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”, refers to the feeling capacity of a human being. And “bewustzijn” refers to consciousness. Joined together, as a phrase, it suggests that there is feeling dimension to consciousness itself. How can that be so? If you image that the feeling body of a human being stops at the edges of our skin it appears to be a contradiction in terms. Yet our own experience demonstrates otherwise; we naturally expand every day in a myriad of different ways.

For myself, as a native English speaker, it has taken me years to wrap my head around the phrase “gevoelsmatig bewustzijn”, to understand it, to relax into it and see examples of it in my own experience. At first it required a certain kind of linguistic de-programming. That is, language was a deterrent and then later an aid. There were a number of reasons for this, so I’ll try to explain. My difficulties may be helpful others?

Firstly, “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 surely there are a multitude of examples. Animals “know” all kinds of things and this kind of knowing is not based on language. It is not rational, 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 dimension of knowing. The objectifications of language are not its medium, nor its method of cognition, though the knowledge it acquires may later be expressed this way. As noted above in the animal world, it is not rational, neither is it irrational; for us too, it is not rational, neither is it irrational. 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, that’s very simple. Over thinking it (which of course philosophers love to do) just makes it more complicated. This explanation then, is not a logical proof, rather it’s based on recognition.

Secondly, what about “consciousness”? As a stand alone term Merriam Webster defines it as “sentience or awareness of internal or external existence”. Problems quickly multiply when we try to define it any further. Western philosophy speaks of “consciousness” in terms of “consciousness of”. Consciousness then refers to that aspect of ourselves which knows internal events as objects and because of that, this consciousness is inextricably tied to its object. Additionally, instead of the simple statement: “I am thinking” the modern philosopher states: “I am conscious of my thoughts”. The modern philosopher imposes himself as egoic consciousness as a second object. Due to there division, it is not possible to speak of the subject dimension (the “I” part) of consciousness without reference to its internal mental objects (, the ego and its objects).

Additionally, in a world where the objective scientific method-of-knowing reigns supreme, western philosophers tend to contemplate the “hard problem of consciousness”. This involves the problem of explaining why any physical state is conscious rather than not. This problem begins from the assumption that matter itself is not conscious, is not intelligent in/or to some degree. To step outside of that problem would require a different method-of-knowing. Something other than the object oriented, language based scientific-method. Is there such a thing?

In German and  Dutch “bewust”, meaning aware, and “zijn” (or sein), meaning being. That is, being-awareness or aware being. If it were possible to take the meaning of these compound elements full stop, there could be a recognition of an indwelling, pure, objectless being-awareness. Being without fixing, fixating, on an object – any object, even ourselves. We rest in this sphere every night in deep sleep. We revert to it (absently or not) in-between thoughts. It forms the basis and goal of every meditative technique or inquiry. It is infinitely expansive, like space itself and provides a substrate for all our perceptions and mentations. As before with the term “gevoelsmatig”, this explanation is not a logical proof, rather it’s about recognition.

A third reason for my difficulty in grasping the meaning behind the term “gevoulsmatig bewustzijn” is the strong mind-body dualism present within Western culture (and philosophy). For people (like myself) who have embraced 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 appear blasphemous or simply difficult to accept. Further, even though this (apparently) shadowed side of human nature cannot be denied, it might sit outside the norms of accepted cultural behaviour, making its recognition difficult. Art plays a large role in bringing these shadows to the surface aesthetically, creating a field of acknowledgment and acceptance.

Thus at this point you might counter and say that this expanded feeling-sense capacity of consciousness is not at all unrecognised or absent from Western philosophy or culture. Of course not. We do recognise that as human beings we joyfully expand in many non-rational and still deeply intelligent ways. One primary example of this is aesthetically, in the world of art: the visual arts, but also music, dance, film, literature, poetry 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. Any self-respecting Epistemology 101 in any department of philosophy around the world concerns itself (primarily) with the truth bearing possibilities of propositional statements. There, young epistemologists might aspire to be clever enough so as to one day be the next Gettier. Yet, to be fair, Western Epistemology, does present the possibilities of radical skepticism, but if so, this is done without a recognition of the life enhancing properties of non-conceptual methods-of-knowing.

Now since the recognition of art has become an important venue for non-conceptual methods of intelligent communication, we might think of gevoelsmatig bewustzijn as equivalent to “aesthetic consciousness”? Is it comparable? And what does Western philosophy have to say about that? Is it knowledge bearing? And if so, what kind of knowledge?

See Gevoelsmatig Bewustzijn Part II.