We do not really know what awareness is, nor what it has to do with the tangible world. Even if we grant it a biological function, we do not know if it is merely the surface effect of a brain that evolved for other purposes. In practice, evolution has often produced mismatches: biology invented culture, but culture has not done much to improve human nature: one only has to think of the impossibility of eliminating aggressiveness, violence, warfare. In spite of the rapid and extensive corticalization of the human brain, its subcortical structures have remained more or less identical to those of our ancestors. For our good fortune, however, the extraordinary quantity of rational decisions which has led to the formidable edifice of human knowledge has been underwritten by a natural logic whose rules, for the most part unknown, have proved highly advantageous in evolutionary terms. In any case, even if the neurophysiological models appear insufficient to explain the function of awareness, it does have precise neuronal correlates which have enabled man and woman to achieve a sort of extended adaptivity. It is surely reckless to maintain that awareness plays only a marginal role in human behaviour. This claim is the exact counterpart of the claims that attribute to awareness an excess of importance in our relational existence. The beam of awareness only spasmodically throws light on our actions, precisely as the Chinese proverb has it: “The foot of the lighthouse is in darkness.” Certainly we produce the most logical explanations on the basis of experience. We distinguish what is conscious from what is not – an individual from a chair, or a person who is awake from another who is sleeping – but we overestimate the length of time in which we are really conscious of our actions. When you think about it, we are not even conscious of our non-awareness.So, awareness means experiencing multiplicity. But what is multiplicity? Certainly not the juxtaposition of inter-connected entities, as if in a static mosaic. Multiplicity is the simultaneous action of subject and object. Without simultaneity, awareness would be unthinkable. And yet, paradoxically, for much of our daytime lives we are absent to ourselves. One just has to think of the presence–absence we slip into while driving on a long car journey. Everything passes in front of our eyes – the most varied landscapes, houses, cars going the other way, curious looking clouds – without any awareness of our selves. We are all one with the car, the road ahead, the landscapes. We go on and on, mile after mile, absorbed in our thoughts. Only later on, and not without a certain surprise, do we realise we have driven for long stretches without even realising it. But what does “without realising it” mean? When it comes down to it, we have done nothing to break the highway code, nor have we risked going off the road. On the contrary, we may have taken difficult bends without the slightest hesitation. What was the level of our awareness? Did we take those bends consciously or unconconsciously? Were we perhaps conscious without realising it?As a matter of fact, if facts and objects did not register with us, guiding our automatic responses, it would be impossible to live. Our ability to process data and information is drastically limited. And yet, merely registering is not enough. Just as it is not enough to pay all possible attention in order to have full awareness of things and of our selves. At most we can snatch fragments of awareness from the oblivion of non-awareness. Perhaps we could even become aware of not being aware. But we would go on ignoring the fact that we are in a blind spot, a zone which is inaccessible to thought alone.Awareness and non-awareness have a relation of profound co-implication, even of identification. The core of awareness is haunted by shadows, fantastic refractions, sudden illuminations which give us the illusion that it is the ego that is making the decisions, when in actual fact it is a matter of elusive dynamics that are inaccessible to our reasoning. Awareness re-emerges, each time, in the interludes of thought, in the self-effacing states of meditation, in the unexpected flashes of non-awareness. There is a spontaneous, unexpected, sudden non-awareness. As when, in the orderly progress of our lives, something we weren’t expecting suddenly bursts upon us, changing the order of things. The stability we believed we had attained is transformed into the absence of stability; the ground is cut from under our feet; we find ourselves in free fall. Later on, thinking back to that instant from the security of a regained stability – as in a sort of “shipwreck with spectator” – we will say that in that moment we were felled as if struck by lightning. Then there are events which make us unaware in a different way. Disturbing, chaotic events and fantasies which produce strong inner emotions and make us experience a life in which we are caught up without being so conscious of the fact: life at its most physical, involving a rush of bodily sensations. Here it is not a question of awareness of the ego but something deeper and more indistinct which hovers in the zones between consciousness and unconsciousness. Among these illusory refractions of transparency and opacity, awareness constitutes itself as the ego in a continuously changing perspective. But we need to be careful. This is not the passive spectator ego of an imaginary Cartesian theatre but rather an ego that achieves the highest degree of openness to the world of values, norms, decisions, liberty. It is starting from here that thought turns to itself and to things in general, i.e. not from just any abstract point but from a precise here (and now), part of lived experience.But is there one fixed point at which we turn in on ourselves? This can be reached only if we turn our backs on the things around us. Neglecting the eruption of unmediated life would mean remaining cut off from the universe of awareness. The here and now of unmediated life goes beyond the limits of the body. One only has to think of the extraordinary value of the exclamation “I am beside myself”. Our presence always asserts itself between a from where (past) and a towards where (future). Being means being here and, at the same time, being there. I am here, in a space. But I am also there, where I can see or touch something. And it makes no difference whether or not I pay any attention to that something. Things are here for me, I have them to hand. It is not even necessary for them to be within range of my perception. They are here for me together with the other objects, whether real, familiar or unknown. This external space of the body does not exist anywhere, or rather, it is the here with respect to which there is a there. It is a space where things have a place, in which we take our place. An oriented space, full of routes that can be taken and obstacles that it is more or less feasible to avoid. In order to transform those objects into a clear vision, in sensory perception, one just has to pay attention. Perceiving is seizing. Leaving behind the bodily dimension renders the sense of this eruption perfectly. It allows us to supersede the prospects granted to us, making us acquire others even though we remain motionless. The existence of Monte Tabor did not deny Leopardi the endless spaces. Limits are not there only to be transcended but in order to make up for the body’s finiteness. We are body, but also more than body. We perceive, but we also know we perceive. We live from cradle to grave, but we also know that we were born and will die.
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