Do you ever think about consciousness? I mean your own consciousness? How weird it really is? What is it? What powers it? Where does it come from?
Can a simple thought or perception change reality like it can change a dream?
Did you know that the Indigenous culture of Australia teaches that the time you spend dreaming is reality and the time you spend awake is imaginary? This is the complete inverse of western beliefs. Did you know we don’t have any scientific way of proving that they are wrong and westerners are right? What we believe about reality is nothing more than a simple leap of faith.
To a westerner this sounds crazy, but in some non-western cultures it isn’t so crazy.
Time.com did a piece about consciousness stating that the scientific mystery about consciousness is not one problem but two problems, the easy problem and the hard problem.
The Easy Problem:
What is the relationship between conscious thought and subconscious thought, and where do they exist in the brain? For example: Your brain controls your heartbeat and you don’t need to consciously think about it, but you can’t access it and consciously stop your heart from beating. Or where do unique ideas come from when they just POP into your mind? Or do you ever have an old memory just POP into your mind for no apparent reason? Why does this happen when you didn’t consciously request the memory? What power forced the memory into your conscious mind? The question isn’t just why do these things happen but how do they happen and where do they happen. Today no one knows.
The Hard Problem:
Now this is the weird one, so hold on. Is there anyway for you to prove that I am conscious at all? Since you can’t see what I’m seeing and feel what I’m feeling, how do you know I am experiencing the same things that you are? Right now, science cannot prove that the color green looks the same to you as it does to me. What’s even weirder is that you can’t prove scientifically that anyone else is conscious in the same way you are. In other words, you cannot prove that others around you are having the same first person subjective experience you are.
You can’t even be sure that this article existed before you clicked on it and read it. Maybe your subconscious mind is creating it right now as you read. Other people could tell you it was there before you read it, but if you can’t be sure they are even conscious how can you be sure you should believe them?
So all these unknowns about consciousness brought crazier questions to my mind.
So if you can’t be sure anyone but you is actually conscious, how can you be sure of anything? Wouldn’t it then be possible that everything in the world was imaginary like a dream? I’m not saying this is the likely answer, I’m just asking, given what we don’t know about the universe and ourselves, isn’t it possible?
I’ve heard similar ideas expressed before, like the question “If a tree falls in the forest…” and I always thought the question was stupid. But the concept finally sunk in when I listened to this podcast from Steve Pavlina. When I first listened to this podcast, I realized just how little we really know about reality and it made me queasy. It produced a vertigo and loneliness that I can’t describe except to say it wasn’t like the loneliness you feel when your girlfriend dumps you, it was more like the feeling that you might be all alone in the universe.
I got over the loneliness – it lasted about 30 minutes. But these thoughts make me feel both powerful and humbled at the same time. These realizations about consciousness forced me to realize that all the effort I put into being correct could be pointless. At the same time I realized how little I know, I also realized that I could be more powerful than I had ever imagined.
But one thing I do know – is that understanding how little we know about our own minds is a powerful antidote for arrogance. So the next time you think you are absolutely correct about a thing – think again.
Go ahead and tell me what you think. I’d love to know.