this chapter examines how consciousness itself works. it is highly detailed and started me off on further research on this topic which you may or may not be interested in! I have little previous knowledge in this area so found many of the terms off-putting when bandied about – phenomenological being perhaps my least favourite – at which I get bolshy and start thinking about what to have for supper…

this anti-intellectuallism thinking crops up more than occasionally inside my skull and is very frustrating when I am actually interested in a topic! I start thinking sniffily that if Descartes had been a woman then he would never had time to come up with ‘I think, therefore I am’ as he would have been too busy doing the washing up and then dying in childbirth…. these thought patterns are in themselves perhaps self-limiting beliefs and are not helpful!

I am more capable than I think I am of understanding abstract concepts. but they need to be put in understandable terms and not make assumptions on the level of my knowledge. for example I have also been attempting to read Marilynne Robinson’s ‘When I Was A Child I Read Books’ and finding that exasperating – eg I do happen to recognise the Grace vs Works argument but to see it referred to merely in those terms rather than fully expounded seems not clever to me, but irritating. it is the responsibility of the communicator to communicate!

anyhoo, if you are interested in existing theories about what consciousness itself is, here is a series of short videos which examine that.

and here’s the ‘Flow’ version. (I’m going to bullet point these for conciseness.)

he states that consciousness:

  • is the result of biological processes but is not entirely controlled by biological programming
  • has developed the ability to over-ride genetic instructions and set an independent course of action
  • has the function of representing information about what is happening outside and inside the organism so it can be evaluated and acted upon by the body
  • to be conscious therefore means that specific conscious events (sensations, feelings, thoughts, intentions) are occurring and that we are able to direct their course.
  • so consciousness can be thought of as intentionally ordered information, or subjectively experienced reality.
  • instinct, needs, drives, or desires, are all ways of describing intentions, or forces that keep the information in consciousness ordered.
  • the intentions that we either inherit or acquire are organised in hierarchies of goals which specify the order of precedence among them.
  • these hierarchies can be changed by the individual to reflect their priorities – for example, the hunger striker who places political reform above his genetic instructions to meet his needs for sustenance. so consciousness can be ordered in terms of different goals and intentions.

[this argument seems logical to me, and I am fascinated by the number of points along the way at which we are able to make a choice. whether it is what information we upload, or how we arrange and prioritise that information in our own heads.

it’s like when a person buys new shoes, and spends the rest of the day looking at everyone else’s feet. or in a more negative thought pattern, when the number on the scales each morning determines how we feel about ourselves, or when we focus on those things we have not achieved by the end of the day, rather than those things we have.

what is not included in his model is any reference to what might be called spiritual matters, whether that of the soul, or any spark of the Divine. ]

the chapter then considers, that if all this is about information, how much information the mind is capable of processing. if a ‘bit’ of information – such as differentiated sounds, or visual stimuli, or recognisable nuances of emotion or thought – comes into the mind, then apparently the central nervous system is capable of processing at most 126 bits of information per second. to give you some idea of this limitation, to understand what another person is saying we must process 40 bits of information each second. so we can just about understand two people speaking at once but three people speaking at once is only really theoretically possible…. which is why I get so strung out when the kids come and talk to me while I am dishing up supper and trying to work out how much mashed potato to give to everyone…

we can ‘automate’ some of these processes with familiarity. for example, the processing required to drive a car is considerable when we learn to drive, but reduces dramatically with practice. and some of our most frequently conducted activities require virtually no processing. in particular, watching television, whilst requiring the processing of visual images, requires very little in the way of memory, thinking or volition.

if we look at the potential processing capability of an individual’s brain over its lifetime, it is limited by time itself. so the information we allow into our consciousness ‘determines to a great extent the content and quality of our lives’. 

he describes focus, or attention, as psychic energy, as without it no work can be done, in doing work it is dissipated, and that we create ourselves by how we invest this energy. as this energy is under our control, to do with as we please, then attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.

now we are getting more practical! hurrah 🙂

now, there is more in the second chapter but to be honest with you my brain is hurting me a bit at this point!

so I will stop on ‘Flow’ for now and share with you another analogy I have found really useful in understanding consciousness. here’s a video from Headspace which refers to the mind as a blue sky (hence my image at the start of this piece.)

any thoughts?

oh and next week would someone perhaps like to bring some biscuits? 😉 chocolate ones always popular round here! Prim xx