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Communion and communication

Now, it is my thesis that communication is superficial to communion, and without communion, there is no communication, really, at all. .. The more perfect the fit on the communion level, the less needs to be communicated, the more that can be crossed from one being to another in fewer actual communicated acts. (George Spencer-Brown, transcript of the AUM conference, part 3)

Communion and communication. Joint speech is a form of communion, and it takes place within communal frameworks that bring about a common grounding. It is the neglected side of language, which has been treated as if it were simply a business of message passing. In joint speech, no message is passed, but instead we find the active foundation of a common order. When we share common ground, then communication is possible. If there has been no communion, if we are truly strangers, no communication at all is possible. Genocide then becomes a possibility.

Literal truth

Writing gave birth to the notion that facts could assert themselves, independent of any speaker. A mind independent world became a possibility.

Projective images gave birth to the notion that the world could be seen as it is, geometrically and quantitatively, and thus mind-independently.

Before projective images and writing, the very notion of a mind independent world made no sense. Now we are so immersed in texts and images that we doubt the reality of living.

Sharing the Now

A single person alone in a room might be tempted to be a solipsist. Raised in Western society, the solicitations of solipsism under such conditions are almost irresistible. If such a person were to employ the everyday Cartesian language with which we describe experience, there would be a dead inanimate room, represented and hence observed by the mind of the person. Experience may seem to be the result of perception, constructed on the basis of the senses, which is complemented with unobservable stuff loosely described as memories, thoughts, reverie, imaginations and such. The sum of the private stuff, together with the rooms insistent existence, comprises the “now” for such a person.

Oddly, that same person, if told of two disasters that are indexed to very different points in time, will care greatly about one (a massacre, say, in contemporary Absurdlandia), but will be entirely unmoved by another (a similar massacre occurring, say, 400 years earlier). The person in the room is in no way capable of influencing either event. Yet one, by virtue of occurring contemporaneously (in calendar time) is an affront to humanity, the other is a historical detail. Continue reading Sharing the Now


Not only do we have a right to assert that others exist, but I should be inclined to contend that existence can be attributed only to others, and in virtue of their otherness, and that I cannot think of myself as existing except in so far as I conceive of myself as not being the others: and so as other than them. I would go so far as to say that it is of the essence of the Other that he exists. I cannot think of him as other without thinking of him as existing. Doubt only arises when his otherness is, so to say, expunged from my mind. (Marcel, Gabriel. Being and having. Read Books Ltd, 2013.)

Anti-solipsism is a thrilling idea. Not “being against solipsism”, but this reversal, this inversion, allowing existence to be something that those people have, and to recognize that there is no “I” that can be aligned with them. I look in the mirror, and I grant you that that person I see exists, but he is as opaque to me as any other. Furthermore, anybody who exists can die. That is true of everyone I encounter. But my own death is not something I can experience. I cannot wink out of existence.

If we refuse to believe in the cogito underlying experience, but we let experience be what it plainly is, then we are identical with its content. Is this any different from the repeated exhortation in the Chhandogya Upanishad, Thou art that! (Tat tvam asi!)
Or when Merleau-Ponty insists

We think we know perfectly well what ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’, ‘sensing’ are, because perception has long provided us with objects which are coloured or which emit sounds. When we try to analyse it, we transpose these objects into consciousness. We commit what psychologists call ‘the experience error’, which means that what we know to be in things themselves we immediately take as being in our consciousness of them. We make perception out of things perceived. And since perceived things themselves are obviously accessible only through perception, we end by understanding neither. We are caught up in the world and we do not succeed in extricating ourselves from it in order to achieve consciousness of the world. (Phenomenology of Perception, Chpt 1)

This is giddying. Solipsism is a hat we all tried on in our teens. It helped us to develop a scepticism about closed minds. Anti-solipsism is another thought exercise. It seems perfectly coherent. And not a million miles from the Buddhist concept of Anatta.

Post scriptum: Here’s a picture I did. It’s Solipsist vs Anti-Solipsist.


Relational thinking

This little quote from Thomas Fuchs makes an important point:

The brain does not generate a mind. It mediates a relationship between organism and environment. This gives rise to the P-world. Phenomenologists call this being-in-the-world. But that domain is not co-extensive with the person. Those elements of meaning that contribute to the disparate facets of the person arise in many such relations, not only those of organism and environment, but among organisms, and in complex interactions among individuals and collectives at many scales.

Just as the cells in a liver lead very free lives modulo the constraint that they act in a manner suitable for maintaining the liver, so we too see ourselves as free, while we simultaneously constitute a dynamic reality at many scales, each with its own limited form of lawfulness.