Consciousness / A Damaged Word

Language has a problem: words, even those meant to have specific definitions and uses, gather extra meanings once “let loose” in different environments, including academia, popular conversation, and ethnic, religious, and social groups. Words can become so degraded that they no longer have a specific (or even consistent) meaning and must be re-evaluated.

Conscious(ness) is one of those words.

Human beings are severe hoarders – any and every idea is saved, whether valid, nonsensical, or incomprehensible. Archaic ideas are held to be as true or accurate as modern knowledge. The result is that human thoughts, from the confused and valueless, to the sublime and revolutionary, are a tangle of debris, like that of a  Tsunami that collects everything in its path. And now that we have the Internet, no one is cleaning up the clogged beaches.

Any discussion of “being conscious” must first define what “being conscious” is, but few writers bother to do this. I think that an individual animal (human) is either conscious or not. Qualifiers such as “partially conscious” or “levels of consciousness” demonstrate that we don’t have a clear definition or understanding of being conscious.

If we want to make progress in the study of human behavior, we must strip away the overburden of “supernatural and archaic” deposits that murkify the idea of a “conscious state.” There needs to be a valid intellectual scaffold on which to arrange concrete evidence. I don’t care how in love with psycho-babble our culture is, consciousness must be rooted in physical reality.

Humans not only hoard objects, we hoard ideas that no have no purpose other than screwing up our lives.

Humans not only hoard objects, we hoard ideas that clutter and devalue our thinking.

A short list of terms that I use in evaluating information.

Natural: Having a real or physical existence as opposed to one that is supernatural, spiritual, intellectual, or fictitious.

Supernatural: A being, object, location, concept or event that exists outside physical law: a dimension that exists solely in the human mind. 

Religion: The ritual presentation of the culture myth that includes the —-“isms” Patriotism, Consumerism, Nazism, Militarism, Capitalism etc. (From Joseph Campbell)

Mind: The sum of an organism’s or group’s reactions to the environment. Instinct is the source of automatic reactions; other reactions may be learned. Emotion is part of the mind.

Culture: The sum of an organism’s or group’s interactions with the environment. These interactions may be instinctual, learned or invented.

Mind and culture are not exclusive to Humans. Bacteria(um) react to, and interact with, the environment.

The criteria that I use to define mind and culture removes the “supernatural” barrier between our species and what is referred to as “lower animals” or “the rest of life” or plants, and all that “alien” stuff such as fungus, which do react and interact with the environment in amazing ways and therefore possess mind and culture.

Consciousness: A state induced in the human mind by the practice of verbal with other individuals. (Not limited to other humans; we talk to anything alive or dead.)

This definition recognizes consciousness as a brain state; it is not a thing – not a bump on the brain nor a nebulous psychic fog. This definition frees us to talk about the characteristics of human consciousness, without having to project our type of verbal consciousness onto other life forms. It also recognizes nonverbal communication and the ALTERNATE brain states produced by using other languages – visual, music / mathematics / spatial and others of which we are unaware.  These other brain states require new definitions and terms. Individuals whose primary communication is by means of mathematics / music surely experience brain states not available to concrete visual thinkers like me.

Conscious does not = self aware. Animals such as apes or dolphins are self aware as demonstrated by the mirror trick, but as to what subjective state occurs when they use their languages, we are not in a position to know. Their language surely conveys information, but their subjective experience is outside our knowing.

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3 thoughts on “Consciousness / A Damaged Word

  1. You mistake the psychological term ‘consciousness’ with ‘awareness’. Consciousness is useful for psychology. Big Five traits.

    I disagree with you, humans, generally, are more self-aware than other animals, but great majority of humans are less self-aware than a minority of real awake people, like us. Language necessarily doesn’t mean ”humans aren’t -conscious- or self-aware’. Probably language created by humans derive exactly of our self awareness. Animals are less self-aware than humans, seems obviously.

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    • Your comment demonstrates the problem! If “consciousness” = self-awareness, then why call it consciousness? I’m not talking about self-awareness: I’m proposing that consciousness is a product of human language. I said that all life forms have mind and culture, not consciousness. I have an earlier post on Co-Consciousness – you might be interested…

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      • I think its the other way around: We are self-aware BECAUSE of our complex language. Infants are not self-aware: this state is created as the process of socialization. Many years of childhood can pass before a person is aware of himself as a distinct entity apart from the adults around it. Most of what we call our “self” is created for us by our parents and the culture. Take all that away and what is left? I don’t think the “mirror test” is truly testing self-awareness, but demonstrates a visual matching of patterns that precedes self-awareness.

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