Shadows of Consciousness

1.The female migrating swallow is passionate in her care for her chicks. Her day is occupied with their nourishment and she will sacrifice her life to defend them against a predator. But when the flock of migrating swallows appears signaling the end of the season, the mother swallow will immediately leave her chicks to migrate with the others. She joins the migrating flock and abandons her chicks to certain death. She acts without hesitation or evidence of confusion.

2. Some chimpanzees from the Gombe group were observed as they came upon a strange female chimp carrying a baby. The Gombe chimps immediately seized upon the baby chimp and killed it as they might have killed a pig or a monkey. “Humphrey was beating its head against a branch; then he started eating its thigh muscles and the poor infant went limp. Mike was allowed to tear off a foot. But now confusion seems to have overcome the attendant apes. They watched intrigued, but none begged a portion. They did however inspect the carcass, and Humphrey too began poking and sniffing rather than eating it. He even groomed it, then dropped it and walked away (prey is devoured by the group with not so much as a scrap wasted). Others retrieved the small corpse, only to play, examine or groom it, often giving it the respect accorded a dead community member. The carcass changed hands six times and, although battered beyond recognition, very little had been eaten.” (The Ape’s Reflexion, Adrian Desmond, pg 220)

3. Humans feel a deep sense of horror at the neglect, abuse or killing of a child by its mother or another adult. This outrage also extends to the abuse or killing of babies of other social species (puppies and kittens in particular). The case of the migrating mother swallow is curious to the observing ethnologist for this reason. In many ways her conduct appears similar to that of a human mother, but then in one astonishing moment, without any hesitation, she abandons her children to migrate with the group.

4. I previously used the metaphor of a suddenly stopped film to describe the appearance of consciousness. It was as though you were at the cinema when midway through a film the screen went blank, the lights came on, and the story in which you had been immersed is gone. You are suddenly aware of yourself sitting in the cinema. Consciousness appears as a similar sort of breakdown and awareness. The world in which one has been acting, its fluid, narrative-like quality, is abruptly broken. One is aware of himself and a world outside himself, seemingly distant. He feels very alone. He hesitates to act. What causes this hesitation? What triggers the conscious moment?

5. The mother swallow joins the migrating flock so that she may survive the winter and there is no evidence that she is conflicted over the abandonment of her children. The Gombe chimps by contrast appear conflicted over the infanticide. Humphrey and Mike carry out the killing, but when the others fail to join them in eating the dead infant both Humphrey and Mike hesitate. When the others (likely more than two) poke and sniff at the carcass Humphrey imitates them. Some of the others then play with the carcass or groom it, one seemingly treating it as a dead community member.

6. There is confusion among the chimps over what has happened and its significance. Though the gender of the other chimps was not recorded (were some or all of them women, mothers perhaps?), it is clear these chimps do not consider the infant chimp to be prey. Humphrey and Mike do not follow through on their impulse to eat the dead infant. None among them is certain how to act.

10. In their own chimp manner Humphrey and Mike have become aware of the conflict between their impulse and the behavior of the other chimps. To conceive this conflict is to become conscious. They are self-conscious because they are conscious of others.

21. Man’s consciousness is rooted in his sociability. There is no self-consciousness without consciousness of other selves. The two require each other. In much the same way a man’s genetics express themselves through the institutions that surround him, his self-consciousness requires the consciousness of others to express itself.

35. Consciousness emerges from a disagreement between genes and the institutions that exist for their expression. A man unwilling to express himself within the institutions around him feels alone, world-less. There is a breakdown of sociability. The institutions that surround him are no longer welcoming. Instead of acting he hesitates. He fears the disapproving look of the others, their judgment, if he acts otherwise. When the others are not present to provide the disapproving look his conscience provides it. The others physically, or through the institutions he was born into and through which he expresses himself, are part of him.

49. Institutions define what is expected, they define appropriate behavior and standards of conduct. Certain institutions are more deeply coded into man’s genes and to break with them will produce in him a physical anguish, the pang of conscience.

68. Motherhood is the original institution. Upon the model of the mother’s care for her child other species specific behaviors are based. Changes to the institution of motherhood as a result of birth control; first pregnancies in their late thirties; refusal to breast feed; employment of nannies to care for children born to careerist mothers; etc. pose specific challenges for institutions throughout a society.

1 comment:

  1. I'll just start with 1.

    This is the importance of movement for the man, at least movement for the modern man, movement for myself. I must not only keep running, and keep running faster, but I must be on the move, constantly, in mind, body, and spirit (I'm using all the common street slang here and have no issue with the what the philosophy-cats have on the matter). Yeah, man, keep on moving. So when them chicks move, I've been ten light years ahead anyway. Fuck them moving flocks, fuck that momentary importance them lasses put on being in place for just enough time to cook the bun. Them lasses can move just as fast as the cats when they want to--but I'm wanna them cats who just moves fast as fuck. You shoulda seen me haulin ass down that mountain yesterday--fuckin eagle I was. Eagles got no problems. Especially not with 5'10'' Kazakhstani women who redefine beauty.


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