Existentialism

.. I can now term the Underground Man (thanks to this class!). That was when I was overly conscious, hyper-aware, and very insecure. I was far from the state of the Underground Man, but surely in the initial stages of paranoid-schizophrenia! My thoughts seemed diseased. Not that consciousness itself was a disease, but that my heightened awareness was in some way poisoned.

Thus I feel Dostoevsky (when I say Dostoevsky I am speaking of his Underground Man) is wrong to call consciousness a disease. His disgusting thoughts are not the product of higher consciousness but of a diseased mind. His thoughts are not normal; this is what I believe. Dostoevsky admits right away that he is more intelligent than anyone else around him. However, he also admits that this is his downfall: an intelligent man is bound to be an essentially characterless creature, while a man of character, a man of action, is inevitably a limited creature (Dostoevsky in Kaufman, 4).

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So in one sense he looks down upon the stupid, unconscious, average man who exists without thinking, yet in the other he severely envies (to the point of loathing, he adds) the average man precisely because he is unconscious (his absence of excessive thought enables him to be a man of action). In rereading Notes from Underground I realize that Dostoevsky is an absolute genius. I am in awe at his depth of understanding of heightened consciousness. I will take his mouse example and apply it to myself. I, at one point, for about three years, thought too much.

I became very self-conscious, analyzing everything I said and everything said to me. I became ashamed. I became immobile, and it was most acute when I smoked marijuana. I was so immobile when high that I was afraid to speak. I would want to converse and retort, felt compelled to, knew exactly when something should be said and what its content should be, but could not because I was surrounded by a “vileness in the form of questions and doubts .

. .caught up in a fatal morass”(Dostoevsky in Kaufman, 11). And when I did speak, I crumbled, and my insecurity was revealed, and hence I thought of myself as worthless, a mouse. No one called me worthless but myself, but I was convinced that, objectively speaking, I was worthless. I was a person who did nothing, entertained nothing, and benefited no one in any way.

Only God knows why I was alive. There are others in the world who are worthless but are not conscious of it. This puts me all the more at fault because I realize my worthlessness and therefore should be able to change. But I cannot change; it is impossible. Thanks to modern medicine, this is where I stop and the Underground Man picks up.

He, realizing he cannot change himself, crawls into the black hole of despair and drowns himself in remembering every time he was humiliated. Then he drowns himself in his own sick feelings about himself. After many, many years he begins to accept his seriously flawed character. He takes pride in his disease and becomes masochistic. He defiles and degrades himself in the face of others, welcomes the “poison of unfulfilled desires turned inward,” and in the end feels a strange pleasure in it all. Forgive my digression.

I think the lesson Dostoevsky provides is ignorance is bliss. His alienation is accentuated by the social standards of his time. The decisive “man of action” is the one who achieves and becomes something. Unfortunately in this world, you need to think quick, act fast, and be sure in order to survive. You have to know how to live on the surface, to interact with others’ personalities (masks). Dostoevsky only knows how to exist as his internal being, his true being. Perhaps due to his lonely upbringing he never learned how to interact as the world interacts, on an external level.

And since he could not do this he was alienated from the start, and continued to be alienated and to have his true self corrupted by mixing essence and persona with out distinguishing between the two, producing his current contorted being: a paranoid and a schizophrenic. You see, many people possess some degree of higher consciousness, but they also know how to interact on the level on which our society is founded – the level of the mundane. These people possess being (ability to act and choose) and knowledge (emotion, intellect) and are on their way to understanding (being awake). Dostoevsky possessed tremendous knowledge, but very little being. Therefore, he had understanding (and maybe had even reached the “self consciousness” level a step above the “awake” level) but it was manifested in a negative way because of his lack of being. (This is my best and final attempt at explaining Dostoevsky position!) Carl Jaspers: the final chapter.

Unlike our other three philosophers, Jaspers, at least as it appears to me, is less concerned with the specific. (He is much nicer also!) He tries to conceptualize and project consciousness and being in their broadest sense. He focuses less on the individual, the crowd, God, higher consciousness as a destination, and more on how these things exist inside and outside our consciousness. Jaspers’ story is the most complex yet, but fortunately he goes to great pains to explain himself. Still, I had a difficult time working through his philosophy, so bear with me. We humans live and think in horizons, but the fact that we have horizons indicates there is something beyond them, surrounding the given horizon (Jaspers in Kaufman, 211).

Jaspers now introduces the Encompassing, its two modes – Being itself and the Encompassing which we are – and the three manifestations of the latter mode: empirical existence, consciousness as such, and spirit. Jaspers makes a distinction between the consciousness of living beings and consciousness in general, or empirical existence versus the Encompassing of empirical existence (aka. Being itself, or existenz). He calls the first an actuality and the second an inactuality. Right now, as I think, I am conscious but enclosed in my own individuality. In my self-awareness I exist as only an actualization of truth, as a mere reflection of my true self.

My existence, my conscious existence, that is, is a result of the intersection of timelessness with the temporal. This reminds me of two things: Kant’s noumena and phenomena, and the ocean analogy. Empirical existence sounds like Kant’s Phenomena in that it is the point at which non-physical things and ideas like life, consciousness, and the soul become objectively accessible to us. We grasp, analyze, and understand these things. Then we see past this place, where unknown meets the mind, to the unknown where we (and everything) exist in pure essence. This we cannot grasp.

Another way to view the situation is that we are all bubbles on the surface of the ocean. Everyone comes from and returns to the same place: the ocean. Realizing this, we reach a higher level of consciousness similar to conscious love. So the way we exist normally (in the matrix, haha) is an Empirical existence as an indirect manifestation of our true selves (Being itself), in other words, as a reflection. We achieve consciousness as such when we realize these limitations of our consciousness, when we realize that nothing we see is in its true form, but rather something created from our own mind.

Spirit is recognizing that everyone is everything because we are all part of the same whole (the ocean). “The individual as spirit is not himself, but the unity of contingent individuals and of the necessary universal”(Jaspers in Kaufman, 220). Kant hit a dead end and decided we will never be able to step outside our conscious to see things as they really are. Jaspers, however, takes us further. He says we can surpass the Encompassing which we are; we can become our genuine selves.

We can Be, in the most fundamental yet most absolute way. This is existenz, where everything appears to everything else in its true form, as if one were looking down upon the Encompassing. This I achieve existenz through transcendence. “Transcendence is the power through which I am genuinely myself” (Jaspers in Kaufman, 219). Existenz is eternity in time.

This is where no boundary of any sort can be found. This is where pure communication occurs. This is absolute truth. This is God. Existenz is experiencing the noumena. Jaspers goes on to talk about reason and existenz being contingent upon one another, but I will not get into that.

My interpretation of Jaspers is convoluted enough, and for that I apologize. If I had more time I would explain myself better. The bottom line for me is that Jaspers has combined the power of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche with his own and has explained quite convincingly that we can experience God, that there is hope for mankind, and it begins with paying a bit more attention. I can do that. I was conscious once, but it was a bad sort of conscious, like Dostoevsky’s.

I was in horror of the terrible thoughts passing thru my head. That’s when I was convinced I had a diseased mind. Prozac has nearly cured me of that poisoned consciousness, and I’m now beginning to see bits and pieces of the higher consciousness I think these philosophers understand. There is so much bull*censored* in this world (for example, why do we have first impressions?). That’s why I chose the theme of narrow-minded, sleeping humans. Because the way we live is ridiculous, and although I enjoy mundane life a great deal, I know existence runs much deeper than this, and I would like to know those depths and how to get there. What can man do? A hell of a lot.

We have just been reading the question the wrong way. Bibliography Kaufman, Walter. “Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sarte” Dostoevsky, Fyodor. “Notes from the Underground”.