SSE Talks


Intent and the Process of Becoming Conscious: A Phenomenological View
Apr 15, 2009 at 1:13 AM EST | P. Moddel


Peter Moddel


Although it seems reasonable to assume the world exists independently of our witnessing it, there is reason to suggest the contrary. Everything we know is formulated in terms of concepts. That is how we bring things to consciousness and think about them. But concepts are formed in the mind and therefore all we know about the world is, to some degree, a mind creation.

To approach the question of how the world must be without the intervention of mind, specific moments in the process of concept formation need to be elucidated. To say this more succinctly: to understand objectivity, subjectivity needs to be better understood.

What actually happens when something is observed? Or the same question in different terms: what goes on during a moment of consciousness? A step towards an answer is the realization that conscious rational thought, which deals in concepts, is itself incapable of formulating concepts. In consciousness, thoughts succeed one another. To form a concept, instead of sequencing there needs to be an interpenetration of many potential impressions.

The ability to perform an act, say stirring your coffee, requires the influx of innumerable past experiences that blend and come to expression in the effortlessness accomplishment of the task. In a parallel manner, myriad impressions and associations coalesce to give rise to an object that registers in conscious thought. There is a coming together and when it reaches the ‘crunch’, the moment of fusion, consciousness enters and presto: there is a subject acknowledging an object. We are not privy to the transformation of many to one and become aware only at the completion of the task, as the concept of some object alights in our mind. Out of a non-conscious process, consciousness arises together with a) the first person perspective, b) the observed object and c) the observing subject. The mind performs consciously and unconsciously in tandem.

And what guides such a process? What can there be that prevails over the working of the out-of-conscious mind and sets the process of cognition in motion fusing qualities into an object of perception? To name it, no novel terminology is needed. We constantly mention it, referring to it as intention. Intent is the impetus to form meaning or to perform a specific act. Ignored in classical science and without a place in cybernetic emitter/receptor descriptions of communication, the ubiquity of intent has been left unacknowledged and yet without it, no unit of meaning would enter our minds and we would be zombies in a world totally out of reach.

Terms implying intent are commonly employed when describing the mind and the natural world. Rather than being a case of the speaker resorting to personification, one can argue that, in fact, intent is a constituent part of what is being described.


Peter Moddel lives in Fribourg, Switzerland.




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