On the Living Construct 5: Self-Referentiality and a the Unity of the Phenomenon


Earlier we have seen that the phenomenal relationship consists of the object, the manus, and the signum animum itself. However, how do we differentiate this process from a mere mechanical process? If we think of this process (the rock → manus signi animisignum animum) as being similar to domino pieces knocking each other down, or like perhaps like three gears affecting each other when turning (if the first gear turns to the left, it makes the second gear turns to the right, and the third is affected by the second gear to turn to the left as well), surely in such cases, we cannot say that the third gear is “aware” of the second gear; they are just in a mechanical relation with each other. What separates this from the relationships between the rock, the manus signi animi, and the signum animum itself? We can say that, while it is true that the sensation comes from the manus, the signum animum does not process the sensation as that which comes from the manus, but instead as that which comes from the rocks themselves. In short, unlike the three gears that are technically separated from each other, the manus signi animi and the signum animum belong to one system: the signum animum itself. The signum animum, through its construction, incorporates the manus as its own (notice that this “incorporation” is nothing voluntary. It is the body as long as it is contingent). No one is saying that their eyes are not themselves. It is true that when I say that my eyes are hurting, it is as if I am treating my eyes as something that is not me, but instead as the cause of my pain. But in actuality, this sentence does not make sense. I am my eyes insofar as I see things. In the case of the signum animum, therefore, the manus is, in a sense, nothing but that which points to the rock outside of it precisely because the manus is the signum animum itself. It is similar to our eyes which, even though it is true that what we see is basically sensations from our eyes (if our eyes are defective, we will see blurry images, or even lose parts of our visual field entirely but this does not mean that the world is blurry in itself), the eyes refer not to themselves but to the world outside of it. This is only possible because our eyes are placed in such an order which makes it not an end in itself, but instead as something through which the object comes to be recognised, as long as the eyes are our body. 

And thus we have what we call a “phenomenal relationship” between the three of them in abstraction. A phenomenon is basically an indirect influence of a cluster of objects that is viewed as one entire whole by the signum animum through the manus signi animi. It is a pseudo-presence of the object to the signum animum through the manus, although keep in mind that this separation can only be done in the abstract. In reality, the manus is nothing more if not the signum animum itself, and thus the object is really in the presence of the signum animum in a direct relationship. 

However, since the phenomenal relationship also involves the signum animum as the observer, the possibility of the relationship largely also depends on the construction of the signum animum itself. A phenomenon is nothing if the signum animum is incapable of being in a phenomenal relationship, and for that, the signum animum will be required to have some processing power and some feedback loop so that the stimulus does not disappear without any meaning (no doubt this is also dependent on the physical construction of the signum animum). This is what differentiates the phenomenal relationship from a mere mechanical process. The domino pieces we referred to earlier are constituted only in a linear relationship between one piece and the next. If the signum animum is only capable of only linear processing, then, like the relationships between the domino pieces, there will be no meaning at all. Meaning is only possible if there is a way for the processing of the stimulus to loop back on itself, so that it makes sense in terms of the stimuli themselves. Why is it that meaning is important in a phenomenon? It is important since without it, there will be nothing which ties the whole picture together. The color “red” is the color “red” insofar as there are other colors it refers to, and the concept “color” only makes sense when it is compared to some other visual property other than color. This is both so that these sensations (or should I say these qualia) can get their respective places in the framework from their significations, which is possible only through their relationships with all the other sensations (allowing for there to be “sensations” in the first place). Thus, it is only through looking back and immersing the system within its own relationship with itself can there be meaning that arises through comparisons and connections within the stimuli themselves, before comparing them with something other than the stimuli (such as comparing it with our goals, etc.) if the creature is complex enough. 

To illustrate this point clearly, let us imagine that Diodorus (the artist from the previous essay), having just made a breakthrough, decided to install a primitive eye to his beloved signum animum. This “eye”, or the oculus signi animi, can only discern shape, distance, texture, brightness, but it can only basically see a particular color of “red” (not different shades of red, just “one” kind of red with differing brightness). In this case, does it make sense to talk about color with the signum animum? Does it make sense to attribute the ability to see color to it? Perhaps not. It might not make sense to talk about color even, let alone talk about “red” as such with it. For the signum animum, that is just how it sees its surroundings. For the signum animum, there are only shades of brightness, shapes, texture, but no color. Now imagine that, after some more work, Diodorus managed to upgrade the oculus, allowing the signum animum to be able to see the color “green” as well. After the upgrade, it makes more sense to say that now the signum animum is able to see color. Based on its newfound ability, the signum animum will be able to compare these two stimuli, thus making the color “red” and “green” meaningful in themselves. The two new colors derived their identity from each other; it is insofar as the color is not “red” that it is “green”, etc. If the signum animum is complex enough, its newfound ability to detect color can also be tied to other senses as well. Now that color is meaningful, it can be associated with “temperature”, or “kinds of objects”, and so on. 

And thus, by using self-referentiality, we can explain why a unified phenomenon is possible. Self-referentiality is one of the reasons why it is possible for there to be a unity of the phenomenon in the first place. If there is no self-referentiality, then our explanation will basically be begging the question. Remember that our conundrum started with “how is it possible for pigments dispersed in exteriority to be seen as a single picture?”. While we could say that it is because the pigments are not treated as dispersed pigments but instead as a singular unit due to the limitations of our eyes (thus transforming the stimulus in terms of quantity and quality), our critic might reply that while the picture is now a singular whole, it is still, in essence, a picture in exteriority. However, we can say that first, in terms of hardware, self-referentiality allows for there to be a share of information, thus disallowing disjointed processing of particular stimuli. This is important, since without this sharing of information, the stimuli will be processed in isolation, and thus there can be no coherent picture. By sharing information between the parts of the processor, and making sure the process is not strictly a linear one, there can be a unity through self-referentiality, albeit perhaps at this stage, the unity is no more than a “forced” one.

However, keep in mind that how the inert–or in this case, the processor–is wired only facilitates the formation of the phenomenon. Therefore, this does not mean that the phenomenon is under the complete mercy of the inert. Instead, the phenomenon, in order to be one, must be its own origin and its own order. The phenomenon must make sense of itself; it has to form its own unity, and this is done through the formation of meanings which we have discussed before. To illustrate this, let us create a rough sketch of how “spatial unity” is formed. Earlier, we have seen how “color” is meaningful if there are at least two of them. The same can apply to spatial points in the visual field as well. A spatial point in my visual field derives its meaning, or in this case its identity, not only from the spatial points adjacent to it but also from the other spatial points beyond its position, just like our color illustration from before. If my eyes are only capable of perceiving just one spatial point in my visual field, then the term “to my left” or “to my right”, or even “position” in a comprehensive sense, will not make much sense, since then there is no reference to make sense of them at all. In short, the meaning of a spatial point in my visual field must derive its meaning through the whole framework of other spatial points in my visual field. This means my visual field is practically crisscrossed with relational meanings between all the spatial points in my visual field, since a spatial point must point to the other spatial points for their meaning. This arrangement creates the tension that is also the unity of the phenomenon. The unity of the phenomenon is not that of an inert object, it cannot rely on its inertia for there to be a unity. Instead, its unity has to be something that is meaningful according to the phenomenon itself as something that is constantly renewed in temporality in the form of tensions between all its constituent parts. While it is true that this illustration is rather limited in scope, it illustrates with clarity the principle of the unity of the phenomenon. Therefore, this principle should be applicable to different phenomena, ranging from a simplistic one, like the one given in the illustration, to complex phenomena, like that of our own consciousness. To conclude, the meanings of the stimuli, which are formed through self-referentiality, become the basis of the tension that is the unity of the phenomenon. 

Finally, it is through self-reference as well that self-awareness exists. It is the reason why the phenomenon can be its own observer. It is true that not all self-referencing systems create self-awareness, but self-awareness is impossible without such a system. The cause has something to do with the fact that our brain is not a linear system, as we have discussed before. There is no one place in the brain that we can pinpoint as the terminus of every neural connection in the brain as a “grand unifier” of sorts. A linear system can only produce a certain product without any understanding of the product because when the product is finished, it is immediately ejected out from the system. Therefore, if our brain is constructed linearly, there can be no self-awareness because the last part of the process will not be aware of itself, as there is no loop going back to itself. Moreover, since this last process must be the one that ties everything together, if there is no loop that goes back to itself, it means the act of seeing will just be the act of seeing and not be the act of realizing that I am seeing. 

Thus, we have established what appears to be a phenomenon without a prior conscious observer (instead, it is the phenomenon itself which becomes consciousness), and along with it, the basis of every phenomenal relationship in existence. It is true that everything seems contingent in the sense it seemingly depends on the construction of the signum animum, but earlier I have said that the phenomenon itself partially depends on the workings of the inert. Without the inert making it possible, there cannot be a phenomenal relationship, and without it, the phenomenon is an impossibility. Of course, without a discerning consciousness, the signum animum is incapable of “perceiving” something with greater complexity. Following this, needless to say that the phenomenon the signum animum is able to perceive is a lot simpler than what we are able to imagine. But at least from this, we can see how a phenomenal relationship first comes to be, and how the phenomenon, something that is as fleeting as consciousness itself, comes to be. 

Doubtless, multiple questions remain unsolved, such as a more thorough explanation of the phenomenon that is the human consciousness and whether or not it has an “efficacy” in the sense that whether or not some mental process is impossible without directly positing the existence of this phenomenon. The notion of free will might crop up as well, since, even though I based the notion of consciousness on Sartre’s being-for-itself, it remains to be seen on how it translates onto the material world of the brain. Nevertheless, these questions must remain unaddressed for now, since at the moment we still lack the necessary tools to address these questions directly.

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