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Understanding Consciousness through Relationship
Reviewed by Lynn Bridgers, PhD on June 1, 2006
Christian de Quincey’s second book in his “radical consciousness” trilogy follows Radical Nature: Rediscovering the Soul of Matter. While Radical Nature focused on the “mind-body problem,” Radical Knowing focuses on relational dimensions of consciousness. De Quincey traverses numerous conceptual approaches, from personal transformation to ways of knowing, engagement with collective wisdom, examinations of intersubjectivity, and the evolution of consciousness. His agile mind selects distinctive elements from different disciplines as he synthesizes the work of theorists as diverse as Carl Jung, George Herbert Mead, David Bohm, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Ken Wilber.
De Quincey presents the study of consciousness, one of the most difficult problems faced in philosophical thought and the core of spiritual mystery, as a final frontier for science. Each of three disciplines reifies a certain type of knowing, he says, with science focusing on the senses, philosophy on reason, and spirituality on direct experience. While practitioners within these disciplines tend to diminish the value of other types of knowing, de Quincey makes every effort to understand both philosophical truth and spiritual wisdom.
Asserting that matter and mind are more deeply interwoven than classical science or philosophy has recognized, he adopts newer paradigms that embrace both. Exploring that relationship leads him to a closer study of Jung’s theory of synchronicity, which de Quincey sees as crucial to our understanding not only of mind but also of the relationship between mind and matter. As a nonmechanistic, acausal phenomenon, synchronicity lies beyond the territory of scientific explanation, challenging the foundations of causality on which modern science rests. De Quincey suggests that synchronicity can offer a new understanding of the role of consciousness in the physical universe.
He further notes that certain types of knowing, such as intuition and participatory knowing, are not irrational but extra-rational, moving beyond reason and the limits of rational analysis. This leads de Quincey to assert the viability of an interpersonal epistemology where knowing and being are blended: Subject can also be object. As embodied beings, we too are experiential matter, making Descartes’s division of mind and body an illusion.
De Quincey goes on to detail principles of embodied awareness, working toward a new synthesis “in which we embody mind and ensoul matter.” He does this in part by bringing in the cosmological psychology implied by David Bohm’s quantum physics. We can never know Bohm’s implicate domain, “the unmanifest matrix that gives rise to both matter and consciousness,” through thought alone, he asserts, but reality can be read by experience.
Bohmian Dialogue, a means of accessing group consciousness, is de Quincey’s means for overcoming our fragmented world of objects and recognizing relational, intersubjective consciousness. After detailing numerous previous subject-object models, he offers what he terms the four gifts, “different innate capacities or potentials for learning about ourselves and how we fit in nature.” Those gifts—the senses (science), reason (philosophy), participatory feeling (shamanism), and transcendental direct experience (mysticism)—lead us to Arthur Young’s four-level model of the evolution of consciousness, where body, mind, soul, and spirit overlap. The four gifts also become the cornerstones of de Quincey’s rich understanding of consciousness through relationship.
While he does not always achieve the depth that is the hallmark of the best interdisciplinary work, de Quincey writes clearly and shows remarkable synthetic ability as he traverses disciplines and orchestrates them in his understanding of consciousness. Interested readers will find a refreshing approach to familiar elements that can stimulate their own thought and further their understanding of consciousness today.