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On the Living Construct 3: Concrete Analysis of the Phenomenon

And thus such is consciousness. It is a phenomenon taken to its logical extreme. Suppose consciousness is born out of the phenomenon that is the living construct (or, to be more precise, consciousness itself is the phenomenon). In that case, consciousness is therefore dispersed throughout our body, just like the picture is everywhere in the parts. Our thoughts, sensations, and experiences come from not merely our neural activity like some people think, but also from every muscle in our body, of every bone, and other organs which sustain our own experience. If our leg is suddenly in pain, is it not also experienced as difficulty in walking? Will it not affect our experience and relation to the world? If our eyes are hurting from a light that is too bright, will it not be experienced as a vision accompanied by pain, instead of abstract eye-pain? The activity becomes an activity-endowed-with-pain, instead of just a given activity plus pain. But it is important to realise that consciousness is more than just a phenomenon seen from the outside. What makes life what it is is partly because consciousness, at least our consciousness, is capable of being aware of itself. Thus, for a construct to be self-conscious, it has to be a phenomenon that, not only is it aware of its surroundings, but also of itself. It is a phenomenon looked at from the interior. 

Still Life with Broken Glass. Date: 1642. Rijksmuseum, Netherlands

What does it mean to be looked at “from the interior”? When we talk about a “phenomenon”, what usually comes to mind are phenomena that are seen from the outside, i.e., how it appears to us, a spectator. However, consciousness is a phenomenon that is seen from the interior, i.e., by the person who is himself that phenomenon. Keep in mind that it is not akin to a homunculus inside our head shifting through perceptual data. What I mean is that it is a phenomenon as it occurs and one that is in a recursive relationship with itself (this we will discuss in the next paragraph). The ability of the body to be aware of itself is due to its own activity. It is true the color red is qualitatively different from the sight of a neuron firing, but that is because the action is seen from the outside. When I move my hand, someone can judge that my hand is moving, but the sensation of me raising my hand is not just me “looking at my hand raising from a third-person point of view”, but also the feeling of my muscles contracting on command, the proprioceptive sensation of my hand changing location, created by the sum of activities which make the operation possible. No one will deny that if our hand is wounded, the pain is only possible to be perceived if our nervous system carries the information. But taken in itself, the information means nothing. It is only if it is connected to the necessary framework can it be intelligible as pain. It is only if it is a part of a painting can a pigment be intelligible as having meaning. Keep in mind that this is by no means a metaphysical cliff, that every personal sensation is private and thus unknowable to the other person. It is just a contingent separation, not a philosophical one. Imagine if we could connect our brains to each other by using some kind of apparatus, then certainly we will have access to the person’s phenomenon as seen by himself, and thus, depending on the sophistication of the apparatus, we can perhaps feel the pain in his leg literally as he feels it himself. 

Earlier I mentioned that consciousness is a phenomenon that is recursive. What does this mean? How is this possible? Keep in mind that a phenomenon does not really have an epicenter, and thus, there is no single seat of consciousness through which everything is observed. And thus, in a sense, each part is looking at each other. This is not to say that it means every faculty is also equally dispersed into every brain part. Without a doubt, certain faculties can be lost due to particular brain injuries (imagine a person suffers from a certain brain injury which causes him to be unable to feel fear. Such an injury will render the experience “inaccessible” to him. It is as if now a door has been closed to him, and what’s beyond the door is a mystery to him). However, this does not mean that certain brain damage will cause him to lose his “self-awareness”. Such a thing is only possible if the damage affects the entirety of the brain. Thus, since every part is looking at each other, since consciousness is dispersed everywhere in the body, one can imagine it is akin to a, for a lack of a better term, “collective of consciousnesses”, in a bizarre sense. It is bizarre because every part is in actuality connected to each other, and consciousness itself does not belong to exteriority, therefore speaking of a “collective of consciousnesses” in one person does not make much sense, because such “collective of consciousnesses” will dissolve into one consciousness that is the body. However, while we have no choice but to explain it using our limited language, this neatly shows that consciousness is capable of self-awareness because it is a mirror to itself, and in the sense of the construct, each part is looking at each other while at the same time being dissolved as one and the same thing.

To make this point clearer, imagine for a moment that you are taking a long hike through a particular mountain. At the start of the walk in the morning, you feel that your legs are light, you are fresh from the long rest the night before. You can move without any difficulty, and you can see as if the road ahead of you welcomes you to the adventure ahead. But after a whole day of walking, fatigue starts to set in. The hike turns out to take more time than expected, and you are not at all prepared for this. Your head has started to hurt a bit, and your feet now seem to be not obeying commands as readily as before. Unlike before, now you are not entirely certain where you are. Perhaps you are lost, or perhaps you are just exhausted. The strain of the walk is starting to get to you. If we are to look at your body from a biological point of view, little is a mystery. The buildup of lactic acid in your muscles causes the muscle to function in a compromised manner, and neural signals from your leg are interpreted by the brain as such and such. Your brain now is also not functioning as quickly as before. Reaction time is delayed by a few seconds, and your body temperature causes certain organs to not function at their fullest capacity. But in a subjective experience, all these are experienced as fatigue. The machine is, in a sense, breaking down. The phenomenon now is less fluid. The constituent parts, although they still belong and signifies the same whole, becomes slightly more visible as the image flickers a bit every now and then, just like your leg, which is, at the moment, appears to be sinking in exteriority (movement less fluid, the effort to move the leg is more noticeable than before). Even now, you cannot get your bearings as quickly as before. Mental fatigue means that certain faculties are less accessible as your mind is clouded with something that is not visible and yet is everywhere all at once. Being-in-itself is sticky. It seems to drag you further into dispersion as the inert. But no matter, the machine will soon run at peak capacity again once you get some rest. From here, we can see that fatigue betrays the body-in-exteriority underneath the living construct. It exposes the “contingentness” of consciousness. Consciousness is the body, nothing more, nothing less. Consciousness and the body are the same things that we call “the living construct”. 

And thus, to amputate your hand is to remove a certain kind of sensation, and in a sense, it also removes a certain part of your consciousness from the body. As each part of the body is responsible for a thing (the heart is responsible for pumping blood, certain areas of the brain are responsible for language), the proper seamlessness and fluidity of consciousness are directly tied to, but not limited to, the functioning of these parts. It is just like a painting, the beauty of the picture is dependent on the relations of its parts (i.e., the color pigments), and to have half of the canvas burned away is to remove both a large part of the color pigments and with it half of the picture. 

While it is true, we use human consciousness as a case study, this does not mean it only “applies” to human consciousness only. Whatever form of consciousness it is, whatever living construct it might be, one of its feet will always be on the material, and thus it will always be, in a sense, what being-in-itself allows it to be. Even if we imagine a world far removed from our own world, a world which perhaps does not have gravity, or even a world that is not 4-dimensional like ours, the basic premise will remain the same. The existence of any form of consciousness is dependent on the inert, since it is nothing but a consciousness-in-a-certain-world. Life, therefore, is a fragile phenomenon that is in contradiction with itself. Because it needs to be aware of itself, and yet it is made out of the inert, it is in constant tension with itself. It needs to capitalize on the inert, such as consuming food, or building a house, so that it doesn’t collapse into the inert (death). It is itself not limited to the inert, for it outruns itself into the future and the past, but it is stuck with the present circumstance, which entraps it in the field of material reality. It is a fragile thing, for if the order supported by the inert is to be disturbed or be thoroughly destroyed, then the phenomenon itself will collapse and disappear, leaving only the parts of a once living body. And thus, even though consciousness is of a different being than inert materiality, it doesn’t escape the Logic of the world. Everything that is conscious is under the Logic of the world.  

From this, we can draw two conclusions: every consciousness is limited to the laws upon which it is built, and thus every consciousness must have a facticity. If consciousness must have a facticity, it means that every consciousness in existence is limited to a certain ability to comprehend, to act, and to what it can interact with. In short, its being is limited precisely by what allows it to be.

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