Archives for posts with tag: consciousness

According to Humberto Maturana, what we call consciousness – our ability to ‘observe ourselves observing‘, is the result of what sociologists would call a ‘cultural process’.
Meaning that consciousness has been developed in time – as is millennia, and is constantly shaped through daily interactions between us.

I don’t intend to discuss its genesis now, I’m just gonna point to one of its many consequences. Our need to explain everything.

We’ve developed our consciousness by talking to each-other. If we are to accept Maturana’s theory – of course, which I do.
At some point in time, during this process, there must have been an ‘aha’ moment.
Or, more precisely, a ‘what if’ moment.

Until then, everything was ‘natural’. Sun up, sun down, birth, death… and everything in between.
While learning to ‘observe ourselves observing’ one of our ancestors must have noticed that we make a lot of decisions. Unconsciously – until that moment, of course, but, nevertheless, still momentous. To ‘flee or fight’, which fig tree to climb, which cave to use tonight, which pelt to skin, which flint to flake…

The very next moment our ancestor must have asked their-self:

What if the Sun doesn’t get up next morning? Will I wake up from sleep tomorrow?
Who decides these things?
Are there only rules – like ‘every time you touch a flame you get burned’ and ‘ice is always cold’ or on top of the rules there is somebody who calls the shots? As in ‘decides whether this time the lion will attack on sight or it will let this one go’?

And we’ve tried to explain away our fears ever since…
By determining which are the pertinent ‘natural rules’, by placing the responsibility on somebody else’s shoulder – read ‘God’, or both at the same time. Again, I’m not going to develop this subject either, I’ll just remember you that Buddhism – for example, doesn’t reject older creeds. The Japanese, for instance, follow both Buddhist precepts and Shintoist traditions. Also, many Christians entertain a lot of local and not so local superstitions. Like never start walking with the left foot or having a very strong ‘respect’ for the third number after 10.

Let me make a short recap.
We taught ourselves to speak, we talked to each other until we developed something called consciousness to such a level that we’ve started to ask ourselves existential questions and then we came up with more or less credible scenarios meant to allay our fears.

‘OK, … and your point is?’

Don’t be so ‘surprised’ when somebody ‘irrationally’ defends their own ‘story’. ‘Their story’ encompasses their world. That’s where they had been living, together with everybody they used to know/consider their kin.
Don’t attempt to force your story upon them. Let aside that you might be wrong yourself… any attempt to forcefully impose a narrative upon somebody else is nothing but “rape”. Don’t do it unless you are prepared to get raped yourself.
And keep in mind that it’s not ‘their story’ that harms you but ‘their actions’.

No story has ever harmed anyone. For any story to have consequences, people must act upon it. According to how they have chosen to relate to the it.  That’s where we can see eye to eye, regardless of the stories each of us keep dear.
Are we ready to accept that we might be wrong? That our story might be incomplete? That our explanation of the world might need some adjustments?

Are we ready to understand that enlarging our explanation to encompass others will actually increase our own ability to survive?
Or are we going to defend ‘our’ version, no matter what?

Are we going to keep looking for explanations or to become the subject of yet another one?

Advertisements

Things consist of what makes them what they are.
These very constituents impose upon things their definitive limits.

Take life, for instance. It’s exactly that which makes the difference between a collection of inanimate chemical substances and a living organism which leads to its eventual demise.

Or our skeletons. And all our organs. They make us what we are and, simultaneously, set the limits of our existence.
Each of us can grow only that high, eat and drink only that much, sprint only that fast and live only that long.

Take our brains.
That’s what we think with. And we make errors with.
That we remember and forget with.
That we love and hate with.
That makes us aware of some things and leave so many others out of our knowledge.

That is capable to understand the nature of our limits and, too often, chooses to ignore that opportunity.

Nature.

‘Resources’ to structures to meaning.

Man.

Opportunities to structures to comprehension.

Society.

Pre-existing conditions to structures to culture (survival)

Farfetched?

Somebody was asking the other day on Facebook “how can you prove that a table doesn’t exist?”
The answer, ‘walk through the place where that table is supposed to stand’ is so obvious that it hurts.

So, was that table real or not?

You see, a table may exist in two kind of places. In a store/room/backyard and in the imagination/memory of the guys who designed/made/owned it. It can remain ‘in storage’ long after it was forgotten by everybody and/or can be remembered long after it was destroyed.
A tree, on the other hand, can exist – and die, without anybody ever noticing it. Or could have been lovingly planted and taken care of by somebody. Who might die even before the tree ever reaching maturity…

But how can any of us determine whether a table, or a tree, is real or not?

By attempting to walk through it, and hurting ourselves, we only determine that there’s something there. Not at all that we’d hurt ourselves by hitting a tree or a table…

OK, there’s yet another possibility.

reality figment

Dr. Pierce – who, by the way, was produced by the imagination of a screen-writer, reminds us that neurologically there’s no way of telling apart a dream/nightmare/vision from a ‘legitimate’ perception.

So.
Then it would be possible for whatever each of us perceives on a daily bases to be nothing but some-kind of an elaborate multidimensional movie. Or prank. Played on each of us by some extremely bored ‘arcade operator’. Or by a lab-technician performing some kind of an experiment… In this scenario all other people each of us has ever met would be nothing but characters imagined by the guy who had written the script/devised the experiment…
A slightly different scenario would be that our planet (the whole world?) is a theater, we are the spectators and most of what we perceive is the movie which is played on (for?) us. In this variation we are free to speak amongst us (discuss the movie?) and this would be the explanation for why our perceptions are coordinated so well. After all, all English speakers use the same word for table/tree and most of us are able to differentiate between a table and a chair. Or between a tree and a weed…

Or we could take a completely different road!
There’s a guy, Humberto Maturana, who has reached the conclusion that most humans are not simply aware but also aware of their own awareness. And that this is what really makes us human.
In fact, his ideas make a lot of sense. A dog is aware. If house trained, it will not pee inside and most of them are able to differentiate between their owners and some strangers. But it takes a fully functional human being to step outside of themselves and examine their actions/status.

Without this very self awareness, none of us would be considering ‘reality’. We’d simply walk around the table/tree or directly through the clear space and never waste a second considering whether the table/tree is real.

Or what reality really is.

In this scenario, reality is more like a table than like a tree.
It resembles a tree in the sense that it existed long before any of us ever thought about it and it is like a table in the sense that in order to consider it we need to imagine it first.

Reality exists.
In both scenarios and along both roads. It doesn’t matter whether in the first one we are fed fake sensations and led to believe whatever the screen writer wants us to believe. In order to do that, the screen writer has to exist in the first place. We also have to exist, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to watch the movie!
OK, maybe what we perceive has nothing to do (very little?) to the real reality. But that doesn’t mean that a certain reality doesn’t exist at all. Even in the first scenario.

Coming back to the second road, we cannot pretend that OUR reality exists outside us.
Yes, there is a reality – THE reality, which lurks somewhere outside our reach.
What we’re able learn from it, and all we’ll ever be able to learn, is what we’ll be able to imagine first.

Think of it. What do we do when we come across something new?
First we try to classify it among our memories. In fact we try to remember whether we already have a word for it. One imagined by one of our ancestors.
If not, we imagine one ourselves.
And only then we can proclaim that the new thing has been discovered. That it has become ‘real’.

 

There are a lot of definitions available for these concepts. I’ve found out that Google offers the blandest ones so I’ll use those. You’ll understand why.

a. “An experience involving the apparent perception of something not present
b. “An extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.”
c. “An optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions, especially the appearance of a sheet of water in a desert or on a hot road caused by the refraction of light from the sky by heated air.

If we follow the ‘dispassionate’ line used by Google we’ll notice that the ‘real’ problem is us, not a. b. or c.

We are the ones who are not able to figure out the source of the perception in a, the explanation for what happens in b and to reconcile what we know with what we see in c.

More than 35 years ago, while in college, I had to study ‘Marxism’. It was considered a science by the communists and all students had to take that class.
Marxism is a reaction against the idealist thesis that reality consists entirely of minds or spirits and of their experiences or ideas. The materialist conception of history, Marx and Engels contend, postulates the existence of an objective, concrete reality that is independent of human consciousness and is also its determinant“.

For a future engineer, and one that wasn’t particularly concerned with religion, the concept seemed appealing.
Something was nagging me though. In time I understood that Marx was making a huge mistake when conflating ‘objective’ with ‘real’ and individual consciousness with the collective one.
Also what he termed ‘reality’ is not that independent from consciousness as he would liked it to be.

I’ll start with the second idea.

We coined the term/concept of reality.
How’s that for ‘real’ independence?

Is there anything outside my individual knowledge/consciousness?
A lot.
Do I care?
Sometimes yes but most of it is both absolutely inconsequential for me and way out of my grasp. So my accepting its very existence depends decisively on ‘hearsay’ and faith…

Is there anything outside our collective knowledge/consciousness?
Probably yes. Hard to believe that we already know everything, right? Particularly since we discover something new each moment…
‘We discover’?!?
So it’s us who are ‘conquering’ more and more ‘reality’?!?
Wasn’t it supposed to be independent from us?

OK, you probably got it, I won’t bother you anymore with this.

Let me go back to ‘objective’ versus ‘real’.

Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions.
Actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.”

If we gather five children who haven’t yet seen a tarmac road scorched by the July Sun and take them to Arizona they’ll tell us, excitedly but objectively, that the road is boiling out there near the horizon.
We, the grown ups, know that’s a mirage. For them, it’s a miracle.
For a single child – one that knows the concept, of course – it might seem a hallucination, specially if he doesn’t have another person to speak to about what he sees.

Some independence… But wait, there’s more.

You are reading this on a computer. (If you call it a smartphone you are deluding yourself. It’s a computer that you can also use as a phone). Is it ‘really’ real?
According to Marx, I mean.
If your consciousness hasn’t yet digested effectively its ‘user manual’ that computer is little more than an useless  piece of junk… Not to mention the fact that its processor would still be a little pile of sand if not for an entire string of consciousnesses – from INTEL’s CEO to the driver who delivered it to the assembly plant and they are only a few of those involved in the process.

The fact is that we change the reality around us. We build cities, roads to connect them and power plants so we can cool our homes in summer.

And then we pretend reality is independent from us.
Who’s delusional now?

Adam, eve and those damn apples
Picture courtesy to Virginia’s Positive Hits 89.9 & 90.5 PER

Let’s examine this from another angle.
And what if they did?
Who would be living today to read this?
Either none of us would be here at all – literally – or we wouldn’t be conscious human beings – able to see right from wrong, that is.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—  therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.“. (Genesis, 22:24)

%d bloggers like this: