Saturday, September 13, 2008

Radical Knowing: Understanding Consciousness through Relationship Christian de Quincey

Christian de Quincey

Rochester, VT: Park Street Press ©2005

Review by Jill Jensen

If you have ever wondered about the nature of consciousness or how different ways of knowing lead to different realities, the new book from philosopher Christian de Quincey will reveal some surprises. Most of all, Radical Knowing: Understanding Consciousness through Relationship presents a novel approach to philosophy by focusing on the power of story. A brief summary might be: "It offers a new philosophy for life," or "It shows us why and how we are our relationships."

Anyone concerned about the current state of the world and what humans are capable of doing to each other and to the rest of nature will find value in reading de Quincey's newest book, the second in his "radical consciousness trilogy." (The first, Radical Nature: Rediscovering the Soul of Matter, makes the case that consciousness "goes all the way down," like the turtles in the story about what holds up the world. His final epic will posit a Radical Science to tackle the final frontier of consciousness itself.) Radical Knowing asks us to appreciate the interconnectedness of everything—fully realizing that the entire universe is an intricate web of consciousness and energy. If we can grasp that concept—and de Quincey masterfully gives us the information we need to do so—it should ultimately help us avoid further desecrating our world, burning it down, blowing it up, or polluting and poisoning it to the point of ecological collapse.

Dr. de Quincey has been one of the pioneers in the decades-long push to develop a true "science of consciousness." He makes a compelling case for the inability of materialist science, which focuses exclusively on measuring 'things,' to explain consciousness, which is not material, or a 'thing,' and is not measurable. In order to truly understand (to "feel") consciousness, we need to start from a different premise than the one used in contemporary science, the method that followed Descartes' splitting of mind from body. We need, instead, to "feel our thinking," as de Quincey puts it. And he ably offers the rational, philosophical, and—dare we say "scientific"—underpinnings for this 'new' approach. Would that all professors of philosophy were as articulate, readable, and full of interesting stories as de Quincey. In fact, he encourages both science and philosophy to make a place for the storyteller.

Radical Knowing proposes that the only way humans can apprehend anything is "in relationship." We can know ourselves or the world only when reflected in the consciousness of other sentient beings. Although most people in Western cultures have been conditioned to cultivate language and "intellectual intelligence," de Quincey reminds us that words are not the things they stand for—all the while eloquently using these symbolic devices to illuminate his ideas. His contention is that we must regain our capacity for knowing-through-direct-experience.

One of the more inspiring messages from this book is what de Quincey calls "the Four Gifts of Knowing." He takes us on a journey to explore the Scientist's Gift of the senses, which reveal the forms of physical reality; and then to the Philosopher's Gift of reason, which we use to analyze data gained through our senses. But these ways of knowing are not enough if we wish to explore the domain of consciousness. Next, he introduces us to the Shaman's Gift of feeling and altered states, which works by engaging and participating with the world around us. Finally, he takes us into the paradoxical realms of the Mystic's Gift of sacred silence, where direct experience allows us to transcend and integrate all the other ways of knowing.

In both Radical Knowing and Radical Nature, Christian de Quincey offers a thorough grounding in what might be called "Philosophy of Mind 101" or "Consciousness for Zombies:" in-depth explanations of the need to develop a new science of consciousness and more than enough reasons why we should care.

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