How do you recognize a conscious being?
Imagine a completely unknown creature is approaching you. A strange creature, nothing you have seen in your life so far.
Your mind is puzzled.
Your heart is beating fast.
You do not know what to think.
You are not sure what you feel.
You are curious.
You are scared.
This alien creature is alive. You know it for sure.
But it is not human. You also know it for sure.
Or, at least, not in a human form that you can recognize.
It communicates with you by direct knowing.
It is an airy form with wings in a glow of light.
Are you dreaming it to the existence?
Who knows…. How would you know if it is a conscious being? You would know, wouldn’t you?
How do you know that your human fellow is conscious? Perhaps you are the only one who is conscious.
How do you know you are not dreaming? Perhaps everything around you, including your human fellows, are projections of your mind from a dream state. Remember how real the experience in a dream is. What is different with respect to your experience now?
What is your test for consciousness? Have you passed it yourself? 😉 If so, you can name the building blocks of consciousness, then…
If your human fellow is conscious, how can you experience his consciousness?
However crazy such questions may sound to you, it is interesting to explore possible answers. They are not trivial and may lead you to surprising discoveries.
Thinking about consciousness can be confusing as we may get into internal loops of mind inspecting itself. We somehow intuitively get what consciousness is as it describes our personal experience of Self or mind in relation to the external (as perceived) world. But, only when we explore the complexity of our conscious experience we become aware that there is a lot to be learnt and understood. And thinking about own consciousness is a good experiment in building an understanding about Self.
In one of our Consciousness discussion meetings we discussed that we could not often recognize whether another being was conscious or not. On the other hand, we can recognize consciousness based on our experience. Or, in another words, we can recognize consciousness that resembles our own.
This means that we need a human-like behavior in order to conclude that a being we connect to is a conscious one. When we do not observe such a behavior, then we cannot say much about human consciousness. The other being can still be conscious, but it may either hide this fact from us or we may lack means to detect it.
For instance, a brick may be conscious, but since we cannot observe its ‘human-like’ behavior, for our purposes, we may conclude it is not. On the other hand, a robot-mouse which starts to scream, flounder and tries to escape when you hit it, shows very human-like reactions. And we may be tempted to conclude that it is observable conscious.
Consequently, we can detect the observable consciousness. On the other hand, the only consciousness you know is yours, right? So, perhaps you are the only consciousness there is and you are imagining me writing these words. Or… how else is this possible?
By saying the above I want to emphasize the subjectivity of our consciousness experience. We can share our observations, we can participate in common events but our conscious experiences can hardly be explained. Nevertheless, we can discuss the basic elements of consciousness.
The first basic element of consciousness is awareness. Awareness means that we notice what is around us and what is happening to us. It is our meter of emotions that flow through us or get blocked, emotions that drive us, uplift us or perhaps down-lift us. It is about our sensations of all kinds, such as cold, pleasure and pain, smell of coffee, or the feeling of appreciation. Awareness is paying attention to the now. It is the basic quality of living in the moment as it is.
The basic ingredients for awareness are:
- sensation and/or senses
- incorporation into memory/experience
- possible action (can be different, depending on memory/previous experiences)
Basic awareness can be extended to describe things outside plants and animal kingdom. For instance, a thermometer has some sensory mechanism and takes action to reflect the change in temperature. What however rules out that a thermometer is aware is the lack of information processing and storing. In this context, however, a thermometer with a built mechanism that stores the temperature, provides yearly and monthly averages or other simple statistics would be considered as aware.
Elements of consciousness
Consciousness relies on awareness but it is much more than that. It builds on other important elements. What are the other key elements of consciousness? These are Intelligence, Creativity, Idea of Self, Involvement, Meta-structure and Relationship. In brief:
Awareness is the experience of now.
Intelligence is the power of thought.
Creativity is the power of expression.
Idea of Self is the reference point of who is having the experience.
Involvement is the activity of consciousness.
Meta-structure is the representation of complexity, self-reference, nested structure and holistic view.
Relationship is the continuous communication to the external world.
Somewhat more precisely, the building blocks of Consciousness are:
- paying attention
- setting targets
- novel approaches
- stepping out of context
- Idea of Self:
- purpose / mission
- inner feeling: desire, love etc
- nested structures
- holistic view of Self
- perceived commonness or difference to others “out there”
- use of symbols
- communication: language, music, writing , etc
So, in order to observe (human) consciousness in another being or a creature I need to recognize ingredients from these key building blocks. As a result, an intelligent being is not necessarily conscious yet. Intelligence is necessary, but not sufficient for consciousness. And in my own words I notice the following relation:
Knowledge is to wisdom as intelligence is to consciousness.
In the relation above I find both knowledge and intelligence passive in relation to wisdom and consciousness. The former are necessary ingredients for the latter, but much more is needed to get both wisdom and consciousness.
Are there any key ingredients of consciousness missing out? What do you think?
In the description above I focused on the elements of human consciousness. In reality, everything, including us, is made from the same potent particles-and-waves-of-energy, coming from God. As a result, everything is conscious, but not in the same way neither in the same degree.
There are levels of awareness and levels of consciousness. Prayer, meditation or simply a silent appreciation of the nature may give you the experience of consciousness which is being present in every single thing. Explore it.
Books of interest:
- Consciousness and Conversations on Consciousness by Susan Blackmore.
- The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics by Roger Penrose.
- The Conscious Mind by David Chalmers.
- Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hoefstadter. Patterns and symbols. Formal systems and beyond.
In relation to self-growth:
- The Road Less Travelled and Further Along The Road Less Travelled by Scott Peck.
- Power vs Force by David Hawkins.
Other posts on consciousness:
- Become conscious
- When are decisions consciously made?
- Consciousness by numbers in space and time
- Consciousness at the Door
- Three is the experience of Consciousness
- How Three creates Seven
- Consciousness meetings – how I experienced synergy in a group