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Awareness versus Consciousness

the Emergence Explorer

Questions for the Week of February 19, 2007






Emergence Character Type Babies 9-AI-2


This Week's Questions


[posed by guest questioner, Graham H.]
  • What is consciousness, and how does it differ from self awareness?
  • Do we have to be conscious of something to make a decision?
  • How often, if ever, do we actually make conscious decisions?

Do you know?



After having a debate with a friend about what being conscious and unconscious mean, including how much control we have over our choices, I realized my opinions were quite opposite to hers. Moreover, when she started explaining her understanding of Freud's ideas, I realized my ideas are purely based on my own experiences and observations and that my conceptions of the meanings of the words "conscious" and "subconscious" may not be the same as the establishment's.

I then decided to research a little on the internet and came to your article on the Conscious / Subconscious / Unconscious which I found extremely interesting.

I find I am still confused, though, on the exact definition of consciousness and how its use seems to be either opposite to my understanding or in fact seems to swap its meaning depending on the context. What I found surprising is that you say babies age 0 - 2 are in a constant state of consciousness. Am I getting the word confused with awareness? I would assume babies are not conscious of their actions nor able to make choices which again, I would see as conscious decisions.

I do not have any psychology training apart from being a teacher of special needs children (kids with behavioral problems) and as such, have taken a big interest in cognitive development (e.g. Piaget and Bruner, etc.), largely with an educational and developmental slant. If you could help me out with these definitions or at least your take on it I would much appreciate it.

My questions are:

[Question 1] What is consciousness and how does it differ from self awareness?
[Answer]
Graham, before answering, I have to say, your questions are well thought out. I thank you for asking them. In addition, I thank you for provoking in me several emergences about the nature of consciousness, beginning with my answer to your first question.

What is consciousness and how does it differ from self awareness? Self awareness is the experience of any non visual sensation, where "sensation" is "the measurement of movement." The sense of "difference." The sense of "change." The sense of "motility."

Now to see what I'm saying, try tasting a piece of toast while not picturing this happening. What will likely happen is, if you do your best to be aware, you will engage your four non visual physical senses; taste, touch, smell and sound, along with your two internal self senses; thinking and feeling. More important, if you succeed in remaining non visual, you will experience what it's like to be aware but not conscious.

How do I define "self awareness" then?" "Self awareness" is the "non visual sensation of change." Moreover, to see this as true, simply try staring at a small object while sitting comfortably. A still object, such as a book or a bowl sitting on a table. What will happen is that as you continue to stare at this object, you will feel urges to reset your mind, perhaps by blinking, perhaps by shifting your head. Why? Because making these movements is what allows us to be aware of still objects.

What I'm saying is, without relative change (either the object changing in relation to us, or us changing in relation to the object, or both), we slowly lose focus, then go blank. We literally become unable to see this object unless we create movement, either by resetting ourselves physically or by resetting the screen of our minds. If this does not happen, then whatever we were seeing becomes invisible to us. As well as that we become unaware of ourselves. Again, no change, no awareness.

Interestingly enough, this very phenomenon occurs often in the animal world, where animals frequently know to be still in order to minimize their being killed. Pseudo invisibility, in a sense. This in fact this is one of the plot devices Michael Crichton used in Jurassic Park, wherein he had scenes in which people had to be still so that a dinosaur would not see them. And eat them.

Now consider what I've been saying. If we do not sense movement, we do not sense. Period. This means what we call sensation is the experience of "measuring movement." Changes in temperature, texture, taste, smell and sound. As well as changes in our thoughts and emotions. Moreover, lest you see what I'm saying as primarily referring to physical movement, consider this. The human condition we call "depression" is largely a state wherein we cannot sense movement, either internally (within our mind, as in thoughts and feelings) or externally (outside our mind, as in, the five physical senses). Thus depression is a symptom of unconsciousness.

How then is consciousness different?

"Consciousness" is the "skill of picturing movement on the screen of the mind." As such, we could say it is the experience of measuring movement (awareness) while picturing this experience as a fully sensed, living event on the screen of our mind (consciousness).

So is picturing change on the screen of the mind, "consciousness?" Yes.

As for babies being conscious in their first two years of life, one can easily see this as true. In fact, even before they develop depth perception, they make great efforts to turn and face all things which move, while at the same time, losing interest in things which do not move. Thus, when you assume babies cannot be conscious of their actions, nor able to make conscious choices, you are indeed confusing being conscious with what you do with consciousness; "being" with "doing."

Being conscious of a menu is being able to picture, in a living sense, every choice on the menu. Consciously choosing from this menu is making a fully informed decision based on this menu. Here, "fully informed" means being aware, in all six senses, of how everything on the menu moves in relation to you and to it.

Which is just another way to say, consciousness is "the skill of picturing movement on the screen of the mind."

[Question 2] Do you have to be conscious of something to make a decision?
[Answer]
No. However, while mental and emotional awareness can and does bias our decisions, we would do well to divide our decisions into those we make less than fully consciously and those we make fully consciously.

What I'm saying is, if you can picture the beauty in every choice on a restaurant menu and then choose based on which choice feels most attractive, then you can make a conscious choice. However, if I were to put myself into this situation, I doubt I've ever made a fully conscious choice with regard to food in my life, as my ability to consciously witness food is far from complete. Even on my best days, there are good foods and bad foods. Right foods and wrong foods. Healthy foods and unhealthy foods. Judgments galore.

Amazingly, babies know none of this yet they still make incredibly conscious choices with regard to food and what is good for them. As well as what they do and do not want to eat, choice wise, quantity wise, and so on.

What would make my food consciousness complete? Being able to picture myself eating each and every possible choice with no prejudgment of either myself nor of the food. Which I think would make me more resemble the Dalai Lama than a normal man.

To complicate this further, most of what we do, action wise, is predetermined. Written into us. Burned onto the CD's of our mind. Further, this is necessary and a good thing as we would need incredible amounts of self energy in order to constantly remain conscious of what we do. Which may be why babies sleep so much and so soundly.

What I'm saying is, babies before age two are to a great degree fully conscious. Moreover, this is true even if they lack the maturity to understand their decisions. Here again, we often assume conscious decisions are good decisions, which makes consciousness defined by what we do rather than who we are. Not a very conscious way to define consciousness.

[Question 3] If you are unaware of an action you take but later realize you did it (such as when you do not remember doing something but someone later points out to you this thing you cannot remember), were you conscious when you did it?
[Answer]
Not really. In fact, this is a good example of what unconsciousness is. Unconsciousness is the inability to picture movement on the screen of the mind. Which, in fact, is the default state for most of the waking hours of most normal adults. This, then, is why I feel so amazed by the traditional psychological community when they focus their therapeutic efforts on getting people to understand "why" people do what they do.

Why do we do most of what we do? Because we respond to the combination of three things. One, we respond to "External Information"; what we are aware of outside our minds. Two, we respond to "Internal Information"; what we are aware on within our minds. Three, we respond to "Shared Information"; what we are aware of with regard to how well we connect, or do not connect, this External Information to our Internal Information.

With regard to External Information, while things in life change constantly, our sense of these things changes very little. In fact, tests show we mostly see what we expect to see. In a way, this is what Freud referred to in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, when he remarked on how dreams have much more latent content than manifest content. In other words, Freud spoke about how reliving dreams can unlock much more content than the dream had would suggest. Including many new and previously unseen experiences, most of which he saw as coming from the part of the mind we normally cannot access; the unconscious.

Of course, the question here is, where does this latent content come from? I believe it comes from the neuro visual patterns written into our brains by formative life events. The events which carry the strongest psycho visual content. Whatever the case, I also believe, like William James, that we make up this most of this content as we need it, similar to how story tellers adapt to their audiences.

With regard to Internal Information, I believe much the same thing. I believe what we picture the strongest, we feel. Period. And this is true even when what we picture never happened. Again, scientists have proved this, again and again.

With regard to Shared Information, I believe this holds the key to it all. It's the thing which creates the authentic personal meaning. The bridge on which consciousness itself exists.

As for your question though, it might help if I offered a way to picture "unconsciousness." I'm not sure you are old enough to have sat in a drive in movie, but if not, try to imagine what it was like. A big screen in front of rows and rows of parked cars. A dark screen before and after the movie. A moving screen during the movie.

Unconsciousness is like when someone enraged the whole drive in by standing in front of the screen. Honking horns would begin to blare and if the person didn't move, car headlights would light up the screen.

My point. When headlights lit up the drive in screen, at best you could see fleeting images. At worst, you saw an entirely white screen. This despite the fact that the movie continued to play. This is one form of unconsciousness. All "one's." The other of course, was before and after the movie, when what you saw on the screen were all "zero's."

In effect, what happens is, you can no longer sense movement. Thus, unconsciousness very much resembles the full on screen or full off screen. This is why, when a deer gets caught in the headlights of a car, the deer freezes. Why? Because the screen of the deer's mind resembles the fully lit up drive in screen. The all-on state of binary devices.

This is what we sense when we are unconscious. And to imagine subconsciousness, simply decrease the light or add some movie. Either way, these vaguely moving images are what we sense when we sense things subconsciously. And no, we cannot remember what we did not see, although we can and often do insert imaginary data when the need arises.

[Question 4] If you then do this same action, again without realizing it, is this experience any different?
[Answer]
Not really, although nothing in the natural world ever repeats identically. This in fact is one of the best ways to recognize unconsciousness. What we do unconsciously we will experience as not having changed, even though this is an impossibility in the real world.

For instance, say you and your wife or girl friend argue the same argument, time and again. Say the two of you even remark that things between you never change, at least as far as this argument goes. This inability to see events as different (the inability to sense movement) defines this behavior as unconscious, even when you mentally and emotionally know these differences must exist.

So what drives up to do these unconscious actions? Mainly, one thing. Our internal "damage control" scripts. Our internal default responses to people places and things, especially when we sense we may be hurt.

Do we choose these scripts? Never. Albeit, at times, we can make minor adjustments to these scripts. Small amendments based on externally observed information, like self help books and self imposed morals.

This differs markedly from conscious decisions, wherein we can consciously witness many good choices and then choose whichever feels best at the time. Can you imagine arguing like this? I can. And do this at times with those closest to me. To be honest, it's almost enough to make you love arguing.

From this, we might say that the primary characteristic of consciousness is that people, places and things must function fractally. In other words, they must be visually recognizable patterns which always repeat differently.

By the way, this definition of "fractal" is actually the result of my life long search for an answer to the question, "how do you know if something is true in life?" My answer? The External Information must be fractal, while the Internal Information must be "geometric (meaning, either fractally or classically a recognizable shape), all the while being witnessed as Shared Information.

Too complicated? Picture an oak leaf. Consciously. Smell it; touch it; hear it; taste it; think and feel it. The whole enchilada.

Now tell me how sure that what you pictured was an oak leaf. Of course, anyone having seen an oak leaf even once will forever know an oak leaf when they see it. Why? Because oak leaves, like clouds and children, are visually recognizable patterns which always repeat differently.

Truth is fractal. At least, in our world. Thus being truly conscious means we experience life fractally. And truthfully. Complete with infinite possibilities for diversity.

Conversely, all human injury is the lack of fractility. The lack of truth. The lack of diversity.

Said in normal words then, injury is the lack of movement. Or voiced as a function of the mind, injury is a blocked ability to picture on the screen of the mind. Which then leads to unconscious action. And to suffering.

[Question 5] What is the difference between a conscious decision and an unconscious decision?
[Answer]
The idea of an "unconscious decision" is an oxymoron. There are no unconscious decisions. This would be like saying a computer makes decisions as to what to put on its screen. Not. Or that we choose our romantic partners so as to learn and grow and become more conscious. Not. In fact, the idea that we choose things like who we fall in love with is about as dumb an idea as that we choose who we hate. Neither is a conscious act. Both are simply responses to naturally occurring, visual phenomena which permanently imprint in our minds; the events I call "emergences" and "submergences."

So what makes us think unconscious choices exist? And how could whole schools of personality and therapy believe they exist?

In part, I think this is due to our human obsession with force fitting past suffering into linear patterns. Why? So that we can predict the future and so, prevent future suffering.

Again, this is a completely insane idea in light of the fact that while we can predict how a pattern will unfold once it begins, we cannot predict when this pattern will recur. We can't even reasonably predict our own next sentence, let alone when our next sentence will hurt someone.

Moreover, tour centuries long love affair with the kind of scientific studies which rely on reliable repetition is one of the main things which feeds this obsession. Why no one takes more seriously that statistics plus technology can't even reasonably predict next week's the weather, let alone something as complex as the human mind is beyond me.

All this said, I can well understand why we would want to believe in this fairy tale. Who wouldn't want to prevent future suffering. Especially for children. Unfortunately, until we focus education on consciousness rather than on parroting, this obsession will likely continue unabated.

[Question 6] How often, if ever, do we actually make conscious decisions?
[Answer]
I'd say, maybe five or six times in our lives. In a good life. Moreover, we can always know these conscious decisions by the fact that we never lose our sense that they were visually unforgettable moments, times wherein we consciously witnessed our choices and chose one. Bravely. Courageously. And without regret.

What would be good to know though is that we make quite a few sub conscious choices in our lives. By this, I mean we experience a lot of our life decisions as if the choices were brightly colored fish swimming just below the surface of a pond. In other words, while we can sense these choices exist, we somehow cannot visually bring them into focus. And in fact, were we to try to catch, by hand, one of these fish, in all likelihood, it would easily evade our attempt, this based on this same subconsciousness.

In a very similar way then, most of our desires in life evade our attempts at catching them. And while we can be and are at times affected by the choices we sense are there, most times, we cannot actually access these choices as anything other than as fleeting glimpses of what we might choose to do were we conscious.

My point is, for most adults, consciously witnessing our choices, even in part, is a very rare event. And while intelligent folks can frequently become logically or spiritually aware of most of their choices, we remain best advised to call these our "on paper choices," because, in most cases, we are not capable of actually making these "choices."

[Question 7] How does consciousness relate to logically driven and emotionally driven thinking?
[Answer]
Great question. Logic driven and emotion driven thinking is what happens to us when our Internal Information is in a significant imbalance with regard to our External Information. This is why we call these states, "being in our heads," "letting our emotions rule our heads," and "traumatic events." In all three cases, the information outside us and the information inside us is greatly out of balance.

The thing to realize here is that in order to be conscious, we need to be simultaneously aware of all three kinds of Information; Internal, External, and Shared. And to show you the true power of this combination, I'd like to tell you a story.

My friend and fellow Emergence Practitioner, John, almost died some years back in a fire. And in case you don't know what the treatment is like, one of the main things they do is called, "debreement." For my friend, this involved nurses gluing gauze to his burned flesh, then literally ripping this gauze off and with it, his burned flesh. Can you imagine?

This, he endured, over and over again.

My point for telling you this is that at one point, he began to have a very conscious nurse do this to him. By his own words, they connected and the pain he experienced was cut in half. This despite the fact that the nurse had doubled the area of the gauze!

His courage aside, this example perfectly describes how Shared Information changes ones ability to be conscious. In fact, from this example alone, I could suggest that suffering might be best described as the awareness of rapidly changing External and Internal change while in the presence of too little Shared Information. Ergo the title of my Theory of Personality; The Layers of Aloneness.


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