347. Self-knowledge

October 29, 2014

My quest is for self-knowledge before I act in the world lest I confuse my view of the world for an accurate portrait of the world as it really is.

Just look around you at the world of today. It is largely a product of actions taken by people on the assumption that they look out on the real world and do not have to take their personal assumptions and beliefs into account. Ha! What a mess we are making in putting our unexamined selves forward in that way. Look at politicians, financial advisers, celebrities educators, and most of the movers and shakers who determine the nature of our lives.

My message is: know yourself first before turning yourself loose on the world.

That is: turn your attention inward to focus on your trials and errors, your emotions (which are trying to tell you something) across the spectrum from ecstasy and joy to fear and anger, your trifling grasp of the way the world works. Once you come to an understanding of and with yourself, then you are qualified to make forays into the world beyond your private shell. I refer to that shell as the black box your mind uses to protect itself. Before appreciating the isolation that box imposes on your mind, you are an apprentice just learning the ropes of how your mind works.

Everything I know about my own mind I have learned from careful study of the many mistakes I have made in perceiving, judging, and acting in the world. That study has been the greatest adventure of my life.

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Copyright © 2013 by Steve Perrin

On My Mind: A New Vision of Consciousness (Lulu.com, May 2013) by Steve Perrin

My latest book is about the structure and workings of consciousness as revealed through many years of personal self-reflection. Consciousness, I find, is aroused by a disparity between two nerve signals, much as depth perception results from a disparity between images at corresponding points on the retinas of our two eyes.

Such a disparity in signals might arise between sensory patterns as remembered in contrast to those currently perceived. That is, between expectancy and actual experience, or between the aim of a deliberate action and the effect it actually produces.

I think of that disparity as a relative “valence” such as that between right and wrong, true and false, good and bad, like and dislike, or attractive and repellant. If the valence indicates, for example, “that our impressions exceed or fall short of our expectations, then we become aroused, pay attention, and make a conscious effort to account for the difference so we can take appropriate action.” I think of a helmsman steering through fog by the deviance of his compass needle from his charted course to illustrate the idea of such a valenced signal

In this regard, I see the brain not as a computer but “as a vigilant comparator looking for the then in the now, and when not finding it, taking pains to update memory through conscious scrutiny.” That comparator is on duty whenever things, for better or worse, do not go as expected. Resulting in our streaming consciousness striving to keep up with events as they actually unfold in round after round of engagement. Our personal experience reflects those eternal rounds of engagement, much as the holding power of a screw derives from the helical course of its ramped threads through the wood into which it is turned.

Our minds have many alternative routes from perception to action that largely sidestep consciousness. Reflexes, mimicry, rote memorization, and habitual routines, for instance, proceed unconsciously according to our expectations. But when things do not go as expected, our minds are roused to take unanticipated factors into account. Personal consciousness is situated between perception and action, where it plays the vital role of supervising our rounds of engagement for as long as we concentrate on a particular task or activity.

The take-away message of my new book is that a course of introspection is advised if we are to take responsibility for the outcomes of our personal views and actions. Since every human mind is unique, only one person on Earth has both the motive and opportunity to acquaint any given mind. Our schooling generally deals with abstractions, concepts, and generalities, leaving the particular workings of our minds for us to deal with on our own. This book provides examples of how we might do just that. “The art of introspection is in accepting whatever appears, not judging or dismissing it beforehand because it does not meet designated research criteria.” I use haiku as an example of “grappling with becoming aware of being aware” during moments that draw “us out of our everyday selves, heightening our engagement with life.”

On My Mind: A New Vision of Consciousness is available at lulu.com. Search “Books” for “Steve Perrin” and you will come to it. The cost is $17.95 plus shipping.

 

Copyright © 2013 by Steve Perrin

In 2008, I set out to get my thoughts in order by posting my disconnected reflections on consciousness, my aim being to assemble the gleanings into a book.

I wrote my first book on the topic, Consciousness: The Book, which I published in November 2011 on Lulu.com.

Now in June 2013, I have refined and expanded that work in my new book, On My Mind: A New Vision of Consciousness, also on Lulu.com.

This blog has served me as a scratch pad, allowing me to organize random thoughts on first-person consciousness into a coherent whole. I am happy with the results, feeling it is a highly cumulative process. The real work came in actually writing the books, that is, in turning the scratch pad into a finished work.

I do not plan to add additional posts to this blog. I will let it stand as what it is, a record of my past efforts to come to grips with my own mind through introspection. The books, I feel, go far beyond what I was able to achieve on wordpress.com. But without wordpress, the books would not exist. Thank you, wordpress.

Now my last thought is, if you have been interested in this blog, now buy the books that far transcend it. Go to lulu.com and search for “Steve Perrin.” Put On My Mind: A New Vision of Consciousness in your shopping cart and check out. That would be doing both yourself and me a favor. Don’t hold back; just do it. It may change your life.

Thanks for coming along on this ride. Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2013 by Steve Perrin   [with 1 diagram]

I’ve been working on my new book on introspective consciousness, so to give you a taste of what’s coming up, I offer this revised version of Toward a theory of consciousness to serve as a kind of summary of the eight chapters. I include Figure 5 to illustrate what I am talking about in pictorial form. Y’r friend, –Steve

TOWARD A THEORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Situated-Self-Diag_5_96px

1. Subjectivity. By definition, consciousness is subjective; it cannot be fit into a framework that insists on objectivity. The locus of the unconscious may be the brain, but the locus of consciousness is the mind, enabled by the brain, but not identical to it in part or in whole, as an electrical circuit is not identical to the copper wire it is made of. Such circuits acquire characteristics by being turned on, as consciousness must be turned on or aroused. Such effects as resistance, inductance and capacitance arise from the existential flow of electrons within circuits, specifically, from interactions within that flow itself that affect how electrical energy is received, stored, and distributed. They arise from emergent and kinetic (not static) properties of electrons moving through closed circuits under particular conditions. Consciousness is somewhat similar in not being predetermined by the brain. Instead, as I see it, it rises above neural circuitry to interact through consonance and dissonance between its several parts.

Quantum physics incorporates minds into the observations they are likely to make. That is a huge step in the right direction. Insisting that subjective observers remain essentially pure and aloof from their personal observations is an exercise in ideology. Each observer is a multidimensional set of mental variables engaging the world in a variety of ways simultaneously. Results depend on what he or she had for lunch, whether he or she is well-rested, when he or she last had sex, and so on. When two or more scientists gather together, it only gets worse, that is, more complicated and less objective, because of the chemistry within and between them. I think a new branch of science allowing self-reflection as a productive and honorable profession based on first-person experience is due to emerge. This will compensate for deficiencies in the practice of neuroscience, allowing a more complete accounting for what consciousness is—and how it arises from the brain—to appear at last.

2. Three questions. In everyday practice, consciousness addresses three tacit questions: 1) What’s happening?; 2) What does that mean to me in my present situation?; and, 3) What should I do in response? Perception fields the first question, the situated self takes the second, and action resolves the third. At the risk of oversimplifying, I visualize the mind as being divided into interconnected departments or modules corresponding to this tripartite model. The perceptual department of mind extends between sensory receptors and the hippocampus, which facilitates the formation and recall of memories. What I call the situated self is at the heart of consciousness, with access to sensory impressions, understanding, memory, comparison, dreams, values, feelings, and imagination. And both of these departments connect to motor areas of mind and brain. The situated self connects via the planning areas of the brain, the province of judgment, decision, goals, projects, and relationships. The sensory department, too, can fire directly (and unconsciously) to the motor area, where impulse and habit can direct personal effort and force toward the world beyond.

But the story doesn’t end there, for by being caught up in a program of action, perception is set to gauge what happens next in order to follow-through on its commitment to effective and appropriate action, revising or even countering its initial assessment. Few actions are ends in themselves; most are stages in an ongoing progression of continuous activity. As in tennis, the game isn’t over once you serve the ball; you immediately position yourself to hit it again as it whizzes back over the net, and then again, and again. If you want to eat, you provision your pantry, decide what to have, prepare it, cook it, serve it, eat it, and wash up afterwards—and repeat the performance a few hours later.

I visualize personal consciousness as a process of ongoing activity which modifies our felt situation as we go, morphing time and again into a wholly new situation, which we fail to address at our peril. Survival is somewhat like tennis: we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball at all times. A rhinoceros could rumble out of the bushes any moment or, more likely, a child could chase a ball into the road ahead. The prize goes to the ever vigilant, not merely the fast, strong, smart, or beautiful.

3. Loops of engagement. The succession of perception-situation-action never ceases. I picture consciousness in terms of never-ending looping engagements by which any given action immediately initiates a subsequent round of perception-situation-action until the situation itself is no longer relevant, stopping the clock, inviting other situations to take over and start a new round, spiral, or helix of engagement. This spiraling (because never coinciding with its exact beginning) series is far more than a succession of working memories or hand-eye coordinations; this is how we make ourselves happen in the process of continually reinventing ourselves and our worlds.

4. Organ systems. Humans did not create consciousness all by themselves; they inherited it from their distinguished ancestors who, even on the cellular level, discovered that the membrane setting an organism off from its immediate environment had to be permeable in both directions, in and out. Exchange (interaction, give-and-take) was the rule, not the brilliant exception. At every scale, metabolisms need to be fed from the outside, and the buildup of waste products simultaneously eliminated. Voilà: the loop of engagement. The same basic principle applies to our pulmonary, cardiovascular, digestive, reproductive, immune, integumentary, and nervous systems. Looping engagements do not exist apart from the organic world; they are the heart of that world. So it should be no surprise that they are at the heart of consciousness as well.

5. Polarity. Consciousness is bipolar in nature, having both an interior and exterior pole. The situated self is the inner pole, the virtual or conjectural world being the outer. When we are born, we have no idea what we are getting into. We consist of an inner pole that has only its discomforts and satisfactions to go on as driven by the life force, but other than by crying or sucking, we have yet to learn how to engage in order to get more of what we want, and less of what we don’t want. Mother holds us in her arms, sharing her bodily warmth, her milk, her love, whispering softly, “Don’t cry little baby, stick with me and all will be revealed.” We do, and it is. Since conception, she has become the primal “other,” the outer pole of our existence, the first world we engage with. Our lives are the histories of the engagements that follow.

6. Trial and error. Every new life is an experiment to see what is effective and what not within the particular niche we occupy by means of our perceptions and actions. No one else shares those exact perspectival coordinates; we are in this life to discover how far we can travel via this singular point of being. On our deathbeds we realize our journey is done; the next leg is up to those who survive us via their own points of being. The experiment never comes to an end; it is what we share with all others of our kind to see if we can’t figure out what will work to keep us going, and what won’t. We have only our passionate beliefs to go by, there are no universal directions, guidebooks, gurus, recipes, magic potions to help us. We are condemned to a life of learning by doing and believing, hoping our subjective awareness will prove sufficient to the task. Through our parents, the universe hands us our bodily makeup and says, “See what you can do with this.” The rest is up to us.

7. Memory. Memory is the backbone of consciousness. Strong emotion and frequent repetition build stable connections within neural networks shaped by personal experience. Connections that aren’t used don’t persist. Memory gives us hope, dread, expectancy, recognition, sameness, familiarity, and a sense of the future, among other aspects of awareness. Memory allows us to look for more of the same, as well as for what is new, novel, different, and mind-expanding.

Consulting my own experience, I recognize three primary types of memory: 1) Spontaneous (or working) memory is fleeting, typically lasting only a few seconds; 2) autobiographical memory can preserve personal episodes for a lifetime as a result of long-term potentiation; 3) conceptual (or semantic) memory is abstracted from the flow of experience to represent persisting types or categories of sensory patterns as based on repeated presentations within a limited range of similarity, facilitating the convenient labeling of specific impressions as concepts approximating one familiar pattern or another.

8. Inputs to consciousness. Three very different inputs support consciousness: 1) materials delivered by bloodflow to fuel the metabolism of body and brain; 2) energy imparted to sensory organs that kindle impressions to be interpreted in light of prior experience as one’s proprietary awareness; and 3) the life force we inherit with our particular genome, the urge to eat, drink, breathe, laugh or cry, heal, rest, have sex, and keep going against all odds. Ambient energy and adequate nutrition are basic substrates of consciousness; reducing availability of either one results in mental impairment and degradation. Consciousness itself flows from the life force, the need to engage, to know what’s happening, to make meaning, to plan and then act, and then to discover what happens next. We call this yearning to engage “soul” or “spirit,” but it doesn’t belong to us as individuals. Rather, it is the endowment we receive by being born as organic beings to an energy-rich planet that gives us a toehold in the universe.

9. Levels of consciousness. Within the brain, two basic routes are available for passage from sensory impressions to appropriate actions: the first is a direct and unconscious route of reflex-mimicry-habit-routine-custom-belief that prompts immediate action on appearance of particular sensory cues; the second is a longer and slower route of conscious consideration that entails reflection, judgment, and decision in arriving at a plan of action situated in subjective life experience. Both impulsivity and consideration are available to us in every situation. We choose between them on the basis of our self-awareness as actors in a world largely of our own making. If we size-up our situation incorrectly, that is our call and our error. If we want to be sure of doing the right thing, we must examine the situation carefully to increase the probability that what we do is appropriate to the specific set of circumstances we are in. I refer to these two options as being on different mental levels, the unconscious and the conscious, what I have elsewhere referred to as the high road and low road.

10. Animal consciousness. Other kinds of consciousness become apparent from observation of animal behavior. In many species, individuals are apt to be differentially affected by sensory stimulation (depending on genetic, dietary, experiential, physical, developmental, and social variables, among others), and to exhibit idiosyncratic behaviors as a result. Speaking more generally, different species live in different sensory worlds, and appear to be conscious in a variety of ways. Humans lack the lateral-line receptors of fish that detect the relative motion of water against the two sides of their bodies, allowing them to orient themselves in a current, and to detect unmoving objects at a distance. We don’t have the hearing sensitivity of bats, scenting ability of dogs, sensitivity to heat of pit vipers, directional hearing of deer, scanning ability of electric fishes, magnetic sensibility of eels, sharks, and birds. We may be fellow creatures, but our respective sensibilities situate us in very different niches in parallel worlds of consciousness on the planet we share.

11. Comparison. Change, difference, motion, and comparison are other basic principles underlying consciousness. Memory not only allows us to categorize sensory patterns, but also to notice what has changed or is different in respect to their former makeup or to a set standard pattern. Comparison of neural signals in, say, adjacent or reciprocating cortical columns creates a sense of relationship (depth perception, symmetry, consonance, dissonance, extension, expansion, proportion, opposition, elaboration, and so on) in consciousness. I view comparison between current and prior impressions as firing up consciousness itself in proportion to the disparity detected. If nothing has changed, there’s no need to pay attention and we can get by on habit and routine. But if changes are noted, are they for better or worse? We spend much of our mental energy evaluating implications of situations that change and develop.

This suggests to me that consciousness is a form of memory, or, more accurately, a way of remembering in a current situation so that past and present impressions are compared, and any disparity directs attention to discover what if anything can be told by the difference. And, further, how such a difference might bear on our behavior. In other words, discrepancy is viewed within a framework of subjective meaning, enabling evaluation of what difference it makes.

12. Meaning. Each individual stream of consciousness is unique and available to only one specific animal or person. In that sense, each conscious being has a proprietary interest in its ongoing experience within its experiential niche, and is personally responsible for actions based on that experience. Meaning is another fundamental principle of consciousness, evaluating the new in reference to the expected or commonplace. Each of us survives on the strength of how well we interpret the flow of energy through our sensory portals in light of our prior experience. The meaning of a sensory pattern is not conveyed by the pattern itself but by how we subjectively construe it. It is invented on the spot, not given by others. Meaning is a product of assimilating sensory impressions to the existing order of subjective understanding, or if that doesn’t work, of expanding that order in such a way to accommodate novel impressions.

13. Time and space. Comparisons resulting from our ways of believing and remembering lead to detection of discrepancies, which are changes since we last looked (listened, touched, tasted, sniffed). Perceptual changes noted by a passive observer (as when sitting still listening to music) are changes in time; by a moving observer (riding along in a car or bus) are changes in space; by an active and moving observer (dancing, climbing a tree, bushwhacking through woods), changes in space-time. Time and space aren’t out there coursing through the universe, they are in us as a sense of calibrated change. Our culture provides the calibration; we provide the awareness of detecting and enacting change. When the cultural calibrators die off, only change will remain, and when individual memory dies, awareness of change itself will wink out.

14. Phenomena. The aim and purpose of consciousness is to achieve behaviors appropriate to one’s actual situation in a world that cannot be known in itself—a logically impossible task, but one we attempt at every waking moment. Mind is an emergent property of the brain, but the workings of the brain in terms of the electro-chemical traffic flow through idiosyncratic neural networks are very different from the workings of the world outside our bodies, so sensory impressions are not simply representations of the world but point-for-point creative renditions in what amounts to a singular universe within consciousness. In practice if not in convincement, we all are dedicated phenomenologist because phenomena (appearances, impressions) as rendered by our sensory apparatus are what we have to go on, not things in themselves. Since each being is unique, its stream of consciousness is unique, and the world it construes for itself is unique—its actual situation being a matter of conjecture and imagination based on the evidence of its senses in light of its situated understanding.

15. Dreams. Dreams and reveries are variations of consciousness in which we are shut off from the world of conventional action and stimulation, but can nonetheless simulate sensory impressions courtesy of random eye movements and fixations that activate neural pathways to stir up fleeting images from memory as if we were fully awake. Our dreamselves cannot engage, for they can neither perceive nor act, so we must make do with memory, letting our dreams themselves illuminate the journey of the self we are, without being situated other than in our personal histories. As potential perceiver and potential actor, the dreamself is at the core of the waking self. We do well to pay close attention to our dreams as informants about the history of our core selves all the way back to infancy when, indeed, our deeds and impressions lie ahead of us. This latent, so-called theory of consciousness is the narrative told to me in my dream-like reflections, and I am sharing with you as a gesture of neighborliness.

16. Introspection. Science, I think, traditionally underplays the value of introspection as a message from the interior of one person. The art of introspection is in accepting whatever appears, not judging or dismissing it beforehand because it does not meet designated research criteria. The arts, on the other hand, along with the humanities, diverse human cultures, sports, business, and military engagements, and other factual or fictional endeavors celebrate individual differences, and play them up as valuable in themselves for distinguishing us one from another in admirable ways. If we were all the same, we would be zombies, and life would progress from dull to duller to dullest. Any unique being cannot be a zombie because one-of-a-kind zombies are oxymorons, contradictions unto themselves. Zombies have surrendered whatever it is that makes them individually distinct. In a world composed of unique individuals, insisting on consensual agreement on the nature of individuality and uniform behavior is a forlorn hope dependent on excessive abstraction and generalization.

17. A tale of two selves. The upshot of this narrative is that we are heavily invested in our subjective consciousness as the lived edition of our personal survival—that tale of two centers—subjective and virtual—facing off against each other at opposite poles of our engagements, separated by the membrane that serves as our skin. This is a tale of two selves, for the virtual world we imagine is largely fleshed out by our own experience as we remember it, so is an extension of our situated perspective as a kind of alter ego accompanying and complementing us in our experiment to see if we can’t get some things, at least, right. Which we all manage to do as demonstrated by our ever spiraling engagement in the streaming adventure of mental life, giving others the impression we are present and accounted-for. To those others, we serve as the virtual poles complementing their subjective selves as situated in the shadows of their own impressions, dreams, life force, and actions.

That’s it for now. Hang in there, and focus on your issues, not the world’s (which are too much for any of us). –Steve

 

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Situations, as I use the term, refer to models in our heads of what is going on in the world around us constructed on the basis of sensory impressions derived from energy impinging on our sense organs at the time. They range from wild guesses based on whims to carefully considered hypotheses derived from sensory evidence and experience. One thing situations are not is accurate representations of physical events in the world. Every situation is a conjecture signed and dated by its author.

Our senses convert energy in the world to nerve signals in our brains. The impressions we have of what is going on in the world are just that—impressions—because signals flowing from one nerve cell to another are very unlike energy transmission through the air, to be subsequently converted by eye or ear to electrically charged ions flowing across membranes along nerve fibers in the most complex organic system in the known universe, the human brain, and the mind emerging from its concerted activity.

Situations are what we think is happening in the world from our singular point of view. That’s why we have to test them through trial and error to see if we’re right, or revise and augment them if (as is so often the case) we are wrong. At best, our conjectures are subjective, partial (both biased and incomplete), and inconclusive in themselves. They are probes in the dark, seldom to be trusted in full.

Movies and soap operas derive drama while cartoons derive humor from the mix-ups we get into by trusting our sense of a situation overmuch. In a recent New Yorker cartoon, the bird lately come to heaven inquires of a resident angel, “You run into a window, too?” Or the Scrabble-playing cat tells the dog on the opposite side of the board, “‘Woof’ isn’t a word.”

As I said in my last post, situations are always posed from our personal points-of-view, so our unstated assumptions feature prominently in our behavior. Given the phenomenological nature of human awareness and understanding, it cannot be otherwise. Our renditions of the world are always seen from a first-person singular perspective.

The culture we grow up in has a huge influence on the situations by which we approach the world. Be nice, be brave, be modest, be strong we are told, and we are—as we interpret such advice in light of our personal feelings at the time. Parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents—all influence how we engage the world by our own lights. “You can take a boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of a boy” precisely because the situations in which a boy knows who he is are country situations, and he carries them with him to the grave.

Training a boy to be a killer in the service of his country cannot simply be countermanded by making him a civilian again. He can be separated from the service, but the disciplined training and battlefield trauma are his for life, and are ever-present in the situations he imagines himself to be in so-called civilian life.

Our loops of engagement are centered on the situations we conjure to justify our actions. Emotionally deprived of love, comfort, and warmth as infants (when we become who we are), we include that deprivation in each situation we engage with, perpetuating our childhood predicaments in every adult act. If a loving engagement is not available to us, we fall back on the next survival value in line—on food, drink, sex, sense of place, money, possessions, position, power, fast cars, big houses, and so on. We see reenactments of such engagements performed on the public stage every day. What else is a presidential primary campaign than a free-for-all for the neediest among us? The needier the candidate for what he missed in childhood, the stronger he comes across as knowing what’s good for everyone in the nation.

“Good” advice is what we give other people to make up for what we lacked as children; our own style of engagement is at the heart of that advice because it is what present situations call up within us. Since that voice calls so loudly and persistently to us, it is all we can hear and all we have to give others. Consider the financial services industry that thrives on turning public debt into personal profit, converting the wealth of a nation into bonuses for taking (and hedging) risks with other people’s money. All the while feeling the nation should be grateful for being bilked of its assets.

That is how situations work. I project my primal situation onto you in your current world, and do unto you as was done unto me a long time ago. If my childhood was loving and joyful, I spread love and joy wherever I go. If it was neglectful or abusive, ditto, I spread that around because it’s what I know best.

We live in a time when collusion between the deprived and needy is rampant because ungoverned, and ungoverned because unrecognized for what it is—a crisis of childhood needs left unmet. The film Inside Job makes clear that the banks are in cahoots with rating agencies, with insurance companies, with the media, with grad schools, with regulatory agencies, with public officials in creating schemes to divert the nation’s collective wealth to themselves at public expense. From the perspective of the moneyed elite, it all makes perfectly good sense to subvert the nation for their benefit so they can get what they want at others’ expense. That’s a fair portrait of the world situation from their point of view because it’s built into each of their personal situations and has been from the beginning.

How we engage one another is a function of the world situation as each of us constructs it for him or herself, and carries for life. Education is laid upon us when it should be drawn out of us from the first day of school, based on who we are when we enter the room instead of who we are supposed to become when we graduate. The question to ask is not, What do you want to be when you grow up?, but Who were you as a young child?, and Who are you now? That is the basis for every situation we will build ourselves around in reaching into the world, either to spread love or to get the gratification we were denied in our formative days, months, years. If we need to be held in loving embrace, then that is a school’s job to make us secure enough to get on with the world’s work. We need to be attended to and made to feel special, not treated as so many standard units of ignorance to be molded into entrepreneurs and engineers.

A schoolroom can be a model situation where everyone in it belongs to the tribe in her own way because she is who she is and has lived the life that she has. Accepted in that way, students feel like themselves and not hollow imposters having to pull the wool over other eyes to avoid having their secrets revealed.

Childhood situations make the man and the woman. Learning how to engage by nuzzling our mother’s breast and being read to in our father’s lap, we go on to find our place at the bosom of our tribe or neighborhood. The situations we are used to form the basis of our personal mythology. The financial services industry—and prisons—are full of those who may not have had that route available to them, so came to rely on surrogate engagements to get them through the day. When money (because with it you can buy anything you want) and brute strength come to stand in for love and respect, the nature of our most fundamental life situations degrades into extracting from others what they don’t want to share. With the results we see all around us in the form of war, corruption, greed, and criminality.

Do I have any right to make such a claim? Indeed, I speak from the depths of the life I have lived and discover in situations spread before me in every direction. Situations reveal where we are coming from, where we are situated in our own lives. They are always centered on personal concerns and aspirations. Situations are the mental territories where we live out our lives, the respective standpoints from which we seek to further our wellbeing and accomplishments. The situations we have lived through up to now endure at our core like the rings of a tree. They hold us up as we face the next storm.

One tree to another, I remain y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Introspection enables us to balance three aspects of consciousness at the same time:

  1. sensory evidence for there being a world outside ourselves,
  2. the nature of that world as we entertain it in the form of a particular situation, and
  3. how we might choose to respond to that situation if we judge it necessary and appropriate.

So do we play the odds in monitoring the workings of our mind as they fit us to our surroundings in living out our lives through one episode of engagement after another. Put that way, it sounds awkward because I am trying to avoid the general assumption that we simply look upon the world and it shows us its true face and significance, so we know what to do. Not so. More often, we make the world up to suit ourselves at the moment, and often act inappropriately because our guess at a world is often a gross distortion of the world that is out there.

I advocate a rigorous program of introspection to help us from getting it wrong, wrong, wrong again as often as we do—as the media love to shove in our faces in one up-close and personal story after another, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day. The world is in shambles because we act without thinking our situations and engagements through so much of the time.

Instead of asserting ourselves, we would do well to check our first impressions to see if our actions are truly appropriate to our situations, our situations to the sensory input available to us, and the input we seize upon is appropriate to the world we actually live in.

We well may live in the world, but how we engage it is our doing all the way. Our seeing, understanding, and doing are ours alone. Which is why we have to watch ourselves—because no one else can.

We may dub ourselves wise as a species, or claim to be chosen above all others as members of a particular faith or nation, but in truth we each dwell in a niche of one human animal, and how we see, think, and act is our job alone.

A strict regimen of curiosity, doubt, and humility would serve us all well. Too bad it isn’t available in a pill or bottle, on TV or the Web.

Taking hold of ourselves is up to each one of us on his or her own. It starts with a rigorous bout of introspection by which we take ourselves in hand so that slowly, slowly, we can learn to shape up the minds we all have but often subject to careless, cruel, or abusive treatment without qualm.

To change the world for the better, we must start on the inside and work our way out. As yet there is no service or technology available that can do the job for us.

That’s it for today. I’ll do my best to stay on the job. As ever, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Having listed seventeen dimensions of my conscious mind in my last post, I will here group those dimensions into three major areas of mental processing.

Introspection opens onto the mind as a work in progress:

  1. Laying out the perceptual ground of what’s happening
  2. Exploring the felt significance of the scene or situation that emerges
  3. Coming to clarity about how best to engage with events as they move ahead

What’s happening, what it means, what to do, over and over again while taking new developments into account—that’s what introspection shows consciousness to be.

Blundering the whole way, I took thirty years of trial and error to reach the point where I could offer that summary. My journey is detailed in Consciousness: The Book, available through Amazon and Lulu.com.

Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

We all have a right to claim that we were behind the door when manuals for our minds were handed out, but there are no such manuals, and never have been. Instead, we are given a life of trial and error. If we live long enough to make all the standard mistakes, along with those we invent on our own, by the time we die we will be familiar with one mind at least, so should count ourselves lucky.

In 2011 when I was 79 years old, having observed the workings of my own mind for thirty years, I brought out Consciousness: The Book, which deals with my particular brand of consciousness–too late to do me much good.

My aim now is to help others undertake introspective studies of their minds before they max out their normal life expectancies in partying for a living, or perhaps studying, working, going to the beach or the movies–whatever seems a good idea at the time, but diverts attention without helping them to know themselves any more than they already do.

Yes, you can approach your own mind through the well paved avenues of psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience, and all the rest, but since each one of us is unique, I don’t recommend -ologizing yourself, which is bound to lead you into the error of confusing your mind with the road you are traveling at the time. Instead, I recommend treating your personal uniqueness as a virtue to be pursued to the end. No matter if it’s a sample of only one. To amount to something, you have to count as something. You have to count as something, namely, yourself.

I have found that a good way to to begin a program of personal introspection is by considering your likes and dislikes–what cheers you over against what upsets you. Our consciousness is driven by such polarities all our lives, so monitoring our engagements (projects, relationships) is relatively easy in terms of how we feel about what we are paying attention to at the moment. Like now, this very instant. How’s it going? Good, bad, or so-so? That is, is your present engagement progressing as you’d hoped it would, is it being impeded by some obstacle, or just lurching along ready to veer toward the better or worse?

By observing the state of what we’re trying to do, we can get a grip on our goals, our feelings, our tools and equipment, our skills, hopes, fears, our energy level, and so on. We come to see ourselves standing amid several dimensions of the expectant consciousness we bring to bear on the engagement we currently have under way.

How do you do?, you ask yourself. What’s up? How’s it going? Yes, it’s OK to talk to yourself. That’s what introspection is for–getting to know yourself. Not looking at things on the outside (as if you could see them), but inside your mind where the action is. Just checking. Things running smoothly? Or perhaps a bit rough? Hey, this is your life! It matters what sort of answer you give when you pay attention to yourself by asking personal questions. How is it with me? I says to myself, What’s been keeping you?; I thought you’d never ask. Maybe you didn’t care, or didn’t like me very much.

Once the ice has been broken, there’s no end of things to get into, questions to ask yourself, things to explore and find out. In the past, you may have been shushed by others who were preoccupied when you asked one question too many. But when you’re both the questioner and answerer in your own best interest, it’s astounding what a simple mic check can lead to.

So that’s the preface to my personal manual on introspection–if I were to write it today–which I just did in the form of this post to my blog on consciousness.

How are things going with you? What’s on your mind just now? Perhaps not introspection, but certainly related to introspection, the skill no one mentioned to you or taught you in school.

I remain, as ever, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright (C) 2012 by Steve Perrin

Introspection proceeds on two levels at once: it is the study of our conscious engagements, with the aim of inferring our unconscious motivations for entering into them in the first place.

Introspection directs subjective attention to experiences of interest in terms of: 1) their sensory qualities and relationships, 2) our subsequent interpretation of those sensory attributes, and 3) our aim of placing them within a field of understanding as a basis for taking appropriate action in the world.

Since our engagements are kinetic and ever changing, introspection opens subjective personal consciousness to the ongoing study and analysis required to achieve self-awareness through self-reflection. To understand why we do what we do, we must understand our inner selves, not the mysterious world with its cohort of relative strangers.

That is my thesis in writing this blog. To understand the world as we find it, we must look first at the near end of our active engagements with that world, then at the far end as revealed by the sensory impressions that world makes on us. It is the looping interaction between our behavior in the world and the subsequent impressions we get back that is the stuff of the unique, personal consciousness streaming through our respective heads.

The world we know is the world as we see it, not the world as it is. To improve the world we must improve our seeing of the world for which we are responsible.

If each of us does that, it follows that the world will become a better place for us all, not just the aggressive, militant, rich, and powerful.

That is why I engage in writing this blog.

How do you engage yourself these days? As ever, y’r friend, –Steve from planet Earth

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

For those who do not reflect on their own thoughts, life becomes a projective personality test, often conducted at others’ expense. By claiming our own fears and desires, our judgments of allure and repulsion, we free ourselves to discover the world without prejudgment rather than mold it to fit our personal preferences and prejudices.

The world does not simply flow into our heads as it is. We shape and distort that world according to our basic proclivities in order to view it as clearly as possible from our point of view. If we are unaware of our biased approach to experience, we cannot separate our contribution from what is actually there in front of us. Which is apt to have dangerous consequences for both the world and ourselves, as in the gunning down of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmermann in Florida.

Our biases reflect the attitudes we developed in childhood in reaction to our formative experience. Growing up, we discover ourselves to be Republicans or Democrats, Catholics or Protestants, talkers or listeners, laborers or managers, not because of tendencies built into our genes but because of the subtle atmosphere in our homes and communities that we inhale with each breath. If we grew up in different families, we might well find ourselves on the opposite side of the fence.

A rigorous course of self-administered introspection is the best way I know of getting a handle on who we are and how we came to end up this way. I am not talking about neuroses, pathology, or severe mental trauma. My aim is to get a hold on how we live out our everyday lives. That is, how we think in forming sensory impressions, interpreting those impressions, feeling about those impressions, and then act in response to such factors. 

The mistakes we make in acting inappropriately in the world are given us to learn from. By reflecting on incidents when we make mistakes, we come to understand where we went wrong and how we can avoid doing the same thing over and over again. The capacity for self-correction is built into us by means of self-reflection, should we choose to make use of that gift. We can catch ourselves in the act of doing something foolish, review alternative ways of acting, and strike off on a new heading. Such insights burst upon us suddenly—often in revelations lasting mere fractions of a second. If inertia drives us to suppress them, so be it—another lost opportunity for increased self-understanding. But doubt has been raised, and perhaps we will get another chance.

If, however, we live under such extreme or chaotic circumstances that we don’t have time to examine our own mental processes because we are so driven by events in the world, then we have to get help from others so we can call a time-out to get a fresh perspective on how our thinking (or not thinking) leads us to act.

Think about it: as individuals, only we ourselves have access to our personal feelings, our values, our memories, our dreams and nightmares, our sensory impressions, our interpretation of those impressions, our understanding of those interpretations. That is, most of what it feels like to live the lives that we do is known only to us. The reasons we act as we do are strictly our business because out of all people in the world, we are unique. We don’t act as the world would have us act. No, we act as we choose to act because of the internal forces that drive us, forces we alone are aware of.

Introspection is our primary means of self-help for improving any situation. Yes, if we trust a few others, perhaps they can help, too. But the heavy lifting falls to us because we are the only ones who know what it feels like to exist, think, feel, and act as we do. If we don’t help ourselves, who else can we look to? Who can we trust?

Every life is an experiment to see what happens when a person of such-and-such genetic makeup is placed in a difficult situation. At first, with only an instinct to eat and to cry out in pain, we are wholly dependent on those around us. We cannot make it on our own. But over time, we learn to fend for ourselves by making ourselves happen in various ways to discover what sorts of responses we can get. We learn to avoid harsh responses and seek more of the nourishing ones.

But where behaviorist thinking placed emphasis on others being in control of our actions, I now say that we learn in our formative years to be in control of ourselves so to thrive under the conditions in which we grow and learn. It is our life we live—colored by our impressions, fears, desires, dreams, values, understandings, and decisions to act as we do. We, not the world, are in charge. Or if we lack the physical power to follow our own course, we can pursue every chance we get to develop that power.

As I say, every life is a test. Without an instruction manual. We are on our own in doing the best we can with what we’ve got in the time allowed and the help available to us. I have found that self-reflection gives me immeasurable help in figuring my own course as I go. Life is a process that can be improved upon day-by-day. If we’re still the same person today we were yesterday, have we really made use of the time available to us? I just put that thought out there as a reminder that our experience is largely our own doing, and making it better is our responsibility, not the world’s.

Enough said. Hope you have the strength to face into the challenge. As ever, y’r friend, –Steve