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Every atom in this body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago.— John Seed (1988, 36)
Everything is actually everything else, recycled.— anon
Body structure is always involved in some processes, else it disintegrates. It is a structure from process, for further process, and only so.— Gendlin (1998, I)
Ye are all created out of water, and unto dust shall ye return.— Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas ¶148
This ourth of years is not save brickdust and being humus the same roturns.[next]— Finnegans Wake, 18
We're all found of our anmal matter.With our alma mother nurture fondly nursing us to dearth. [next]— Finnegans Wake 294, footnote
Life as God and music and carbon and energy is a whirling nexus of growing, fusing, and dying beings. It is matter gone wild, capable of choosing its own direction in order to indefinitely forestall the inevitable moment of thermodynamic equilibrium— death. Life is also a question the universe poses to itself in the form of a human being.— Margulis and Sagan (1995, 55)
Where there are humans, you'll find flies and Buddhas.— Kobayashi Issa
Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf.— Annie Dillard (1974, 16)
The birth and death of the leaves are the rapid whirls of the eddy whose wider circles move slowly among the stars.[next]— Tagore, Stray Birds 92
Life is like an analogy.— anon
It takes a long time to learn that life is short.[next]— gnox
This inert sentence is my body, but my soul is alive, dancing in the sparks of your brain.[next]— Hofstadter (1985, 11)
At the scale of the human bodymind, all the buzzing business inside your brain serves the purpose of your understanding, and none of your neurons has any idea of that, even though they constitute it with their interaction. But what if all the human dialogue, including the crosstalk of the Internet and all the global media, is just the inner working of a global brain, working as a guidance system within the global body? What if the human collective, or Gaia perhaps, is doing the real meaning, even though we constitute it by interacting?
This may be an appealing idea, since we long to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to serve a higher purpose – this is part of our heritage as social animals. But we can at best imagine such ‘higher purpose’ – as we are now doing – within the limitations of a human organism. As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, ‘Things known are in the knower according to the mode of the knower’ (Swidler 1999, 9). Drawing upon the repertoire of human-scale experience, we might imagine Humanity or Gaia or God like a wise and nurturing parent – or we might imagine that this higher-level being cares about us no more than an anthill cares about the feelings of its ants.
Let imagination do its wild work, and let our humble dialogue probe and push the envelope of knowledge. [next]
In the human gut alone, there are usually around 100 trillion bacteria, while in one entire human being there are only about 10 trillion cells, counting all types.These bacterial cells are inside us but not of us in the way that the 10 trillion cells ‘in one human being’ are. However, all these lives share one basic tendency called homeostasis: they self-regulate to maintain a chemical balance within their bodies that is conducive to their well-being and flourishing. That tendency, much older than brains or nervous systems, is the core of whatever intelligence any life form has.— Antonio Damasio, The Strange Order of Things (2018), 53
Bacteria are very intelligent creatures; that is the only way of saying it, even if their intelligence is not being guided by a mind with feelings and intentions and a conscious point of view. They can sense the conditions of their environment and react in ways advantageous to the continuation of their lives. Those reactions include elaborate social behaviors. They can communicate among themselves – no words, it is true, but the molecules with which they signal speak volumes. The computations they perform permit them to assess their situation and, accordingly, afford to live independently or gather together if need be. There is no nervous system inside these single-celled organisms and no mind in the sense that we have. Yet they have varieties of perception, memory, communication, and social governance. The functional operations that support all this “intelligence without a brain or mind” rely on chemical and electrical networks of the sort nervous systems eventually came to possess, advance, and explore later in evolution.Bodyminds with brains carry on the ancient homeostatic tradition by monitoring the state of the body's interior, and representing that state in the form of feelings. Interoception is deeper than perception; our feelings about things and events around us are rooted in their relations to the state of the body, as represented to the mind by the images we call “feelings.”— Damasio 2018, 53-4
Feelings are the mental expressions of homeostasis, while homeostasis, acting under the cover of feeling, is the functional thread that links early life-forms to the extraordinary partnership of bodies and nervous systems. That partnership is responsible for the emergence of conscious, feeling minds that are, in turn, responsible for what is most distinctive about humanity: cultures and civilizations. Feelings are at the center of the book, but they draw their powers from homeostasis.Damasio's book proceeds to explain how feelings, ‘the most fundamental of mental states,’ give rise to subjectivity, consciousness, imagination, reasoning and cultural invention.— Damasio 2018, 6
When feelings, which describe the inner state of life now, are “placed” or even “located” within the current perspective of the whole organism, subjectivity emerges. And from there on, the events that surround us, the events in which we participate, and the memories we recall are given a novel possibility: they can actually matter to us; they can affect the course of our lives.So, by Damasio's account at least, gut feelings not only matter, they are the primal source of meaning for beings like us. [next]— Damasio 2018, 158
The form of the body, specifically ‘body architecture and basic functional brain wiring,’ represents the phylogenetic memory of the species (Llinás 2001, 181). ‘Notwithstanding the recent evidence of neurogenesis … in the mature primate brain … learning and memory constitute only very slight modifications of elements or modules within the functional architecture already determined by phylogeny, already present at birth’ (193). This provides the structure of the human Umwelt, which provides the groundwork of culture in all its varieties.
On Umwelt, Kalevi Kull (1998) says:
Umwelt is the semiotic world of organism. It includes all the meaningful aspects of the world for a particular organism. Thus, Umwelt is a term uniting all the semiotic processes of an organism into a whole. Indeed, the Umwelt-concept follows naturally due to the connectedness of individual semiotic processes within an organism, which means that any individual semiosis in which an organism is functioning as a subject is continuously connected to any other semiosis of the same organism. At the same time, the Umwelts of different organisms differ, which follows from the individuality and uniqueness of the history of every single organism. Umwelt is the closed world of organism. Functional (or epistemic) closure is an important and principal feature of organisms, and of semiotic systems. This has been described by Maturana and Varela (1980) through the notion of autopoiesis.[next]
You are an ocean of knowledge hidden in a dew drop, a world concealed in [a few feet] of body.… So man is in form a branch of the world, but in attribute the world's foundation.… Whatever appears within him is His reflection, like the moon in a stream.… The Prophet said, ‘He who knows himself knows his Lord.’Or as Dogen put it, ‘all the myriad phenomena in the entire universe are nothing other than this one mind, with everything included and interconnected.’ Uchiyama Roshi comments that ‘I always translate this one mind as life … In Buddhism, mind nature (essence) is never understood as psychological mind. Mind nature is undivided life as a whole, the whole world in which we are living’ (Okumura and Leighton 1997, 34, 182). C.S. Peirce also used the term ‘mind’ (and ‘thought’ as well) in a similar non-psychological sense. [next]— Rumi (Chittick 1983, 64-5)
We could say this of the whole biosphere, as suggested by John Palka in his blog post Is Earth Alive?, which reconsiders the “Gaia hypothesis” originally proposed by Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock. John Palka, “a neuroscientist who loves plants and ponders big questions,” quotes from a recent book by planetary scientist David Grinspoon:
Margulis and Lovelock proposed that the drama of life does not unfold on the stage of a dead Earth, but, that, rather, the stage itself is animated, part of a larger living entity, Gaia, composed of the biosphere together with the “nonliving” components that shape, respond to, and cycle through the biota of the Earth. Yes, life adapts to environmental change, shaping itself through natural selection. Yet life also pushes back and changes the environment, alters the planet. This is now as obvious as the air you are breathing, which has been oxygenated by life. So evolution is not a series of adaptations to inanimate events, but a system of feedback loops, an exchange. Life has not simply molded itself to the shifting contours of a dynamic Earth. Rather, life and Earth have shaped each other as they’ve coevolved.Palka's article gives several specific examples of life changing its environment on this planet. Grinspoon's book, Earth in Human Hands, is about the “Anthropocene epoch,” in which “the net activity of humans has become a powerful agent of geological change.” Here's another sample from it:
I think our fundamental Anthropocene dilemma is that we have achieved global impact but have no mechanisms for global self-control. So, to the (debatable) extent that we are like some kind of global organism, we are still a pretty clumsy one, crashing around with little situational awareness, operating on a scale larger than our perceptions or motor skills. However, we can also see our civilization, such as it is, becoming knitted together by trade, by satellite, by travel, and instantaneous communications, into some kind of new global whole—one that is as yet conflicted and incoherent, but which is arguably just beginning to perceive and act in its own self-interest.[next]— Grinspoon, David (2016-12-06). Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet's Future (Kindle Locations 158-163). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Dennett's example is a computer. The first stance is the one taken in physics: we use it for things that only move or change when external forces impinge on them. From this perspective, a computer is just a complicated hunk of plastic, metal and silicon that sits on the desk obeying the law of inertia and starts producing heat when powered up. The second stance is the one proper to biology (Mayr 1982, 51 ff.; Bateson 1979); Wilson (2002) calls it functionalism. We take this stance toward things that evidently have some function and were designed for that purpose, either consciously or by a ‘blind’ evolutionary process. The software i am now running is designed to translate my words into a digital format via keyboard input, and the monitor serves the purpose of keeping me informed about what the program is doing. This renders my interaction with the computer predictable in a far more economical manner than a physical stance could do. If i had to think about how all those microchips are arranged and activated, or even about the ‘machine code’ that does the grunt work of the program, i wouldn't be able to get any writing done.
Taking the third, intentional stance means ascribing to the system intentions (desires, hopes, fears, expectations, ..... ) of its own. This is our typical way of relating to one another, and to other organisms. We also slip into this mode when we say of the computer or program ‘It's looking for a resource file’ or ‘It checks my spelling automatically’ or ‘It can't handle that format.’ This makes sense, because (for instance) you probably have a better chance against a good chess-playing program if you take the intentional stance toward it than if you take the design stance; again, it's more economical, thus allowing you to anticipate its moves and keep up with the interaction in ‘real time.’ This is of course the stance proper to psychology, as the design and physical stances are proper to biology and physics respectively. But it is the nature of our interaction – our dialog with the other system – that makes a stance appropriate, not the inherent nature of the system. [next]
The question of whether Machines Can Think … is about as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim.[next]— Edsger W. Dijkstra (1984)
The soul appears to originate movement in animals … through intention [διὰ προαιρέσεώς τινος] or process of thinking [καὶ νοήσεως].Is thinking intentional? Are intentions conscious?— Aristotle, On the Soul, 406b
The whole vexing question of what we mean by ‘intention’ and how far we are ever in control of our movements is in a state of flux. In a way, perhaps, we always control and adjust our movements by observing their effects, similar to those self-regulating mechanisms that engineers call ‘feedback.’ Skill consists in a most rapid and subtle interaction between impulse and subsequent guidance, but not even the most skilful artist should claim to be able to plan a single stroke with the pen in all its details.‘State of flux’ – an oxymoron? Is time a static dynamic? Or an eternal temporality? [next]— Gombrich (2002, 302)
The pursuance of future ends and the choice of means for their attainment, are thus the mark and criterion of the presence of mentality in a phenomenon. We all use this test to discriminate between an intelligent and a mechanical performance. We impute no mentality to sticks and stones, because they never seem to move for the sake of anything, but always when pushed, and then indifferently and with no sign of choice. So we unhesitatingly call them senseless.— William James (1890, I, 8, italics in original)
James observes that a frog has a life involving choice and spontaneity, and thus is ‘intelligent.’ Michael Tomasello (1999) develops a concept of ‘intentional agency’ which also crucially involves ‘the differentiation between goals and behavioral means’ (91). What is unique about humans, according to Tomasello, is that they recognize one another as intentional agents:
nonhuman primates understand conspecifics as animate beings capable of spontaneous self-movement – indeed, this is the basis for their social understanding in general and their understanding of third-party social relationships in particular – but do not understand others as intentional agents in the process of pursuing goals or mental agents in the process of thinking about the world.It's difficult to imagine that a chimpanzee (say) would not realize that other members of the group, when they interact with him, may be doing so intentionally and purposefully, as means to an end. But perhaps Tomasello is saying that only humans have a general concept of ‘intentionality.’ This peculiarly human ‘understanding’ is closely entangled with language, which affords a way of formulating the distinction between ends and means, so that it can persist and become habitual. And as Grice and others have pointed out, human-style communication begins with recognition of the intent to communicate (see Sperber and Wilson 1995).— Tomasello (1999, 21)
You could say that the peculiarly human level of consciousness consists of catching ourselves in the act of meaning. The schoolmen called this the level of second intentions, which ‘are the objects of the understanding considered as representations, and the first intentions to which they apply are the objects of those representations’ (Peirce, EP1:7). ‘Aquinas defined logic as the science of second intentions applied to first’ (CP 2.549). (More recently we have second-order cybernetics.) This is a shift from use of symbols to observation of their use (‘going meta’). Peirce's entry on ‘intention’ in the Century Dictionary explains further:
First intention, in logic, a general conception obtained by abstraction from the ideas or images of sensible objects.[next]
Second intention, in logic, a general conception obtained by reflection and abstraction applied to first intentions as objects. Thus, the concepts man, animal, and thing are first intentions; but if we reflect that man is a species of animal, and animal a species of organism, we see there is no reason why this process should not be continued until we have a concept embracing every other object or being (ens); and this concept, not obtained by direct abstraction from the species offered by the imagination, but by thinking about words or concepts, is a second intention.
Life is inherently restless, far from equilibrium, yet yearning for it; the tension between its twin tendencies drives the cycle of birth-and-death. This is another dimension hidden in the pun of Heraclitus:
τῷ τόξῳ ὄνομα βίος, ἔργον δὲ θάνατος.Bios is the older, poetic word for “bow” (toxon), and except for an accent mark not written in Heraclitus' time, is identical to bios, the word for “life.”
The name of the bow is life, but its work is death.Kahn LXXIX, D. 48
… for in the byways of high improvidence that's what makes lifework leaving …[next]Finnegans Wake, 12
Descartes had seen the mind as a subjective consciousness that contained ideas that corresponded (or sometimes failed to correspond) to what was in the world. This view of the mind as representing the world reached its culmination in Franz Brentano's notion of intentionality. According to Brentano, all mental states (perception, memory, etc.) are of or about something; in his words, mental states necessarily have ‘reference to a content’ or ‘direction toward an object’ (which is not necessarily a thing in the world). This directedness or intentionality, Brentano claimed, was the defining characteristic of the mind. (This use of intentional should not be confused with its use to mean ‘doing something on purpose.’)— Varela et al. (1991, 15-16)
Edelman (2004, 125) defines Brentano's ‘intentionality’ as ‘the property by which consciousness is directed at, or is about, objects and states of affairs that are initially in the world’ (italics mine) – which implies a developmental process involving internalization.
Gendlin's Process Model (VII.A) derives ‘aboutness’ from interrupted behavior sequences: the interruption begets reiterated gestures, and eventually ‘the aboutness level radically remakes the world’ (by begetting habits, as Peirce would say).
Walter Freeman (1999a and b) rejects both ‘aboutness’ and ‘doing something on purpose’ as the root meaning of ‘intent.’ His intent is related to the definition of living beings as autonomous agents (Kauffman 2001), and refers to the biological ground from which consciously intended meanings, and indeed consciousness itself, emerge. Freeman himself adopted his usage from Aquinas:
The concept – ‘intentionality’ – was first described by Thomas Aquinas in 1272 to denote the process by which humans and other animals act in accordance with their own growth and maturation. An ‘intent’ is the directing of an action towards some future goal that is defined and chosen by the actor.This kind of ‘intentionality’ is essentially what Peirce ascribes to the ‘perfect sign’ which ‘never ceases to undergo changes of the kind we rather drolly call spontaneous’ (EP2:545). The actor or agent does not need to imagine a ‘future goal,’ or consciously define or choose it; even among humans, conscious intention (sometimes called volition or will) is only the tip of the intentional iceberg. Spinoza's concept of conatus, as interpreted by Damasio, seems to be essentially the same:— Freeman (1999a, 10)
It is apparent that the continuous attempt at achieving a state of positively regulated life is a deep and defining part of our existence – the first reality of our existence as Spinoza intuited when he described the relentless endeavor (conatus) of each being to preserve itself. … In Spinoza's own words: ‘Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being’ and ‘The striving by which each thing strives to persevere in its being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing.’ Interpreted with the advantages of current hindsight, Spinoza's notion implies that the living organism is constructed so as to maintain the coherence of its structures and functions against numerous life-threatening odds.Autopoiesis theory is very similar, except that it prefers to describe the organism as constructing or making itself rather than being ‘constructed.’ But the Spinoza/Damasio theory amounts to the same concept:— Damasio (2003, 36)
The conatus subsumes both the impetus for self-preservation in the face of danger and opportunities and the myriad actions of self-preservation that hold the parts of a body together. In spite of the transformations the body must undergo as it develops, renews its constituent parts, and ages, the conatus continues to form the same individual and respect the same structural design.Damasio's view is that what we experience as feelings arises from that same brain circuitry; and feelings in turn are the essential components of what i have called guidance systems. As Peirce expressed it in 1868, a feeling is ‘the material quality of a mental sign’ (EP1:43). The engagement to which Damasio refers (called ‘structural coupling’ in autopoiesis theory) has its highest expression in ethics, the collaboration of reason and feeling:
What is Spinoza's conatus in current biological terms? It is the aggregate of dispositions laid down in brain circuitry that, once engaged by internal or environmental conditions, seeks both survival and well-being.— Damasio (2003, 36)
It is not a simple issue of trusting feelings as the necessary arbiter of good and evil. It is a matter of discovering the circumstances in which feelings can indeed be an arbiter, and using the reasoned coupling of circumstances and feelings as a guide to human behavior.— Damasio (2003, 179)
But all of this is rooted in what Spinoza (in his Ethics) called conatus, and this is what Aquinas called intent. Walter Freeman elaborates on the concept:
Aquinas further proposed that each animal is a unified being enclosed within a boundary that distinguishes ‘self’ from ‘other,’ and that the self uses the body to push its boundary outwards into the world. Etymologically the word ‘intend’ comes from the Latin intendere, which means not only to stretch forth, but equally importantly to change the self by experiencing action and learning from the consequences of acting.— Freeman (1999a, 36)
Freeman labels his model pragmatism (as opposed to ‘materialism’ and ‘cognitivism’), defining it as the idea ‘that minds are dynamic structures that result from actions into the world’ (1999a, 35). Intent is what drives these ‘actions into the world,’ thus constituting the upper limb of the meaning cycle.
The root of all human ‘intention’ is the inner life which not only generates subjective experience but drives every act of the organism, physical and mental, conscious and unconscious. As Freeman explains,
… we perform most daily activities that are clearly intentional and meaningful without being explicitly aware of them. Consider the activities of athletes and dancers … As the training of the brain and body proceeds, … conscious reflection on the manipulation of the body falls away, and they can take the plunge through having what we commonly call a strong ‘feel’ for the game or dance. Performance becomes ‘second nature.’ For many people, the greatest fulfillment and enjoyment comes with total immersion into the activity, so that self-awareness is scattered to the winds, and they become wholly what they desire in body and spirit, without reservation. The brain and body anticipate inputs, perceive, and make movements without need for reflection. It is precisely this kind of unconscious, but directed, skill in the exercise of perception that the concept of intentionality must include.This is the kind of intentionality inherent in what Csikszentmihalyi (1990) calls flow or optimal experience. It is when the circuits of intent are fully closed, leaving no gaps between mind and body and no space for the busybody conscious ‘self’ to interfere, that the current of experience flows most freely. Self-consciousness disrupts this flow by lifting the ‘self’ out of its context. Shaun Gallagher and Anthony J. Marcel ‘suggest that disruption of the intended behaviour in such cases is due to the behaviour being the explicit focus of consciousness rather than an implicit aspect of the intention’ (Gallagher and Shear 1999, 279, italics in original).— Freeman (1999a, 23)
The deep connection, then, between intentionality and ‘aboutness’ is the movement of the subject or agent, or rather its motility, the potential for movement that creates a space in which it can move and thus furnishes its Umwelt with significant objects. It was noted long ago by the precursors of both phenomenology and psychology that activity of the subject was indispensable to perception (see Pachoud 1999). Merleau-Ponty (1945, 158) urges us ‘to understand motility as basic intentionality. Consciousness is in the first place not a matter of “I think” but of “I can”.’ (See also Sheets-Johnstone 1999.)
Motility is always implicit in experience; and, not coincidentally, it is implicit in life as we know it on this planet. According to Margulis and Sagan (1995, Chapter 5), spirochetes which had developed the power of movement as free-living bacteria later bestowed movement on cells to which they became attached, including the internal movement that made sexual reproduction and genetic replication possible. Intracellular motility made possible the development of species. And according to Llinás (2001, 59), ‘the organization and function of our brains is based on the embedding of motricity over evolution.’
The Brentano sense of intentionality, then, can be derived from the biological and psychological by observing that the perception of objects always involves movement (or at least motility) of the subject as body. The infant exploring her environment, for instance by putting things into her mouth, is learning to correlate sense experience with inner intent. Eventually the correlations become habitual and there is no need for gross physical movement in order to see things – yet visual experience is continually fine-tuned by tiny rapid eye movements called saccades. We do not consciously control these movements, yet they are ‘directed’ (Koch 2004, 63ff., 344; see also McCrone 2004).
Behaviors reveal a sort of prospective activity in the organism as if it were oriented toward the meaning of certain elementary situations, as if it entertained familiar relations with them, as if there were an ‘a priori of the organism,’ privileged conducts and laws of internal equilibrium which predisposed the organism to certain relations with its milieu. At this level there is no question yet of a real self-awareness or of intentional activity.The ‘as if’ here anticipates Dennett's concept of ‘the intentional stance’ – that is, we attribute intentionality to the organism, or infer it, rather than observing it directly; but the attribution itself is often not voluntary but automatic. ‘Intentional’ in Merleau-Ponty's final sentence above refers of course to conscious intention or to the ‘illusion of conscious will’ (Wegner 2002). Walter Freeman on the other hand uses ‘intentional’ in reference to what Merleau-Ponty calls ‘prospective activity.’ Both emphasize the intersubjective nature of the intentional space inhabited by humans:— Merleau-Ponty (1964, 4)
Evolution has given us the capacity to detect intentionality in others without having to define it.… Intentional action is directed by internally generated goals and takes place in the time and space of the world shared with other intentional beings.— Freeman (1999a, 41-2)
… we are typically conscious of the results of mental processes but not of the processes themselves.— Baars (1997, 177)
The idea we've been pursuing throughout this book is that the experience of conscious will is not a direct indicator of a causal relation between thought and behavior.— Wegner (2002, 288)
Consciousness holds itself responsible for everything, and takes everything upon itself, but it has nothing of its own and makes its life in the world.— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 526)
It is as though people aspire to be ideal agents who know all their actions in advance.— Wegner (2002, 145)
People are surely not conscious of faking, at least after the first little while, when they play the roles of everyday life. A lack of consciousness of the processes whereby one has achieved a mental state, however, suggests a kind of genuineness …Wegner (2002, Chapter 5) shows that ‘ideal agency’ is an illusion which we protect by confabulating our own motives when necessary. Merleau-Ponty had already anticipated this:— Wegner (2002, 304 fn.)
… my temperament exists only for the second order knowledge that I gain about myself when I see myself as others see me, and in so far as I recognize it, confer value upon it, and in that sense, choose it. What misleads us on this, is that we often look for freedom in the voluntary deliberation which examines one motive after another and seems to opt for the weightiest or most convincing. In reality the deliberation follows the decision, and it is my secret decision which brings the motives to light, for it would be difficult to conceive what the force of a motive might be in the absence of a decision which it confirms or to which it runs counter.— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 506)
Peirce (CP 1.623 and elsewhere) uses the terms logica utens (logic-in-use) for implicit logic, and logica docens (logic-in-teaching) for explicit logic, observer's logic, ‘the result of scientific evaluation of the logica utens’ (Ochs 1998, 76). The distinction is like that between use and mention, or perhaps between body and mind. But
Our century has wiped out the dividing line between ‘body’ and ‘mind,’ and sees human life as through and through mental and corporeal.[next]— Merleau-Ponty (1960, 226)
On the other hand, several esoteric traditions, including the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Iranian mystics investigated by Corbin (1960), and early Christian texts such as the Gospel of Philip distinguish between two (or more) kinds of ‘body’:
[The master] was conceived from what [is imperishable], through God. The [master rose] from the dead, but [he did not come into being as he] was. Rather, his [body] was [completely] perfect. [It was] of flesh, and this [flesh] was true flesh. [Our flesh] is not true flesh, but only an image of the true.— Gospel of Philip 68 (NHS, 174)
We might compare Philip's ‘true flesh’ with Walt Whitman's ‘real body’:
Was somebody asking to see the soul?See, your own shape and countenance, persons, substances, beasts, the trees, the running rivers, the rocks and sands.All hold spiritual joys and afterwards loosen them;How can the real body ever die and be buried?
Of your real body and any man's or woman's real body,Item for item it will elude the hands of the corpse-cleaners and pass to fitting spheres,Carrying what has accrued to it from the moment of birth to the moment of death.
Not the types set up by the printer return their impression, the meaning, the main concern,Any more than a man's substance and life or a woman's substance and life return in the body and the soul,Indifferently before death and after death.
Behold, the body includes and is the meaning, the main concern, and includes and is the soul;Whoever you are, how superb and how divine is your body, or any part of it!— Starting from Paumanok, §13
For Whitman, the ‘real body’ is the type which, like the type set by the printer, leaves its ‘impression’ on everything it touches. The printed copy of a book is but a token (replica or sinsign) of it; but it must exist in order for the act of meaning to occur. Likewise your soul must be embodied in order to manifest itself, but your living-and-dying body is only a temporary token of your real body.
Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Art of Living (2017), says that ‘we are not limited to our physical body, even while we are alive.’ He lists eight bodies that we all have: the human body, the buddha body, the spiritual practice body, the community body, the body outside the body (which is ‘present in many places in the world’), the continuation body (by which our thoughts, speech and actions continue to influence the world), the cosmic body, and the ultimate body (‘the nature of reality itself, beyond all perceptions, forms, signs, and ideas’). All of these bodies are real in the continuity of their presence: their interbeing is living the time. [next]
If your real life is a process, a kind of flow, then the fixed identity you call your self is an illusion – or at least its continuity is inseparable from its being always in transition from one “state” to another. Its life is its impermanence. The idea of a substantial, permanent selfhood is a species of what Trungpa (1973) called ‘spiritual materialism.’ A fixed “creed” or formulated belief is more of the same. But the practice of whole-body reading, grounded in the spirit of inquiry, can resurrect a dead dogma into a living, breathing belief.
The true remains of the Buddha's body are found in the sutras.[next]— Dogen (Cook 1978, 47)
Because his body shall be pure, the living beings in the thousand-millionfold world, whether at the time of birth or at the time of death, whether superior or inferior, fair or ugly, born in a good place or in a bad place, shall all be visible therein.The same is true for all the sacred mountains and all who dwell amid them, and all places from the lowest hell to the Pinnacle of Existence.
Also, as in a pure, bright mirror[next]
One sees all physical images,
The bodhisattva, in his pure body,
Sees whatever is in the world.
Only he alone in and of himself has clear perception,
For these are things that others do not see.— Hurvitz (1976, 275)
Blake's Body is Eternal, as everything ‘exists’ in this Body where ‘not one sigh nor smile nor tear, one hair nor particle of dust, not one can pass away’ (Jerusalem 13:66-14:1). In this respect they are like qualities (Firsts) in Peirce: ‘a quality is eternal, independent of time and of any realization’ (CP 1.420, c. 1896). A process, on the other hand, must involve time and thus Peirce's Thirdness.
In Blake's Jerusalem (5:19), he takes it as the ‘great task’ of the artist
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes‘Expanding’ would have to be a process, which takes time, just as meaning does. This ‘Eternity’ is ever expanding into the future without losing any of its Presence to the past: it is the Eternal Now. But as the ‘Eternal Body of Man,’ of which we are all Members, it must also be a living process (though Blake would not use that term). This recalls the metaphor of the human community as members of the body of Christ, developed at length by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. Of course, to Paul, this was not ‘merely’ a metaphor: to be a Christian was to live in Christ. To Blake, this meant to live ‘in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination,’ the Eternal Body. [next]
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination.
Since it is not “temporal” but mythic wisdom, ‘hidden’ from secondhand (public) sight, we can say it is ‘ordained before the world,’ just as Buddhists say that the Buddha-nature is beginningless, unborn and undying. But Peirce says the same about the continuity of time itself …
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect [teleiois]: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:— 1 Corinthians 2:6-7 (KJV)
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world (to pneuma tou cosmou), but the spirit which is of God (to pneuma to ek tou theou); that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.…The ‘we’ here is ambiguous; gnostics could read this chapter as an indication that Paul taught a ‘secret wisdom … not to everyone, and not publicly, but only to a select few whom he considered to be spiritually mature’ (Pagels 1979, 43; see 2:6 above, and the Gospel of Truth in NHS). Indeed Paul goes on in the next chapter to say that the Corinthians did not qualify as ‘mature,’ and still don't, ‘For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?’
For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.— 1 Corinthians 2:12, 16 (KJV)
Then in 1 Corinthians 15, we come to ‘the end, when he [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power’ (15:24, RSV). At this point comes the resurrection of the dead: ‘It is sown a physical body [σῶμα ψυχικόν], it is raised a spiritual body [σῶμα πνευματικόν]’ (15:44). The end of social hierarchy seems to be the beginning of spiritual life: ‘we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye’ (52), and ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (54). The law, as embodiment of social convention, authority and power, seems to be swallowed up along with death, for ‘The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law’ (56).
Jesus said, ‘I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.’Valantasis comments on this that ‘Jesus offers the hearer something that transcends human capacity’ (Valantasis 1997, 84). But if you are human, then nothing beyond human capacity can be given to you, since you will not be able to receive it. What is offered here is new experience, unfiltered through old categories and habits, or rather taking them as a point of departure. (It's not take it or leave it but take it and leave it.) This is not beyond human capacity; in fact it happens all the time, but being alive to it takes some unlearning, takes what John Dewey (1934) called perception as opposed to recognition. The veil of habit hides the Firstness of the phaneron, and generality dissipates the energy of discovery. So maybe that original Firstness is what Jesus offers here.— Thomas 17 (Lambdin); cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9
Dogen in his essays and talks makes a similar offer, but since he urges you to realize it rather than saying that he will ‘give’ it to you, it sounds more like a challenge than an offer – a challenge to awaken.
To carry the self forward and illuminate myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and illuminate the self is awakening.To carry the self forward is not what Gendlin calls carrying forward (Chapter 4). An example of carrying forward can be seen in this Dharma Hall Discourse of Dogen (EK 1.74):— Dogen, ‘Genjokoan’ (Tanahashi 2010, 29)
Here is a story. Zen master Yuanwu said, ‘Coming and going within life and death is the genuine human body.’[next]Nanquan said, ‘Coming and going within life and death is the genuine body.’Zhaozhou said, ‘Coming and going within life and death is exactly the genuine human body.’Changsha said, ‘Coming and going within life and death is exactly the genuine body of all buddhas.’The teacher [Dogen] said: Those four venerable elders each unfolds their family style, and together they align our nostrils. They said what they could say, only it's not yet there. If this were Kosho [Dogen], I would not say it thus, but rather: ‘Coming and going within life and death is just coming and going within life and death.’— Leighton and Okumura (2004, 125-6)
Whenever our brains successfully pursue the ingenious strategy of creating a unified and dynamic inner portrait of reality, we become conscious. First, our brains generate a world-simulation, so perfect that we do not recognize it as an image in our minds. Then, they generate an inner image of ourselves as a whole. This image includes not only our body and our psychological states but also our relationship to the past and the future, as well as to other conscious beings. The internal image of the person-as-a-whole is the phenomenal Ego, the “I” or “self ” as it appears in conscious experience; therefore, I use the terms “phenomenal Ego” and “phenomenal self ” interchangeably. The phenomenal Ego is not some mysterious thing or little man inside the head but the content of an inner image— namely, the conscious self-model, or PSM [Phenomenal Self-Model]. By placing the self-model within the world-model, a center is created. That center is what we experience as ourselves, the Ego. It is the origin of what philosophers often call the first-person perspective. We are not in direct contact with outside reality or with ourselves, but we do have an inner perspective. We can use the word “I.” We live our conscious lives in the Ego Tunnel.Metzinger's ‘Ego Tunnel’ is roughly equivalent to the ‘cognitive bubble’ in Turning Signs; his proposition that ‘We are not in direct contact with outside reality or with ourselves’ is equivalent to the Peircean proposition that all cognition is mediated, or ‘all thought is in signs.’ [next]— Metzinger (2009, 6-7)
By observing one's own body, rather than simply identifying with it, one cultivates a kind of self-alterity, by experiencing one's own body simply as a matrix of phenomena, rather than as a self.[next]— B.A. Wallace, ‘Intersubjectivity in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism,’ Journal of Consciousness Studies 8:5-7
But then it is to be remembered that the first and most genuine element of observation,—the subconscious observation,—was not the principal task of those literary artists. What they mainly had to do was to translate observations into words,—and to draw character sketches which the not too fine reader would recognize as agreeing with his own subconscious impressions.The role of the reader of this kind of art is to play along, which she can't really do if she takes ‘too fine’ an interest in the writer's technique. That would be a reader's error like the error of premature precision in dialogic. In reading the book of nature, including other bodyminds, premature theorizing can create another illusion of “realism” by interfering with the intimacy and immediacy of preconscious perception.— Peirce (RLT, 184)
That subconscious element of observation is, I am strongly inclined to think, the very most important of all the constituents of practical reasoning. The other part of observation consists in moulding in the upper consciousness a more or less skeletonized idea until it is felt to respond to [the] object of observation. This last element is quite indispensable if one is trying to form a theory of the object in hand, or even to describe it in words; but it goes a long way toward breaking down, denying, and pooh-poohing away, all the fineness of the subconscious observation. It is, therefore, a great art to be able to suppress it and put it into its proper place in cases where it attempts impertinent intermeddling. Do not allow yourself to be imposed upon by the egotism and conceit of the upper consciousness.Gregory Bateson gave us a similar warning about our ‘conscious purposes.’ Perhaps ‘the fineness of the subconscious observation’ is the ‘implicit intricacy’ of which Gendlin speaks. Tapping into this may not get us out of the ego tunnel, but it can let in some of the light of nature. [next]— Peirce (RLT, 182-3)
Elaine Pagels (1979, 62-3) cites gnostic sources for several ‘mystical meanings’ of Biblical images, which interpret them as references to the human body:
Gershom Scholem likewise notes the organic nature of Kabbalistic imagery:
… to the Kabbalist the unity of God is manifested from the first as a living, dynamic unity, rich in content. What to the Jewish theologians were mere attributes of God, are to the Kabbalist potencies, hypostases, stages in an intradivine life-process, and it is not for nothing that the images with which he describes God are first and foremost images pertaining to the organism.— Scholem (1960, 94)
What the Kabbalist calls ‘the not yet unfolded Torah’ (Scholem 1960, 49) is what Gendlin calls the implicit intricacy. In Kabbalah the sefiroth which constitute the divine life itself and its creative power are symbolized as a language of revelation hidden behind the explicit language of the Torah, yet so precisely implicated with it that ‘if you omit a single letter, or write a letter too many, you will destroy the whole world’ (Scholem 1960, 39).
Arthur Green (2004, 38) says of the first sefirah, Keter:
There is no specific ‘content’ to this sefirah; it is desire or intentionality, an inner movement of the spirit that potentially bears all content but actually bears none.The sefirot are implicit all the way down to the Shekhinah – which is still haunted by Plato's ghost:
While the inner logic of the Kabbalists' emanational thinking would seem to indicate that all beings, including the physical universe, flow forth from Shekhinah, the medieval abhorrence of associating God with corporeality complicates the picture, leaving Kabbalah with a complex and somewhat divided attitude toward the material world.[next]— Green (2004, 53)
Suppose we try to recall a forgotten name. The state of our consciousness is peculiar. There is a gap therein; but no mere gap. It is a gap that is intensely active. A sort of wraith of the name is in it, beckoning us in a given direction, making us at moments tingle with the sense of our closeness and then letting it sink back without the longed-for term. If wrong names are proposed to us, this singularly definite gap acts immediately so as to negate them. They do not fit into its mould. And the gap of one word does not feel like the gap of another, all empty of content as both might seem necessarily to be when described as gaps.Koriat (2000) cites this passage in his study of metacognition, or more specifically, of the feeling of knowing that you know something even though you can't make it explicit at the moment.— James (1890, I.251)
Whereas information-based judgments entail deliberate, analytic inferences that rely on beliefs and memories, metacognitive feelings are mediated by the implicit application of nonanalytic heuristics. These heuristics operate below full consciousness, relying on a variety of cues. Such heuristics and cues affect metacognitive judgments by influencing subjective experience itself.This ‘subjective’ experience certainly has a guiding function:
there is little doubt that subjective feelings serve as a potent basis for behavior. Thus, whatever is the origin of feelings of knowing, and whatever is their validity, people simply follow their lead whenever an alternative basis is either unavailable or its use requires cognitive resources that the person cannot spare (see Strack, 1992).The feeling of knowing is never an infallible guide, no matter how strongly it is felt; there is plenty of evidence that ‘self-evident’ intuitions can be wrong! But we don't often take this into account.
Only under exceptional situations, when people are aware of the conditions that contaminate their subjective experience, do they try either to correct for the presumed contamination or use an alternative basis for their responses (Jacoby & Whitehouse, 1989; Strack, 1992; Whittlesea et al., 1990).[next]— Koriat (2000)
one is continually firstmeeting with odd sorts of others at all sorts of ages, we find somebody being asked to tell once again
that fishabed ghoatstory of the haardly creditable edventyreswhich form the matter
of the most commonfaced experience. But who is this somebody now? We find that
it is a slipperish matter, given the wet and low visibility (since in this scherzarade of one's thousand one nightinesses that sword of certainty which would indentifide the body never falls) to idendifine the individuonewhose turn it is to tell the old ghoatstory.
Packed into those words indentifide and idendifine are intimations of dendritic branching, dividing, defining, ending, teeth, finish and faith, as well as identity. The body it seems is itself a ghost of an old goat who will ever scape the sword of would-be certainty: it would pass right through.
Another Irishman, W. B. Yeats, composed for his own tombstone a remarkable epitaph:
Cast a cold eyeSince he died in 1938, Yeats could not have known that his epitaph bears a striking resemblance to the shortest saying in the Gospel of Thomas, 42:
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
Jesus says: ‘Become passers-by.’There is much that can be (and has been) said about this saying and its various translations (see Meyer 2003, 59-75); but let us add a few suggestions. First, the two words of this saying link identity (‘become’) with dynamic itinerancy (‘passers-by’), and thus compress the concept of semiotic closure into an expression the size of a mustard seed. In another context, this same seed could sprout an expression like that of Dogen: ‘Impermanence is the buddha-nature.’ Moreover, the Coptic root of the word translated ‘passersby’ is derived from the Greek parago, which is remarkably similar to the Sanskrit word paragate, which appears in the mantra at the climax of the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra, a very brief and essential Buddhist scripture. According to Thich Nhat Hanh (1988, 50), paragate ‘means gone all the way to the other shore.’(5G)
The whole mantra is Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. Nhat Hanh translates ‘Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore, enlightenment, svaha!’ (the last word being a ‘cry of joy or excitement’). This is also related to Tathagata (‘thus-gone’) as a title of the Buddha. (Leighton and Okumura (2004, 103) render it as ‘the one who comes and goes in thusness.’) Thomas 42 could then be read as an exhortation to seek enlightenment – especially in the Zen context where practice is enlightenment and enlightenment is practice (rather than a “state” that you aim to arrive at and dwell in eternally). There is also a parallel Islamic saying – ‘This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not build your dwelling there’ (Meyer 2003, 70) – which may spring from the same source as Thomas 42. The point is not to stand on the other shore, or to be Somebody, but to be thus gone. [next]
Jesus said, ‘How miserable is the body that depends on a body, and how miserable is the soul that depends on these two.’— Thomas 87 (Meyer)
Jesus said, ‘Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul; woe to the soul that depends on the flesh.’— Thomas 112 (Lambdin); compare Saying 7
If soul and body are so distinct in their functioning that one can depend on the other, then both are in a sorry state!
DeConick (2007a) regards all five of these saying as ‘accretions’ reflecting the ‘encratic’ theology which became dominant in Alexandrian and Syrian Christianity a few generations after Jesus. For the Encratites, as they were called, self-control meant self-denial. From that perspective, embodiment was in itself a state of suffering in which the soul was trapped unless it could overmaster the passions, pleasures and pains of the flesh. DeConick points out that the word translated here as ‘depend’ is the same Coptic word used to refer to the crucifixion of Jesus, and she gives these alternate translations of 87 and 112:
Jesus said, ‘Miserable is the body crucified by a body. Miserable is the soul crucified by these together.’
Jesus said, ‘Alas to the flesh crucified by the soul! Alas to the soul crucified by the flesh!’These readings would be in accord with Paul's saying (Galatians 5.24) that ‘those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ (RSV). Since embodiment is suffering by nature, the Christian can only save his soul from this plight by inflicting even more suffering on the body to suppress its natural desires. But a more effective cure would be to heal the schizophrenic (‘splithearted’) opposition between soul and body; and Thomas 112 can be read without strain as commending that course. [next]
All thought is in signs.— Peirce (EP1:24)
All things have no signs:The usage of the sign ‘sign’ in this sutra seems to differ from the Peircean or semiotic usage deployed in Turning Signs. Thich Nhat Hanh (2017) associates it with distinction-making, and ‘signlessness’ with interbeing and impermanence:
This is the real body of Buddha.— Avatamsaka Sutra (Cleary 1984, 380)
A sign is what characterizes the appearance of something, its form. If we recognize things based on their sign, we may think that this cloud is different from that cloud, the oak tree is not the acorn, the child is not the parent. At the level of relative truth, these distinctions are helpful. But they may distract us from seeing the true nature of life, which transcends these signs. The Buddha said, “Where there is a sign, there is always deception.” With the insight of interbeing we can see there is a profound connection between this cloud and that cloud, between the acorn and the oak, between parent and child.All things have no signs is a sign, namely a proposition. Is it true?— Hanh, The Art of Living (p. 45)
If that cloud up there has a sign, its form has a name, a label. Semiotically, the subject of the proposition has a predicate attached to it. But this attachment is deceptive. Even if we don't call it (recognize it as) a “cloud,” we might see it as a particular thing having a visual form, but that momentary form is in no way essential to it, doesn't really belong to it. It is only a “cloud” – or whatever we call it in whatever language we are speaking – in relation to us, to our bodyminds. It has no name or form that is essential to it, just as you have no essential self.
On the other side, that cloud is ‘a phenomenal manifestation of ourselves,’ just like any and everything which is present to us. It doesn't have a real name or sign, but it may be a sign, of rain for instance, or of the direction of the wind up there. Likewise we might say that it is a form of water, and see the ‘profound connection’ between it and other bodies of water, including the contents of our own skin-bags. This is how we read the signatures of all things: we read them as signs, not as having signs or fixed identities. In genuine mindfulness we see through signs just as we see through deceptions.
How do we do that? Here is Dogen's Zen advice:
For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down?Is there any connection between this practice and phaneroscopy? Peirce used the word phaneron ‘to denote the total content of any one consciousness (for any one is substantially any other), the sum of all we have in mind in any way whatever, regardless of its cognitive value’ (EP2:362). Could it be that ‘the phaneron’ is another name for ‘the real body of Buddha,’ or for what Dogen called ‘One Bright Pearl’?— ‘Fukanzazengi’ (Leighton and Okumura 2004, 533)
Can this question be investigated?
The investigator would have to practice both phaneroscopy and zazen, and be fluent in both Peircean and Buddhist terminologies.
Is it possible to investigate such a question while practicing zazen or phaneroscopy?
Fayan, Great Zen Master of Qingliang Monastery, said, “If you see that all forms are beyond forms, you don't see the Tathagata.”These words by Fayan are words of seeing the Buddha. When we examine these words, they stand out and extend their hands. Listen to his words with your ears. Listen to his words of seeing the Buddha with your eyes. …
See thoroughly that all forms are Tathagata forms and not beyond forms. See the Buddha in this way, make up your mind, realize trust, and maintain these words. Chant these words and become familiar with them.Thus, keep seeing and hearing these words with your ears and eyes. Have the words drop away in your body, mind, bones, and marrow. Have the words seen through your mountains, rivers, and entire world. This is the practice of studying with buddha ancestors.Do not think that your own words and actions cannot awaken your own eye. Turned by your own turning words, you see and drop away your own turning of buddha ancestors. This is the everyday activity of buddha ancestors.— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Kembutsu’ (Tanahashi 2010, 597-8)
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