What is Consciousness
One of the things that came to mind when I read Ennead I was Alzheimer disease. I’ve heard some say that advanced Alzheimer disease makes life not worth living, and that people afflicted with this disease have become less than human. Although I strongly rejected this opinion, I did it intuitively and on emotional grounds, but failed to make any strong counter-arguments. Plotinus wrote some of his treatises on consciousness, soul and well-being when he was close to death, perhaps he had struggled with these issues personally and therefore wrote with conviction.
Consciousness, according to Plotinus, is like a mirror, it reflects the state and activity of our mind, but it is not the activity of our mind itself. Our mind remains active even when we are not conscious of it. Even when our brain has suffered damages or diseases, our mind is intact. This is in accord with Plato’s dichotomy between soul and body, mind and matter.
Intelligence transcends mind and matter, and yet it permeates all, because all things partake in its form or its image to various degrees. Our reason, i.e. reflexive thinking, is derived from Intelligence. It possesses the form of Intelligence, but it is not Intelligence itself. To use an analogy, the relationship between reason and Intelligence is rather like that between art and life. The closer reason approaches Intelligence, the better it is.
Aristotle wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Viewed in the current context, it may be understood that our mind only accepts a thought akin to its own state, and rejects that which is contrary to itself. In other words, our consciousness is reflecting not only our own mind, but also someone else’s, like a theater with more than one actors on stage. What Aristotle calls “educated” is really synthetic, not pure in essence.
Descartes’ statement, “I think, therefore I am”, is not necessarily true. Because “I” may be reflecting other people’s thoughts. and void of intelligence myself, like a mindless parrot or anything capable of echoing.
What is Perception
The Latin root for perception means literally to take in, grasp. The Epicureans and Aristotle argue that sense-perception implies change in the recipient. If there is no change, there is nothing grasped, and no perception.
Plotinus endeavors to reconcile this argument with the Platonic conception of soul as immutable by positing an intermediary, namely, the living being, which is the product of the soul’s formative power upon the body.
“Soul’s power of perception need not be immediate grasping of sense-objects, but rather it must [discern] the impressions produced by sensation on the living being; these are already intelligible entities. So external sensation is the image of this perception of the soul, which is in its essence truer and is a contemplation of forms alone without being affected.”
The sensible objects are images of intelligible forms, which reside in the realm of the soul, therefore the soul “perceives” the sensible objects, not by reaching out and grasping, but by recollecting itself and contemplating the forms within.
What is Beauty
The things in this world are beautiful by participating in form. Beauty of the body is one kind, and beauty of the soul is another and higher. The soul delights in beautiful things, but much more in virtuous souls, because they are kindred to the beauty within itself. It is a competent judge of beauty, because it has the standard of beauty, the intelligible form, within. The way to Beauty is not through the senses, chasing after shadows of images of beauty, like a man who grasps for a beautiful reflection on water and sinks to the bottom. Only the beautiful can see beauty, and only the pure in soul can see Goodness. Absolute Beauty and Absolute Goodness are one and the same for God, from whom come beauty, goodness and all that belong to real beings.