What is “Concept Development”?
Concept Development is Phase 0.1 of a project. Phase 0 is the initial impetus — the seed — that often comes coded, veiled, symbolized as some sort of primer that is subconsciously interpreted by the emotions as ‘important.’ James Joyce called the full extent of this rapture, this interruption of verbal thought, “aesthetic arrest.” It is the idea, word, phrase, image, or proto-concept that pierces through the veil of the dull myopia of your mental recursion and connotes something new, provokes that “a-ha” or “eureka” moment deep in the centrifuge of your central nervous system, or at least stops you in your tracks briefly. Your breathing hitches, your pulse quickens, and you sense, for a moment, that you’ve seen God.
But what have you seen? Sometimes, it’s nothing. Sometimes, it’s just an image from a dream, lingering as an after-effect, a fading vapor that clouds your morning until its washed away by coffee and email. Sometimes, the 0.0 insight pokes it head through the semiosis of reading a book, a flicker of something intangible and personal arising orthogonally from your mental continuum.
It threatens to lurch up and overtake your entire life, but, of course, like all inspiration, you immediately block it and embalm it in the thick discursiveness of distraction. If finding God is a process of anamnesia, of ‘losing your amnesia,’ of remembering, then your entire being — your default mode — is devoted to continuing to forget. Nothing about your conscious mind, your personality construct, your self-image, wants you to remember anything suggested by this intruding totem.
This harbinger, the full form of which is buried far below your ability to analytically perceive it, both suggests something incomprehensible and yet is clearly already fully formed, in the sense that the aesthetic arrest comes not from its inscrutability, but your knowledge that it is, itself, fully complete, with or without your perception.
What I mean is, the concept that has poked its head into your waking world is already fully developed, and you know it. Wherever it is, it has already happened, is already fully-defined, and your only option, should you wish to engage it, is to remember it, not to create it.
This is what Michelangelo meant by his famous quote (probably apocryphal, but it resonates just the same): “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”
All concepts are like this. We use reason and the tools of consciousness dialectically, with the grace of a meditator or archaeologist gently chipping away at the rock, to unearth and reveal the concept. We do not create concepts, we only obscure them.
All consciously-created concepts are dangerous, and destructive.
While the dormant, ‘below-the-tip-of-the-iceberg’ concepts cannot be said to ‘care’ about us one way or another — whether we live or die, are happy or sad, etc. — at least they are ontologically real, in the sense that we merely uncover them, and they are not a product of conscious mind. Conscious mind, then, is, at its best, merely a tool to uncover and reveal those buried proto-concepts — not, in and of itself, a tool of creation. Like the tiny pick the archaeologist uses to chip away the rock and sandstone around tiny dinosaur bone fragments, the tool can both help reveal but also destroy the very thing it seeks to unveil.
Consciousness is both our friend and our enemy. Conscious concepts are always designed to ad hoc justify our current, fear-based behavior.
Unconscious concepts do not bring fear with them, but our conscious mind reacts violently to them, because it sees in them the dissolution of its self-concept. All ‘sanity’, then, is truly insanity, because it locks us away from what’s real. That being said, not all forms of ‘insanity’ are therefore sanity, because most forms of madness are just hallucinatory cycles through conscious concepts (aka schizophrenia), and not a deconstructed plunge down into the realms of pure concept. You’ll know pure concept when it is impersonal or trans-personal and does not refer to you, your life, or your personality directly. Unfortunately, it often comes wearing a mask, what Joseph Campbell calls the “mask of God” or the “folk idea” grafted on top of the “elementary idea.”
The actual pure concept is trans-personal and part of the collective unconscious. You may glimpse the tips of these at times, in hypnogogic states, or in semi-lucid dreams, or even while in the shower or otherwise occupied.
Unfortunately, we are trapped in a catch-22 as it pertains to fully experiencing these concepts. The thing that experiences, our consciousness, is not capable of fully experiencing these concepts. It has to be stripped away, eliminated, forgotten, in order for these concepts to fully sweep in and fill the void left by consciousness. But, without consciousness, we have no way of experiencing or remembering these concepts, because there is no one there to experience them. This is a very Zen conception, but it occurs in all religions in various guises. The you that is capable of fully experiencing these concepts is not you, and therefore cannot be said to be ‘experiencing’ anything. These concepts are only accessible in the absence of experience — not in its presence.
This presents us with a conundrum, for, like the archetypal hero in The Hero’s Journey, we wish to ‘experience’ these concepts and then return to the world to share them. To die, and then be reborn. But the myth cycle is a red herring. There is no returning while retaining the experience. To return is to forget. Death — full dissolution of the conscious — is the only real union with the pure concepts. And in death there is no experience, no self, no memory.
So, we are caught between worlds. This is the human experience, the human condition. We constantly grasp at the glimpsed unknown, knowing that it is the only real truth, the pure unconceived pre-existing reality, and yet the more we ‘let go’ to experience it, the more we dissolve away our conscious mind, the less of it we can experience, remember, or retain.
Perhaps the Buddhist monks were right. Perhaps there is an aspect of consciousness, of memory, that is separate from consciousness, from experience, that can be cleared away and trained and remain active while within death — within the pure concept. This para-memory function cannot be said to be ‘experience,’ but it can be said to be an aspect of personal mind — unless we posit that it, at its essence, is of the same mind as the pure concept. God’s Mind. And perhaps this is right, the full Christian or Hindu ideal. God is waking up to its own universe, and we are merely a node in its neural circuitry — necessary, but not sufficient. We will never be enlightened, we will never abide with the pure concepts — this is the human condition. But we can see glimpses of them, and know they’re there, and rest easy in the knowing that we are part of something, a universal process of waking up, that is infinitely bigger than us, both in time, and space, and scope. We have a purpose, but it is not personal. We give ourselves, and our consciousnesses, to the universal process of anamnesis. The best we can do is to practice letting go of the obscuring maelstrom, the clutching terror of our conscious mind, beliefs, and thoughts, and allow the flaring up of these emotions indicating aesthetic arrest, that mingling fear and wonder we call awe, to inspire us to let go even further, and also to fall to our knees in gratitude and grace, acknowledging — even further, praising — the tininess and yet necessity of our personal path. We are each fragments of dinosaur bones, and the universe is chipping away at the dirt and the muck around us, because we want to be found, and we want to be reunited into the one form, the skeleton that knows itself and can therefore truly rest, on the ninth day.