Conceived during the challenging decade that followed the Second World War, Reflexive Self-Consciousness, by Eugene Halliday, sets out the solution to a problem that is, if anything, even more relevant and vital for us today: As individuals, how can we deal with the rapidly increasing pace and complexity of life, fear of terrorism and the threatening state of world affairs, impending ecological destruction and the confusions of personal relationships – without succumbing to the wear and tear of stress, to depression and illness?
In Reflexive Self-Consciousness Eugene Halliday provides a way by which we can assimilate the shocks and blows of these, and similar experiences, in order that we might live a more balanced life.
For Halliday, the way to achieve this balance is through the development of an understanding of the centre of our own being, that is, of our own consciousness; and through this self-development, to find our place in relation to the universe.
In Reflexive Self-Consciousness he sets out not only the nature of this consciousness, but also its relation to the world of phenomena, to the nature of being, and in particular, to mankind.
Halliday begins, in his Prologue, by examining the meaning of the related terms sentience, consciousness, feeling, sensation, and awareness. He writes that all are related, and to some degree interchangeable, and that they all refer to, “That in and by which we know what we know, and that we know.”
He goes on to explain that if we ask ourselves what this statement means, we can only say that, “We know what we mean. Consciousness is its own evidence,” and thus we cannot indicate what we mean by one of these consciousness-related words, “without appealing to that in us, which corresponds with their significance, that is, to that in us which knows that it knows.”
If we do not posit sentience as a property of that source which is present, “From the very beginning of creation, or evolution, we cannot find a point later at which we may logically introduce it,” and that the placing together of a large number of non-sentient particles, however complex their arrangement, cannot itself give rise to consciousness. Halliday does not then, accept the view wherein consciousness is a by-product of the increasing complexity in matter, and thus merely a consequence arising from the processes of evolution. On the contrary, he sees a complex structure of cells such as the brain, as, “A vehicle for the expression of the complex processes of an [already existing] sentience,” and he goes on to posit that the ultimate source and origin of our being resides in an absolute field of sentience.
Halliday goes on to state that the true nature of the self is consciousness itself. But as beings with physical bodies, we are tyrannised by the limitations of our sense organs; by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain; by emotional charges in the records of our experiences, so that we often behave in a reactive manner – as if we were no more than animals with no free choice. However, if we learn to remember the nature of our true self, and our source in consciousness, we can free ourselves from this enslavement and become human, that is, capable of free choice and action.
Before Evolution, Eugene Halliday posits an Involution, in which he likens the activity of the absolute field of sentience to that of the sea. For its internal movements, he uses the metaphor of the sea’s waves, which create vortices within it, that in turn give rise to all the observable phenomena of the world. Atoms, molecules, cells, plants, animals, mankind, human beings then, are all formed within this absolute sentient field, and thus all are sentient, so there is no non-sentient level of being.
This Sentience, in the place of each being, then falls into identification with that being, right down to the grossest physical level of the mineral world.
Through the process of Evolution, sentience has evolved through mineral, plant, animal, and human, to rediscover its true nature by becoming increasingly aware of its ‘Reflexive Self-Consciousness’ – the title of the book.
A message from Christian de Quincey
I was delighted to discover the works of Eugene Halliday, and to meet the people who are carrying on his legacy through Ishval (Eugene Halliday Society), the organization he founded.
Delighted for two reasons: First, because here was a teacher and visionary who had seen deeply into the nature of reality to recognize that consciousness “goes all the way down” — that all of nature, indeed the entire cosmos—”tingles with the spark of spirit” (my phrases, but equally his insights). Second, he is one of the few teachers of consciousness who not only recognized that consciousness is always embodied, but also that we should not confuse consciousness with energy (its embodiment).
Reading his books, particularly, Reflexive Self-Consciousness, I felt as though I was having a conversation with a fellow spirit, a clear thinker who saw beyond boundaries of academic philosophy, and was committed to contributing a transformative philosophy of life that honors both head and heart.
I urge my students (and others) to read his books. If you haven’t done so already—treat yourself!”
Christian de Quincey, professor of Philosophy and Consciousness Studies at John F. Kennedy University