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August 09, 2023


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Consciousness - Always an interesting subject for me . These are some notes and observations I jotted down a while ago - sorry for being a bit lengthy.

Consciousness arises when a subject encounters an object: The subject needs to be sentient. A tree encounters wind and rain, it responds to the elements but is not conscious of them. Conversely, a male beetle may respond to chemical signals from a female beetle, but is it conscious of the process of receiving the information and acting on it? Is the chimpanzee that recognises himself in a mirror conscious of himself or just responding to the situation?

Consciousness is more than responsiveness. I may respond to being called stupid or brilliant, but I am not immediately aware of it, I just respond in an automatic almost instinctive manner. Perhaps a second or two after the event the awareness may arise of feeling affronted or flattered so is the structure we call ‘self’ an integral part of consciousness? Consciousness can simply refer to being aware of a sensation and whether that sensation is pleasant or unpleasant. The sensation may well be a mental one such as a thought or emotion but in as much as we are not aware of my ‘self’, ‘me’ or ‘I’ as being involved in the process can we truly say that we are conscious of it – and what is this ‘self’, ‘me’ or ‘I’ that is used in describing the experience?

There is little doubt that we are conscious, sentient beings capable of feelings and emotions, of empathy or indifference but is that not the same in varying degrees to many other animals? It would seem that unless we refer what we are thinking and feeling to the information in the brain which has access to our memories and experiences – the store where we infer a sense of ‘self’ from, then consciousness in the sense of ‘I am conscious’ does not arise.

It is said that we live much of our lives unconsciously, that we simply respond to stimuli from the world around us along with our internal world – the world of thoughts, feelings and emotions. To be truly conscious is more than responding to stimuli but to simultaneously have the ‘self’ involved with the incoming information. At this point in the process the involvement of the ‘self’ gives rise to self-consciousness, self-awareness. Briefly put, the ‘self’ or ‘I’ being an aspect of the mind (a mental structure comprised of past information experience) interacting with the environment gives us our experience of consciousness.

Consciousness is not located somewhere in the brain (or out there in the universe!) it is the brain, in the interaction between subject (this, me) and object (that, you, it). Looking for consciousness may be synonymous with looking for the ‘self’. If it exists, is it only as a process, an emergent result of the interaction between subject and object and accrued memories and experience – the contents that describe the ‘self’?

Consciousness then, is the awareness of our environment, whether that environment is external or internal. And there certainly appears to be an awareness process that is untarnished by the contents of the mind. Rather than call it consciousness with all the ramifications of identifying it with the mind and its contents or with the self structure and so on, perhaps it would be expedient to address this ‘observing’ phenomenon as such; a phenomenon that emanates from the complexity of the totality of the processes that arise in the brain – the sense of mind, self, subject, object and consciousness along with sensations such as sight, smell, touch and so on.

In short, the total brain, the whole organism is an organ of awareness: Anything that enters this organ has the potential for eliciting awareness. It would seem that humans, perhaps more so than most other creatures have the enhanced ability to create from numerous sense sensations the phenomena we describe as mind and self along with the processes of thinking, reasoning, remembering, contemplating and reflecting. All of which enables the capacity to not merely be conscious of ourselves and our environment but to be aware of the totality of what we are.

Can we as first-hand observers of our own experiences, or can science as secondary observers ever discover a phenomenon, we call consciousness? Perhaps only through the empirical process is it possible to experience the phenomena of mind, self and consciousness and as I suspect consign them to something the brain, the total brain just does. Mind, self and consciousness would cease to be a problem to be solved but a series of processes to be observed and understood as a means to understanding who and what we are. And, there is always the possibility that many of the conditioned and false identities we believe to be our ‘selves’ would enable us to transform our relationships with each other and ourselves.

No one wants to believe that we are a series of processes, especially processes that are in a constant state of flux. What we are physically and mentally today will not be the same in a years’ time – or even the next day or moment. Everything we feel and experience tells us we have a solid (and perhaps an enduring) self that never changes, a self that interacts with its environment from a base of stability and certainty in knowing who and what we are. We need this sense of self to live and operate in the world and to this effect our brains and bodies have evolved a strong sense of self which has proved very successful for our survival. And also of course, our human environment and our cultures naturally confirm and help maintain our self identities.

But if we are inclined to look at the workings of mind, self, and thought, we see that there is no one, no ‘self’ or ‘I’ experiencing something called consciousness; ‘selves’ and the world about us dissolve into interacting processes that are infinitely active yet devoid of activity or structure. It is a question of processes reacting with other processes, broadly similar to how elements react with each other (Na + H20 = salt water). Although to take a concept from Hui Neng – salt water is not salt water, it is called salt water.

Names can get in the way of understanding so instead of using the concept consciousness we could reconstruct this phenomenon – to perhaps, something like Tao?

Hadn’t read about Sartre’s take on Descartes before this.

Of course, Descartes himself is literally centuries ago. And he’s one of the most read and most discussed and most analyzed Enlightenment figures there is. Therefore, no doubt what I’m just now going to say, must have been said already, and either accepted as valid criticism, else clearly deconstructed and shown to be wanting. …Either way, as I read this post of yours, Brian, it occurs to me: Both Descartes himself, as well as derivatives of Descartes like Sartre here, seem completely circular. This hadn’t occurred to me before, I hadn’t thought this before, but it seems clear as day to me as I think about this now.

Cogito ergo sum, saith the man. I think, therefore I am. Or, if you will, I’m aware, therefore I exist. But that isn’t the entire argument at all, is it? That argument contains a hidden implicit premise tucked away in there. The full argument would read like this:

Premise 1 : To think, or to be aware, is to be, or to exist. (That is, existence is actually defined here, implicitly, as the necessary condition for being able to think, or to be aware.)

Observation, which then works as Premise 2 : I think, or I am aware.

Conclusion: Therefore, I am, or I exist.

This whole thing, it is predicated on that implicit first premise there! So that, this is completely circular --- well, not quite, the second premise is actually an observation, so not strictly circular in the logical sense. But the point is, Descartes’s cogito-ergo-sum is firmly predicated on that first premise. So that, an examination of Descartes must needs include a detailed examination of that first premise.

Is it true that only something that actually exists can think, can be aware? Think of a (hypothetical) computer algorithm, that, when complex enough, is able to reach a kind of awareness, briefly, before deleting itself. Hell, for that matter, think of us, our human consciousness, as neuroscience indicates we probably are. Neither actually exists, really. Or at least, it is a question of how one defines existence. Sure, in one sense our consciousness does exist, it is indeed real, depending on how one defines reality.

So that, I was thinking, I was saying, Descartes’ famous I-think-therefore-I-am seems to me a matter of circularity, of being predicated on a hidden implicit premise, and in fact a matter of defining existence as something that is capable of thinking and of being aware (wherefore the circularity).


Likewise all derivatives of Descartes, including Sartre. Sartre’s implicit premise seems to be, I doubt, or maybe I’m aware that I doubt (rather than Descartes’ more direct I think, or I’m aware). And therefore I am, or I exist. Same thing, really, as far as the the implicit first premise, as far as the implicit definition hidden it there that renders the argument itself a circularity.


Like I said, Descartes has been analyzed to death, and doubtless this completely obvious observation already dealt with, one way or the other. Has anyone here studied Descartes in any detail? Brian? Ron? Anyone else? I'd be interested in an informed take on this POV, that I've just now outlined.

Quote Brian: “I've never understood the notion that it is possible to be aware of awareness.”

Quote Ron: “Consciousness arises when a subject encounters an object”

Thinking about this, a bit: Agreed, conscious-“ness” simply is a forced abstraction, that is perhaps more simply described as something being conscious of something else; as verb rather than noun.

That said: When consciousness has already been set in motion, as it were. And lucidity has still not been snuffed out. And there’s no object on which consciousness is aimed. What happens then?

Take a fully conscious, fully functional human being. Dunk him in one of those sensory-deprivation tanks they’ve started setting up. Except, make it a bit more hardcore. Keep the guy, or the gal, in there for some days, weeks maybe, maybe even months. Kept alive and healthy via artificial means --- that can be done for some days, or weeks, or even months, given our present medical tech, that isn’t sci-fi territory at all. So what happens now? Completely deprived of sensory inputs for a good while now, would consciousness atrophy away? Or what would happen to him? Might that in any way approach consciousness-without-object?

(Just thinking aloud, is all. Not suggesting that’s necessarily so. One solution might be that his consciousness becomes fully a function of memory, which is to say past sensory inputs. That’s still consciousness of an object, even if that object is separated in time from the present.)

Hm. Just wondering if that’s actually true, in the everyday sense I mean to say and not invoking Hogwarts magic, whether consciousness necessarily, must needs, always involve an object.

@ AR

There were days that I "knew" what awareness was, but those days are gone..

It has become a word like homeland, democracy,.
Fortunatelu I still know how to handle these words in the public domain otherwise they would lock me up in this or that asylum for deluded coffee-drinkers.

I empathize with the depth of that loss, um.

I don't, as a rule, speak much about my own "experiences". Primarily because, compared to what I've others say, they don't much stand out. Nevertheless, I guess I do know exactly what you mean, even if what I've felt was probably far more muted than anything you've done.


This is exactly what had come to mind, when I read the previous post of Brian's, although I did not comment about it here. From both my (humble, muted, but nevertheless, and for what it is worth, real) experience, and also from having spoken with others who've gone through this sort of thing, and more so from the literature around this: It is actually a thing, to have had an experience, and the passing away of it. To tie this to Brian's last post, it does oftentimes happen, although not always, that times of tribulation sometimes spur such experience on. Subsequently it all dissipates away.

We all deal with this in our own way, by our own lights. Not to presume to prescribe to you, um, but merely to share my perspective, and motivated only by empathy and fellow-feeling and goodwill, is all: One way to solidify fleeting "experience" is said to be through perseverance, through application. I'm not suggesting that's necessarily best, but that's what much of spiritual literature suggests.

But again, all of that begs the question, of what it all amounts to, of whether the game's worth the candle. Of whether there's even any game at all afoot, or whether it's no more than a random itch. That's a separate question, to be addressed separately --- and, heh, addressed in the marketplace, I'm afraid. Should one choose to address it at all, that is.


Sorry, like I said, I don't mean to talk down to you about this. God knows I know little enough about any of this. Anything else you wish to say, about what you said just now, I for one am all ears. And if you'd rather not, then that's fine too. I understand not wanting to talk overly much about such intimate experiences --- although, again, should one want to, then that's fine too, I don't mean to suggest otherwise!

Was Sartre an atheist?

According to Pierre Victor (a.k.a. Benny Levy), who spent much of his time with the dying Sartre and interviewed him on several of his views, Sartre had a drastic change of mind about the existence of God and started gravitating toward Messianic Judaism. This is Sartre's before-death profession, according to Pierre Victor: "I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to god."

Simone de Beauvoir later revealed her anger at his change of mind by stating, "How should one explain this senile act of a turncoat? All my friends, all the Sartreans, and the editorial team of Les Temps Modernes supported me in my consternation." Ah, the French.

@ AR

There are the designer, constructors, the mechanics. They do know everything of the car. The scientists, the materialist,etc]

Then there is the driver and the traffic, the travel and tour operators etc [the individual. the culture he lives in, the psychiatrists, the mystics etc]

If the driver knows where to go there can be hardly any problem that cannot be solved either by the first group or the second.

But if he doesn't know, all sorts of unforeseen problems do arise , problems he alone can solve.

Sure, um.

Like I said, that was only by way of reaching out in empathy. In so doing, I may have ended up saying more than I had intended, or should have, and certainly more than I usually do.

Absolutely, whatever and however works for you.

@ Ar

After a short deep sleep, while making coffee the thought came to me about Sacrates that solved the issue by taking the cup with poison..... hahaha
The coffee is ready ..

Your [kind] words helped me to have a look in the mirror.

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