Personal approach to Symbolic reality


Dr. Dvoretskaya Ekaterina, Russia.




Symbols exist in and throw persons. Symbols are the intermediary between the world internal and the world external, between inner and external reality of human being as a person. As Florensky wrote, symbols are the organs of our contact with reality. Symbols are openings that have pierced through in our subjectivity. Symbol is an integral and indivisible quality and the person can bear within him/herself this quality. The unique and unrepeatable person can contain within him/her the universal, as positive quality and attainment. According to Florensky, “Being has an inner aspect, which it turns towards itself, in its non-confusion with everything that is not itself; and an outer aspect, directed toward another being. There are the two aspects: they are not affixed to each other, but are in original unity. They are one and the same being, even if oriented in different directions. One aspect serves the self-affirmation of being; the other serves its revelation, its manifestation, its showing forth, or whatever name one might give to the life that connects one being with another. In the terminology of the ancients, these two aspects of being are called essence or substance, ousia, and activity or energy, energeia” (translated by Penny Burt). When the medieval thinkers say that every being has its energy, and that only non-being has none, this ontological axiom is fully approved by common sense. It means, after all, that everything that genuinely exists has life within itself and manifests that life, - testifies to its own existence - by a manifestation of its life, and in doing so, it testifies not to others only, but to itself as well. This manifestation of life is indeed the energy of being.

Symbol is a trace of sacred being in ordinary life. As Umberto Eco mentioned in “Symbol”, “Any symbol is an enigma”. Florensky defined symbol as “Being, when it’s more than itself, – this is the basic definition of a symbol. The symbol is something that reveals, through itself, that which is not itself, that which is more than itself, – and yet something that essentially announces itself through this symbol. Let’s unfold this formal definition: a symbol is that essence which fuses or mingles its energy with the energy of a more valuable essence. The symbol thereby carries within itself this more valuable essence” (translated by Penny Burt).

It is easily to say that “this more valuable essence” is God. But in our time, when struggle for freedom passed the boundary of Nietzsche’s "the God has died ", it resulted in the declaration  that values of human life are not postulated on the basis of Absolute values any more. Disintegration of instances of the supreme values, ideas, and ideals entailed the mixture, flattening of noumenonality and phenomenonality. Even more, we can see through the majority of philosophical works that Society replaces God in contemporary understanding of world reality. The only one opportunity to reveal the sacred dimension of human being is to “return of the person”, as Paul Ricoeur suggested.

The person is ontological category. Person creates cosmos out of chaos. Person is possessed of cosmic beginning. According to Berdyaev, the affirmation of the supreme value of personality is not at all concern for personal salvation, but rather the expression of the person's supreme creative calling in the life of the world. It is possible because the “personality as an existential centre, presupposes capacity to feel suffering and joy. Nothing in the object world, nation or state or society, or social institution, or church, possesses this capacity” (Berdyaev). Person speaks not only as man belonging to the natural and social order, but also to a different dimension of being, to the spiritual world. Person is a form of being, higher than anything natural or social. Society is a small part of person, is merely its social condition, and the world is merely part of person. Person is the existential centre, not society and not nature. Person realizes itself in social and cosmic life, but it can do this only because that within it, it is independent from nature and from the principle of society. According to Berdyaev, the beginning of new epoch presupposes a change in human mentality, the liberation of man’s consciousness from the power of “objectness”.

Berdyaev vindicated the inequality, disparity of persons in the creativity. According to him, the temptation of an absolute equality leads to the extermination of all qualities and values, of all upsurges and ascents, in it -- is the spirit of non-being. Being was conceived in inequality, in a heightening of qualities, in individual distinctions. In it the star from star is distinguished in glory. The tendency in contemporary society to worship quantity over quality has subordinated human life to the caprice of the human passions, the interests and strivings for well-being and pleasure. Triumphant only are the utilitarian values. Everything is made subject to the good of individual people and to a mechanical quantity of people. The inward, the spiritual core of the human person is denied. Good and evil are acknowledged as relative and are evaluated as dependant upon societal usefulness. The consciousness of obligations was replaced by endless demands and pretensions. According to this world-view and world-sense, the person sets forth his demands and pretensions, independent of his qualities and services. Irresponsible pretentiousness paralyses the awareness of obligations. It is a moral ulcer, polluting our societal life. Berdyaev alerted that the "extinguishing of all qualitative distinctions" and of all the uplifting would be a return to the primordial non-being, wherewith is a complete equality, a total confusion. The uprising of the primordial chaotic non-being occurs periodically within history, whole societal movements can be reflective of its light.

            The appeal to symbolic reality allows us to overcome personal boundaries. In Bakhtin’s words, person as “organic unity” is capable of “transcending itself that is, exceeding its own boundaries”.  A “transcending of self” is the activity of “creation”. This personal activity translates belief into reality. And this closely resembles what we have called “the sacrifice of self”. To be open person needs to come into time. Time’s dimension from the beginning till end gives inner tension to human being between birth and death. This time’s perspective shapes possibility of identification with question “who is coming?’ Person tries to answer “It’s me”. Person exists as embodied person. It defines spatio-temporal life of person. This spatio-temporal dimension of person discovers his/her unique existence. This uniqueness shapes by fact of the death.

The unity of living person fixes by forthcoming death. Mikhail Bulgakov wrote in “The Master and Margarita”: “Yes, man is mortal, but that would be only half the trouble. The worst of it is that he's sometimes unexpectedly mortal - there’s the trick!” This unexpectedness allows person to feel vigilance. In this case person transcends spatio-temporal boundaries of “here and now” and uncovers activity itself. When the feeling of death becomes dull, the consciousness loses the alarm clock awaking to presence as to wakefulness. Then the soul alive has already finished his/her metamorphosis in “there-life”, and format Dasein is replaced by an empty shell. This felling of death pierces the personal existence and personality as an existential centre and presupposes capacity to feel suffering and joy. The sweetness of life arises from influence of the poison of death and the fact of desire occurs. Eternity calls never can permeate into motive of desire or even a simple inclination. Such motivation belongs only to mortal beings. The Beauty principally exists in the forms of deficit and scarcity because of complicacy to time unlike eternity. Socrates asserted that possibility to estimate a person life as happy or unfortunate arises only after death of the person. The life pierced by call of death discovers valuability.

The inequality of mortal persons is shown in all level of existence: in deep feelings of life and death, in intensity of life, in admissibility of present another, in symbolically equipped reality and especially in accesses to the centers of condensation of vitality itself. For the last one there is on the first place to be bodily demanded and beloved. Even further being in postmortality could develop differently for various persons. The degree of unpredictability here does not concede lifetime unpredictability. But anyway, it could open the new chance. For example, chance of ascension to true scales of the person which are not represented in given still-real body.

According to Florensky, a spatio-temporal actuality both is and is becoming, it is identical to itself both because it is a certain spatio-temporal actuality and because it is becoming a certain spatio-temporal actuality through its relatedness to other spatio-temporal actualities, and so the law of identity is always both grounded and violated. Thus, A is A and A is becoming A through not-A, i.e. through a denial of itself. He wrote, "each time it is necessary to become convinced not only of the truthfulness of the thesis p but also to clarify whether it is not half of some antinomy P" for the purpose of avoiding heresy ("hairesis [the Greek term] means choice, tendency, a disposition to something"), i.e. "a rational one-sidedness that claims to be everything".

It is necessary to clarify this understanding of spatio-temporal being by Florensky through his understanding of being itself. He explained the meaning of his “concrete metaphysics” in his work At the Watersheds of Thought (U vodorazdelov mysli) which is not translated in English yet. According to Florensky, we could say that being in full possession of itself is always present to itself. It means that being as essence discovers itself by surpassing. In existence being reveals itself as non-concealment. But in the act of revealing being keeps itself in this non-concealment and therefore being resides safety and is intact. In this case being is essence. This distinction in all-embracing unity of being is the difference between openness and safeness. This is tact or tune. Tact of “basing” and of “based” keeps this distinction in harmony. Essence and existence are intact. Here we can distinguish the inner Logos that is dividing the totality of existence from the revealed Logos. The Between which arises from this distinction highlights itself in the answering, as the one in the other. But it’s possible if being itself is all-embracing unity or being in superlative degree. From this it follows that the distinction by itself shows itself as being in its all-embracing unity and as being in a superlative degree.

Such understanding of being discovers two dimensions of personal being: 1) vertical dimension to all-embracing unity and to a superlative degree or perfectness; 2) horizontal dimension to just existence in ordinary life. Person's supreme creative calling in the life of the world presupposes holding of the exertion between these two dimensions of personal being. It’s better to understand the connection between these two dimensions of personal being through explanation of the connection between two beings by Florensky. He wrote: “the connection between beings – their mutual relation and revelation – is itself something real. Without breaking away from the centers that it connects, neither can it be reduced to them. This connection is synergy, the co-activity of beings. It necessarily reveals, through itself, both of the beings that it connects. It is not numerically identical to either being, since it is something new in relation to each one of them; but it is each one of them, since it is that which reveals the respective beings. After all, outside of and apart from its energy – and what’s more, an energy that has been assimilated – this being will remain not-discovered, not-revealed, not-known. And yet a certain energy of being can be assimilated only by the energy of the being that is doing the assimilating. If there is no medium for assimilating the stream of energy, i.e., if there is no stream of energy in response, then this means that the being on the receiving end has not shown itself as receiving, has not shown itself as actively receptive. Then, as far as the original stream of energy is concerned, this unresponsive being is – nothing: it might just as well not exist. Then the current of energy will go right through and pass this being by, without touching it, without noticing it, and without being perceived or noticed in return” (translated by Penny Burt).

Florensky tried to make it more clearly by the theory of resonance. There we cannot separate the oscillations of the resonance from the oscillations that give rise to the resonance. Florensky pointed that the resonance is no longer the activity of one circuit or the other, but the circuits’ co-activity. He elaborated the concept of synergy reasoning from it. What’s oscillating in the resonator is not only the resonator’s energy, nor the energy of the vibrator alone, but the synergy of both. And the presence of this synergy enables the two circuits, even if spatially separated, to become one. Florensky wrote: “Thus, resonance is synergy, the carrier of the beings that generate the resonance. It is more than itself: it is resonance and at the same time the cause of the resonance – that which causes the resonance to be. And, to that extent, it is the being that we regard as more valued and more important, inasmuch as it is more correct to give first place to the being that is revealed by its energy, and second place to the energy that does the revealing, but which derives its value and existence from the being which is its source. And so we’ve just hit upon the concept of a symbol” (translated by Penny Burt).

Each individual faces chaos in his own soul until he places himself in the context of his personal history. According to Florensky, “The life task of anyone is to perceive the structure and form of his family, its task, the law of its growth, its points of balance, the correlation of its different branches and their particular tasks, and, on the background of all this, to perceive one’s own place in one’s family and one’s own task, which is not one’s individual task, which one poses to oneself, but one’s task as the member of a family, as the organ of a greater whole.” Knowledge of one’s identity, as we would call it now, becomes possible only through diachronic self-analysis: “It is necessary to find one’s own place in history, to register oneself historically, to find one’s own coordinates in history, one’s genealogical latitude and longitude.” (Florensky)

Each embodied person has this genealogical latitude and longitude because of born from mother. This inheritance is mine, but not me. This is something which I have in deepness of myself, but it is still other than me. In 20th century this Otherness of me named unconsciousness. According to Freud, unconsciousness is a cauldron of seething desires, a bottomless pit of perverse and incestuous cravings. Unconsciousness’ demands push person to act in reality. The acting is blind without knowledge, but knowledge is lifeless without bottomless unconsciousness. Especially when we try to answer the question “Who I am?’ and look into deepness of our soul. As Carl Jung mentioned, if person would like to understand him/herself, it’s by “revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him”. According to Jung, unconsciousness influences all of our experiences and behaviors, most especially the emotional ones, but we only know about it indirectly, by looking at those influences. Jung suggested that we possess collective unconsciousness. It is the reservoir of our experiences as a species, a kind of knowledge we are all born with. The contents of the collective unconscious are called archetypes. Jung also called them dominants, imagos, mythological or primordial images, and a few other names, but archetypes seem to have won out over these. An archetype is an unlearned tendency to experience things in a certain way. It acts as an "organizing principle" on the things we see or do.

Umberto Eco describes Jung’s collective unconsciousness as symbolic reality. According to him, “The contents of the collective unconsciousness are the archetypes, archaic types, universal images, representations collectives: lunar, solar, vegetal, metereological representation, more comprehensible in myths, more evident in dreams and visions. Jung is explicit in saying that these symbols are neither mere signs (he uses the Greek technical word semeia) nor allegories. They are genuine symbols precisely because they are ambiguous, full of half-glimpsed meanings and in the last resorts inexhaustible. They are paradoxical because they are contradictory… If the archetypes are indescribable and infinitely interpretable, their experience cannot be but amorphous, undetermined, and unarticulated. Symbols are empty and full of meaning at the same time”.

Symbols hold two dimensions of human being: vertical and horizontal. By means of modern baggage of knowledge we could call symbols as archived files. But we should unarchive these files to identify ourselves. It could be done only by our own energy. According to Florensky, “I myself perceive this revelation to me and within me. As we’ve said, this revelation of essence is fused and mingled with the energy of my perception, laying the foundation for the entire further process of cognition. Hence, this further process of cognition in no way exceeds the original capacity of the fusion of energies, or synergy… The organ which establishes at will the connection between cognizer and cognized is the word, – and especially the name, or some equivalent that can be used as a name: the metonym” (translated by Penny Burt). Linguistics distinguishes between various forms of languages, but if the goal of all these activities is to express a meaning. Within the parameters of this single goal, activities which seem to differ quite radically are nonetheless united by a single common term: language. Florensky suggested that “The rational organism, as an integral whole, internally cohesive in many ways, responds to the energy of cognized reality with its whole being, not simply through some one of its functions…. there is really only one language – the language of the whole organism’s active self-manifestation; and only a single species of word – articulated by the whole body” (translated by Penny Burt). He mentioned that there may be some activity which turns out to be the shortest, and therefore the easiest, route to the discharge of inner energy, but the language of the articulate word is a universal instrument – the grand piano among the instruments of the spirit – the most many-sided and the most capable of serving the most various needs.

          Words help us to unarchive archived files of symbols in our unconsciousness. This process preforms all the hues and directions of spiritual movements which might arise, so that each appearance of the spirit, the newest, most unexpected, the most uniquely-individual, all finds itself in such a word, finds itself a readied vessel, a ready home for its habitation. Florensky wrote: “it is the word alone, produced by the vocal organ, that makes the cognitive process possible, the word alone that makes objective what was still subjective and had not seemed even to ourselves to be the cognized truth before the word came along. On the other hand, the word pronounced sums up our inward longing for reality and places before us the cognitive urge (Sehnsucht) as a goal that has been achieved and a value that has been secured for consciousness” (translated by Penny Burt). To underline this point Florensky introduce the term isotrope from geometry. Geometry shows that however short (or long) the distance between two points in space may be, one can always construct a path along which this distance is equal to zero. The line of this path is the so-called isotrope. By establishing an isotropic connection between the points, we can make any two points directly contiguous to each other. Thus we can compare the word-utterance to this contact between cognizer and cognized along the isotrope: although remaining spatially separate, they prove to be mutually superimposed. The word is the ontological isotrope, according to Florensky. So the word is a bridge between the I and the non-I.

            Words help us as certain operative system to unarchive files of collective memory. As Florensky wrote in The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: “The whole theory of knowledge is, in the final analysis, a theory of memory. Memory is the activity of assimilation in thought (i.e., creative reconstruction from representations) of that which is revealed by mystical experience in Eternity, or, in other words, the creation in Time of symbols of Eternity… One can touch once again the once-already-experienced time-transcending mystical reality that lay at the base of a single representation that has passed and that is to lie at the basis of another representation, which is coming and which is kindred to the first in the unity of mystical content.” Person uses old symbols, but fills them up with new senses. Florensky sees the process of cognition as creating on the lower planes models and schemes, and on the higher planes — symbols. According to Florensky, the symbol is the essence that carries the energy, grafted to its own, of another essence. And this other, second essence is revealed through the energy of the first – i.e., the symbol’s – essence.

     But we should remember that symbolic reality holds vertical dimension of human life. This line has two orientations: to the up and to the down. Horizontal line of our ordinary life has direction from birth to death with machine coordinates. It specifies our life. Time is formed by concrete processes as a result of consecutive changes of its qualitatively new conditions. We can call this new concrete processes as detached processes, according to computer language. If there is no qualitative change, there is no time also. Time is always qualitative unity. Time opens the process of identification. The identification of qualitative unity in a time stream is possible in the presence of productive action. For this purpose, the person should understand aims of actions, means and tools for its achievement, and estimations of these actions depending both on the individual human factor, and on a cultural context as a whole.

To explain processes of “to be” and “to become” is better trough understanding of Time in Ancient Egyptian esoteric thought. There time itself was seen as having two distinct yet vital characteristics. These were expressed with two terms: neheh and djet. Instead of the three linear divisions of past, present and future, Egyptian language divided time into two ‘aspects’ which can best be understood by our concepts of ‘change’ and ‘completion’ or ‘perfection’. The concept of neheh is perhaps the closest to the modern perception of time. This is time an activity in progress or incomplete time. It is often said of neheh-time that it ‘comes’: it is time as an incessantly pulsating stream of days, months, seasons, and years. For the Egyptians ‘change’, as neheh-time, was seen as an ‘aspect’ or “representation”, as the ‘becoming one’. The conception of djet-time is considered an ‘aspect’ or ‘representation’. However, instead of the “becoming one” djet-time stresses the ‘completed one’ or “totality” in the sense of an ultimate and unalterable state of perfection. Djet-time is that which ‘remains,’ ‘lasts,’ and “endures” and this is the time in which we distinguish the completed. Djet-time belong to processes of the beyond world and to passive conditions, and neheh-time pertains to processes of real world and activity. To concern to this I would like to remain that in Russian language there is no future time and it sets a life “in the continued in infinity present”. Thus, the attempt to set action in the future or to set activity from the present into the future collides with unsolved problem at a level of grammar. There is no unequivocal form either for the first, or for the second in language itself. Russian language does not provide simpliciter for proper activity as a change of an external world or as a change of own attitude to the world.

Taking into account foresaid, we could say that symbols contain convoluted time of the concrete activity. The length of a time interval in a symbol is derivative from certain property and quality. By means of these the identification is attained, so as the self-sufficiency of the activity which necessary for the identification of the given detached process. Human activity is impossible without emotions and feelings. In accordance with this symbols fill with the potentiality of activity expressed in emotional, strong-willed concentration. They are able to reproduce plurality through singularity. From the one side, symbols create differentiation of the world of actions and forms cognitive space of the world. Cognitive space correlates with space of actions. There are the more differentiation, the more symbols and the richer cognitive space. Symbols are powerful because of potentiality of certain activity. And just of it they are fraught with danger. The same we can say about rituals as some sacred human activity. The goal of this expression is not the energies themselves – physical, occult, etc. – as registered from the outside, but rather the meaning which they introduce into the world. From the second side, we don’t know what we are doing by unarhiving of archived files. Opened activities could destroy not only somebody who discovered it, but whole system of the world. Plurality of symbols as a designation of the differentiated actions set richness and variety of processes and activities in the world and universe. Through the process of recombination the new symbol could be established. It is connected with previous symbols, but it possesses new unique inherent characteristics which distinguish it from previous qualitatively.  It is possible to set some operations to join several symbols on the basis of plurality and diversity.

Symbolic reality contains chaos and cosmos as sacred by itself. The feeling of chaos creates three states which individuals find intolerable - analytic, emotional, and moral impotence. It gives rise to set religions. There are different etymological interpretations of this term: 1) as re-reading (from Latin re (again) + legio (read); 2) treating carefully (from Latin relegere); 3) re-connection (from Latin re (again) + ligare (to connect, as in English ligament). According to Geerts, religion is "...a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, persuasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men [sic] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic". They are fused into what Geertz calls the "really real," which is created by "…the imbuing of a certain complex of symbols—of the metaphysics they formulate and the style of life which they recommend—with a persuasive authority which, from an analytic point of view is the essence of religious perspective". That is, these symbol systems make the ethos intellectually reasonable by being shown to represent a way of life adapted to the worldview, and to make the worldview emotionally convincing by being presented as an image well-suited to accommodate such a way of life.

Operation systems which unarchive symbols are languages. According to Umberto Eco we could call it semiotic drift, that is, the idea that by entering language we enter an unavoidable hermeneutic circle where nothing can limit the endless game of signification. But in the act of knowing we distinguish between the content of the act and its form – between what we know and how we know it. Florensky examined both orientations of thought which are already inherent in the spirit of the languages by analyzing the Aryan and Semitic language families. He wrote: “Through their etymology, the Semites have demonstrated that what they value in cognition is primarily reality, and in names – the objects, whereas the Aryans prize the rationality of the cognized, and in names – the concepts. On the one hand, nomen – omen, the name is a token; on the other, nomen – notio, the name is a concept. This is the antithesis between √shem and √gna, philosophically crowned by the names of Spinoza and Kant. If we delved into this antithesis, we would hit upon the theoretico-cognitive and then the ontological juxtaposition of the feminine receptive principle and the masculine normative one (Kabbalah)” (translated by Penny Burt).

According to Florensky, the cognized metaphysically enters into the cognizer, while the cognizer metaphysically comes out of himself, moves towards the cognized, vests it with himself. The first act is mystical perception, intrinsically mystical, whatever you may call it; while the second is the act of naming. By the first we embrace the cognized, and by the second we manifest ourselves in the world – in laboring towards the cognized. Word is orientated bilateral, first, from speaking - outside, as the activity interfering from speaking in external world, and secondly, from an external world to speaking, inside of it, as the perception received by speaking. In other words, the word will transform a life, and by a word a life is acquired to spirit. The word is magic and a word is mystical. To consider, why words are magical, it means to understand, how and why we can influence to the world by a word. Words are constructed by phonemes, morphemes and sememes. Especially the last one is created by participation of many generations of people. Sememe stays as if dead while the word is not used, but only it gets in a stream of alive speech sememe revives and still full of internal force and value. Word is the condenser of will, the condenser of attention, the condenser of all sincere life. Genes of whole person, genes of his/her personal genealogy to which he/she belongs emanate in speaking word.

Florensky wrote: “The purpose of the name was to pick out an object from the general chaos of impressions and to unite it with other objects, which had already been coordinated. The function of the name is to connect. The name de-solders the disorder of consciousness and solders together its order. It is both real and ideal. It is the beginning [arche] of articulation, the beginning of differentiation, the beginning of harmony and structure. In short, the name is not a sound, but a word, logos, i.e., the word as reason, sound as meaning, the one and the other merged together. And if this is so, then wasn’t Goethe right to translate the Word of the Gospel [John’s Logos] as Deed – Tat?. “In the beginning was the Deed [“Im Anfang war die Tat” – Faust One],” for only the word “name” can be a deed. In the word we partake of the Universal Word, Universal Reason, the Universal Deed, in which “we live, and move, and have our being [Acts 17:28]” (translated by Penny Burt).

We should remember that symbolic reality exists in and through person. The discovering of this reality is risky and danger for person. It opens vertical dimension of personal being with their up and down. Personal being as all-embracing unity including a superlative degree or perfectness presupposes the realization of either highermost and holy degree, or lowermost and sink degree. The lofty a person could rise, the below he/she could fall. In this sense, sincerely repented sinner is dear to the Lord than not sinned righteous person.