Does meaning come before awareness?
I imagine that somewhere way back in time sapiens came to a conclusion that was driven by their deep and strong urge to live forever. Because sapiens are aware of their mortality and because they are driven by this great urge to stay alive they created the “disembodied mind”, it was probably christened as “soul” at that time and from that decision they put forth their conclusion into ideas similar to these words “what does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world but suffer the lose of his soul?”
Wo/man could not accept mortality and thus found a means to “live forever” in the form of the soul, or mind, or ego, or... This conclusion has left us with the mind/body dichotomy that drives our religious, cultural, and philosophical thinking still today. “Mind” and “body” are abstractions; they are created aspects of the organism-environment interactions that we call experience.
John Dewey informs us that situations form the very essence of our emotions. He attempted to counteract the tendency to localize emotions as some form of private and interior subjective response that had nothing to do with our comprehension of objects in our world. Emotions are both subjective and objective as the distant Dewey and the present Damasio informs us. In a situation there is a comingling of what we now speak of as subject and object. “Emotions are both in us and in the world at the same time.”
Before conscious awareness we begin a situation with an unconsciously constructed meaningfulness. Our world “stands forth meaningfully to us at every waking instant, due primarily to the process of emotional feeling over which we have little control. And yet the situation is meaningful to us in the most important, primordial, and basic way that it can be meaningful—it shapes the basic contours of our experience. The situation specifies what will be significant to us and what objects, events, and persons mean to us at a pre-reflective level.”
While there seems to be disagreement regarding specific details among neuroscientists, they do agree on the fundamental issue that emotions “play a central role in an organism’s assessment of its internal milieu—its bodily states and processes that are tied to its ongoing interactions with its environment, thereby motivating both internal body-state adjustments and outwardly directed actions in the world.”
What is meaningful and how it is meaningful to us is a function of a continuous internal monitoring of our bodily states as we experience and act in the world. Much of our past religious, philosophical, and pop-culture has denied this fact. In so doing this, we have deprived our self from very important considerations regarding our world of value assessment.
SGCS (Second Generation Cognitive Science) has put forth theories that are based upon the destruction of these basic assumptions of our Western religious and philosophical tradition.
If these new theories are correct then we are left with the question. “If there is no disembodied mind—no transcendent soul or ego—to be the source of meaning, then what things are meaningful to us and how they are meaningful must be a result of the nature of our brains, our bodies, our environments, and our social interactions, institutions, and practices.”
Quotes from The Meaning of the Body by Mark Johnson