Falling into consciousness

maxresdefaultI’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to each of the presenters at David Bentley Hart’s NDIAS Colloquium “Mind, Soul, World: Consciousness in Nature.” All excellent presentations – and there’s the added benefit in most cases of having the Q&A follow the presentations. Most are on Youtube. One enjoyably provocative presentation was that of Duke’s Warren Professor of Catholic Thought, Paul Griffiths.

Hearing of Paul Griffiths’ view of consciousness being a result or an artifact of the Fall, I wasn’t inclined to find much in his presentation to agree with. But hearing him describe his point of view, I appreciated it a lot. I’m still reflecting on it, but I will say this much – those aspects of consciousness that Griffiths suspects are fallen because they reflect deliberative acts that occur at a distance from an immediately of knowing and which objectify the being of the world over and against the being of the self, needn’t be viewed as artifacts of a fall into consciousness even though such deliberation is something less than ideal.

Consciousness as a deliberative enterprise aimed at constructing an understanding of the self is, it seems to me, God-given in the sense of being the necessary beginning context in which are moved to final rest in God. But it is fall or failure to be finite in this sense. Maximus got it right – we could not be created already in possession of the beatific vision. That vision and the rest it gives are a creative achievement of divine and human cooperation, the end of a certain kind of conscious movement that will surely end when it rests fully in a vision of itself as indwelt in, by and as Christ. What will a consciousness at rest look like? Imagine being conscious of yourself and the world without your identity ever being at stake, without needing to invest a single thought in establishing who you are or having to negotiate your identity in terms of any doubts whatsoever, or in light of survival needs or anxieties about relationships, of motivated by even the possibility of threats or fears of loss, or struggling against the slightest impediment to you fullest, imaginable existence – yourself, whole, at rest, and one with God and all things (as the Christian vision has it). None of the energies of consciousness nor the cognitive powers of perception or imagination will be spent deliberating any of these preoccupations that now consume 99.99% of our attention.

The problems and impediments Griffith points out are themselves best thought of as the structure that makes gnomic (deliberative) willing possible, and that kind of deliberative movement is itself a necessary aspect of a good but finite creation that must “move” (in the Maximian sense) toward deification and final rest. But it’s not an evil or privation of its being to do so, though it is the possibility of evil. So while the aspects Griffiths complains about are not our end as such, they are our God-given beginning and so needn’t be viewed as a primeval fall into consciousness.

An immediate experience of God?

consciousness416I’m all questions these days. Can’t seem to make heads or tails of anything.

Our experience of the world is a mediated experience. I think we all agree on that. I don’t have an immediate experience of the world. I depend upon the speed of light to carry a vision of the outside world to my vision and upon the speed of sound to discern its voice. Even my experience of touch is mediated by nerve transmissions to my brain, and that transmission takes time, however fast it is. Hartshorne was right, all our conscious experience is experience of past data.

The closest thing to immediate consciousness is our experience of self-consciousness, the experience of self-perception. Unfortunately even that transpires within brain chemistry that takes time. We cannot even have an immediate experience of ourselves! I suppose only God can be immediately present to himself or to anything else. Fine.

But how is God experienced by us immediately? Can God be immediately experienced by us? If we can’t experience ourselves immediately, how can we experience (ourselves experiencing) God immediately? Perhaps if the human spirit is something more than mere brain chemistry, we could suppose that there stands nothing, not even brain chemistry, between the divine and human spirit. OK. But is my spirit my consciousness (or irreducibly related to my consciousness)? If so, then the human spirit, however transcendent of its embodied brain, is nevertheless dependent for its experiences upon embodied consciousness. It depends upon the brain. But nothing that depends even in part upon the brain can have an immediate experience of anything, even itself. But this leads to an uncomfortable conclusion, namely, that we can never have an immediate experience of God, an experience which is not mediated by or dependent upon brain chemistry. I might object that God is not a physical reality that depends upon the speed of light or sound. Fari enough. But we are physical beings whose conscious experience is dependent upon brain chemistry (or so we’re supposing).

Can we experience God immediately? If so, how? Is the relationship between the Spirit and the human spirit immediate? Can I have a conscious experience which is not even in part dependent upon brain chemistry? What are the implications to our answers?