Waking Life (excerpt)
(Main character sees a friend sitting in a chair.)
Hi, how's it going?
You know, they say that dreams are real only as long as they last, but couldn't you say the same thing about life? See, there's a lot of us that are out there mapping the mind-body relationships of dreams, we're called "oneironauts." We're the explorers of the dream world. Really, it's just about the two opposing states of consciousness which don't really oppose at all. See, in the waking world, the neural system inhibits the activation of the vividness of memories. And this makes evolutionary sense. You'd be maladapted for the perceptual image of a predator if you mistook it for the memory of one, and vice-versa. If the memory of a predator conjured up a perceptual image, we would be running off to hide every time we had a scary thought. So you have these serotonic neurons that inhibit hallucinations and they themselves are inhibited during REM sleep. See, this allows dreams to appear real, while preventing competition from other perceptual processes. This is why dreams are mistaken for reality. To the functional system of neural activity that creates our world, there is no difference between dreaming a perception and action, and actually the waking perception and action.
David Abram - The Spell of the Sensuous (excerpt)
And so I am brought, like Husserl, to recognize at least two regions of the experiential or phenomenal field: one of phenomena that unfold entirely for me - images that arise, as it were, on this side of my body - and another region of phenomena that are, evidently, responded to and experienced by other embodied subjects as well as myself. These latter phenomena are still subjective - they appear to me within a field of experience colored by my mood and my current concerns - and yet I cannot alter or dissipate them at will, for they seem to be buttressed by many involvements besides my own. That tree bending in the wind, this cliff wall, the cloud drifting overhead: these are not merely subjective; they are intersubjective phenomena - phenomena experienced by a multiplicity of sensing subjects.
James G. Cowan - Aboriginal Solitude (excerpts)
Like all traditional peoples, the Aborigine is deeply bonded to his tribal country by a set of beliefs and rituals. These take the form of his totemic identity, the songs and dances associated with his totem, the esoteric lore pertaining to his Dreaming place (where he was conceived by way of his spirit's "entry" into his mother's body, not as a result of any physical liason between his parents), and the cult-hero activity linked to the creation of the world at the time of the Dreaming. For it is the timeless moment of the Dreaming, when the world "was new," as one tribal Elder put it, that pre-figures all existence...
Since the cult-heroes created the world - i.e., the hills, the watercourses, the valleys, individual stones, and unusual landmarks - tribal territory becomes a complex grid of mythic expression. An Aborigine can never escape the sacred history of his people. He is constantly in contact with a metaphysic perspective which conditions his way of thinking and acting...
For the Aborigine, his landcape is also an extended myth. He does not live "off" the land, but "in" a terranean relationship with the otherworld, the Dreaming. His association with birds and other animals also partakes of fraternity, not separateness. These, after all, are a part of his totemic life, which means that their existence is an echo of his own. So a man can never be alone in a landscape when he knows that he is living not only within proximity of myth (the cult-hero), but also withing physical proximity of his totem.
Old Torlino (a Navajo elder) - traditional poem
I am ashamed before the earth;
I am ashamed before the heavens;
I am ashamed before the dawn;
I am ashamed before the evening twilight;
I am ashamed before the blue sky;
I am ashamed before the sun.
I am ashamed before that standing within me which speaks with me.
Some of these things are always looking at me.
I am never out of sight.
Therefore I must tell the truth.
I hold my word tight to my breast.
Finally, I comment
These texts and the poem somewhat continue my last theme, but use it to explore a little more intellectually the idea of what a "subject," or perceiving being, is.
The Waking Life (an excellent movie, by the way) transcript reveals that often, there is no difference in the subject's understanding or processing of the real and of the surreal.
David Abram introduces a very useful concept of "intersubjectivity" which mends a lot of historical problems between subjectivity and objectivity, if blurring those boundaries which we so like to see clear cut. This concept also opens the door for his later analysis of animism (in which everything is perceived to be a subject, to be animated).
James C. Cowan describes the Aboriginal culture which, instead of seeing the individual as a solitary, unattached being, draws connections between each person and a wholly terranean, though metaphysical, community of other subjects which is both contemporary and legendary.
The Navajo poem related by Old Torlino continues the theme of intersubjectivity and animism, drawing the relevantly interesting tie between truth and the community of intersubjective witnesses.