Note to Daniel Dennett

20120501-164926.jpgTatiana Fomina, 500px.com

Today I digress…just thinking of this old journal entry from May 2005 (again, a rumination generated by Consciousness Explained). I dare you to read it.

In terms of Jesus’ identity as it was self-realized or self-defined, Jesus was not conscious of being simply a person or “I”, but of actually being someone it was thought impossible for him to be. God had been around for a long time, spoken to Moses, David and the prophets, performed miracles in and for Israel, created the universe, etc. Dennett probably would say that Jesus must have been crazy, he must have created this illusory, impossible self (with great ingenuity, by the way), and he must have convinced his crazy followers of same, who then “made up” all kinds of stories. Dennett probably also would say that the people of the time were subject to memes which inclined them to believe such piffle. In fact, Dennett would say, much of the biography of Jesus is probably true, only it is riddled with “local memography”, or conceptual universes developed out of “primitive,” “superstitious,” or whatever, topographies of reality (i.e. myths).

However, Dennett would be guilty of one of his own most-hated logical fallacies – the failure to adequately imagine what this would entail, and so to rule out the truth of it summarily (“…thought experiment depends, illicitly, on your imagining too simple a case, and drawing the “obvious ” conclusion from it…”; or “mistaking a failure of imagination for an insight into necessity”).

First of all, the notion of memology, the “meme”, is largely rooted in Roman culture. Dennett’s novelistic theory of consciousness as a “centre of narrative gravity” flows from the dynamics of this so-called “primitive” culture. You might want to take a look at M.M. Bakhtin’s notion of “heteroglossia”, which is identical to memology, and whose “dialogization of social languages”, which he found to have originated in the Roman Empire, is the very development of consciousness as virtual novel with the centre of narrative gravity Dennett describes. Bakhtin outlines the origin of this type of linguistic process in the cross-cultural and intercultural dynamics of ancient Rome. One might ask whether a society whose inventions Dennett himself is using to enlighten quite a few, quite intelligent and modern people, could be all that naive, now, could it?

Second, when you study Bakhtin [The Dialogic Imagination], it is important to note that memes are specifically a development of the Roman Era, because when one examines literature antedating the rise of Roman novelistic heteroglossia, one discovers, as in the Epic genre for example, a much more closed, monoglossic, memonic world (or “consciousness”). So, one could not argue that memes as such, in all the multifarious diversity and interlocuity that Dennett ascribes to them, really existed, since there is no linguistic evidence for them [and yes, I know, Dennett notes Dawkins in the appropriation of this term]. Epic and other archaic genres exhibit a more formal structure, a literary stone age, if you will, especially in terms of timespace, or “chronotope”, which is fixed and unreal. The audience does not interact with the closed chronotope, it is a finished, entirely past, inaccessible timespace, not a “happening” but a “once upon a time…”. It is these closed genres that become the memes of ancient novels.

Bakhtin is quite adamant about this. It is the social development of theatre, especially parodic, comedic, irreverent, “grass roots”, non-elite productions out of which novel emerged. It is in this realm that the audience enters the narrative and is carried along with it; the chronotope becomes emergent and future-oriented, open-ended, more “consciousness-like.”

Third, in terms of Jesus’ followers “making up stories,” one can hardly imagine why they would risk their lives in this manner. If their leader was publicly executed by Roman authority, it seems very unlikely that the early disciples would defy the Imperial authority, on pain of death, by inventing pure fictions and publicly proclaiming them – openly insulting and provoking the Caesar, denying, illegally, the deity of Augustus, a popular and much loved ruler, and just generally stirring up trouble for themselves to no evidently beneficial purpose. Even the fact that they believed their preposterous claims does not adequately explain their suicidal mania. Thousands upon thousands of Christians were persecuted and executed, or just basically shunned and run out of town – for what? How did following Jesus’ teachings of giving up all worldly goods, sharing everything in common, giving to the poor and just basically helping each other out justify their stubborn bloody-mindedness and lack of survival instinct?

The fact is, it doesn’t! And one must see the basis of the conflict as somewhat more profound than simple naïveté. One must ask the reciprocal question: Why would a powerful regime, a veritably impregnable fortress of religious diversity, tolerance and authority, be provoked to such a degree by a small group of complete lunatics? What possible threat could they pose?

Fourth, in view of the linguistic sophistication of Roman culture, as evidenced by its creation of memes (heteroglossia) and of novels (dialogizations of social languages), narratives that are future oriented, open-ended and accessible, one could argue that consciousness itself underwent an important evolutionary development at this point in history – the very development Dennett describes as the nature of consciousness in the modern world, however broadly or narrowly you may wish to define “modern”.

It seems that the type of consciousness created by living in the environment of Imperial Rome was blossoming from a more tribal, static, limited self-defining narrative to a more democratic, dynamic, diversified self-defining narrative – a paradigm shift. Robert Graves brilliantly characterizes this historical moment in his astounding novel (how ironic), I Claudius. In an argument between two historians, Livy and Pollio. Livy, of the old school, writes epic-like histories, incorporating poetry, eulogies and favoring historical inaccuracies reflecting glory over historical accuracy of negligible narcissistic quality. Pollio, on the other hand, prefers to write history in all its naked, irreverent and boring accuracy, favoring truth over narcissism. The point is not which is better, the point is that this reflects heteroglossia and dialogization in narrative and the development of a more real, temporally accessible, relatable, non-heroizing, novelistic type of history writing.

Variability and dynamism is evident in its development, leading to a diversity of novelistic forms and to the transformation of worldwide culture on the scale of a revolution. All subsequent developments in Western culture owe a debt of gratitude to the imaginative liberty of the Romans.

Fifth, it is the beauty of the wider parameters granted during this period that religious concepts underwent dialogization and became accessible to the common folk, rather than remaining strictly canonical, sacred, codified and basically useless to the average person. These concepts received memonic play in a way they never had before, and hence were examined, batted about and just plain adulterated, resulting in an explosion of intra and inter cultural adaptations, amalgamations, reworkings, translations, new ideas, heretical ideas, brilliant ideas and just plain fun, while yet maintaining some of the more rigid traditions in a state of cultural flux, tension and sometimes outright conflict.

It is into this environment that the consciousness of Jesus emerges. Jesus is able to freely spin self-determining narratives in this environment the like of which would have been impossible just centuries earlier. The material available to him is vast, multicultural, complex – memonic. It is also accessible to a broad spectrum of audiences via the memosphere of the vast empire. Jesus is a sophisticated language user and the historical accounts of his fame as a teacher above all else, reflect the overall sophistication of the average people of his culture in terms of well-developed socio-linguistic consciousness. This was not a naive, primitive, mythocentric group, but rather, a mentally maturing, creative, paradigm-shaping historical force, peopled by individuals who were just as concerned with truth and verification as we ourselves. Claudius himself, as a historian, is a prime example.

And so, when a writer of this era asserts that he is writing a true account, one must not simply dismiss this as the ravings of a village gossip or the superstitious fantasies of a deluded peasant. They may well be, in some cases, but a certain amount of respect for the text must be maintained.

The consciousness of Jesus as presented by the heterophenomenological accounts is not entirely unique in Roman culture. The emergence of such a centre of narrative gravity was not impossible as a derivative of the newly memonic social milieu. The point is that it was an accessible, if not expected, historical meme, a “God-Man” (θειος Ανηρ). Therefore, the stories surrounding and concerning the life and ministry of Jesus were given serious consideration by educated Roman minds, including Paul (who was Saul, a Pharisee), Luke, Roman magistrates (including Pilate), as well as the enemies of Jesus who cited some of the more extraordinary assertions, such as healing a man born blind on the Sabbath – a sophisticated legal abstraction of an apparently impossible, mythological idea – as the basis for his execution as a legal challenge to the authority of the Caesar.

The consciousness of Jesus, therefore, was not composed of linguistic “figment”, but rather, of social, political, historical, memetic, heteroglossic realities, virtual realities, in terms of the developing consciousness of the people of the time. And so, his claims were strongly resonant with the culture, they made sense to people, and in fact, are characterized by Jesus himself (and his followers) as “Good News,” relevant to the significance and meaning of the very society and the individuals of which it was composed. His message, and its concomitant phenomenological assertions, i.e., the presence of a supernatural force, a real, demonstrable, witnessed incidence of the God Man, was earth shattering to these people. The consciousness of Jesus was a memonic earthquake which shook the identity of the Roman Empire to its very core, and which redefined the centers of narrative gravity of thousands upon thousands of people. It eventually transformed the entire empire by its psychological and social power.

So this is no simple case of mythologic naïveté based on the hysterical fabrications of religious zealots. This is a case of a serious development of human consciousness brought about by the paradigm-shifting flood of consciousness raising achieved in and by the dynamic sociolinguistic environment of the Roman Empire. Jesus seems to have appeared at just the right time, at the cusp of these developments, and he seems to have taken control of them, giving direction to an otherwise crumbling and degrading Imperial lineage, resulting in the crumbling and degradation of the society itself. Without the appearance of the consciousness of Jesus, the Roman Empire would have disappeared, like many great civilizations before it.

On The Significance of the Genetic Contribution of Mary

20120524-105157.jpg
500px.com

May 2005

What if scientists built a time machine and a biologist traveled to Israel 30 AD? She could perhaps obtain a skin cell scraping or a lock of hair from Jesus and genetically analyze it. What would she find?

It follows from Jesus’ being truly human that he would have DNA in his cells but whose DNA would he have? It follows from current scientific understanding that Jesus must have had a blood type compatible with Mary and hence, a genetic affinity with her. If Jesus was truly human, this biological necessity would be fulfilled. Here we have an interesting irony in the biological descent of Jesus in that Adam (the first) begat Eve, whereas Adam (the second) was begotten of Eve (Mary). Further, the descent from Adam indicates that biologically, Jesus is begotten of God because Adam, genetically, was begotten of God. So this genealogy is very important as indicating descent from the original, divine genome. Moreover, it is (narratively) from this divine genome that apparently all humans are descended (barring, of course, the problematic narrative accounts indicating that there already were humans in the world before Adam and Eve descended from Eden.)

It seems the biblical accounts describe all human DNA as divine in nature and origin. It follows that Mary’s DNA is also ‘Adamic’ and this would not contradict the divinity of Jesus as a human begotten of God, since this is exactly what Adam was. So the scientist’s analysis would probably at least identify the x component of Jesus DNA to be from Mary. The y component would not correspond to Joseph. Statistical analysis might indicate that there is a slight probability of a complete zygote occurring spontaneously and this would explain the immaculate conception indicated by the witnesses.

Adam was not God, yet Adam’s DNA was constructed entirely by God. So what, exactly, is the difference between Jesus and Adam if it is not purely biological, since both posses DNA and both were not the result of ‘natural’ zygotes formed by the combination of the DNA of a natural mother and father? The question is one of identity. How did Adam know his identity – how did he define himself? Self-definition is the prerogative of consciousness, not biology. God gave Adam a DNA-produced ‘consciousness-machine’ and God communicated with this machine. According to the narrative, God’s presence was perceived by Adam’s consciousness-machine.

The story of Genesis 2 reveals that God walked in Eden, God was there and Adam perceived him and spoke with him. So God was perceived on a sophisticated level, the level of speech. God had already provided an environment for Adam, and created Adam’s perceptual apparatus to perfectly correspond to this environment. The environment was perceived as it was by the consciousness-machine. Since he could speak, Adam demonstrates a level of consciousness capable of self-definition (according to Dennett), so even if Adam is ‘metaphorical’, he represents an advanced stage of human development, a moral stage.

Adam was able to make sophisticated discriminations about himself and his environment, and to articulate these, such as naming the plants and animals, for example. Therefore, Adam is able to discriminate between himself and God, the person presenting on his visual and auditory fields. Via the simple discriminations offered to his consciousness-machine, according to the narrative, Adam concludes, “I am not God.” As an aside, some apocryphal manuscripts indicate an altered physical state of Adam after the Fall – it is described that he wore a ‘garment’ which was taken away when he left Eden. It is also described that the animals in Eden could speak, therefore demonstrating a type of consciousness they now (post-Fall) do not. One could describe this as a ‘broken symmetry of consciousness’, in that where once there is believed to have existed a higher level of consciousness, this is not evident at our current lower level of consciousness.

In Adam’s naming of the plants and animals, he demonstrates a highly sophisticated discriminatory process and creative linguistic ability, thereby defining himself as well – “I am not any of these.” So Adam becomes an individual, self-defined, and discovers that he is alone. He discriminates differences as well as similarities between himself and God that rule out identity with God, even in ‘kind’. Adam has specified (i.e. ‘species’) himself. When God creates Eve, Adam defines her differently and even names her accordingly as attached to himself in ‘kind’ – ‘Adam’, ‘Adamah’.

The similarities between Adam and Eve and God are apparently overwhelmingly visual, hence, ‘image’ of God is the term used to specify ‘human’. Extra-canonical literature punctuates this similarity of God and his ‘image’ by giving the image special status among all created things. Adam and Eve are then given simple instructions about ‘what to do next’. They are to administrate their environment, which is given to them to look after. They are given one simple moral condition, a choice regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What is good and evil? Do they know or don’t they (assuming the snake is a liar)?

Yes they do, because on their own they comply with the moral imperative and once they break it, they know they have. Their consciousness already possesses this moral capacity, which is a thought-based conceptual realm, an abstract realm. How else could these abstract characters even live in this abstract ‘story’ environment – i.e., the story about them is the story from them. They possess the qualities from which the story derives. And so, we have ‘the fall’ of Adam and Eve. There is a distinct change in Adam’s perception of his identity, which he is able to articulate, meaning that he is conscious of it, and he is conscious of his alienation in time-space.

Alienation implies before/after (time-space). Eden was eternal for Adam – no before-Eden, no after, just ‘forever-Eden’, continual growth, beauty – consciousness of a different order, seeing the presence of God, speaking with the animals, eating the fruit of the Tree of Life. It is a static (myth-like) picture, as opposed to the dynamic, changing environments post-Fall. He is now separated from his former Eden-identity, his Eden-consciousness, his Eden-self. He now must redefine himself completely apart from God, a moral definition schematized in narrative. So he calls it ‘punishment’. Death is the result. Adam’s immediate physical perception, consciousness of God, had continually sustained and restored him. His alienation has real, physical consequences and so, Adam dies and returns to dust.

Contrast the identity of Jesus as it is revealed by his self-definition. Jesus is not conscious of alienation; in fact, he is conscious of complete identity – “I and the Father are one.” How he is conscious of this is a good question, which probably cannot be answered definitively, but there is evidence in favor of it. This evidence is presented by the witnesses, i.e., the New Testament documents, numerous historical persons, The Church, etc. This evidence is not for Jesus in the shaping of his consciousness, it is evidence of Jesus, given by him because of his conscious identity. Many of his speech-acts resulted in the evidence, indicating his sophisticated moral self-understanding: the resuscitation of Lazarus when he spoke to the corpse, as well as other resuscitations cited by the witnesses; his speaking to the physical elements, such as the storm which responded to his command. Jesus was born with this identity and he exhibited his self-differentiation in terms of ‘kind’, his species, by his authority over the whole entire created order as demonstrated by ‘miracles’.

There is no recorded period of Jesus’ life which exhibits any lack of this self-realization on his part. So, in terms of the question of genetics and their importance for the identity of Jesus as God as human, it seems the genetics are the physical setting for Jesus’s consciousness-machine which ran only the identity, “I am God” as his narrative centre of gravity. What it was like to be Jesus is impossible (and you know we do not use this word lightly in these days of probability theory) for us to know beyond the extent of our own conscious experiences, which for the most part do not include storms responding to our command or corpses coming back to life.

All I am saying, apart from the question of how he could have this consciousness, is that he did, and this is what defines him as God. We have also argued that the presence of DNA in his body does not rule out his divine identity but rather, was necessary as the seat of his consciousness, however mysterious the relation between the two remains at this point.