Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind

By Gerald M. Edelman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Language and Higher-Order Consciousness

Human consciousness is a perpetual pursuit of a language and a style. To assume consciousness is at once to assume form. Even at levels below the zone of definition and clarity, measures and relationships exist. The chief characteristic of the mind is to be constantly describing itself.

-- Henri Focillon

The last two chapters have involved a strenuous march through variegated and difficult terrain. But if you will bear with me through the next march, I believe you will be able to look back and see things more clearly--to make things "click." This is not quite possible at this juncture--to "see" clearly how primary consciousness works requires seeing how higher-order consciousness emerges and differs from it.

It is curious that we, as human beings with higher-order consciousness, cannot "see the world" with our primary consciousness alone. Creatures with primary consciousness, while possessing mental images, have no capacity to view those images from the vantage point of a socially constructed self. Yet one who has such a self as a result of higher-order consciousness needs it to link one mental image to the next in order to appreciate the workings of primary consciousness! Higher-order consciousness cannot be abandoned without losing the descriptive power it makes possible. (I often wonder whether this abandonment is what some mystics seek.)

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