Schelling On Emergent Consciousness And The Supposed Life-Force


To understand Schelling’s earlier philosophy, one must realize that fundamental to the Universe of Schelling is not the particle, but the Force, and — in truth– not just Force, but the interplay of Forces. A “thing” emerges and only emerges from the interplay of conflicting Forces.  Andrew Bowie, author of Schelling And Modern European Philosophy, explains that, for Schelling, the observable world displays before us, in every object, a sign of the meeting-place of opposing Forces. Bowie tells us that Manfred Frank once aptly described the Schelling Universe as “not the totality of objects” …but… “the totality of states-of-affairs.”

Schelling believes that “the ground of all activity of Nature” lies in the interplay between Forces– their interactions, and their eternal fleeing and re-seeking of each other.  Schelling makes it sound as if he believes that these fundamental Forces are both repelled and attracted by each other. 

The idea that all things are observable manifestations of underlying Force-conflicts has profound implications for the development of Identity, a subject which deeply interests Schelling. “Think of a river which is Pure Identity,” writes Schelling. “Where it meets a resistance, an eddy if formed.”  The eddy IS the thing, and “the sensation of resistance” felt by the thing leads to the awareness of “The Other”… and awareness of The Other leads directly to the Awareness-Of-Self.  This also gives rise to the distinctions of “Subject” and “Object.”  One becomes one’s Self by NOT being The Other.  

For Schelling, Consciousness grows out of previously unconscious activity.  I get the impression that he considers The Other to be, not so much opposed to the Self, as it is simply that part of Universe which, for whatever reason, did not join-in the Self’s emergent awareness.

If there were no interplay of conflicting Forces– no obstacles– no part of the Universe would ever become Self-Aware.  The notion of The Other, experienced as resistance, is pre-requisite to consciousness.  Any entity which existed in absolute freedom, maintains Schelling, would have no Self-Consciousness.  This may sound like a terrible view of absolute freedom, but on the bright side–  the absolutely free entity exists in a state of “absolute bliss.”  

Obviously, this could lead to troubling quandaries if one believes in an Omniscient God… Being absolutely free, how would he ever become aware of Himself?

Schelling describes the onset of Self-Consciousness as that moment when “Light and Dark separate in us.”  This is not an entirely helpful description.  

Schelling goes on to say that after the division within us of Light from Dark, we begin to “possess ourselves in a double form, namely once in unity, the other time in division.”  This is a second level of awareness, that of the Self.  .

This occurs when a Being brings this Light-Dark division into its Self.  Schelling appears to be saying that, in the act of Self-Awareness, we turn part of ourselves into The Other.  In other words, a Self-Aware creature is simultaneously Subject and Object.  

Schelling uses the near-universal religious-connotations contained within the concept of an oppositional Light and Dark, and pivots to make supposition that something like this Light-Dark separation is precisely what happened to God– that within Him, “Light” and “Dark” separated, thus leading to His own Self-Awareness.

interestingly, Schelling does NOT believe in the concept of “Life-Force.” Instead, he feels that Life emerges from the interplay of several forces.  In other words, the most basic thing we might call a Life-Force is actually a complex of forces.  

If there DID exist some “Life-Force,” then –for Schelling, at least– this would necessitate the existence of some contradictory force (we could call it Anti-Life Force, or perhaps even a Death Force). Schelling makes the comment that “no Force is finite in terms of Nature unless it is limited by an opposed force.”  I believe that Schelling is here asserting that no Force can exist without its opposite because, otherwise, such an opposed Force would be able to run amuck in the Universe, thus throwing everything out of balance, perhaps even growing to dominate the entire Universe (that depends, I suppose, upon whether different kinds of Forces can affect each other, or if they just slip past each other in a non-interactive way, like two ghosts). Since Schelling sees no evidence of any Death Force (my Starwarsian term, not his), he contends that there then cannot exist any pure Life-Force as such, since, being uncontested by it opposing force, it would become infinitely powerful.

“Life does not express anything at all which exists in itself,” writes Schelling.  Instead, Life is merely a formation of Being “consisting of several causes which interact.”  Schelling adds that this interplay of causes (a.k.a. Forces) must be “continually sustained by some external influence.”

Without Life, says Schelling, Nature tends toward a “dark, chaotic state,” a condition lacking all impetus and organization which he calls “Indifference,” and which we today might call Entropy.  Life is that which is “continuously preventing the point of Indifference from being reached.”  This is in line with those scientists who look out into Space and perceive the Universe as something winding down, a Cosmos slowly disintegrating into evermore elementary components– even as the Organization of the Earth maintains, even increases, its Complexity– thanks to the work of Life.

Life, according to Schelling, has the farther distinguishing characteristic of being internally, as opposed to externally, driven.  The life-less material-world progresses in a chain of cause-and-effect like a row of falling dominoes.  The science of Physics in fact depends upon the continuous inertia of a world determined by external causation.

But Life is compelled, or at least also compelled, by an inner impetus.  Says Schelling: “If there were nothing but that blind necessity” [of the inanimate world]… “then Life would remain in this dark, chaotic state.”

Schelling believes that, because “every new discovery throws us back into a new ignorance,” that Science is “an endless task.”  Every time we untie one knot, another knot presents itself.

Schelling, I believe, would contend that those physicists today who attempt, in their vast and expensive collision chambers, to discover the tiniest, most fundamental particle in the Universe are doomed in their pursuits.  He asserts that the material world can be split repeatedly, into ever-finer particles, on and on and on…  If one ever DID achieve the ultimate act of fission, he contends, we’d arrive at the place where “mind and matter are one.”  For Schelling, Nature is “visible Mind,” and the Mind is “invisible Nature.”


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