I was recently discussing consciousness with a friend (via the internet). Consciousness, of course, seems to be based on what I often fascinatingly call “subject / object perception”. I know the phrase “subject / object perception” is fascinating because, when I mention it at cocktail parties everyone gets a look on their faces like they are fascinated with something else — anything else. So, my friend and I were discussing that fascinating subject when she unexpectedly asked, “Paul, it took me a while to grasp the image you present when you talk about ‘a loss of subject/object perception’, though I think I’ve attained a somewhat understanding. Can you describe it again?”
No doubt she then giggled and shut down her computer. But this was over the internet, so I couldn’t see that, and — fool that I am — actually spent considerable time and effort writing up a short answer for her, which I then sent to her, before realizing that she is the only person in my life who has asked me to elaborate on what I mean by “subject / object perception”.
Now, I am a man who normally says, “I’ll be brief and to the point”, only immediately prior to having sex. But I actually worked like a school kid on getting his prom bow tie in perfect shape in order to explain the loss of subject / object perception to her in a brief and to the point manner.
Even so, that woman, if she seriously wanted a further explanation, could probably endure a four year round trip to Mars in a small space ship with only one magazine aboard. She appears to be the perfect person to appreciate my personality, which could bore a dog into refusing to enthusiastically slobber your face. I just might propose marriage to her. But I digress.
Here’s what I spent so much time and effort — apparently wasted time and effort — making as short and to the point as I could:
When I am consciously aware of something, I experience a division between me (the observer) and it (whatever it is that I observe). In slightly different words, when I am consciously aware of something I perceive a division between me (the subject) and it (the object). I take those two sentences to be synonymous.
And here’s one way to describe in a simple way that division between me and it, between the observer and the observed, between subject and object: So far as I can see, I am not the notebook on my desk that I am looking at.
Apparently, this division of reality into me and not-me is ultimately caused by as yet largely unknown physiological processes in my brain. Yet, if that’s the case, then any such processes can be interrupted. And, indeed, they sometimes are.
For instance, it appears those processes are routinely interrupted after I go to sleep — or in any other moments when I lose consciousness. But what might happen if those processes were interrupted while I, in some sense of “I”, was still awake? Or still aware?
I believe that if and when that happens there is no longer a division in perception or awareness between me and it, between the observer and the thing observed, between subject and object. Put somewhat poetically, “I and the universe become one”. And this “One”, this “Unity of all things”, or more simply this “All”, is sometimes called by some mystics, “god”; and by other mystics other words.
I believe a friend of mine once said it well when he mentioned that this “Unity” is the sine qua non — the indispensable condition — of this one particular kind of mystical awareness. There are other kinds of mystical experiences, but this one is crucially marked by the loss of subject / object perception.
Last, I think it is important, however, to recognize that when mystics use that word “god”, they are — so far as I can see — not talking about the Gods of non-mystics. At least not in any significant way.
And that’s it. That’s the explanation I gave her. Can you believe she wrote back and actually thanked me for it! Thanked me for it!
Now, should I propose to her or not?