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4/23/06


Mind Shadows      Notes on Consciousness

  • People say that we don’t have the past, and we don’t have the future. All we have is now. We don’t even have that. What we have is a memory, a working memory, usually quite short term. What we call the immediate present is not present. It requires memory. You use memory to get to the end of this very sentence. None of it was “now.”
  • In contrast to the above, Eastern gurus teach that to think is to be plunged into time. They say that to be in the eternal present of consciousness is to be without thought. Given the memory scenario, the closer likeness is a steady stream into the past. Awareness can only be awareness of the past. Conscious awareness is a creature of time. To be conscious of the moment is to be aware of what is within short term memory. Consciousness, then, is a function of memory.
  • In electronics and electricity, one finds two kinds of wiring, serial and parallel. At one time, Christmas tree lights were serially connected. If one bulb went out, they all did. Nowadays they are wired in parallel so that a single bulb failure does not cause all to turn off. Because of more wires, parallel circuits also have the advantage that they can handle more impulses, more traffic than can series circuits. They are not as subject to “traffic jams.”
  • Daniel Dennett, for one, has compared the brain to series and parallel circuits. Consciousness is serial; unconsciousness, parallel. Consciousness sees images, representations of unconscious systems, one at a time. As in a computer, they are data serially appearing on the monitor of the mind. Advaita, or nondualism, calls this the theater of the mind. The data is represented by symbols. Consciousness is limited in what it can process because it is proscribed by the "uni-linear" nature of the symbols arising before it. By comparison, the unconscious operates non-symbolically and across many neural circuits. It does not need the same representation as does consciousness. With parallel circuitry, it can process much faster with its own “codes” unbeknownst to consciousness.
  • This helps explain why Eastern teachers say that you are not the thoughts. They teach that thoughts are mistaken for the self. They also teach that the thinker is in the thought. (See J. Krishnamurti & David Bohm, 23 March 2006, a few articles below.) In other words, the thinker is part of the theater of the mind. The series/parallel explanations of consciousness accord with this teaching. There is no conscious thinker, except as an after-effect perceived on the screen of consciousness. Everything happened at a “lower” level.
  • Benjamin Libet’s experiments fit the pattern of this perspective. In his experiments, he found that the “decision” area of the brain lit up after the actual deed was done. In other words, the subjects thought they decided, but in fact the “decision” was an after-effect. (Among other Invetrate Bystander articles on free will, see Benjamin Libet and Free Won’t.
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