(Copyright © 2009)

My personal brand of consciousness is the ongoing engagement between me and whatever phenomena serve as objects of my attention. My consciousness belongs to me and no other; it is of something else, what I call images or phenomena. Phenomena are not likenesses or representations of the world so much as they are products of the interaction between my brain and the world. The world I live in—my proprietary world of consciousness—is made up of me as subject and various phenomena as objects of current attention. So right from the start my world appears divided into two realms, subject and object, attender and the attended to, what William James called “the me” and “the not-me.”

Yet I would say that both subject and object are products of one and the same consciousness, so there’s only my view of me and my view of the world, which are not at all the same as myself and the world considered objectively. Objective self and objective world are constructs I build in my mind on the basis of the cumulative experience of phenomena available to me over a lifetime. So I live—as each one of us lives—in a unified world of personal consciousness without borders or divisions—the one and only world of our personal consciousness. That other world, the supposedly “real” or outside world, can only be a matter of inference and fleeting conjecture. Without doubt it is there, but what we can know of it is restricted to what the phenomenal versions in our minds say it is, which is a very intimate kind of hearsay, so not wholly reliable to say the least. James, for instance, says this in his chapter on Attention in The Principles of Psychology (1890):

Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground—intelligible perspective, in a word. (Page 402.)

Unedited by consciousness, the “utter chaos” of the outer world would overwhelm us. So in reducing that world to phenomena, consciousness saves the day.

Every one knows [James goes on] what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others. (Page 403-404.)

But phenomena, I would say, are more drastically altered than merely being selected by our faculty of attention seems to suggest. Perception guided by personal interest and selective attention performs a major overhaul and rebuilding job in cutting the world down to a size we can deal with. Nothing about a phenomenon is as it might be in the world. Energy in the visible spectrum is reduced to a restricted palette of colors, wholly dismissing ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, along with X-rays, gamma rays, radio waves, and the many other orders of energetic radiation impinging on us wholly undetected and unappreciated. By the time phenomena emerge in consciousness, the larger portion of energy in the universe has gone missing. What little makes it through our perceptual apparatus to become a phenomenon in the language of consciousness is transmogrified into something other than what it is on its own. The upshot being, in James’ words:

Suffice it meanwhile that each of us literally chooses, by his ways of attending to things, what sort of a universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit. (Page 424.)

Which opens the way for me now to stride up to the mike and make my point. Living in worlds of our own making as we do, we typically direct our attention as if upon the mysterious world itself while, in truth, all we have to go on are the very phenomena we create for our personal use. I mean to suggest in this post—and in my blog as a whole—that a wholly different understanding of the lives we lead results from taking responsibility for our own seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting as represented in personal consciousness in order to, 1) better understand ourselves as makers of our own worlds, and 2) relate more effectively to others who devote their lives to doing exactly the same thing on the basis of their unique take on the world they actually inhabit in personal consciousness.

That is, as long as we give all credit (and blame) to the world for the lives we lead, we are trapped in the illusion that we can know the real world as it is in-and-of itself, when that world is a complete mystery to us. We make better use of our lives, and the lives of those around us, by living life as the great artwork we make of it—the work we are creating for ourselves at this instant in a universe we can only dimly comprehend. The miracle of consciousness—directed at its own foibles and achievements as it is—is that it is wholly self-reflexive. It is turned on itself, not the world. All we have to work with is the phenomena in our own minds. These phenomena are precisely what we should try to grasp in meaningful terms in order to live our lives with as much compassion and understanding as we are able. 

I have gotten to the point where I can say such things with a straight face after confronting my consciousness on a daily basis for thirty years now, and posting ten-months’ findings to this blog. These ideas are not sold in stores or written in books. Trouble is, we are living out ideas formulated by Aristotle and furthered by the church and academia for over 2,000 years. It is next to impossible to question the basic assumptions on which our schooling is founded, the same assumptions suporting the natural attitude by which we gaze on the world and believe we are seeing what is actually there without intervention from any sensory apparatus coming between ourselves and the scene we think of as before us when it is actually in us the whole time.

In the 20th century, behavioral psychologists, wanting to believe we were all automatons controlled by our environments, made an enemy of consciousness and denied it had any influence on behavior. Now cognitive neuroscientists are saying our brains work like computers, and information processing is the key to the mind. Others have viewed the mind as a clockwork, steam engine, hologram—whatever the going metaphor. And generations of students believe what they are currently being told in class, and dedicate their lives to spreading their views, just as theologians spread theirs as higher capital-T Truth accessible solely to prophets and holy men.

The revolution in how we view consciousness is upon us, just as the Reformation in religious thinking was made possible by invention of the printing press that made possible distribution of sacred texts translated into the language people could interpret for themselves without aid from any intervening priesthood. Subsequent invention of paper, pencil, typewriter, and computer continued the advance of informed interpretation of phenomena. Now the Internet has the potential of ushering in a new revolution in the understanding of consciousness itself by enabling people to get their minds together so they can compare experiences without interference from established institutions having to approve the interaction beforehand. In its current stage of development, FaceBook tends to be light and breezy because people are striving to make good impressions instead of using it as a tool for greater understanding of themselves and their friends. Blogosphere, ditto, everyone out to show how insightful their commentaries upon commentaries upon commentaries really are. I’m a blogger, I should know.

Except, my whole thrust is to be true to my personal consciousness as one sample of what consciousness can be about. In posting to my blog 142 times, I have come to see that intentionality—the consciousness of objects—can be broken down into consciousness of situations, projects, goals, judgments, problems, priorities, issues, novel experiences, anxieties, interpretations, and so on. These are samples of what makes consciousness sit up and pay attention—what evolution has made us as subjects concerned about in order to act as meaningfully and effectively as we can. Which is no different from what human life is largely about.

It struck me this morning that relationships based on what actually occupies our attention rather than what we claim in order to make a good impression is the way to build compassionate relationships based on truth and reality, not personal mythology.

We don’t need to prove our merit or our worth by buying stuff, impressing others, going to fancy schools, sprinkling certain in-words throughout our conversations—that is, by pretending we are something that, under our clothing and our skins, we inherently are not. Good-by UPS trucks, big box stores, advertising, publicity, investments, banks—all those good things we rely on to create the illusion we are something other than what we are. So much for the economy devoted to shoring up pretense and illusion. So much for politicians pandering to their constituencies on the basis of identities they assume for the sake of making a good impression. The Internet has the potential of bypassing all this superstructure created by so-called civilized institutions. Of enabling people to get together on the basis of the searches they conduct to find out who they are and what they can do in this life—the one life they have to enjoy, or not.

What many cultures have found and we often overlook is that human happiness depends on relating to others in order that we do things together, cooperatively, not in competition. I am not talking altruism here, or self-righteousness. I am talking about me being me and you being you—providing a strong basis for getting together on a workable basis, not using each other to advance our respective unspoken agendas.

There are too many problems in the world to waste time in hot pursuit of illusions. That is what got us where we are today. We need to cut through all that and finally get to the point—which consciousness itself will reveal if we attend to it. Self-reflexive consciousness is not the same thing as staring at your navel. Consciousness, it turns out, is the source of all we can learn in this life and all wisdom. Your navel is just a scar to confirm you got your start inside another person who shared joint responsibility for your conception and birth. Got it. Move on. Inside, not outside. To the font of all experience, our personal consciousness, controlled by personal attention, controlled by personal passions and interests, controlled by the will to live as only we are able—by being fully ourselves. Believe me, consciousness-watching is a learned skill that takes well over ten-thousand hours to get good at. I am not suggesting we quit the race and party; I am suggestion we get down to work appropriate to our gifts.

Let’s agree to attend to life as it is given to us, not to the illusion of life presented to us by others. Let’s make use of our primary asset in living a life—personal consciousness. Accepting that as wholly our doing will tell us who we are, warts and all. Knowing who we are, we can relate on the solid ground of being ourselves without pretending to be anyone else. True learning and discovery await us inside, not outside. Especially not in any institution dedicated to selling illusions for profit. Consciousness is ours to use (or not) in understanding ourselves; the choice is ours. And the same for those around us understanding themselves. Relationships based on shared understanding are the way of the future. In the past we have dedicated ourselves to tearing down the Earth for the sake of fictitious benefits. Now we can build ourselves up to be worthy of the Earth that has provided for us all along.

Two Skiers

 

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(Copyright © 2009)

 

I’m on the phone to FairPoint to change my service. For 20 minutes, here’s what I get:

 

Thank you for holding. Your call will be answered in just a moment.

 

Every effort is being made to assure your wait is as short as possible. Thank you for holding.

 

Your call is very important to us. Thank you for waiting during this brief delay.

 

We know your time is important and appreciate your patience while on hold.

 

Thank you for holding. Someone will be right with you.

 

Thank you for calling today. We’ll be with you in just a moment.

 

Nice man, nice lady. You can tell by their voices. So concerned that I not waste my time. So caring. Every 20 seconds, they say the same thing a new way, with distracting music in between—all to keep me from realizing how annoyed I am at being continuously put off.

 

Am I conscious? No, I can’t do anything, so there’s no point in being alert. I’m just sitting here, annoyance turning to anger turning to Richter-scale fury.

 

Why do I let canned voices get under my skin? Because it’s an asymmetrical situation. Garry Kasparov versus IBM’s Deep Blue. They—the nice voices—are in total control. I can’t tell them to go f—k themselves. They just keep jabbing away at my brain. I can’t even defend myself because I have business with them, so have to hang on till I get a live one in India. They’re the phone company, I want to speak to an operator. But there is no operator. Just voices that recite meaningless phrases in my ear.

 

What interests me about this “encounter” is how familiar the situation has become in modern life. When you want to talk to someone, you get a recording—“If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time during this message.” Yeah, sure, if I knew the extension, if I knew who my party was.

 

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who speak through recorded announcements, and those trapped into listening to them out of necessity.

 

When I turn on my computer, the screen says “Welcome.” Good old Microsoft, so well-bred and friendly. Drop dead, I say, but it never seems to hear. I got a letter today from Joe Biden: “Dear Steve,” it says, “Words can’t describe my gratitude for the friendship that you’ve shown President Obama and myself.” I get the drift—send money! Yep, the box with the lowest figure is for $100. Then there’s a bunch of numbers and letters, which is probably secret code for Dear Steve. Dear Joe, I’m currently low on cash, could you donate a century note to help me through hard times? 57286705    A4CD139

 

I am an ardent environmentalist who actually practices what he preaches. When I lived on $3,000 a year in the 1980s, I gave a third of it to environmental organizations. Ever since, I’ve gotten a lot of mail in the spirit of, Keep it coming, Steve, Buddy. Money makes you a lot of friends. Friends who are good at asking for more. At Christmas, I am always surprised how popular I am. Asymmetry, again. Like all those radio preachers who’d be happy to save your mortal soul (for a considerable donation).

 

Asymmetrically—that’s how society is built. The benefits dribble down as long as the money keeps flowing upward. Royalty at the top, faceless drones in the steerage below.

 

Which means consciousness is asymmetrical as well. There’s the view from the palace, and the view from the street. Those who rule the system build the scenery for each point of view. That is, they govern the media that enforce who gets to see/hear/do what.

 

In essence, this disconnect in consciousness stems from there being two different sets of rules, one for the ups, another for the downs. Emperors can put peasants on hold, but if peasants try that in reverse, they’re dead or in prison.

 

Knowing your station in life means accepting the rules the higher-ups want you to follow. They play by their rules, you play by their rules—what could be fairer than that?

 

As I keep saying, consciousness is situational. That is, your awareness depends on your life situation. Where you are, where you’ve been, where you’re headed, who you’re with, what they’re doing, what you’re doing, and so on. Consciousness arises in context. You’re part of the context for those at the top. They’re part of the context for those in the crowd down below.

 

Whenever you find yourself holding the phone while soothing voices tell you over and over how important you are, you know your consciousness is irrelevant. You don’t really exist for them. The situation is asymmetrical, which is a nice way of saying you’re living a lie.

 

On the Web, the person you’re chatting with may not be what he seems. You know television presents a hokey reality—even the reality shows. Same for movies. Even so-called documentaries are made from the producer’s point of view, the producer being the guy with money who brings it to the screen for his own purposes.

 

The biggest lies come from government. Between elections, the electorate is on hold for the duration. When have you ever gotten a straight answer to a letter you sent to your senator? What you get is meant to appeal to every constituent, so appeals to no flesh-and-blood person. As it is, we elect members of political parties to office, not human beings. Nowhere are such parties mentioned in the Constitution, yet there they are, taking or losing power for years—even decades—at a time. In the meantime, the electorate is on hold: “Your vote is very important to us. Thank you for waiting.”

 

The blogosphere is supposed to be the antidote to all this, at least according to those in the business of blogging. The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging deals with the future of news media and ends on this note:

 

We don’t know how this will all shake out. But we do know that in the blogosphere, as we all add our own critiques and new information,1 something starts to emerge that looks more like the truth.2 We’ve been fascinated to read studies showing that asking more and more people a question (e.g., “How tall is the tower of London?”) and averaging their answers yields something closer to the truth than asking one person alone.3 This is—in a nutshell—how the blogosphere is reshaping the media. In the past, voices were necessarily limited. So the information we received was limited as well. Now, as everyone feels free to contribute, we get a clearer picture of reality.4 If the function of the media is to inform, and to get the real story, then we’d say blogs are shaping the media in a positive way.5 That’s true even if come 2043, we’ll have to use something else to line our birdcages (page 167f, italics and notes added).

 

Little in this paragraph makes sense to anyone but the writer, who surely breathes rarefied air in a penthouse high above the street. Here we have a powerhouse in the blogosphere tooting the virtues of his or her chosen medium. Whoever would do such a thing? A person interested in attracting ad revenues, for one. Or a celebrity blogger boosting his own image, for another.

 

As to the specifics singled out in italics, I say this:

1 That cloud floating around the blogosphere may contain a few particles of information, but most of it is opinion or even disinformation.

2 The arbiters of truth are not bloggers at large but those actually in the know, who make up a small fraction of one percent of all bloggers.

3 Depends who you ask. The average opinion may not be more accurate than the opinion of one person. The sample is likely to be skewed, with truth far to one side or the other. Look at the arguments for creationism, or the existence of God, for example. I’d advise asking the one who had taken the trouble to measure the height of that tower.

4 There is no necessary correlation between the number of bloggers and their access to so-called reality. Concerning consciousness and understanding, most of the people can be fooled much of the time.

5 The blogosphere at large is not an example of the new media. People blog for all sorts of reasons, few bearing on media or the news per se. The writer takes the efforts of a small minority of clear-headed bloggers as emblematic of the mishmash as a whole.

 

¦

 

 

 

Reflection 64: Blogosphere II

February 13, 2009

(Copyright © 2009)

 

I wrote earlier (Reflection 8: Blogosphere, October 16, 2008 ) that “blogs hold promise of creating a cooperative, synchronized interaction between individual worlds of consciousness on a scale far grander than one-way broadcasts in the mass media have ever achieved through dominance and brute force.” But added, “As it is now, blogs add up to a clamorous Babel of noise and opinion.”

 

Which is it to be, a force for order in the world, or a source of disruption and confusion? As I see it, the blogosphere feeds on itself by seizing on every crumb of information in the media and subjecting it to eternal digestion into finer and finer bits until it ends up as drivel.

 

My son recently gave me The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, in which I found a list of eight “Sources of Inspiration” on page 84. There I immediately grasped what the trouble is. On that page some of the most successful bloggers in the world tell their secret: Feed off of the media and one another! The whole enterprise is incestuous. Opinions galore, but not a sign of original thought in the bunch. Well, one sign in the eighth item: “On the street” reporting, which reads:

 

Are the teachers at your children’s school upset by student test scores? Is the cafeteria manager concerned about the quality of the produce? Maybe your local pharmacist is worried that seniors don’t understand recent changes in Medicare. all of these stories are worth covering.

 

To those who click out blogs of this sort, I salute you. You’re my kind of folks, making the most of your personal resources.

 

The other seven sources of “inspiration” are derived from existing media: 1) newspapers, 2) political publications, 3) general interest publications, 4) TV news and news websites, 5) radio, 6) large new-media sites (HuffPost, Politico, BoingBoing, Daily Kos, etc.), and 7) blogs on your blogroll.

 

In a word, many or most blogs are derivative. They chew on themselves and other media. Feeding on the same cud, they grind away until nothing is left but drool from the chops. Then onto the next bite, then the next.

 

Whatever happened to investigative reporting? To actually being on the scene, doing original interviews, getting hard facts down on paper? Standing for the truth by putting your body where the news is? The blogsphere is getting to be little more than a roll of toilet paper, every sheet the same. That doesn’t sound like the best use of human consciousness to me.

 

What gets chewed over already exists in digital form on the Web, while most of life is organic, fleeting, and vulnerable every moment—and definitely cannot be reduced to binary code. Blogs don’t deal with living material—with people, animals, trees, flowers, birds. They deal instead with digitized cast-offs of cast-offs of cast-offs. The scheme seems to be, get noticed by reworking the printed words of the movers and shakers. To get famous, rehash the verbal orts of the outrageous, rich, and notorious.

 

Here’s a painful truth. Much of the blogosphere is staffed by an army of hacks. Clever, sometimes, but hacks nonetheless. Like so many army ants coursing through the jungle tearing at every stem, leaf, or leg in their path.

 

Where, I ask, is consciousness in this feeding frenzy? Where are original thought, judgment, curiosity, doubt, passion, and all those other facets of human consciousness we know so well because they make us who we are?

 

On the other hand, maybe I miss the whole point. Maybe chewing the cud is the next stage of human evolution. Maybe the grazing animal in each of us is finally slobbering her way out of the closet. Maybe squatting in our cubicles and taking it easy by doing as little real work as possible is the coming thing. Just maybe. But I don’t believe it. A blog is as valuable as the life equivalent that goes into it. Which to me takes three things: conscious effort, passion, and judgment. Without one of the three, a blog might as well be plopped from the stern of a cow.

 

Like high-colonic enemas, rants (including this one) are good for the soul. They scrub the kidneys, liver, pancreas of all the waste they’ve been storing for months. I highly recommend them. But if you launch your rant into the blogosphere, please let it be your original and not a variation on somebody else’s complaint. Look into your consciousness and see what gems you can find, then fling them forth. Maybe that’ll unclog your system and open the gates to consciousness and original thought.

 

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