Gevoelsmatig Bewustzijn, Part I

November 15, 2020

I want to talk about something that Western Philosophy, for all its wisdom and logical acumen, has difficulty recognising. Yet for all that it’s an essential part of human being-existence. I’m using the Dutch phrase for it in the title above so that the English language speaker has the chance to recognise that they are not entirely sure what I am talking about. Imagine then, that this is something new, though in fact, it is something very old or rather, deeply innate to us all. “Gevoelsmatig”, then refers to the feeling-sense capacity of a human being. And “Bewustzijn” refers to consciousness. Joined together, as a phrase, it suggests that there is feeling-sense dimension to consciousness itself. How so? That seems like a contradiction.

For myself, as a native English speaker, it has taken me years to wrap my head around this phrase, to understand it, so as to see examples of it in my own experience. In this case, language was at first a deterrent and then later, an aid. I think there were at least two or three reasons for this so I’ll try to explain. My difficulties may help others? Firstly, “consciousness” (in English) refers to that aspect of ourselves which can know matter (as an object) but because of that, this subject-knowing is distinct from its object. The subject-object duality that language itself imposes pre-determines this division, for example: I see the ball. So, to say that there is a feeling dimension to this first person subject-consciousness seems like a contradiction in terms. But is it? Bear with me.

Secondly, “gevoelsmatig” as a stand alone term does not have a one to one translation from Dutch to English. It requires a few words to define it. I currently use “feeling-sense”. A Dutch friend of mine (who is also fluent in English) suggested “feeling-wise”. Google Translate uses “instinctively” or “emotionally” while VanDale (one of the main Dutch-English dictionaries) suggests “instinct” or “instinctively”.  Thus, gevoelsmatig can refer to the kind of knowing that a bird experiences when it “knows” it’s time to fly south. In the world of nature there are plenty of examples; animals “know” all kinds of things and this knowing is not languistic: it is not rational, yet neither is it irrational; it’s a certain kind of embodied intelligence.

But what about humans? How does this instinctive feeling-knowing manifest in human beings? As instinct? As intuition? As insight? A mixture of all three? Notice, in any case, that all three suggestions contain the prefix “in”. Thus this refers to the internal, subject-side aspect of knowing. The objectifications of language are not its medium, nor its method of cognition, though the knowledge it acquires can later be expressed linguistically. Just as in the animal world, it is not rational, neither is it irrational; for us too, it’s a certain kind of embodied intelligence. For example, a friend walks into the room and you immediately know they are sad. From one point of view, this is very simple. Over thinking it (which philosophers tend to do) just makes it more complicated. This explanation then is not a logical proof, basically, it’s about recognition.

Thirdly, there is the strong mind-body dualism present within Western culture (and philosophy). For people (like myself) who have embraced religion or a spiritual path, there may be a strong impetus to encounter the more refined aspects of our subject-consciousness through meditation and prayer, free from the unrefined impulses of our material nature. This can lead to their suppression and/or repression (spiritual bypassing). The instinctive impulses of the body then might be placed in various shadowed categories. To suggest philosophically that the gevoelsmatig impulses of our nature are vitally important in order to progress spiritually might at first appear blasphemous or simply difficult to accept (our own self-acceptance). Further, even though this (apparently) shadowed side of human nature cannot be denied, still, in the expanded social sphere it might sit outside of the culturally accepted norms of behaviour, again, making its recognition difficult. In this, as in many things, we carry within us the catechisms and taboos of our elders – until one day we don’t.

Now at this point you might counter and say that this expanded feeling-sense capacity of consciousness itself is not at all unrecognised or absent from Western philosophy. Of course not. Philosophers recognise that as human beings we joyfully expand in many non-rational and still deeply intelligent ways. One primary example is aesthetically in the world of art: painting (the subject-matter of this web blog), but also music, dance, film, etc…  Another is the overwhelming love we experience from allowing ourselves to fully open up to the beauty of the natural world, in all of its micro and macrocosmic majesty. But are these venues considered to be knowledge bearing? Are they included within a standard approach to Western Epistemology? Well, no, not really. Thus, to continue the conversation, we might try to think of gevoelsmatig bewustzijn as “aesthetic consciousness”? Is it comparable? And what does Western philosophy have to say about that?

Stay tuned for Gevoelsmatig Bewustzijn Part II.

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