“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, October 8, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 19--Consciousness

I must needs be brief as I'm too excited about this to write much. There's a lot more where this came from in my essay for Bryant's and Bogost's OOO anthology.

What if we've been looking for consciousness in the wrong place, as I argue in The Ecological Thought? What if we've been neglecting Darwin in this crucial area and treating consciousness as a prize for being highly evolved--an idea that has so much wrong with it I don't know where to begin?

What if OOO were to show us, along with Buddhism, that consciousness was actually lower down than we expect?

Buddhism talks about "resting the mind" on some x such as the breath, where in the west we'd talk about holding x in mind or being conscious of x, and so on.

What if there were more to the metaphor of "resting on" than just metaphor?

What if, in other words, this teacup resting on the carpet were resting on it just like my mind resting on some x, in every meaningful sense?

I take my cue from Graham who rightly lays in to the "usual cavalier explanations of human superiority" where consciousness is concerned (Tool-Being p. 289). This comes in a paragraph in which he talks about perception as identical to physical encounters between objects (which is why he adapts Whitehead's prehension to replace "perception").

Not only would this be a deep affinity between OOO and Buddhism, for whom worms and in some traditions even non-life has Buddha nature. It would also mark a decisive step in current research on consciousness, a step not considered in science and in scientism, even by the many neuroscientists working on Buddhist meditation.

As if by magic, Sogyal Rinpoche chimes in via his Glimpse of the Day feed for today:

One of the greatest Buddhist traditions calls the nature of mind “the wisdom of ordinariness.” I cannot say it enough: Our true nature and the nature of all beings is not something extraordinary.

The irony is that it is our so-called ordinary world that is extraordinary, a fantastic, elaborate hallucination of the deluded vision of samsara. It is this “extraordinary” vision that blinds us to the “ordinary,” natural, inherent nature of mind. Imagine if the buddhas were looking down at us now: How they would marvel sadly at the lethal ingenuity and intricacy of our confusion!

I'm not claiming the cup has feelings. I'm claiming that consciousness is like a cup.

OOO you amaze me.


Joseph Charles said...

I think this is exactly it, yes. Consciousness is not an absolutely unique object, and there is no difference in kind between two people falling in love or scientists contemplating the Higgs bosons than there is in the formation of planets in deep space or the relationship of a cell to its neighbors.

This is why I see OOO as part of the sequence, which includes Copernicus, Darwin and Freud (and others, too), that further decentralizes the human from the center of everything. In OOO, there really is no final place for that superiority to hide.

Timothy Morton said...

That's great Joseph. Nice to see you here.