For the Mirror is not the Glass©
Setting a book on the bedstead late at night, I expect to find it there upon awakening next morning. Most normal people would agree this is a reasonable expectation -- under the assumption that no one moves it in the interim and there are no earthquakes. Inanimate objects stay in their places unless some outside force intervenes. In the morning, upon finding the book unmoved, I do not question its continued existence throughout the night; I do not believe that it ceased to exist the instant I shut my eyes to go to sleep and later reappeared the instant I opened my eyes and looked upon it. Such common sense notions about the behavior of everyday objects have been around for a long time, influencing not only Aristotle and Newton but even contemporary avant-garde quantum physicists. Indeed, these ideas about objects were succinctly formulated in a pivotal phrase in one of the most bizarre formulations about the nature of reality produced in recent times, the multi-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics: since physical objects always appear to us to have definite positions. (Everett, 1957.) The physicist, Hugh Everett, III, used these words as a major transition in his argument about why quantum physics is so complicated. If it were not the case that my book always has a definite position, then I could have direct awareness of all of its other versions existing in the infinite number of multi-worlds besides the one I presently find myself in -- and, in consequence, the laws of physics would be much simpler, much more elegant, much more beautiful. But, alas, this is not the case: enormous rather ugly complexities are required by the fact that the book always has a definite position. Or so Everett believed.
Everett at Princeton was, apparently, unaware of the experimental work of another physicist not so far away at Columbia University. Seven years before Everettís paper appeared, an article by the optics physicist, Rudolf K. Luneburg, was published by the Optical Society of America containing another pivotal phrase: there is no absolute localization even in binocular vision. (Luneburg, 1950.) What is this? These are exact opposite formulations! Is not absolute localization required for a definite position? If there is no absolute localization even in binocular vision, how can objects always appear to us to have definite positions? How could Luneburg say such a thing? Regardless of all the philosophizing, doesnít every sane person know that objects always are where they are at any given time? The years of experiments Luneburg conducted at the Knapp Memorial Laboratory of Physiological Optics demonstrated that, even when you and I are standing in the same room, we do not see the room using identical visual spaces. The geometrical properties of your visual space are subtly different from mine. Luneburg discovered that binocular visual space is not based on the Greek geometry we all learn about in high school, and which was the basis of linear perspective in painting. In visual space, he discovered, parallel lines are not parallel in the Greek geometry sense; there is a mathematical relation called a metric which determines how skew the parallel lines are in your visual space and there is another different metric determining how skew the parallel lines are in my visual space. The numbers defining your visual metric differ from mine because we have different psychologies. Luneburg called these metrics psychometric distance functions because they vary with constant factors of the personality of the observer. So, when we get down to details, you and I can never see a given object as having the exact same definite position at any given time. Who is right? Which place is the object really at? Itís amazing, being in the same room, we donít constantly run into each other! Luneburg also learned that binocular visual space has a limiting velocity, related to maximum angular velocity of eye movement, a limiting velocity like Einstein talked about. And he demonstrated that when the eyes move faster and faster the objects they perceive get shorter and shorter. Approaching the limiting velocity, Einstein showed, time slows down more and more. So, how we choose to see has something to do with the time rate we experience. Is it your any given time or is it my any given time for the definite position of the object? Who is right? Whose time does the object abide by? We donít even live in the exact same time; itís amazing we even manage to meet each other! How is it that we do?
The famous French psychologist, Jean Piaget, spent his life studying how children learn. He demonstrated that my conviction that my book stays on my bedstead all night long while I am asleep -- that it does not go out of existence and come back into existence when I close and open my eyes -- is a conviction not shared with me by young children. The belief that the book remains always in existence as long as it exists is called object constancy: while existing, the book exists constantly, it does not jump into and out of existence like a Christmas tree light going on and off. A belief in object constancy is something children learn as they develop mental sophistication and begin to acquire the capacity for connected thought; they are not born with such a belief. Object constancy is a learned behavior, a behavior learned in the process of growing up in a culture. How do children learn this conviction? What is the object like for them before they learn object constancy? Is it possible to unlearn object constancy? Why would anyone try to do a crazy thing like that?
Edmund Husserlís method of reductive phenomenology sheds considerable light on these questions. He made the observation that we can view any object we might choose from more than one position. Indeed, in moving 360 degrees around the object, we can theoretically view the object from an infinite number of different positions. Most utilitarian objects of everyday life are sufficiently complex in their physical properties as to present us with a different face for each position from which they can be viewed. In walking around the object, we are presented with a unique image of the object for each position from which we view it. How is it, then, that we come to recognize each of these unique images of presentation as pertaining to the same object when they are so different in appearance? How are all of these differing images put into a gestalt of superposition in such a way as to constitute a constant object -- a persisting object, that is, which has a definite position at any given time? This is what the child learns to do as he achieves object constancy. This is what Braque and Picasso depicted with their superimposed image of a given object simultaneously viewed from multiple perspectives: Analytical Cubism. The conclusion we find ourselves entertaining is that the identity of the object is a construct, a construct achieved through socialization.
Husserl studied in great detail how the gestalt of superposition of an object is constructed in awareness, and how that gestalt may be deconstructed, collapsed, or reduced. What is the object like when it has been systematically reduced, when all learned behaviors are removed from the process of perception, when we have become again as young children no longer giving credence to object constancy? Proust clearly contemplated this issue, for he muses in REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST that perhaps the immobility of things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves, and not something else. Is it possible that in its reduced state an object is not itself, that it is in fact something else, as Proust imagined? But, in some sense, I am an object of perception for you, and you an object of perception for me. Is it possible that in my reduced state, I am not myself, but in fact someone else? My God, I might be you! And maybe the object cannot be reduced without the subject simultaneously being reduced.
If the hard fixity of the physical object is built of tenuous vapors, what then of the soft soul substance constituting the psychological subject? The straightforward obvious thing to do would be to look at it, if one wishes to answer this question. Looking at the subject is simply self-observation, the most un-sophistry form of introspection. Scientific objection to this positivistic experimental apparatus is largely based upon the unsubstantiated assertion that it is impossible to be both subject and object of perception simultaneously, that the supposed self-observation is actually mere retroflexion, that the cognizer and the object cognized alternate and in so doing make the act of self-observation a mere gesture of the fallible memory. This scientific doctrine is testimony to the fact that thought about what something ought to be is far less reliable than engagement in the actual experiment itself. When the subject is made an object of observation, it takes on many of the properties of physical objects, and abides by many of the same laws. This making of a subjective thing into an objective thing is called reification, and is regarded by the academic community as a logical fallacy. The notion that reification is a fallacy is another unproved scientific assertion. The experimental activities of Edmund Jacobson, the medical doctor, student of William James, University of Chicago electrophysiology researcher and co-inventor of the electroencephalograph, and Hubert Benoit, the extremely accomplished Zen practitioner, are useful here: long-running experiments in self-observation have repeatedly supported one of the basic principles of quantum physics: under certain circumstances, the act of observation itself changes the object being observed. The easiest place to start in self-observation is with the senses. Observing the senses -- sight, sound, smell, touch, taste -- is autosensory observation. Sensing, and observing the senses sensing, are two different experiments. Sensing-and-only-sensing is an in-the-body experiment. Observing the senses sensing is an out-of-the-body experiment: in due course, one cannot escape proprioceptive awareness of my body-ness. The my of my body implies something distinct from that body. Sustained, concentrated attention to the awareness of the sensory concomitants of this implication is a new experiment; one no longer engages in autosensory observation: the object of observation has been changed by the very act of observation, just as quantum physics describes. The new experiment one undertakes is autocognitive observation: engagement with the my of my body, in due course, gives rise to proprioceptive awareness of the concomitants of my self-ness. And the my of my self implies something distinct from that self. Deeper and deeper states of concentrated self-observation give rise to an infinite sequence of direct awarenesses of my supraself-nesses -- in just the same way that instrumental observation of the physical object in quantum physics gives rise to Hugh Everettís multi-worlds. Well, almost. In quantum physics -- according to interpretations emerging from physics-department socialization processes -- localization of an object comes about by collapse of superposition, whereas actual practice of perception reveals that a constant object comes about by socialized learning of how to accomplish superposition. Does this paradox tell us something about the nature of the subject, or does it tell us something about socialization of the subject?
Most people stay away from experiments in self-awareness, because the specter of infinite regress in the selfhood -- the my self-ness imploding to [I, I, I. . .n] -- so immediately appears when attention is turned inward. As may have been expected, the scientific community regards infinite regress as a fallacy. Is this yet one more unsubstantiated mere scientific assertion? The psychologist, Ignacio Matte Blanco, in arriving at his notion of the unconscious as infinite sets seems to have concluded that this is the case. Not only is the subject capable of simultaneously being subject and object of perception, it is multiply capable of simultaneously being the subject of the subject of perception. Moreover, not only is length relative to motion in visual space, as Luneburgís experiments have demonstrated, but introspective retroflexion in self-observation is relative to the operative time rate: retroflexion becomes cognitive simulcast to the degree that the velocity of cognition of percepts -- the baud rate of consciousness, that it -- approaches its relativistic limit. This may be easily verified, as even cursory experiments in autosensory observation are accompanied by time dilation, i.e., elastic variation of what Husserl called internal time consciousness. It is rather like pilot fixation syndrome due to cognitive overload: as the Iís replicate toward infinite regress, velocity of cognition increases, causing time to dilate. The enduring selfsame identity -- our I-ness -- which we so easily take as given, clearly is more than a little mysterious. It takes young children a lot of practice, and often repeated threats and disciplining by parents, to get the idea that they are themselves and not somebody else. Indeed, it is far from rare to see a child march boldly toward adolescence pretending under several names to be multiple, while parents fret and assure the child that he well knows that this little Johnny with the strange voice is just an imaginary friend. The constant I, no less than the constant object, is not something children are born with; it is something they are taught. The conclusion we find ourselves entertaining is that the identity of the subject is a construct, a construct achieved through socialization.
A combat fighter pilot low-altitude accelerating beyond Mach-2 must process greater and greater quantities of information in less and less time. The brain accommodates this cognitive need -- up to a limit, the limiting baud rate of the state of consciousness maintained by the pilot. As cognitive load increases, the pilotís time-rate perception stalls: time passage slows way, way down. As time more and more slows down, objects in the visual field appear farther and farther away. A cusp catastrophe is in the making: fixation syndrome. Wham! The aircraft slams into a mountainside the pilot saw as being quite far away. It is the same with fighter pilots of inner spheres. Little Johnny become Jonathan Livingston! Imploding at an accelerating rate into the infinite regress in the selfhood, greater and greater quantities of information must be processed in less and less time. Embracing more and more Iís, the brain accommodates this cognitive need -- up to a limit, the limiting baud rate of the state of consciousness maintained by the soaring inner seagull. As cognitive load increases, time-rate perception stalls: time passage slows way, way down. As time more and more slows down, objects in the visual field appear farther and farther away. A cusp catastrophe is in the making: Samadhi state. Wham! A great shattering.
There is a continuous perception, rendered by the vision, of a multicoloured light, consisting of all colours -- of all colours not in layers, but as if it were (gesture: dots everywhere) an association by dots of all colours. Two years ago when I met with the Tantrics and got in touch with them, I started seeing this light and I thought it was a Tantric light, the Tantric way of perceiving the material world. But now I see it constantly, in connection with everything, and it seems to be something that one might call a perception of real Matter. All possible colours are mutually associated without being mixed, (same gesture) associated in luminous dots. Everything consists of it. And it seems to be the true way of being. I am not sure yet, but it is anyway a much more conscious manner of being. (The Mother speaking to Satprem in 1967, quoted in Satprem, 1983, p. 110.)
A bucket of dust, a Borel set of dimensionless points, one of Yayoi Kusamaís tactile environments filled with soft sculptures covered with polka dots: thus is consciousness, The Bride, Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. What happens to consciousness when a Readymade is removed from its enculturated context? When behaviors learned in childhood in order to construct a world of Readymade constant objects are suddenly superseded? The Large Glass for the first time truly becomes transparent; it no longer can be a mirror reflecting learned behaviors between the poles of enduring subject and constant object. Both poles shatter. There is no-object, for there is no-self; there is no-self, for there is no-object. Consciousness-without-an-object. Consciousness-without-a-subject. And yet, consciousness-there is. Non-doing is not doing nothing, and no-mind is not no knowing mind.
REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READING:
- Benoit, Hubert. Let Go: Theory and Practice of Detachment According to Zen. N.Y.: Samuel Wiser, 1977.
- Blanco, Ignacio Matte. The Unconscious as Infinite Sets. London: Duckworth, 1974.
- Blank, Albert A. The Luneburg Theory of Binocular Visual Space, Journal of The Optical Society of America, 43:9, September 1953.
- Everett, Hugh, III. Relative State Formulation of Quantum Mechanics, Reviews of Modern Physics, 29:3, July 1957. (As the notes printed with this article clearly indicate, enormous pressure was brought to bear on young Everett to get him to straighten up, fly right, and bring his creative mind into conformity with that of the man in Copenhagen. Dr. Everett left Princeton and disappeared into the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group, the Pentagon. He was an Army brat, and the Everett family obituaries printed in the Washington Post make exceptionally interesting reading to someone from a similar background -- and who lived half a mile away.)
- Jacobson, Edmund. On Meaning and Understanding, American Journal of Psychology, XXII, pp. 553-577, 1911. (Describes in detail the methods of autosensory observation taught to experimental subjects in Dr. Jacobsonís laboratory, some of which later became the basis for his "progressive relaxation" technique.)
- Jacobson, Edmund. Biology of Emotions. Springfield: C. C. Thomas, 1967. (Describes 60 years of experimental research conducted by Dr. Jacobson leading him to the conclusion that "there are no closed circuits in the brain" and that "brain activity does not prevail over peripheral activity in the intact organism.")
- Luneburg, Rudolf K. The Metric of Binocular Visual Space, Journal of the Optical Society of America, 40:10, October 1950. (This paper was published posthumously by Dr. Luneburgís colleagues. Apparently, there were some mighty strange occurrences associated with his death.)
- Piaget, Jean. Principle Factors Determining Intellectual Evolution from Childhood to Adult Life, in David Rapaport, editor, Organization and Pathology of Thought. N.Y.: Columbia University, 1951.
- Satprem. Mother: The New Species. Paris: Institut De Recherches Evolutives, 1983.
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