Thoughts on Consciousness

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Consciousness is perhaps the most mysterious thing that we know exists. It has only been recently that I have come up with a model that seems coherent, to some degree, with what consciousness might be. I believe that the implications of a better understanding of consciousness are fascinating and I hope to, over time, elaborate on these initial thoughts. This may be the first post I have done where going into it, I felt like I was going to basically publish a “rough draft” of an idea. So please feel free to leave your thoughts as I try to further my understanding of consciousness on a deeper level than I ever have. Let me begin.

Consciousness is a very difficult topic to discuss in a way that makes any clear sense to someone who hasn’t thought in much depth about it before and it has only been recently that I feel I have a framework that is presentable to others.

As I view it, we have to look at what we know, or what we think we know about the mind. Our brains are some of the most complex and miraculous outcomes of the natural order that I can think of. Primarily functional to survival and in many ways can be simply described as an efficient data processing apparatus. We know that as our brains function in a certain way, consciousness seems to arise. This consciousness is very much, simply an awareness. And it can be argued that this awareness isn’t based upon the senses. For instance, we do not need to see to be conscious. We also don’t need to hear to be conscious. And our minds don’t have to stretch too far to see that we don’t need to smell, taste, or touch to be conscious either. I am newly aware of a discussion on this topic where people are arguing whether there is such a thing as “pure consciousness”. I have not read one word on these arguments or what they even are so I will not comment on that in this post, but I do know that it exists and my intuitions lead me to believe that I may be barking up that tree right now. I digress.

So in my mind, it is relatively easy to accept that we do not need our primary senses to be conscious. What we see, however, is that these primary senses have an effect on consciousness rather than being consciousness. This brings me closer to my framework on what consciousness is there is one last thing I would like to look at first.

Thoughts. Are thoughts consciousness? Per my logic and understanding, asking the question almost shows that the answer is no. It seems to just sound ridiculous. Introspection, probably most efficiently seen by means of meditation, tends to show that thoughts arise in consciousness rather than thoughts being consciousness. Taking what I have said above one step further, it seems we don’t need thought, in principle, to be conscious.

Now this is the most that I am willing to take away at this point, so now I will move on to the picture that I feel this paints for what consciousness is.

What we can see here is that consciousness seems to be more malleable than a constant or rigid “something”. I like to describe consciousness through the analogy of a pond. Imagine this pond is still. It simply is and exists. Imagine there are no waves or anything. Now imagine you drop a pebble into this pond. There will be a ripple effect. The pebble itself, however, isn’t consciousness, but the pebble has an effect on consciousness. So think of this pebble as a thought, or a sensation. Maybe the feeling of pressure on your back, maybe the sound of a bird. All of these things arise in consciousness, and because of this, they change consciousness in some way.

Now, as conscious, fully functioning people, life does not present us with one pebble at a time, so I think a more accurate view of life and it’s affect on consciousness is to imagine an absolute torrential downpour of rain on this pond. Imagine wind as well, along with any other natural forces on the water. This is the nature of experience arising in and affecting consciousness.

It is worth recognizing that we are all different. We have different strengths, weaknesses, interests, etc. And we all react to stimuli differently. I would claim, and it shouldn’t be hard to buy into, that consciousness is highly correlated to our brain. That is, your consciousness does not exist beyond your brain. I cannot be consciously aware of the thoughts in my wife’s mind as they arise. To use a mathematical term, consciousness and the brain are one-to-one and onto. So what does this do to our pond? It shapes the pond. No pond looks the same. It can experience very similar stimuli, but due to the contours of the pond, or the natural function of one’s brain (to draw the connection I am trying to make), we will interpret, react, or behave differently to similar stimuli, even if only slightly.

Now there is so much more to touch on but I will leave it here for now. I think that there are many implications of understanding reality as we look at consciousness in more depth. I soon hope to write about how the introspection of consciousness leads you to find that there is no self, no ego that we call “I” residing in our heads, acting as the experiencer. But I will also want to use this and my discussions with others, as a foundation to continue to talk about what we can think or say about consciousness. More to come.