The time of consciousness and nonconsciousness

Kirill Thompson addresses the perception of time in consciousness.

Daoism, Zen, Time Awareness, and the Reality of Time was the title of the lecture given by Kirill O. Thompson, from the National Taiwan University (NTU), during the Humanities / Social Sciences Workshop of the second phase of the Intercontinental Academia(ICA), on March 10.

An expert on neo-Confucian philosophy and Chinese philosophy, Thompson has examined the perception of time in the human consciousness according to Eastern traditions such as Taoism and Zen Buddhism, and compared this notion to the Western philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

Taoism and Zen Buddhism are religious philosophical traditions of East Asia intended to reorient the common personal experience to a broader life experience. The consciousness of time is a part of that shift, said Thompson.

For Kant, time is not simply inserted in the experience: time is the very condition of the experience, the pure form of inner intuition. Time summarizes the flow or the pulse of consciousness and thus the mind synchronizes and applies this time to the world's events flow, said Thompson, who is a professor at the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department, and serves as Associate Dean for Humanities at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences (IHS) of the NTU.

The German philosopher also conceptualizes the perception of objects as a basic experience that requires "time" to allow the mind to refer to memory and identify the object. Neurologically, this happens in a "self-centered" way because it is molded by mental filters. It is a sensory response that requires "time" to be filtered by personal experience, said Thompson.

The recognition or perception of objects or people is an experiential phenomenon reasoned by the Noumenon, which for Kant is inaccessible. The Noumenon (from the German Ding an sich, meaning "the thing itself") is the sphere of higher reality within the philosophic mind. It can also be understood as the essence of something or that what makes something what it is. The Noumenon exists in itself regardless of the conditions of the common experience phenomena, including time and space. In neurological terms the Noumenon is independent of mental filters of experience, said the professor.

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Thus, the common experience is never a raw sensation; it is always conditioned by the forms of intuition and categories of understanding. The object, as a phenomenon, is seen in the context of subjective needs, desires, dislikes, goals or in addition to its own character and relationships.

According to the professor, the social sciences tend to value a self-centered point of view, referring rational interests as the great guide of ideal personal conduct. On the other hand, the Taoist response to existence is the negation of the ego and the dissolution of the mind filters.

Thus, the oldest Taoist text, the Laozi, challenges and refutes the independence and the ultimacy of objects, showing its origin from the non-being (invisible, formless) and mutual codependency. "But how could it be possible to experience that?," asked Thompson.

First, he said, we should note that the common egocentric experience is based on ego as a unified system or a set that brings together the expertise and its categories, and forms of intuition which filter and shape the experience. In this case, linear time is a condition for the exercise of memory, recalling past events and planing the sequence of future events.

In Taoism, the appropriation of time requires a "step back" in the common experience of being, and of its forms and categories of understanding. This involves a change of perspective, a general reorientation so that Laozi and Zen Buddhism can convey their message. The key is to relax and focus the mind through meditation.

One can directly see things as co-emerging and interdependent, according to Thompson. If this mindset - meditation - is successful, the result will be a dissolution of the intuition model, of the understanding categories, of the mind filters simultaneously including the dissolution of the ego, and of course of linear time. Meditation opens the path to be holistic and time gets suspended, said Thompson.

Thompson cited American neurologist James H. Austin, who engaged in holistic trial through Zen Buddhism. Author of Zen and the Brain, Austin seeks to relate the neural activity of the human brain and the practice of meditation. His book was awarded the Scientific and Medical Network Book Prize in 1998.

"Austin underwent Zen Buddhist trial and tracked its impact on the neural processes during meditation. He confirmed that the internal neural metronome turns off in relation to clock time and thus time ceases. Such dissolution of the filters that connect the experience and divide subject and object open the path for a direct and holistic orientation," he said.

The sense of achronia (cessation of time, eternity) accompanies the deep kenshi and the satori experience when a person opens into the void. Thompson defines achronia as the absence of any sense of time during meditative detachment. It is not a sense of timelessness or loss of time.

The horizon of consciousness opens beyond all notions of previous limits. There are neither past nor present. This lack of time enters the nonverbal experience as eternity. Neurologically, this kind of orientation contrasts with the egocentric pattern of the Western experience outlined above.

In the allocentric experience - which has interests and considerations centered on the other, contrary to the egocentric orientation - the being can grasp objects as they really are. Instead of a subjective perception filtered by wants and needs, a person acquires an objective perception to themselves and to others.

When consciousness is freed from rigid categories and mental filters, the path will be open to more flexibility and fluidity in thought and action, which enhances creativity in the arts, in problem solving, in life management and in the field of ideas.

Ultimately, the Zen notion about the nature of Buddha in regard to "empty" and "enlightenment" complements Kant's Noumenon (Ding an sich), said Thompson. The philosopher's ideas are static and logically chained, and posit the object as it is, ie, prior to the intuition of taxes, categories and mental filters that shape the common experience.

In theory, the concept of the Noumenon (Ding an sich) encourages us to see through the phenomena as they primarily appear.

Linear time as pure form of inner intuition is a common experience condition. Given this form of intuition, the internal neural metronome follows the pulse and the flow of the experience from within, which also keeps us in sync with the flow of events in the world.

In contrast, at the deepest level of allocentric experience, when the ego is dissolved and the internal neural metronome stops, time is suspended. Therefore, time such as distance is related to the forms or time measuring systems, said Thompson.