What is consciousness? By Víctor Gómez Pin

This post is also available in: Spanish

Language is the fundamental constitutive element of human consciousness. I don’t exclude the possibility of other modalities of knowledge and consciousness. Animals already have knowledge, even if it doesn’t go through language. Even Aristotle suspected knowledge in animals was empirical knowledge, that is, individual. Today we could qualify: they also have access to a typology, but these typologies are not of an eidetic nature. They are not mediated by concepts nor by definition. Language is a very immodest sign code. The sign code used by bees is put to the species’ service. That of humans is not any more. Sign codes emit information, but if I say “the stone is a sword to take to time with trees of tears and ribbons and planets” I’m not emitting any information. Or, in any case, the information would be false. And if I add “because the stone has seeds and clouds, bird skeletons and twilight wolves”, you can try to reduce this to some information, but it’s a bit careless. It’s the own verb which speaks, the language itself, which is very ambitious and aspires to itself, to recreate itself. And it does so through art, specifically through poetry. And through Science. I believe Science is, and in that I agree with René Thom, the search for intelligibility. The further applications of science have nothing to do with it in itself. Science aspires to intelligibility and, as a tip, as some kind of residue, you get gadgets. Obviously, what are important are the corollaries that follow the mathematical formulism of Quantum Mechanics. When the Theory of Relativity is formulated and it destroys no less than the physical objectivity of time and space, there’s no practical requirement for it. When in the XIIIth century people argue about whether the Earth is flat or round, the consequences of the problem were non-existent, even though they could burn you at the stakes. Later they were. They burned you because of a theory. Theorein in Greek means “to see”. And let’s not forget that the Theorethikon is the theatre’s audience: the one who sees. Philosophy is simply the paradigmatic, crystalline expression of humanity’s effort to enrich its own nature, which means to enrich language. Language is enriched not by passively submitting to prejudices, but by working to dismantle them and to create a sentence which has never been said or a formula which has never been conceived. I often say to my social science pupils: if you manage to understand the formula of Special Relativity you will not be Einstein, but you will have felt his same emotion. Language complains if it’s not nurtured. Philosophy has to feed at the same time from Einstein and from Garcilaso, from other people’s work.

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