Being & Communication (R13+)

A Facebook friend Joe Van Myers posted a paper by SCRWeightman called ‘The Domains of Discourse’ (Systematics Vol 7 December 1969). A previous paper contained a pyramid-shaped model which was intended to depict the relationship between Language, Speech and Meaning as mutually exclusive contributions to the supposed Unity of the experience of self:-

‘Self-unity’ is the critical issue to be discussed but ‘meaning’ always seems to me to be a construct, an emergent property of the system which might be said to be a contributory factor to the ‘Unity’ of self where ‘meaning’ is inevitably focussed.

E.P. = Emergent Property

According to the pyramid model, which the December 1969 paper seeks to revise, the path from language to unity is related to the competence of the self (the language we have at our disposal creates the universe we imagine we live in, as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has it); the path from speech, or simply using language parrot-fashion, to unity is about relatively effective mechanical performance; while the path from meaning to unity is about conceptual grasp. This follows a pattern in Bennett’s Dramatic Universe.

Weightman acknowledges that none of these categories is watertight. More particularly, he proposes that the model needs to be rebuilt in order to incorporate the role and effect of others in the equation – the relationship between self & society, the interaction.

My own view would be that ‘society’ is an abstract construct, built separately in the mind of each of us, an emergent property from the system of individuals coming together:-

Discourse is made up of utterances (‘the workings of the vocal mechanism’) which in combination and with competent performance become appropriate linguistic behaviour, both individual and societal.

Whether shared ‘meaning’ or ‘understanding’ emerges in speaking together depends on the ‘level of performance’ of participants – depends perhaps on focus, concentration, intention, listening quality, common purpose and willingness. If the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds then what one person’s set of verbal possessions & assumptions & combinations of meanings consists of at a point of ‘unity’ will be different from another’s. For example, intention may vary from cohesive to divisive, say, and the emerging propertieswill be anything from congruence/agreement to conflict & alienation.

Speech is not social in the collective sense but rather depends for its success on the matching & coalescence of individual speakers’, one with another. You have only to listen carefully to an exchange between rival politicians or between an atheist and a born-again to confirm this.

In spite of the political trope ‘everybody agrees that…’ – a clear sign of a half-baked attempt to make it so – , Weightman points out that ‘…meaning is neither a collective possession like language, nor a reciprocal action like speech, but a state of affairs that is shared by those [able to share it for for various reasons – community of intention, common focus or purpose and a kind of willingness to commit – ]… and can lead towards the shared experience that is understanding…’

Understanding is verified by sharing, comparing, checking, which adds a new dimension to the original model which becomes a double pyramid.

The crucial thing here is what is meant by ‘unity’ – it is not a something-or-other with permanency as we might imagine it to be. By Unity, in Weightman’s terms, is meant the experiencing self in the present moment which of course constantly changes with the flow of what could be designated ‘time’ – focal point of all the variables in play in the NOW. In the new model, the lower portion is perhaps ‘…more concerned with the material of discourse – sounds and their structure – while the upper pyramid appears to be more concerned with the social aspects of discourse…’

Weightman then redefines the new model by suggesting that his lower pyramid represents something going on ‘below the level of the individual’ (a ‘Subordinate Domain’) while the upper pyramid (the ‘Supra-ordinate Domain’) represents an ordering ‘above the level of the individual’. The spot marked ‘Unity’ then represents a ‘Co-ordinate Domain’.

I find this a useful categorisation and the ensuing discussion of the Co-ordinate Domain even more useful: it causes me to revisit my own ‘Figure of Eight’ model where the point of Unity between ‘Core Consciousness’ (= the Subordinate Domain) and the Extended Consciousness (= the Supra-ordinate Domain) is labelled ‘Interaction Now’ as an aspect of the Experiencing Self without taking into account other experiencing selves which might be a useful thing to do!

A double-click will obtain a decent version…

Weightman then points out the inadequacy of the point of Unity as being a singularity. It is just not a single point as the word itself appears to suggest, either in temporal terms or in terms of ‘self’. Moments are clearly multiple – in spite of the unthinking illusion of constancy, things have a habit of changing from moment to moment – and what’s more there is no unity of self – there are multiple selves or Multiple-I’s which I’m now inclined to think appear in the wrong place on the upper circuit: they are an aspect of the NOW point – the quality of NOWness all depends on what ‘I’ you happen to be in.

Weightman suggests that his pyramidal focal point be labelled a ‘Domain of Realisation’ – the place where ‘discourse becomes real to the individual who experiences it…’ Real but not necessarily accurate or valid or ecologically sound – just existentially ‘real’ – the way things appear to be at any one moment.

It needs to be emphasised that a notional system built from abstractions like ‘society’ and ‘unified self’ alone is pretty well certain to be very unstable; collectivities of selves, submitted to a thorough-going analysis, can be relatively concrete and handleable.

The ‘present moment’ expands and contracts in time & space depending on what one chooses to focus on. Choices are made by individual ‘I’s (of which there are a multitude) without their necessarily discussing the them with other ‘I’s in the system: one ‘I’ might have a broad focus while another has a relatively narrow one; one ‘I’ might be focussed on thinking while another craves action – deliberation v quick fix.

We each consist of a multiplicity of ‘I’s or selves. In the Domain of Realisation a crucial question to ask is – which self (‘I’) is doing the realising? Realisation in one ‘I’ will, without doubt, be different from the realising done by another.

Weightman has a splendid analogy for what can be defined as the functioning & changing focus of Multiple-I’s.

Let us consider what can happen when one goes to a concert. It is first possible to sit, with one’s eyes closed, allowing the music to fill one’s experience, to move and evoke as it will. If one surrenders one’s attention in this way, the music is one’s experience and one’s experience is the music. It is also possible, however, to listen more actively. This requires the expansion of the present moment in such a way that not only is the music still experience, but one is also able to ‘take in’ the structure and development of the work and the way it is unfolding. Such a widening of awareness also brings with it a heightened appreciation of the combinations of sounds, phrases and harmonies. With such a state of affairs we can say one is experiencing both the music and the work.

Surrendering-attention-to-the-music-I and then Analysing-the-structure-of-the-music-I…

A further widening of the present moment would come when, at the same time, one embraces the music, the work and the performance. When this happens one becomes aware of oneself in the concert hall with the rest of the audience, and of the orchestra and conductor playing the work in their own particular way. In this case the expansion of one’s awareness to embrace, as it were, the whole auditorium also brings with it a heightened awareness of each note, with the particular quality, timing and emphasis that it is given on this occasion. Such, one imagines, is the embrace of music critics. Finally, it is possible for a further expansion of the present moment which can bring the individual’s present moment in contact with the greater present moment which is the universal experience of music in the life of man. Such a widening of the embrace of awareness, experiences the concert as part of the musical life of the community, it experiences the full potency of the coalescence of the composer, the orchestra, the conductor and the individual members of the audience, and sees the significance of this in the enrichment of the cultural life of the community. Such an awareness brings with it a heightened appreciation of the sounds in all the aspects we have mentioned, but also as musical sounds, that is to say having a different quality from other kinds of sound.

Embracing-music-work-performance-I, Grasping-the-universal-experience-of-music-I, Relating-to-composer-conductor-audience-I…

At first sight it must seem that this last mode of experiencing music is the most primitive and attainable by anyone no matter whether he is tone deaf, totally ignorant of music, or standing in a noisy railway station. The difference is whether one is experiencing this from inside the ‘universe of music’ or merely looking in from outside. Only through such an expansion of the present moment as has been described, can the experiencing self be brought in contact with this region, from within, in which the special quality of musical sound, and the cultural role of music within the community, are together seen as aspects of the same universal experience.

The situation that has just been described is one that is, if not familiar, at least easily verifiable. Anyone who recognises what has been described, will also be familiar with the instability of the present moment. At one time it may be of sufficient extent and duration to embrace the whole auditorium and the particular performance that is being given, at another it may contract and be filled entirely with the experience of the music, being then of little more duration than a few bars. Such fluctuations are constantly occuring over very short periods of successive time…

One can flit from ‘I’ to ‘I’ from one moment to the next.

The musical analogy also shows one important aspect of the process of co-ordination that belongs to the domain of realisation. This is that, the more the present moment is able to expand and reach into the supra-ordinate domain, the more it is brought in contact with the corresponding region in the subordinate domain. The more the concert goer was able to embrace the occasion and the performance, the more aware he was of the particular quality of each note. Similarly in discourse, the more one is able to embrace a conversation, its situation and those taking part, the more one is also able to be aware of the exact manner in which each sound is articulated. It is because the present moment expands equally into both the subordinate and supra-ordinate domains, that there is able to be, in the domain of realisation, the co-ordering of which we have spoken.

We talk here of the expansion and contraction of the ‘moment’ – the process itself could be said to be managed by a range of different ‘I’s.

In addition to those already referred to we might note ‘I’s like

Listening-to the notes-I

I’ve been told that I’m sometimes in Humming-very-quietly-I – must be infuriating… And there are many more ‘I’s.

If the present moment is unstable then so is the status of the individual management of it: which ‘I’ is determining what goes on there?

Whatever the answer, the important point is that it is only in the Domain of Realisation that anything ever really happens; everything else in the Figure of Eight is merely a contributory factor; any realising is a result of potential wrapped up in the subordinate and supra-ordinate domains.

In addition an expansion of the supposed ‘Unity’ of the Domain of Realisation can take up options described as relating to both the supra-ordinate domain (Extended Consciousness) and the subordinate domain (Core Consciousness or Other-than-conscious Mind)

The larger the individual repertoire contributing to realisation in that domain, the greater the ease with which the experiencer can circulate the Figure of Eight. The more aware the experiencer is of the workings of its Multiple-I’s the more all the possible relationships between supra- and subordinate realms can become functional.

Additionally, the ‘I’ that relates effectively to other people and their multiplicity is likely to marshal ‘I’s that are likely to contribute to a well-formed society of individuals.

Weightman’s very special musical analogy reminded me of a guided visualisation exercise I used to run with groups. It was adapted from James Roose-Evans’ Passages of the Soul.

Facing into the circle
stand with legs slightly apart
feet well rooted to the ground
like a tree whose roots go deep down
eyes closed
breathing in notice the energy in your breath
flowing up from under the ground
up through the feet… up the back of your ankles…
thighs… spine… until it has reached the top of your skull
pause, lungs full of breath
resting in the fullness of the breath like a surfboard rider on the crest of a wave
…release the breath
going with the wave
the breath flows down your face and chest
back to the base of the spine forming a loop.
…no breath left
now in the emptiness of no-breath
neither breathing in nor breathing out.

Lao Tzu:

The ten thousand things
have their beginning
in absolute emptiness,
in complete quiet…
Energetically growing,
restlessly changing,
all complete themselves
by returning to stillness.

open your eyes and turn around to face out from the circle
…take a breath and move your attention to the walls of the room…
another breath takes the attention to the edge of the garden…
to the edge of the town…
globe… moon & stars…
& now your breath comes from the other side of the universe…
make your way slowly back in the same order
and into this room now knowing that the energy
from the other side of the universe
is yours whenever you choose
to tap into it…

5 thoughts on “Being & Communication (R13+)

  1. Hi Colin,

    Weightman’s insightful discussion of expanding the present moment of realisation when attending a concert may have a useful practical application for me in an entirely different social setting. I attend a weekly 90-minute question-and-answer seminar on Buddhism with about eight other members of my meditation group, and often find that, through inattention and/or excessive focus on my own question, I lose my connection to the overall flow of the session. Next time, I will put some of Weightman’s suggestions for expanding one’s attention to the musical experience into use expanding my attention to the other individual participants and to the larger group dynamics being created by the flow of the discussion. Should be a very useful exercise, don’t you think?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Great! I think that the concert account stands as a metaphor for any part of our experience. Thanks for that, Tom. Let’s know what happens for you. I’d be really interested.

      Last week I set the guided visualisation to music and ran it with 50 people.



      1. I’ll certainly let you know, Colin! But – the seminar is on end-of-summer break for a month, so it will be mid-September before I can get back to you on this. Hope you’re enjoying your summer.



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