Zhuang Zhou, Chinese philosopher of the Warring States period

This is the second in a series of philosophical essays by Mr. Conlan Salgado. A link to the first essay is included at the end of this piece.

Now I had written that the human person had third-person consciousness, which means that the conscious mind of a human being is able to cast itself outside the limits of the body and contemplate itself objectively. This really questions exactly what human consciousness is founded upon. Or, to question even more simply, what is human communication built upon? It is built upon metaphor. Every form of communication is built upon the several degrees of metaphor. Language, spoken or written, the number system, music, any form of bodily manipulation such as dancing or acting, even any painting and human representative endeavor: all of these are metaphors for thoughts, or ideas, which live purely inside the mind of the human person. For an example: a man conceives a thought, which is, “Man is bad”. When the man who has conceived the thought says the words, “Man is bad”, the words are not his thought, for his thought is still purely abstract within his head. The words are merely a metaphor, a physical representation in the literal sense, of the abstract thought upon which the conceiver dwelt. This is the simplest degree of metaphor, and I have named it the natural metaphor; it is a metaphor of conception. In the field of mathematics, or science, a natural metaphor would simply be ‘e=mc^2’. Each character is used to symbolize a reality of nature; it is quite simple to understand that Energy is not really contained within the “e” character, it is only represented by the “e” character, because if energy were contained in the “e” character, I would simply erase it, and energy would exist no longer. That is not the case though. Now that is not to suggest that reality itself is a metaphor; certain eastern philosophers, such as Chuang-Tzu (369-286 BCE) in his famous butterfly parable, espoused the idea that the supposed reality that the human life is itself a metaphor, or even only a dream. (The argument is difficult to disprove, but still I am uncomfortable with it. I would suggest that if life were itself a metaphorical pseudo-reality, we would not possess the capability to engage in pure and abstract reasoning, as we are able to do. This would imply that there were a pure consciousness within our pure consciousness, and that is absurd philosophy.) Anyways, as I say, I do hold that reality is non-metaphorical, only that the human communication of it is metaphorical. “Gravity” is a natural metaphor for a reality in the universe, but the fact that the earth hangs aloft in the fabric of space is not a metaphor; it is a pure reality. Also, metaphors themselves are able to become realities; for instance, a composer writes down notes on a page, which indicate a piano concerto. The notes are themselves a natural metaphor. But when the musicians play the notes, the metaphor becomes a physical reality under the forms of sound waves, while simultaneously the sound waves remain a metaphor for the emotions which the composer is attempting to express. In other words, a certain composer may indeed have had in his mind to express sadness when he writes down the notes B, C, G, and D, but when the oboe-player translates the notes into his instrument, the notes become sound waves at certain pitches; they have become physical realities, and yet still represent the emotions of the composer. The notes of course are not themselves the emotion of the composer, so they must necessarily be a metaphor for them. This form of metaphor, existing dually as a reality in the universe and as a representation of an abstract reality, is another form of metaphor, and is called the ‘conscious metaphor.’ Now, how then does this insinuate itself into the matters of the human person and soul? Very simply: the human person is able to conceive of himself as a metaphor. At least, he is able to conceive of his physical self as a metaphor. Perhaps the simplest example of this is when a sign is erected with the picture of a human person crossing a street with a line through the center of the image. This image is a metaphor, a representation of a person doing something forbidden. A human being, upon seeing this, is able to understand himself within the context of the sign’s metaphor (i.e. crossing the street), and therefore refrain from the action. A more sophisticated example is that of a dancer. Let me imagine that a dancer is told to portray, in his ballet routine, the emotion of contempt; the dancer considers for a while, and then conceives an appropriate action for expressing contempt. Let me imagine that the expression is so appropriate that the gesture of the dancer arouses contempt in the watching audience, yet he himself feels no contempt while he is performing the gesture, or the metaphor, of contempt. It must be remembered though that a metaphor is not a reality, so the gesture itself is not contempt; it only represents contempt. Similarly, a human person crying from tragedy is a metaphor. The tears themselves do not contain within themselves the tragedy, but they are a physical reality which represent the tragedy which the crier has undergone. This makes crying a conscious metaphor. And yet, to return to the dancer and his particular gesture, the very gesture he effects indicates that his mind is able to contemplate the pure reality that is contempt, and then create a conscious metaphor to represent the pure reality that is contempt. The means, as I theorized in my last essay, that the human mind is able to conceive its physical component as a metaphorical device. The human mind, in the full consideration of it, is able to conceive its body as a conscious metaphor, for when the body completes the gesture of contempt, the body itself is a physical reality, and still the gesture that it is expressing is merely a representation of contempt. There is no other way to say it but that the human consciousness is completely separate from the body, and yet depends on the body for metaphorical expression. The mind itself is able to conceive pure reality, but it only is capable of expressing its conception by employing the body as a conscious metaphor. The body would not be able to be utilized in such a manner were it intrinsically connected to the consciousness, for a metaphor is never intrinsically connected to the reality it represents. It is connected only extrinsically. This human degree of metaphor is called the ‘supernatural metaphor’, containing within itself all other degrees of metaphor; this is the reason why the body is able to be a conscious metaphor apart from the mind, which is not a metaphor. Questioning leads to more questioning though; there are more questions to be considered.

Part I is at this link:

INSPIRATION: A Philosophic Inquiry

Mr. Salgado
Zhuang Zhou, Chinese philosopher of the Warring States period