A thing is defined by everything it is not. It takes a position on a spectrum which spans two opposing concepts. A thing could not exist without its opposite, and this dependence makes what appear to be individualized ideas actually part of the greater Indivisible.
According to Hegel this negative-positive dialectic is responsible for inspiring the emergence of self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is not only the consciousness of an individual, it is the recognition of every other thing which it is not.
The idea isn't unique to Hegel. "In Chinese mythology," for example, "yin and yang (forces of opposition) were born from chaos when the universe was first created and they are believed to exist in harmony at the centre of the earth."
Or "in Persion cosmogony, the good and wise lord Ahura Mazda began creation by sending beams of light into an abyss where Ahriman, lord of evil and sin, lived" (forces of opposition). Or Mahayana Buddhism, which "proposes all phenomena inter-exist; nothing is separate. All phenomena are perpetually conditioning all other phenomena. Things are the way they are because everything else is the way it is" (between two mirrors reflecting forces of opposition). Opposite concepts attract—duality is self-evident.
*This is a learning process for the writer.
You are behind you
Self-consciousness is a socially dependent phenomenon, Hegel declares. But what he actually reveals sounds something like standing between two mirrors and trying to see what’s behind you.
You find an endless reflection which qualifies your existence. The image you see is codependent with you, and therefore part of you. But, standing between two mirrors, this reflection continues level by level by level, infinitely. Are you prepared to admit you are infinite? Wouldn't you be dismantling the very self-consciousness that asked the question in the process of answering it? And if you are infinite, is your self-consciousness a single finite, chiseling a form from the rock of existence? Or is the finite present an illusion, waiting for you to realize the mirror itself is a reflection?
From the Daoist perspective, "the Way gave birth to unity; unity gave birth to duality; duality gave birth to trinity; trinity gave birth to the myriad creatures" and, as Hegel would add, myriad cultures, nations, and states of being.
This concept underlies natural hierarchies, including the predator/prey relationship. The predator seems to be biologically dominant in terms of its ability to physically dominate a prey animal, but actually its existence depends on the existence of its prey. If the prey populations suffer disease, for example, and the population becomes threatened, this directly affects the predator. On the flip side, if the predator numbers increase greatly the strain that pressure would cause on the prey population would directly threaten the predators themselves. Viewed in this way the predator’s existence seems almost parasitic.
The predator does have its own, arguably beneficial, role to play; the predators literally thin the herd, keeping the population in check. Old, young, weak, and disabled all have to toughen up or face being consumed. Without that population check they might exhaust their own food sources and suffer famine, disease, or worse, stagnation. It is arguable, not necessarily true.
Hegel applies similar logic to the master/servant relationship, though I'm not sure if he would approve of the above predator/prey analogy. Master/servant is not a statically equal relationship, but one that rocks back and forth, resonating living waves of generalization through the history of reason itself. (In balance, if balance is to be judged on the fact that living and breathing self-consciousnesses do continue to exist)... I hope to return to Hegel's master/servant idea in a future post.
The lifespan of one human might be representational of the macro-cosmic life cycle. Conversely, the process of reproduction could indicate the endlessness of progress. As Hegel might point out, endless imbalance rationally implies perfect balance.
I borrowed Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit from a friend without too much preparation. I'd developed a vague idea of what I would find based on references to the Hegelian Dialectic, mostly in the deep end of popular culture abyss.
My expectations may have been unjustified.
I intend to explore Hegel's original intentions, before they were butchered by history, Marx and social media.
Emergence of the creative spirit, aka self-consciousness
Hegel's views on creativity are what inspired me to begin this blog's survey of philosophy with him. According to Hegel consciousness emerges from experience. Self-consciousness then emerges from duality of experiences. You are being self-conscious when you reflect on your own subjective experience as if you had a credible objective perspective.
And yet, you accept each individual is no more than a passing moment in the endless unity of relative existence. And you admit this relativity represents the rational, and therefore the objective ideal.
Regardless of what you admit, the relationship between subject and object creates new experience, and a new interpretation, and further makes the previous moment a memory, to be mentally recalled at a later date. This is a kind of emergent consciousness; a series of system upgrades; dialectics to be answered by syntheses; for Hegel, each moment is the continuous creation of reality by the rational mind.
The divine force of spirit, the same which reverberates through history, is both logical and preordained. “The individual is a microcosm of the whole. You’re a microcosm of what the absolute spirit is. You’re in the image of God… and the nation state is a further microcosm of the whole. A manifestation of the creative spirit at work in history.”
Everything between the spectrum that is microcosm and macrocosm is the endless reflection between two mirrors.
It is the creative spirit which stands between them as the object of reflection, and that spirit is yours to challenge. It is subject to you. It is beholden to you. It is yours until you trade in all you've created and experienced for a future you will never know; when it destroys you. There is a degree of brutality in the dialectical abstraction, just as truth can come as a painful realization.
Hegel chooses to celebrate the creative spirit above all this, though.
According to Hegel, creativity is the soul’s highest objective in the face of temporal existence; true freedom will remain unknown to those unwilling to risk their life to obtain it; and the creative act is the ultimate expression of a sovereign self-consciousness.
To be cont'd...