Overcoming obilivion and becoming truly conscious
“Consciousness is our mode of analysis of the outside world into objects and actions…We treat ourselves both as objects of language and as speakers of language, both as objects of symbolism and as symbols in it.” — Jacob Bronowski “The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination”
Many believe oblivion to be the opposite of consciousness — an eternally unconscious state that occurs after death so that in oblivion we can no longer be both objects of symbolism and symbols within it. For those who believe oblivion to be the opposite of consciousness, we simply become unconscious of both, which is why we must strive to treat ourselves as both objects of symbolism and as symbols within it as vigorously as we can.
In “The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination” Jacob Bronowski provides two symbolic expressions:
One from Newton: — G = k(mm’/r2)
which says “the gravitational attraction between two massive bodies is proportional to the product of their masses divided by the square of the distances between some point in each mass.”
The other from William Blake in which he writes:
“A Robin Red breast in a cage
Puts All Heaven in A rage”
Dr. Bronowski goes on to say two things about both statements:
- They are both general statements — Both say something about a “human situation”
- Neither statement has the form of a syllogism — Neither statement says “All As are Bs” .
For Dr. Bronowski, while both statements are a form of language, “science, like that used by Newton, is a peculiar language” because it contains only statements that, in the context of a particular theory, are true.
Poetry, on the other hand, like that used by Blake, in his Auguries of Innocence, is a symbolic language, unencumbered by any theory. It contains statements that can be both true and not true.
Both good science and good poetry require imagination. They both require the mental comparison of images in ways that may be ordinary and, at times, extraordinary. Imagination is a word which derives from the making of images in the mind, from what Wordsworth called “the inward eye” in his beautiful poem “ I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” .
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
For many “making images” from their inward eye can be disconcerting. In fact it may be impossible. They see only with their “outward eye” which means they struggle treating themselves “Both as objects of symbolism and as symbols within the symbolism.
They struggle appreciating language like the first stanza of William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”:
“To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour.”
Of course the outward eye does not see a world in a grain of sand or a heaven in a wild flower but for those lucky enough “to see” a grain of sand as a symbol of a magnificent world of which they and it are a part, all kinds of sights are possible; sights that both entertain and inform, that both offer solace and anguish, they see both:
“the gravitational attraction between two massive bodies” and
“A caged Robin Red putting All Heaven in A rage”
Those lucky ones among us who treat themselves as both objects of symbolism and symbols within the symbolism, as vigorously as they can, live a richer, fuller life. Those who see themselves as both objects of symbolism and symbols within the symbolism overcome oblivion and become truly conscious.