consciousness

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?

Ask yourself.

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.

Awareness

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:

  • Awareness:
    • sensations
    • observation
    • noticing
    • paying attention
    • emotions
  • Intelligence:
    • learning
    • generalization
    • prediction
    • reasoning
    • setting targets
  • Creativity:
    • novel approaches
    • surprise
    • hesitation
    • humor
    • stepping out of context
    • courage
  • Idea of Self:
    • ego
    • values
    • beliefs
    • morals
    • purpose / mission
  • Involvement:
    • introspection
    • reflection
    • inner feeling: desire, love etc
    • action   
  • Meta-structure:
    • nested structures
    • Self-reference
    • holistic view of Self
    • complexity
  • Relationship:
    • perceived commonness or difference to others “out there”
    • use of symbols
    • communication: language, music, writing , etc
    • technology

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.  Tweet: Knowledge is to wisdom as intelligence is to consciousness. via @ElaPekalska

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?

Addendum

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.

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Books of interest:

In relation to self-growth:

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Other posts on consciousness:

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generalization

In the previous post I discussed some aspects of learning a concept from examples. We will now connect it to….

 

Generalization

Generalization is the ability to learn a concept or a class from a set of examples. In short, generalization is our way of capturing sameness or similarity between objects.

By “objects” we understand all kinds of entities, including physical objects, abstractions, experiences and so on that are elements of the class or belong to the concept of interest.

For instance, we can learn a concept of a bicycle with the objects being bicycles, as well as we can learn a concept of driving with the ‘objects’ being driving experiences.

Generalization is a truly remarkable skill of an intelligent mind. It is one of the basic principles of learning.

We are able to learn a general rule and apply it when needed. We are able to classify or categorize not only physical objects, but also ideas, abstractions, events, behaviors, approaches and people. We are able to recognize patterns from examples, determine the essence and categorize experiences.

Generalization is being used daily on all levels in your life. You can apply skills and abilities in the new context exactly because generalization is at work.  It is really powerful.

  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you know how to walk, you are soon able to run?
  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you can drive an individual car, you can drive (nearly) all other cars?
  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you know how to cook a few meals, you can cook a totally new meal, never tried before?
  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you know how to orient yourself with a map, you can follow maps in arbitrary situations?
  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you know a programming or human language, you can learn a different language much faster?

The stages of concept learning

A quilt by Inge Duin

Imagine that you are to learn how to recognize a particular object or to learn a concept. The stages of learning a concept are in fact the stages of generalization. These are:

  1. Typical examples. Study, observation or experimentation with a number of typical examples of the given class.
  2. Finding the patterns: seeing the differences and perceiving similarities. This is made possible because of our ability to compare.
  3. Concept creation. A first mental formulation of a concept of an object/class/notion. Grasping the basic essence. This is made possible because of our ability to reflect.
  4. Atypical examples. Study of atypical, uncommon and otherwise strange examples from the class. Refining of the concept.
  5. Borderline cases. Exploration of the negative examples (i.e. examples from outside of the class), especially of the borderline cases.
  6. Re-definition of the concept.
  7. Abstraction. A new level of understanding. The essence is found.

Abstraction may develop without your conscious intent. It happens naturally when you reach a good understanding of  the class or concept of interest. Such an understanding is built when you engage in active learning, i.e. thinking, experimentation, reflection and evaluation. Abstraction occurs when you develop a mental image/sound or internal feeling of the class.

Some researchers think that such a class representation relies on a single prototype or a set of prototypes that somehow capture the idea of the class. Sometimes a prototype can be defined by a set of features, but it is usually much more than that. Features offer a limited scope and may vary from example to example.

A prototype  is meant to be an internal representation of the class. It likely combines visual, auditory, olfactory and kinesthetic modalities. Moreover, such a representation includes an emotional component, i.e. feelings that the concept evokes in you or emotionally strong events that took place when you had a related experience. In addition, such a representation may be equipped with a graph of structural dependencies and be hierarchical in order to reflect levels of importance or degree of detail.

Recognition

Testing is the next step after you have derived a concept of a class. It is called recognition. A good recognition does not necessarily prove that you have created an accurate and factual concept. The quality of your recognition depends on the quality of examples you consider for testing, i.e. whether they are a mixture of easy (typical) and challenging ones (border cases).

There are two types of errors you can make, called false positive and false negative errors. False positive are examples that you recognize as belonging to the class of interest while in fact they are not the member of that class. An example is an orange recognized as a ball by a child. After noticing such boundary examples you need to update your concept so that you will exclude such cases in the future (e.g fruits are not balls).

The second type of error is the false negative error which occurs when you miss to name a particular object as a member of the class, while in fact it belongs there . This suggests that you have not included a sufficient variety of examples when you were building your concept.

Concept learning is an ongoing process

If you think you learned a concept, you are wrong. We are living in a developing world and this asks us to continuously update, reformulate or even abandon our concepts by taking new developments and personal experiences into account. For instance, the concept of a telephone or TV you learned, say 20-40 years ago, is really outdated by now. Or the concept of friendship (which refers here to the class of friendship experiences) you developed in your childhood is not going to serve you in your thirties or later. You need to update your concepts by more recent examples.

Concept learning and recognition run in cycles

The concepts you develop are never fixed. They are solid, however, in the sense that they are built from concrete examples leading to specific representations of the classes. But, they are subjected to change.

In fact, you are always in the process of concept learning, recognition and concept re-learning, even though you don’t follow it consciously. These two stages are intertwined and you run them in cycles. You learn a concept and you test it. As long as your examples do not contradict your concept or challenge you with novel perceptions, your concept remains unchanged. If, however, you find a surprising example, you will decide whether the concept should to be re-learned or not.

You need to pay attention to noticing these interesting examples and be ready and prepared to modify your learned concept. At some point you will see that novel examples occur for which your concept definition does not work well. These are the moments in which you observe how your false positive or false negative errors increase. So, you are encouraged to include such examples in the concept formation process.

In addition, you may mentally weight your examples depending on some importance factor (that you define for yourself) or the time you collected them. Perhaps, you may even neglect early examples as they are not relevant any longer. For instance, concerning the concept of friendship, you may like to include examples of your friends from your primary school but they may have a much less weight than the examples from your last years of life.

Summary

Generalization supports us in learning on all levels. The use of generalization requires an open mind, however, able and prepared to question and redefine the derived concepts, if needed. Any concept we learn in our life is temporary. We change and the world changes as well. This means that our general rules, concepts and learned ideas are in operation until e.g. we find a surprise or a contradiction. This is a sign that points us to reformulation of the concept or perhaps even abandoning it.

What is essential is the meta ability of a conscious mind to pay attention and to notice outliers. As long as we remain flexible in our learning, open to questioning and re-learning, we will use generalization well.

Practise generalization with a conscious effort.

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Top photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.
The middle image shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See www.ingeduin.nl for more details.

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Learning and generalization posts:

 

results

Execution makes all the difference

Every year I make a decision to focus on two different skills to master. In the beginning I used to choose four to six aspects to work on. Not that I am ambitious. Not at all 😉

With time, however, I’ve found out that two skills form a perfect set. I get bored with being one-sided, while double focus introduces enough challenge and variety.

Two practical skills I focus on are the two most prominent aspects that slow me down or make my life more difficult. These are the obvious progress stoppers that I pretend not to notice. But I know them. And you know them too.

You know what stops you from making progress, don’t you?

If you master the two skills you need, you will become so much more free to act. You will experience a huge leverage in many areas of your life. Believe me, the impact is much bigger than you can imagine. Not to mention that you will boost your confidence, a priceless gain.

The challenge of phone calls

I don’t particularly like phone calls. I love face to face contacts and emails, but phone calls are not my piece of cake. As you know, they are, however, an absolute necessity in many situations. This includes doctor appointments, gathering information, canceling subscriptions, solving bureaucratic mistakes, etc.

Making a call used to be a dreadful experience for me embedded in a day of suffering. Just a single call. Until I finally admitted that I was fed up. “Time to grow” I thought. So, I decided to develop the skill of telephone conversations. And, now, I can handle them pretty well.

Working on a skill

How do I work on a skill? I do not set very specific goals of what I want to achieve. Instead, I hold a vivid imagination of whom I want to become in my improved version of self. In my mind’s eye I will observe myself exercising the skill with joy and ease. A detailed vision is important as I will be repetitively checking my progress against it during the year.

I start by defining where I stand and where I want to go. First, I describe to myself and imagine the ideal me. Next, on the positive note, I acknowledge what I have already done in the direction of this ideal. Then, by going backward from the ideal to the current, I experience in my mind’s eye the steps that should have been taken to move me so far. I basically work backwards to arrive at the now in order to the nesting of the steps. This allows me to set a clear path of development. Finally, I take the easiest or more obvious step in that direction and work by taking steps with an increasing level of difficulty.

In case of telephone conversations, I first focused on calling family and friends. Just before dialing a number I practiced a 30-sec mental quietness, something that I follow meticulously to this day. I did it to restore my positive energy and ensure my best mood. Finally, I started to call for appointments. Then I followed with re-scheduling appointments or gathering information. Later I proceeded to calls about changing contracts with various providers. Finally, I ended up with complaints and solving problems.

In all this, I made an agreement with myself to simply 1) quiet my mind, 2) think what to say 3) pick up a phone and 4) call. No delays. No procrastination. No mind chatter. Just action.

Over the year I pro-actively looked for opportunities to practice my skill. I created new opportunities. I volunteered to get information or solve problems. I deliberately said ‘yes’ to any call to be made. As a result of this exercising, I can call almost anybody in any situation. I still don’t particularly like it but I have the skill to do it well if I want to. And this is great.

Producing results

One of the skills I develop this year is the skill of producing results. (You are curious what is the other skill, aren”t you?) This means I choose to practice the Pareto rule. You know, the 20% of effort translates into the 80% of results, while the remaining 80% of effort goes into the 20% of results. I am a master of beautifying the details so I know about the latter. But this year I am to master how to produce results. This means:

  • I choose results in favor of ideas.
  • I choose to act even if I am not 100% sure.
  • I choose to deliver even if things are neither perfect nor smooth.
  • I choose to bring something to the world even if these are only half-baked ideas.
  • I want to set my mark, draw a big picture and present a skyline. The tiny details? I will work them out in time….

Every day I choose to immerse myself in thinking about results. I choose to prioritize so that my actions can lead to results. I choose to cherish my excitement about getting results. I simply want the results. And I want them desperately.

I imagine them to be. I feel them. I hear them. I smell them. I taste them. They are there, in me, impatient to get out and see the world. And I am here to make it happen. To produce results.

What about you?

This year is a year of tremendous opportunities for you. Which skills do you choose to master? They are there, begging for your attention. Let them out. Make them to be!

I imagine them to be. I feel them. I hear them. I smell them. I taste them. They are there, in me, impatient to get out and see the world. And I am here to make it happen. To start producing results.

What about you?

This year is a year of tremendous opportunities for you. Which skills do you choose to master? They are there, begging for your attention. Let them out.

Make them to be!

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Photo credit Worlds In Focus, available under Creative Commons licence on Flickr.

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