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The Isolated Mind

December 10, 2013

With his famous phrase “I think, therefore I am”, Cogito ergo Sum, Descartes both freed us from one form of conditioning and entrapped us in a whole new form of conditioning. He freed us from our socio-historical context, our moral obligations, our class background, our race identity, as first and foremost a thinking being who only later chooses to take on these forms of identity. This was a revolution, this was the end for feudalism. But it was also the beginning for rampant individualism and free-market economics, defining us all by the profit relation, as commodities.

A whole new kind of exploitation and conditioning had been set in motion, later to be bemoaned by Karl Marx in Capital, and by many others: Herbert Marcuse in One-Dimensional Man, Theodor Adorno in Minima Moralia, The Culture Industry. Carl Jung in Modern Man without a Soul, The Undiscovered Self. Erich Fromm in The Fear of Freedom. All perceived  the alienation of capitalist society and how it could be dis-empowering. But how could an isolated individual hope to change and influence the world?

The problem for this new view of the free, unextended mind, arises straight away, and was one Descartes struggled with himself. How does an unextended, indivisible mind, act on the extended, corporeal, physical world? Descartes answer was through the pineal gland, a small part of the brain. And so Cartesian Dualism was born. A theory many have denied and battled with, but few have overcome.

Is this interaction not a contradiction of his theory of the mind as unextended? Leibniz certainly thought so.  His suggestion, to avoid the paradox of interaction between mind and matter, was that mind and matter are in a pre-established harmony that gives us the illusion of an interaction where there is none. This pre-established harmony determined by god: the creator of the universe. Well, I suppose this option is not quite available to us, though there is some suspicious similarity here with our current big bang theory and its postulation of a pre-established harmony of all natures constants and laws of the universe.

So how about abandoning dualism altogether? Maybe all is matter, or all is mind? A simple, but very appealing answer to the problem. Much of 20th century science tried the materialist approach here. With great success in physics and other impersonal domains, but when they moved to more personal domains they found difficulties. They came up against that inconvenient truth we are all so very sure of. Our own personal consciousness and awareness of the world. The very thing that made Descartes’ cogito ergo sum such a popular and enduring idea.

Now arises the skeptic. Since there cannot be interaction of the mind with the physical world and since the material world is a given, the mind must be an illusion. And so any influence we think we may have in the world must also be an illusion. The isolated monad has found its ultimate expression. As a prisoner in its own conceptual framework. The materialist philosophy attains its noontide. Man becomes servant of his own scientific creations. The dissected brain, genes and economics tell man how to behave, and we simply obey, acting out our allotted function.

It should not by now be quite so hard to see that what has happened here is that our conditioning on the outermost layer had led us to lose touch with the deeper and more primordial layers of our mind. The outer layer of our evolved mind, has become like an inflexible crust, like the earths surface. Hardened by too much exposure. But, unlike on planet earth, we do not live just on the surface of our minds. Thus, we continue to act in our day to day lives making use (albeit much hampered and limited) of these deeper layers, only ignoring the conclusions they lead us to. That our minds are not separate and isolated entities.

This awareness, this realisation, is the foundation of a newfound appreciation of the power of our mind as an evolving spiritual entity. It is time to break up the crust at the surface of our minds. To increase our malleability, to dissolve our hardened boundaries, so that we can begin to evolve the next layer of our minds. To put our conditioning to good use, as a means for us to enact our freedom and to express ourselves and our mind in this world.

The mind is not just a consciousness of being, like Descartes thought. The mind is so much more than this. It is a nexus of intentional awareness reaching out to, and influencing the world. But do not just take my word for it. In the next post I will set out to show and prove this. We can then move on to the implications and how best to handle them as our awareness burgeons.

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