“When asked the question, what is consciousness? we become conscious of consciousness.” Says the first sentence of chapter one of the book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.
I disagree. Now that’s fun. I reclaimed my ability to say «No» and «I disagree». This is something I have learned, consciously so. I saw it, copied the technique, refined it, calibrated it. I saw it in my accounting class teacher I was coerced to listen to, in one of the schools I had to attend all the way back when I was a teenager. That old, grumpy, bolding teacher with his overly bushy, black eyebrows and deeply sun-tanned, leathery skin always disagreed with everyone and never showed any signs of excitement towards anything. I didn’t learn accounting in his class, not even accountability, but I learned to look at things with scepticism.
“This book is a mirror. When a monkey looks in, no apostle looks out.” Says a paragraph in the book The Principia Discordia by Greg Hill. Now- who’s the monkey, Julian? Who is the monkey?
Not conscious of the presence of monkeys, Julian Jaynes continued to build his argument. On page 33 he wrote: “In the learning of skills, consciousness is indeed like a helpless spectator, having little to do. Consciousness takes you into the task, giving you the goal to be reached. But from then on, it is as if the learning is done for you. Let the learning go on without your being too conscious of it, and it is all done more smoothly and efficiently.”
Julian Jaynes really seemed to like his point, and where he was about to locate (store) his attempt of a definition of consciousness. Thousands of years have passed, and humans have not nailed down a definition of consciousness just yet. Julian Jaynes wrote his book in the 1970ties, therefore the argument he hammered down next must have been considered a big one (back then):
“The Zen exercise of learning archery is extremely explicit on this, advising the archer not to think of himself as drawing the bow and releasing the arrow, but releasing himself from the consciousness of what he is doing by letting the bow stretch itself and the arrow release itself from the fingers at the proper time.”
I disagree! I disagree! I argue that the Zen archers would have made more progress, faster progress, all and everything would have been better for them, if they had applied the principles of learning consciously, in the way Moshé Feldenkrais has found. But then again, Zen archery is a complex topic, and money, politics, paying the rent and bills are part of that complexity. So- maybe it was indeed better for them to release themselves from consciousness in order to have good social standing, food, a bed, and a roof over their heads.
What I did learn from chapter one of Julian Jaynes’s book though, is that learning can be done two ways:
- through rote drills, by releasing oneself from consciousness,
- through becoming more conscious, by improving ability in the way Moshé Feldenkrais demonstrated through teaching movement sequences.
But what are those movement sequences? Is it enough to say that they are the movement-based counterpart to essays in writing? Do we need to define the principles, tactics, techniques, sentiments? I might end this blog post by stepping in line with all humanity (so far) and by saying, “I haven’t nailed down a definition just yet.” But I think I’m not too far from one, I have a feeling that I’m holding the cat by its scruff. Would you agree?