|Relative Mind - Relative Matter|
|Home||Article 2 of||Section 2. The Nature of Consciousness||Glossary|
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The links in the table on the left take you to sub-headings on this page.
In this article I will be presenting the idea that there are two systems of signs, one being the standard sign system of language, and the other being that of consciousness. I will be describing consciousness as a sign system.
Consciousness is always changing ; sometimes the changes are slow and barely noticeable, and at other times they are rapid. Any realistic theory of consciousness has to incorporate the element of time. However, time is defined by its relation to that which does not appear to change. In my ideas on consciousness I use two axes as the framework of theory. One axis is a dynamic, changing, perspective on reality (the time reference is the present); and the other one is a static, unchanging, perspective on reality (the time reference is the past).
|Sub - Headings|
|Difficulties with Dynamic Structure|
|Sign of Consciousness|
|Ego and Karma|
|What is a Person?|
|Low/High stress Societies
First of all, I bring in my idea that consciousness can be analysed into three factors. I define basic consciousness to be will (or will power), mind and feeling.[¹]. These three factors or modes are adequate for describing a solitary person but become inadequate when relationships and other social activities are involved.
In order to interact with the world of social objectivity, these modes of consciousness transform themselves :-
These states of consciousness can be understood to function along two time references, those of past and present. The present pattern of these three states constitutes the ego of the person : this is the flexible aspect of a person, so free will is emphasised. The past pattern constitutes the inflexible aspect of the person, which can be represented by ideas like determinism or karma. Using these ideas, consciousness can be described as ego plus karma. [²]
The pattern of will, mind and feeling produces a static structure. However, mind is changeable and dynamic. By shifting the perspective on consciousness to ego and karma (or free will versus determinism), a dynamic structure is introduced.
structure is will, mind,
or desire, mind, and emotion.
Dynamic structure is ego and karma.
It is this static /dynamic pattern that I am now analysing. The ideas that I present in this article originated from my study of language as a sign system.
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In structuralist terminology, the axes of past and present are given specific names. When any aspect of the linguistic sign is examined using a perspective of time, such as how the sign actually evolved in history, this examination is termed ‘diachronic’. When any aspect of the sign is examined in its present state, without regard to how it became the way it is, this examination is termed ‘synchronic’.
example : if
today I look up the present arrangement of teams in the football
league, the way that they are grouped into a table, I see a
synchronic comparison. Whereas if I follow the teams every
then a diachronic comparison unfolds (because I see the way in
which the teams continually change their order in the table).
In twentieth-century theories of signs, language, and structuralism, structure is seen to be ahistorical, that is, outside of the arena of change. Structure is static. This viewpoint meant that some theorists (such as the Russian Formalists) had difficulty in accounting for the fact that language changes. They saw change as a succession of static synchronic states. Their lack of psychological knowledge prevented them from understanding dynamic structures.
What modern theorists fail to understand is that there are two sign systems mutually relating to each other. Language can be analysed as a sign system, but consciousness can also be analysed as a sign system too. The major difference between them is that consciousness contains dynamic structure as an integral part of itself.
Ferdinand de Saussure based his idea of the sign on language and made it arbitrary and non-temporal.[³]. I disagree with Saussure over the cause of the sign. Consciousness arises before language does. Consciousness creates signs before it creates language. Therefore I base the sign primarily on consciousness, and only secondarily on language.
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In my view, consciousness can itself be viewed as a sign system, and the sign of language is just a counterpart to it. In the two sign systems, consciousness is fundamental and language is only derivative. There is another difference. Consciousness changes, whilst language is fairly static.
sign of consciousness
includes dynamic structure as an integral part of
Whereas, in the sign of language, change is not so important, and hence the sign is centred on static structure.
To recap on the sign (from the article Semiology) : in the work of Saussure, the sign is the unit of language. The sign has two parts : a name plus an idea. The name is a word for an object or event, and the idea is the image in the mind of that object or event. These parts are termed the signifier and the signified. The sign is a compound of a word that signifies, and the idea in the mind which is the signified.
The sign usually refers to a particular object in the external world to which we are drawing attention. For example, the word ‘dog’ is the signifier, and the idea or image in my mind of a small mammal with four legs, etc, is the signified.
One author noted that the originality of structuralism lies in its focus on the signifier. It is in the domain of the signifier that structure abounds, not in the signified. This may be true for language, but it is only partially true for consciousness. The ego, as the present state of consciousness, is unstructured ; existentialism is its heart. It is the person’s past that is structured (structure is created by rigidity in beliefs, values, attitudes, etc), and this structure relates to the diachronic mode, that of karma or psychology. This structure can change, through achieving psychological insight into personal problems.
For the normal person, the dynamic aspect of consciousness is the ego, since the ego is unstructured ; the static aspect of consciousness creates structure from the person's past, or karma.
However, when a person engages in the process of personal evolution  and tries to understand and resolve his or her own psychological issues and problems, then the aspect of karma becomes dynamic. The person is beginning to develop his or her sense of being an individual. In this circumstance, structure becomes changeable. Hence for the person who is exploring himself, whether alone or in therapy, consciousness becomes structured dynamically. It is this situation that I am analysing.
In brief : there are two sign systems.
sign of language
is explored for static structure, and this is the
domain of the signifier.
In the sign of consciousness I explore the dynamic structure, and this is the domain of the signified.
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I apply these ideas to consciousness ; this sign can be given some slight variations. As a first formulation, in the sign of consciousness:
is the signifier
; it is synchronic (focused
on the present).
Karma is the signified ; it is diachronic (focused on the past).
In my analysis, karma is not something added to the ego. Karma is simply one aspect of consciousness, and the ego is the binary aspect. Karma and ego together form consciousness, so that consciousness is a binary phenomenon and not a unitary one.
Any change in karma will have an influence on the ego, since what the ego can or cannot do has changed ; this effect emphasises the idea of structure. Any change in the ego will thereby influence karma, since how such limitations are handled has changed ; this effect emphasises the idea of free will.
My understanding of relativity is derived from my analysis of perception, and is different from the traditional view of it. My definition of relativity is that anything that is relative has both a subjective component and an objective component to it. Relativity is a relationship between a subjective aspect and an objective aspect of the object or matter in question. 
Relativity has both a subjective and an objective component. I apply this idea to consciousness. The ego is the subjective aspect of consciousness and karma is the objective aspect (fixed beliefs and entrenched attitudes produce an ‘objective’ character or the person’s being).
Karma is both relative and dialectical , and it is primarily the province of desire (in Indian theory, karma is associated with actions, hence with desires that are put into expression). Karma, as the province of social inter-action and objective values, produces conformity in the socially-conditioned aspect of consciousness.
The complement to desire is emotion. Ego is unique and it is associated with emotion. Ego, as the province of subjective meaning, produces uniqueness in perspective. 
In this contrast between desire (as an aspect of karma) and emotion (as an aspect of ego), I am trying to indicate where the emphasis lies in consciousness. Both karma and ego can use desire and emotion, but the emphasis differs. For example, intense desires and ambitions are based on psychological issues from the past ; when such issues are resolved, then they lose their dominance - they become optional and interesting, an aspect of free will.
The differences between the sign of language and the sign of consciousness occur in both the signifier and the signified.
In both signs the signifiers are synchronic – these are the name and the ego. However, Saussure saw the signifier as being arbitrary, whilst I see it as being relative.
For Saussure the signified is arbitrary and synchronic – this is the idea. For consciousness the signified is relative, dialectical and diachronic – this is karma.
Desires and emotions function as expressive concepts. Desires are dialectical in their activity : there is the expression of a desire, followed by the frustration of it, and finally there is the resolution of the conflict, when the person readjusts his desire to make it more realistic and practicable. Whereas emotions change only in their intensity. Both are relative, being subjective responses to objective events.
The sign of consciousness becomes :
synchronic mode = ego + emotion
The diachronic mode = dialectics + relativity.
synchronic mode = uniqueness + relativity.
The diachronic mode = karma.
Traditionally consciousness has been taken to be a part of the Cartesian ego. I invert this relationship. Now I propose that the ego is a part of consciousness. The new relationship helps to explain why mystics traditionally think that the ego is unimportant, that it even disappears during moments of union with divine consciousness.
In actuality, the synchronic mode is the conscious mind and the diachronic mode is the subconscious and unconscious minds. New words for old ones. However, Saussure’s concept of the sign enabled me to make a fresh analysis of consciousness. Freud’s and Jung’s concepts were radical ones in the early twentieth century, but society has moved on.
The need for fresh radical concepts reasserts itself whenever society has moved into new evolutionary difficulties.
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A person is a binary unit of consciousness: that is, an ego with a past, or an ego with associated karma. He or she is dialectical, relative and unique. What do these terms mean? They revolve around the tension between emotion and desire, and how this influences karma. The effect of karma changes as the tension changes.
Karma has two modes, these being the relative and the dialectical ones. The relative mode produces fixed beliefs and desires (many of which are subconscious), and these generate a person’s actions. The dialectical mode brings these subconscious beliefs and desires into awareness through the process of abreaction, thereby generating psychological confusion. Abreaction makes the person live through his repressed emotional responses that underlie his beliefs and desires, and hence induces him to focus on the quality of his thinking and his life as the means of handling the confusion.
of karma depends upon
which mode is emphasised.
If the intensity of desire is greater than that of emotion then the mode of consciousness is predominantly diachronic and relative : determinism is emphasised, so life is stable and predictable. If the intensity of emotion is greater than that of desire then the mode of consciousness is both synchronic and dialectical : the poor quality of life is emphasised and so life is felt to be confused and unpredictable.
These modes of consciousness get mixed when a stable society, focusing on desire, contains within it any sects or groups which are persecuted for being outsiders. The groups become driven by emotion (groups are usually more dynamic when they are persecuted than when they are tolerated).
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In low-stress societies, desire is usually fundamental, but for high-stress societies it is emotion that becomes dominant.
High-stress societies are societies that have high levels of anxiety ; the anxiety is intense enough to prevent it being repressed (as it is in low-stress societies). Hence such societies generate high levels of conflict in personal relationships. Such conflict drives the search for quality and creativity in life. Modern Western society has become a high-stress society and so is changing away from an emphasis on materialist desire, conformity and wealth towards an emotional orientation to a better quality of life.
In low-stress societies, pleasant desires are uppermost in the person’s mind, with unpleasant ones being repressed into the subconscious mind. Repression ensures that the dialectical mode is not very powerful, so karma is primarily relative in its effects. Whence a person’s actions are more important than the quality of his thoughts. Life is often good, with some bad moments. Life is a succession of rituals.
In high-stress societies, unpleasant desires can no longer be effectively repressed. The person has to face them. The dialectical mode becomes more powerful than the relative mode. Karma is now focused on abreaction and so becomes primarily dialectical in its effects. Therefore the quality of thought is more decisive than actions. Life is often poor in quality, with some good moments. Life is a succession of dramas.
These ideas suggest that low-stress man, who is functioning on desire, is a relative ego handling relative karma ; he lives in the past. Whereas high-stress man, functioning on emotion, is a relative ego that has to handle dialectical karma, by living in the present.
existentialist uses his
level of stress to try to resolve and eliminate his karma,
by living in the moment.
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at the end of each reference takes you back to the
paragraph that featured
The addresses of my other websites are on the Links page.
[¹]. My analysis of consciousness into three factors is described in the article Emotion and Abreaction. 
[²]. The idea that "a person = ego + karma" is introduced in the article Sexuality and Ethics, on my websites The Strange World of Emotion, Discover Your Mind, and A Modern Thinker. There are some notes on determinism and karma in the article Existentialism and Psychology. 
[³]. See the article Semiology. 
. I have an article on Personal Evolution on my websites The Strange World of Emotion and A Modern Thinker. 
. My analysis of relativity and perception begins in the article Relativity of the Ego. 
. The dialectical aspect of karma arises from the dialectical process of abreaction. For more information, see the article Emotion and Abreaction. 
For articles on my analysis of emotion, see footnote 1.
One way that I use in order to contrast objectivity with subjectivity is to use a contrast between values (which are objective) and meanings (which are subjective). See the next article Contrasting Meaning and Value. 
The articles in this section are :
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This site was put on the web in Autumn 2002.
© 2002 Ian Heath
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