I have studied consciousness extensively throughout my life. I studied neurophysiology at university as part of my degree in psychology, which was heavily based around cognitive psychology, and then again during my masters degree when I studied the question of wholeness as it relates to quantum physics, consciousness and our being in the world.
Consciousness is one of those tricky words which everyone knows the meaning of until it is time to define it, and then it all goes belly up. It still remains a mystery to most, and no sooner has someone developed a ‘theory of consciousness’ that many others come along to pick holes and find flaws.
The word consciousness is coming up more and more in many areas, such as conscious capitalism, conscious consumption, and this is great. In this sense, the word is very related to conscientiousness, and the desire to do good and find a deeper purpose to life than one which simply flatters and serves our egos.
If you look at how we work with consciousness in our book Holonomics, is is related to a journey into meaning. This is a monumentally difficult journey, since it requires a heroic effort to cross the threshold of liminality, a point in life where all our known concepts and understandings have broken down, but where new ways of seeing have not yet been constructed.
So while I mentioned that this notion of consciousness is now permeating our collective consciousness more and more, at the same time there are some related trends such as the explosion of gurudom and guruitis, which are the inevitable side-effect of a society which is moving away from traditional work patterns and into the dog-eat-dog competitive world of freelancing, where there is a continual need to differentiate oneself in the sharing economy. Ironic huh?
If we look, somewhat self-knowingly pretentiously, at the ontology of the guru, we can ask ourselves the question what exactly is the world view of the guru, and what are they really trying to say to us? I don’t know about you, but this for me is an extremely important question.
There are many gurus who in fact actually just want to be leaders with followers. And so their search is a search for followers, and in this search their claim is that they have unique access to the truth. This is different to the traditional role of the guru which was to facilitate the journey through the point of liminality into a deeper understanding of self and reality.
So what is my own path through all of this?
Well I am interested in the question of being, a philosophical question which I find no need to apologise for. And where I have found great words of wisdom is in the hermeneutical teachings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, and in the expression of Gadamer’s phenomenological hermeneutics by Henri Bortoft.
Gadamer’s great quest in life was to understand interpretation, and for Gadamer interpretation itself has a specific meaning which is not necessarily that of the common-sense meaning most of us use. We as human beings have interpretation deeply embedded into our very meaning, we are interpreting beings, and obviously a great part of this is the role language plays in our conception of reality.
We can create a continuum of theories of language, where on one extreme language is seen as constructing or giving meaning to reality, and at the other extreme reality is seen as something which humans are able to intuitively understand without any mediation at all of language.
Gadamer takes neither of these positions, rather seeing a dynamic relationship between language and reality, whereby language both has the ability to disclose reality to us, but also conceals it to us in limiting our understandings to certain contexts. This does not need to be a trap, since if we expand our level of consciousness we become more open to deeper experiences of reality, while not believing we have the final and ultimate explanation of truth.
As Bruce Wachterhauser says in Beyond Being, “language is an indispensable place where the intelligibility of the real makes itself manifest”.
This leads us to Gadamer’s conception of the unfinished meaning of a work of art, a text or performance (of any variety). Meaning is neither one of free interpretation open to any subjective whim, but neither is it dogmatically closed, or ultimately definable, reachable and defined only by an intellectual elite.
So ultimately, what can we conclude? Is our current global predicament that we find ourselves in one of consciousness, or is it really the fact that we are struggling to really connect with each other through a shared meaning? Is it the case that we struggle to understand the fullest meaning of our thoughts, words and actions? If this is the case, consciousness is the path and meaning is the real purpose.
10 Reasons You Should Read Gadamer’s Truth and Method