Reflection 316: Self-Awareness

September 7, 2012

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

As I see it, phenomenology applies the powers of mind to understanding the self. Fundamentally, it is self-reflection taken to an extreme degree in discovering not the everyday, self-accustomed I in its everyday world, but how the biological self pieces together that I from the several dimensions of consciousness. These dimensions include sensory impressions; meaningful interpretations of those impressions; as well as feelings, biological values, autobiographical memory, accustomed habits, personal points of view, and felt situations within which subsequent courses of action become meaningful.

Phenomenology, that is, accounts for derivation of a course of appropriate action from analysis of sensory input within a situation informed by both current motivation and prior experience. It is an ongoing process for suiting actions of the self to the conditions shaping the situation within which that self exists as a coherent whole composed of diverse dimensions of consciousness.

From my own self-analysis, I identify these dimensions as including, on the perceptual side:

  • the cultural setting of experience
  • expectancy derived from past experience
  • arousal or wakefulness
  • attention
  • sensory impressions or phenomena
  • concepts as recognizable classes of sensory impressions
  • understanding within fields of interrelated concepts
  • feelings
  • biological values
  • culminating in a perspectival sense of the situation one is facing at the time.

Dimensions of consciousness on the behavioral side include:

  • judgments prompted by felt situations
  • decisions about what might be done
  • setting of goals
  • planning of projects and relationships
  • execution of projects and relationships
  • culminating in a program of action monitored by attention.

The entire assembly of coordinated dimensions of consciousness constitutes a loop of engagement joining an individual to a world within the situation as consciously construed in his or her mind.

By this scheme, our lives don’t just happen as they do; we make them happen in light of our biological motivations and prior experiences applied to our current situations as we construct them in our minds. Yes, we respond to patterns of energy interpreted as events in the world, but we also make ourselves happen as our engagements with those ongoing events develop moment-by-moment.

Phenomenology is the conscious and deliberate study of those momentary events in our personal experience as based on the dimensions of consciousness that apply at the time. Even if we don’t study them, those moments happen unconsciously anyway—as if we had no agency in their doing. Phenomenology applies the powers of the mind to personal experience, highlighting our role in making ourselves happen as we do.

No more and no less, phenomenology is the process of making ourselves—not world-aware—but self-aware. That is, it lets us shoulder responsibility for being ourselves without blaming the world for making us who we are. No learning can be more crucial than that in coming to self-understanding and self-realization. Which is why I am subjecting you to this exercise.

As ever, I remain y’r friend and brother, —Steve from Planet Earth

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 © 2009)

 

The coherence of consciousness is tended by our left-brain interpreter whose job is to make sense of the data available to it from different parts of the brain. If those data are substantial and add to a piece, the interpreter has an easy job characterizing and making sense of the current situation. If they are spotty or contradictory, it must stretch what it knows in producing a plausible account based on what data is available.

 

Each of us is responsible for making sense of the current situation on his or her own. Therein lies the source of our personal integrity. We are more-or-less attentive, detailed, complete, patient, imaginative, and timely in coming up with our take on what we think is happening in our world. In interpreting a poem, for instance, if we attend to every word and punctuation mark, carefully weigh the emphasis given each detail in the sequence of events, and incorporate them in a narrative of what it all means to us, we have a fair chance of understanding what the poet is trying to convey. If we seize on one phrase as meaningful in the context of our personal experience while playing down the rest, odds are we will do violence to the poet’s craft and intent in overlaying our interests on top of her words.

 

Interpretation is a craft in its own right, and rises to an art when we must chose between rival interpretations supported by substantial evidence. Interpretation involves judgments best acquired through deep reflection and long experience. The integrity of our interpretative abilities is important because it represents our preparedness for dealing with life situations in which health and survival may be at issue. If we can bring all aspects of consciousness to bear on such situations, we improve the likelihood that the outcome will prove successful.

 

All manner of habits and behaviors affect our judgments, interpretations, and integrity. Pain, hunger, distractions, exhaustion, mind-altering drugs, alcohol, anger, lust, mood swings—all detract from the cohesiveness of our mental processes, and the suitability of our actions to any and all situations we are engaged in at the time. Each of us must confront his own demons in a trial of strength and integrity. That is, he must employ every aspect of consciousness in rising to such challenges, or not, as may be the case.

 

Life installs many such gates along our path, some at set milestones all must attain, others as random obstacles we must meet on our own. We either pass through—or our journey stops at one gate or another. Integrity helps us make it through as many gates as our physical and mental powers will allow. The last gate is our undoing; none of us possess integrity sufficient to getting through that one. Which, if we have done our best to learn what every gate has to teach us, is no defeat.

 

The flip side of integrity is respect for others we meet along the way. We recognize how hard they have worked to get this far, so their integrity deserves our highest regard. Like passing ships, we hail each other and sail on. There is a dignity to the process, an appreciation for what it takes to come on the scene, to struggle, to develop some degree of competence, to keep on and ever on.

 

Integrity casts an aura about itself, prompting others to aspire to its level. It sets the standard of what can be achieved—and gone beyond. I remember the day Roger Bannister ran the first under-four-minute mile. It was an accomplishment for humanity (at least in the Western World). It was as significant an event as Charles Lindbergh flying solo across the Atlantic in his day. The training, determination, endurance required raised the bar of integrity another notch higher.

 

Integrity can be inspiring, even contagious. First one individual achieves it on her own. Then its influence radiates outward to show what can be achieved. First within a family or small group, then into the neighborhood, community, tribe or nation, unto the human population. Mahatma Gandhi set a standard of integrity for all people. Inspired by Thoreau, he in turn inspired Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, and Martin Luther King. As Albert Schweitzer once said, “Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.” Integrity expressed on a global scale would set a new standard for every individual, spurring a revolution in cohesive consciousness.

 

Integrity, that is, develops in response to stressful situations. Everyone I know who has it, earned it by surmounting significant crises or obstacles in her path. She had to summon all her conscious resources to get through one time of trial or another, more likely a series of trials. You don’t acquire integrity by going to school, you can’t buy it anywhere, and nobody will simply hand it to you no matter how nice or attractive you are. Integrity has to be earned by pitting your all against a challenge worthy of your will to overcome. People with integrity always bear scars. They get them by doing more than anyone could reasonably expect—giving their utmost when others stop far short rather than surrender what little ease and comfort they might have.

 

At the Pachamama Symposium I attended in April, I led a discussion on personal integrity. The stories people told of their struggles to achieve integrity were highly personal yet equally moving. Going beyond addiction to recovery, disillusionment with friends or community, being oppressed, breaking free from a stifling relationship, seeking reconciliation by confronting the truth—in every instance integrity was achieved through sacrifice and hard work. Each story told of a life improved by summoning unsuspected resources under stress. That is what it takes to bring integrity within reach.

 

The biggest challenge to integrity is facing certain death. Every day brings us closer to having to undergo that trial. Walking away from a car crash, a bullet flying by the ear, a close call in the emergency room—there are many reminders that none of us is immune to death. For every one of us, the end is certain. Ambiguity about what form it will take in our case makes it seem remote because we can’t picture it. But we delude ourselves if we think denial will help us avoid it. The true test of integrity—in the sense of the true proof that it exists—is the stance we take in preparation for death by whatever blow, whenever it comes. Which may be this afternoon, tomorrow, next week, or fifty years from now.

 

Facing death puts a special premium on the days that are left compared to those that have been spent. Every morning we wake up has a special quality. How can we make the best use of such a gift? How can we be most generous with gifts of our own? What tasks fall to us because of our unique qualifications? How can we make the most of ourselves by participating in this special day of all days in Earth’s history? How can we best deploy the many dimensions of our consciousness in living purposefully and deliberately?

 

Whatever answers we give to such questions will be a measure of our integrity. Of our conscious being at this given time in this place. We have earned the right to do anything we want. What will it be on this day? We can decide about tomorrow when we wake up, assuming we do.

 

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