Updated: Nov 25, 2020
How does one know what one knows? It's not a trick question actually. One is conscious of something, which is the phenomenon of knowing it. Knowledge thus requires consciousness. To define consciousness then becomes the central task. To speak of such things, by reference to consciously knowing it, we should be clear about what it means to know something.
So consciousness can be thought of as the knowledge of knowing. I know something, and I know that I know it! At that moment, I experience something that is what the word consciousness indicates. This state is one of the conceptual mindfulness. Consciousness arises out of concepts and concepts arise out of language. It is therefore a purely mental phenomenon and one that is organically conditioned into our ordinary bodily existence. Knowing the world that we live in requires concepts, which in effect are units of knowledge. Our life is about the manipulation of the world through the application of this very consciousness of which we are speaking. All simulacra are higher-order constructs, again build on consciousness in the sense that we are speaking, but in a way the conditions and controls the very consciousness itself that creates it.
However, not all of our states of being are conscious in this way. There are states that we can experience which are not conceptual. These are not ordinary waking states, and for the most part are not conscious, as they do not depend on language and meaning. It is through these states that our being is expressed in essence. The difference between the sense of one's own existence, and the action of labeling it so that we use to bring it into consciousness is the very difference between these states. We can conceptualize this as “Spontaneous Presence”.
Our dilemma is we can only relate to this pure state of being by introducing it conceptually. Ludwig Wittgenstein described it as “where-of we cannot speak, thereof we must pass in silence" Here, in Spontaneous Presence, there is only awareness that exists before words are even conceived of. However, this presence can merge together with conceptual consciousness and can be co-experienced by a human being in a moment of time. In this way, often in meditation or higher states, a conceptual knowing and the spontaneous presence experience can be observed to occur together. In this observing the observer is spontaneously present and possesses conceptual consciousness and is cogent of both in higher cognition
All inner work perhaps is an effort to find this common ground. Spontaneous Presence makes no effort. It simply exists and is experienced. When effort falls aside, as in a moment in meditation where a practice gives way to simply being there, the spontaneous presence is like a doorway that is normally hidden from view that becomes unconcealed. This very concealment is the result of consciousness, because “the knowledge of knowing” takes our attention and gives us a sense of certainty about the World. It is this certainty that makes the Spontaneous Presence disappear from view.
The reason it is called Spontaneous Presence is that it occurs in Time. Spontaneity is a time-bounded occurrence. The Presence itself is outside of time. It simply exists and creates a fundamental ground upon which the mind begins to elaborate, and where consciousness can occur. This is an Eternal Presence, which is, was, and always will be, and which occurs for us as a spontaneous occurrence, only now at the moment, and which conceals from us its eternal nature, which is beyond our capacity to experience, and thus our life.
In our life, we seek to understand the world we live in. This understanding, however, is different than knowledge, yet it paradoxically occurs along with knowledge. Because for understanding we need to experience both cognitive conceptual knowledge and also spontaneous presence together. Perhaps understanding then is the reconciling of these two levels in the experience of a living being.
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