meditation, we will be blinded by the ideas of nature that exceed our comprehension. As these ideas are inaccessible to us, they implant themselves in our mind as perceptual sensations and make us believe that they contain a nonconceptual element. This nonconceptual element seems to affect our senses, but we could comprehend the ideal with our spirit. Our affected senses 'respond', give us a picture. We assume that there is a non-ideal 'reality-in-itself' behind this picture. However, in reality, these substitute concepts are merely mental pictures, impure 'half-concepts', and lead us to misunderstand the nature of ideas. We mistake ideas for abstractions from the nonconceptual, as though concepts were not already a precondition for abstraction: after all, we must select and decide what we are abstracting from." p139-140 Kühlewind 1986


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