497. Afterword

April 30, 2015

Cultural ideas (memes), once they become widely accepted or have even gone “viral,” develop a strong resistance to change. The idea of “artificial intelligence,” from a fanciful oxymoron (contradiction in terms because no one knows what authentic intelligence might be), has become the watchword of a burgeoning industry and is here to stay until it is replaced by the Next Big Thing that becomes culturally contagious.

I have used the word “inertia” to describe a cultural idea’s resistance to change. Once popularly accepted, it leads a life of its own. That is, once its collective memory achieves a critical mass within the human population, it becomes a contributor to our everyday system of belief.

Even after gravitational force, evolution, genetics, DNA, and both galactic and stellar evolution became fixtures of our cultural view of the universe (thanks to Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Tycho, Newton, Darwin, Franklin-Watson-Crick, and tens-of-thousands of others), the anthropocentric notion that humankind is the central focus of a god-driven universe persists, as if the sun and stars were still believed to revolve about us—we who give meaning to godly creation simply because we are born to that tenacious meme from our mistaken point of view.

Cultural inertia is a disease more deadening than ebola or dengue fever. It kills off tender minds of both children and adults well before their time. That is because the basis of perception is recognition enabled by memory, not any sensory impressions formed in the instant. We see largely what we have seen before and are familiar with. We grow uncomfortable when beyond the range of our past experience. Novelty in our eyes may capture our attention, but that doesn’t mean we accept, like, or understand it.

Ideas that become part of our general culture are usually put forward by groups that stand to profit from their acceptance. Economic theory flows from those who stand to make money, not from the host of disadvantaged others. Military theory flows from those who fight wars at a distance. Theology flows from those dependent on entire flocks of believers. Penal theory is proposed by those outside prison walls. Art theory blows on the winds of change, novelty, and aesthetic outrage.

Why am I reminding you of this? Because we are all heavily invested in our personal experience, existing as we do at the leading edge of our beliefs. And that edge is always pro or con, positive or negative, for or against—in a word, polarized. There it is, a double-edged sword at the heart of our beliefs. And that makes the world we live in polarized as a result of our thrusting our particular edge outward in our actions, frowns, smiles, and gestures of rejection or acceptance.

There are two sides to every truth, meme, and conviction. We’re either for-or-against it because that is how our minds work, balancing pros and cons, activations and inhibitions, two sides of every question. Yes or no. Yea or nay. Go or stop. Stay or leave. Fast or slow. Cold or hot. Sweet or sour. Brave or chicken. Rich or poor. Smart or dumb. Guilty or innocent. All or nothing.

We frame our options for doing anything at all in two columns, pro and con. Then we list the reasons for taking a particular action against the reasons for not taking it. We add up the two columns. The one with the most checkmarks wins. Yes, we are that simple minded.

Our muscles either flex or relax. What signal should we send? Uncertainty or hesitation leads to disaster. Timing is of the essence; the enemy is fast approaching. Now is our chance to decide. What should we do? How do we vote? Count us in or out? Subtlety is for wimps. Real men and women know right from wrong in any situation, and always do the right thing. Or, that is the popular myth.

Choices, nothing but choices. That is precisely why we have minds that engage with events and make decisions what to do. No matter how we decide, once we go one way or the other, we face another decision, which invariably leads to a train of others after that.

What if you had turned left and not right that day you met the girl who became your girlfriend who became your wife who bore your children who now have children of their own? What if, what if, what if. But you didn’t turn left, you turned right, and that has made all the difference throughout your life.

Speaking of what ifs, picture your genealogical tree for the past five generations, from your parents to their parents to their parents to their parents to their parents. Your parents to your great-great-great-grandparents. That’s a century’s worth of your family and recent genetic heritage, 126 people, all making countless decisions every day of their lives, all those decisions contributing to you and your specific genome. Not just contributing to, but focusing on you. If any one of them had lived differently, had gotten sick at the wrong time, had gone off to war, had fallen off a horse, had run a red light, had served chicken (with hidden bones) and not roast beef for dinner—where and who would you be today?

Think about it. Without consciousness that can weigh options and make decisions, and act on those decisions by tensing one set of muscles while relaxing others—none of us would be who we are today.

Yes, consciousness makes all the difference between living as a person and living as a mushroom, or even another person in our own family-community-culture-precinct of nature. What if we’d been born on another planet circling another sun in another galaxy? Wherever we are, consciousness is our guide every millisecond of every day of our lives.

How ironic is it, then, that we barely understand our own conscious processes, our own intelligence, our own opinions, fashions, fads, annoyances, habits, routines, prejudices, and orthodox beliefs? Our schools are all aimed outward into the world of memes, ideas, and traditions, not at the minds we bring with our lunchboxes and faithfully present to our homeroom teacher when we answer “Here” when she calls out our name.

Instead of fighting wars or trying to make a killing on Wall Street, why aren’t we all doing everything we can to understand our own minds to avoid doing more harm than good in the world?

Why, in particular, do we cling to ways and beliefs we don’t understand, yet commit ourselves to out of personal and cultural inertia? As if we were automatons or robots or zombies or idiots?

I’ve said it before and will say it here one last time: Know Thyself! Why else are we here?

Engagements between self and other have been around since the early days of one-celled lifeforms drifting about in their aqueous environments. Which-was-which depended on your perspective, that of cell or other, self or world.

Later on, the issue became control or regulation of the engagement. Again, that depended on your perspective, whether you took the point of view of the cell or of the environment. You had to be in the ongoing loop of engagement, either looking out or looking in.

From the cell’s point of view, the problem was to solve the world puzzle of where you were and what was going on around you. From outside the cell, the problem was to figure out what was going on inside the cell.

The metaphor of the black-box problem applies, from both inside and outside the box. From inside the cell’s black box, the world is a mystery. From outside in the world, the cell is a mystery in a black box. There are two black-box problems: one solving the world puzzle from inside, the other solving the mind problem from outside. I use this metaphor to clarify the problem of consciousness.

In some situations the world seemed to be in control; in others, the cell seemed to be in control. But in every situation, control is actually shared between cell and environment, the balance depending on which is dominant during that particular engagement. That is, on whether the cell needed the environment more than the environment needed the cell, or vice versa.

Why does a cell need its surrounding world? To supply the resources it needs to sustain its internal activities. Why does the world need the cell? To consume the resources it has in excessive amounts.

The goal each way being to achieve a balance that works to the benefit of both self and world, cell and environment.

Cells help the world stay in balance; the world helps cells stay in balance as parts and extensions of itself. They are of the same system. The issue is chemical balance, physical balance, energy balance. All within a shared gravitational field rich in energy. In black-box terms, the solution to the two respective problems depends on resources being available both inside and outside the box. The key to balance is in the flow of life-sustaining engagement between input and output.

As both selves and worlds grew in size and complexity, control and regulation of engagements between them grew more demanding. Cells developed the ability to move about and, simultaneously, to gauge and identify a sense of different regions within their environments.

As evolution progressed, environments grew ever-larger and richer in content, but more challenging at the same time. Living organisms had to take greater risks in order to get what they needed to survive. The task of regulating engagements became more complex and difficult.

In response to increasing pressures, multicellular life evolved alternative strategies for survival. Some lifeforms traded their harbors in the sea for territories on land. Others took to the air. Still others learned to tolerate broader ranges of temperature, salinity, humidity, terrain, illumination, suitable foods, weather conditions, and so on. All in response to the urgings of the life force as fueled by individual metabolisms.

At some point, organisms outran their genome’s ability to prepare them for the difficulties they were to face, and consciousness emerged as a means of adapting to challenging conditions as they might arise. Habitat niches remained all-important, but the range of situations they presented as lifeform populations increased and diversified became less of an obstacle.

Consciousness allowed individual organisms to assess their environments (perception), consider their options (judgment), and set and enact behavioral goals accordingly (intentional action), all the while maintaining an ongoing flow of engagement with significant aspects of their environments (between black-box input and output).

Memory became the base of consciousness, providing a background against which to face into novel situations. Expectancy, curiosity, familiarity, conceptualization, and recognition became possible, simplifying the analysis of highly variable conditions.

Too, the old standard behaviors of reflex action, mimicry, habits, routines, prejudice, orthodoxy, rote learning, trial and error, and other energy-efficient shortcuts in lieu of full consciousness remained as viable alternatives.

But consciousness allowed memory to be linked to a review of alternative possibilities, prioritized according to a choice of criteria, and judgment concerning which choice made the best fit to the current situation.

So did consciousness serve to build on a Paleolithic genome to make it fit to serve in a modern world to which our ancestors never had to adapt.

Consciousness itself is a neurological response to a discrepancy between conflicting aspects of perception. It pointedly draws attention and awareness to unsettling aspects of experience, whether good or bad. When consciousness is focused on a particular problem, all else falls away as irrelevant. The ability to concentrate on a particular issue is the essence of consciousness.

By applying our neural resources to one situation at a time, consciousness makes our awareness both efficient and coherent, screening out all that is irrelevant to its current focus. This ability to rate situations on a scale of importance at the moment is one of our greatest assets in getting through the day one moment at a time.

At the core of consciousness is our situated intelligence that organizes a given situation in terms of the elements or dimensions that make it up. That core of situated intelligence is what we experience as the self, which changes from one situation to another as suits the occasion.

The dimensions of consciousness that might contribute to a particular situation include: memory, sensory impressions, feelings, motivation, values, imagination, understanding, life force (or energy level), humor, temperament, goals, skills, relationships, and many other factors that collectively constitute our minds.

Our situated intelligence stands at the nexus between incoming perception and outgoing action in the precinct where judgment and commitment are possible. It is activated by a gap, inconsistency, or abrupt change in our loop of engagement that rallies attention to that unsettling state of affairs. Our intelligence gathers its assets to focus precisely on that gap or inconsistency (duality, disparity, discrepancy, annoyance, delta signal, disappointment, surprise, shock, etc.) as a rousing alarm that serves to focus our attention, stirring consciousness to life. Here is a matter to be dealt with.

It is the nature of our minds as they have evolved to depict situations in terms of dualities (dichotomies, bifurcations, oppositions, contests, confrontations) and other forms of either-or, yes-or-no, approve-or-reject situations. This is due to the complementary roles of activation and inhibition that our neural networks play in shaping consciousness in different situations.

Our engagements between self and world take place on the four fundamental levels of nature, culture, community, and family, which I have extensively dealt with in developing my views on consciousness in this blog.

The above summary provides an outline of my wayfaring journey in my daily posts to Consciousness: The Inside Story, in, what to me appeared to make a coherent sequence, but probably appeared random to readers who broke into my stream of consciousness in the middle of its development.

Tomorrow I will remind readers where we may have been together as a review of my specific ideas about consciousness as posted to this blog.

Following perception, the next stage of our mental engagement is to put the resulting understanding in the context of our current situation so that a judgment of its meaning or place in our scheme of things prepares us to frame an appropriate response.

The agent performing that judgment in the presence of affect or emotion is what I call the self or situated intelligence at the core of the mind where it serves as mediator between perception and action. The self is the intelligent agent having access to memory, perception, understanding, emotion, and biological values, together with the life force as the metabolic fuel driving us to act on our own behalf in a particular situation.

How the self resolves the various motivations feeding into it by comparing, weighing, and judging their influence is what we call free will.  It is “free” in the sense that each person judges the relative importance of the various motivating forces in the light of her personal experience, the residuum of her having lived this far in her life and earned the right (if not the obligation) to be the person she is.

Free will is nothing else than the gift of learning through experience that evolution equips us with as we face into the situations we encounter, and decide how to respond in light of the teachings of our personal life story.

There is no blanket formula for survival we can all call upon such as insects’ reliance on a small set of pre-programmed instincts; we are under our own recognizance, and have the privilege to decide for ourselves what to do, including calling on the judgment of others when we need their help.

What we call belief is a conceptual summation of the internal forces of motivation which drive us to construe a given situation one way or another. The irony of the situated self is that living within the confines of its particular intelligence in its figurative black box as uniquely suspended between input and output (perception and action), as each of us does, our primary motivators together make up the situation that we occupy at any particular time, so that our operative reality, experienced uniquely by each of us, is a matter of subjective belief.

That is, we construct the situations we find ourselves in from the inherent mental forces that motivate us at the time, and those forces—memory, understanding, imagination, thought, values, emotions, energy level, among many others—are weighed against one another in forming a judgment upon how best to resolve the tension between perception and action in a manner appropriate to that subjective situation.

The world we claim to live in is a high-level abstraction, a concoction of our unique intelligence in its internally-structured situation.

Our subjective reality results from the categorization (interpretation) of impressions as projected upon the energy field that surrounds us, and as such, is subject to a construct or construal for which each of us is wholly responsible.

The world lives in us as much as we live in the world. And that world is largely a matter of subjective, affect-driven belief, not demonstrable fact.

 

In the terminal moments of a dream I had on the morning of March 10, 2014, I found myself loaded with gear in both hands, struggling up a crowded escalator. I met a series of obstacles at every level, but could not find my way to a particular street, which I could reach by traveling north, while again and again I found myself forced to move off in other directions. I was determined to get to that street, but events in the dream kept turning me aside.

My awakening mind linked that dream to similar dreams of being thwarted in a lifelong series of similarly wayward excursions.

When fully awake, I had the distinct thought that such dreams are models of my mind, much as my mind, in turn, is a model of my world. It struck me that what evolution has wrought in the physical network of the brain is a tool to be used for modeling the world in navigational terms such as goals, journeys, routes, destinations, distances, maps, obstacles, distractions, pathways, landmarks, wayfaring, migrations, and so on.

We are primarily a mobile species that conducts its business by standing on two legs and walking toward specific destinations as goals. Our minds are made to support such a lifestyle. When immobilized and desensitized by sleep, what else would we dream about?

During breakfast I made four pages of notes in a steno pad detailing such a vision. It made sense at the time. It makes sense to me now. Animal life is . . . well, animated, always on the go. It moves about in search of food, water, mates, shelter, vantage points, and so on, as well as to avoid dangerous places, enemies, competitors, rivals, harsh conditions, and fearful situations.

Animals have appendages that enable them variously to crawl, creep, walk, run, gallop, scamper, hop, leap, fly, glide, slide, slither, float, drift, paddle, swim, dig roam, and explore their way about their habitats. They make or adopt paths, trails, routes, flyways, tunnels, home ranges, migrations, forays, escape holes, dens, nests, warrens, and other artifacts to accommodate their travels and activities.

To accomplish such feats, animals have brains that coordinate the movements of their bodies and appendages, enabling them to move about and thrive in the habitats to which they are suited. Minds, to the degree they have achieved them, allow those animals the spontaneous coordination of sensory inputs with motor outputs in the construction of engagements intended to fit individual animals to the environments and situations they encounter in the course of meeting their needs and desires, either instinctively or as informed by memory of such efforts in the past.

In the particular dream I mentioned at the start of this post, I could not coordinate my sensory impressions with any kind of meaningful action because sleep results from the uncoupling of just those two capacities, leaving my goals unsupported by any means of attaining them, which is my plight in a great many of my dreams. Leaving me laboring mightily to accomplish the impossible in being stymied in my search for a route leading where I want to go.

If wayfaring is the essence of consciousness, as I believe it to be, then dreams leave me in a present state without the backup of memory to remind me how I might have found my way in the past. In dreams, I am only half-human. I have access to selected desires and a rapid succession of images, with no way to join the two in a successful effort to do what I want to get done. My brain may be sufficiently awake to maintain my innards in a state of semi-automation, but my mind is left to twiddle its figurative thumbs for lack of any ability to move, depriving me of the essential quality of animate life.

 

(Copyright © 2009)

Hey, it’s August; I’ll try to make this short.

I’m not talking months of the year here but old guys getting together with young sweeties. Rich, horny old guys with sexy young things looking out for their futures. When I was younger I thought it was gross, but now I see evolution’s point. The geezer is a proven survivor, and probably with enough money in the bank to give sweetie what she wants. For her part, Sweetie wants to bankroll her future, and getting in bed with Uncle Scrooge is one way to do that if you are a looker with not a lot of skills to fall back on. Young guys can be fun and energetic, but they lack the wherewithal to provide Sweetie the lifestyle she wants or thinks she deserves. Old sweeties that are Scrooge’s own age would be past menopause, so not be able to provide the children that is the larger point of the union as proof that Scrooge still has what it takes to be a man at his age.

Crazy, yes, but not as crazy as it might seem. Skewing the age relationship between sexual partners in this direction connects the sperm of proven male survivors with the eggs of women having the brightest prospects for living long enough, well enough to raise their children to sexual maturity, and as well-funded matriarchs, their grand and great-grandchildren. We think of women as losing their “looks” as they age, while men acquire a dignity of demeanor that makes them seem ageless. So evolution tilts the scales toward younger women getting together with older men for the sake of the probable survival of their children and furtherance of their respective genetic lines. In other words, what works works. Evolution is ever practical, rating performance higher than ideals and good intentions. If the past belongs to these old geezers, then the future belongs to their young partners. It’s as simple as that.

It is on this level of thinking that the true difference between Republicans and Democrats becomes clear. One party is for Everyman and the downtrodden poor, the other for the Haves who can afford to provide their kids with the best of everything. Republicans take care of their own, Democrats want to give everyone a chance to get ahead of where they are now. Politics is no more rational than sports, organized religion, or economics. These are gut-level, emotional activities people engage in for personal benefit as they see it. If there’s an abundance stockpiled at the top, then let a few crumbs trickle down; or, by a different view, Everyman deserves equal treatment and to share in a redistribution of wealth that was taken from them in the first place.

Under this way of thinking lurks the pecking order that establishes a social hierarchy from the powerful all the way down to the weak and infirm. That way, everybody knows her place in society and doesn’t get uppity or go after more than he deserves. It’s as if Republicans speak for the leading half of the social order, Democrats for the trailing half. Alpha and his mate deserve the best of everything, Omega and his mate get whatever’s left over. I know a thing or two about pecking orders from personal experience:

It is mid-March and the ice in the bay is starting to go out on the tide. The upper shallows are still frozen, but the seaward ice has already gone, leaving a serrated edge separating the ice shelf from open water almost as a sign of the division between winter and spring—or at least of warmer days ahead. I am watching 700 greater scaups (ducks that feed on mussels) have their seasonal fling. First a banquet in which for an hour they dive to the bottom and bob up with mouths stuffed with green and red algae; then an hour-long nap with heads tucked neatly under wing; and now this final procession in which they line up along the edge of the ice as sunset approaches and cruise along a foot or two away from the ice, males and females mixed together, forming a great line of ducks processing in orderly fashion as if to mark the end of winter and the beginning of the mating season.

I witnessed these festivities in 1987, and didn’t know what to make of them. Thinking about it, I now believe the ducks were pairing off according to their standing in the population, literally mapping out the pecking order, each duck taking the position in line appropriate to its rank. I’ve seen scaups fly in a line, and take off one at a time when threatened by an approaching eagle, each waiting for its neighbor to clear before leaping out of the water and flying around the point, making way for the next, next, and next after that. 

I think Republicans believe in a pecking order for humans, and Democrats don’t. Or put differently, Republicans see themselves at the head of the social order, Democrats themselves at the rear. Trickle-down works for Republicans, upward mobility for Democrats. The odd thing is, Republicans are happy to keep Democrats where they are while Democrats put all their energy into moving ahead and getting a fair share of the public purse. The two ends of the line will never conga together, so with both clinging to their respective views of social order, disorder and conflict are sure to ensue. Without doubt, Cheney-Bush placed themselves and their ilk high in the sky, and instigated a regime that would keep them and their pals aloft, while Obama-Biden are now clawing their way out of the hole their predecessors dug for them, hoping for a glimpse of the sun.

Does that mean the old geezers are apt to be Republicans, sweet young things Democrats? Hardly. Each sticks to its own kind at its own end of the line, and revels in complaining about its opposite numbers. But the rules you play by differ according to where you place yourself in the social order strung out in your head. If you don’t vie with Alpha, you go by the one who sets the standard and tone for your neighborhood and define your place in relation to him or her.

In truth, there are multiple pecking orders, depending on the criteria for success in one social idiom or another. If age, wealth, and power put you at the top of one social order, youth, beauty, and agility put you at the top of another. So Sweetie is an Alpha in her idiom as Scrooge is in his. The strong, the fast, the knowing, and the clever are all Alphas in their respective spheres of consciousness. Crime bosses and drug lords are Alphas outside the law. Sweetie herself may even be a Democrat, pulling for social justice, fairness, and equality, and Scrooge is happy to humor her because she brings him so much pleasure and happiness.

Consciousness is the place where all this plays out, each person evaluating her gifts and accomplishments by her own lights in relation to those around her. One of the joys of being alive is watching each one’s self-opinion play out in the surrounding arena of striving humanity. If you can’t be at the head of the line, you can claim to be the head of your segment of the line, and that’s just as good. May-December matches are given us to celebrate and enjoy along with every other mixed metaphor. In nature, cross-pollination keeps genetic strains mixed up and healthy so species don’t get too fixed and revert to outmoded ways. Even Democrats battling with Republicans might be a good thing to keep each side on its toes. It is sometimes painful to watch, but it seems to have become one of our most popular entertainments.

Scaup Procession 

 

Reflection 5: Sunflowers

October 13, 2008

 (Copyright © 2008)

My partner lives in an apartment above her pottery studio. Bed and computer on one end, counter, stove, and refrigerator on the other, a one-room apartment with no secrets because you can see the whole space and everything in it from wherever you happen to be. I went up to get something (I forget what) and came back down so we could go for a walk. “Do you like the sunflowers?” she asked. “What sunflowers?” “In the vase on the counter.” I’d walked within six inches of them and never saw them. Not once but twice.

 

Like dying crows and crashing airplanes, consciousness can present us with figments. Too, like mustard jars and sunflowers, it can hide objects in clear view. These effects are often transitory, dependent on storylines offered as snap judgments, on expectations, on the level of attention, or what else is on our minds at the time. It’s as if consciousness had a mind of its own and sometimes played tricks on us just for fun. But of course there aren’t two minds in our heads. In the examples I have given, I am really playing tricks on myself. Consciousness and what I call my mind are really one and the same. Consciousness is my mind. There’s no tiny projection room in my head where I screen my latest takes on reality.

 

The point is that consciousness should not be taken at face value. It requires periodic checking and verification. In fact, it is wise to doubt every phenomenon that rises in the mind from any source because impostors and rip-offs—like hackers and con-men—are always with us. Even autobiographical memory is suspect. I was shocked to hear my younger brother claim that he was the one who liked Brussels sprouts when we were kids, not me. Did the good old days play as we remember them? Probably not. There’s no warrantee on childhood memories. I have a vivid recollection from when I was eighteen months old of playing with a dog under the dining room table , of climbing on a chair, then onto the table, and being held to look into a white bassinette to see my baby brother just home from the hospital. Did that really happen? If so, it would be my earliest memory. I tell the story, but I have no way of knowing if it is true.

 

Even dreams seem to be true at the time, and they can be pretty preposterous. I am always wandering around in dreamland subway stations trying to get somewhere or other. Often I don’t have change to put in the turnstile, so I go through endless doors and down endless stairs trying to get to the trains. The only reality check is to wake up, which I always do gratefully. Illusions, delusions, hallucinations, apparitions—we’re always glad to see them go. Unless they’re built into our belief system, in which case we defend them to the death.

 

These days I picture the U.S. economy as a kind of sandbox where grownups play at making a living without having to work. This kind of self-deception is more common than we like to think. Not my self-deception this time, the traders’, bankers’, and lenders’. They may claim now to have seen the collapse looming, but they stuck to their posts to make the last possible dime. Their consciousness made them do it. The phenomena dancing in their heads, driving them on to a richer life. Which now appears not to have been real. The whole show was a delusion all along.

 

The problem is a general failure to doubt the horsepower aspirations of our souped-up economy. And beyond that, to question the wisdom of so many people trying to live so high on the hog off the markets of our one little Earth. The truth is out: only ecosystems and the environment are real; the rest is sham and pretense. Evolution has geared consciousness to survival issues facing Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. It hasn’t caught up with the life situations of the twenty-first century. And won’t catch up till consciousness evolves to a yet higher stage. Which, at the rate mutations get spread around, will take millions of years, not the few decades we may have available.

 

Reality checking on a grand scale is the kind of regulation we must insist on if we are going to stretch those decades into any sort of livable future. It will have to apply to all of us, all the time. And checkers will have to check on the checkers in an endless loop. That way we can tug on our own bootstraps and not have to wait for evolution to do the dirty work for us. ¦

 

(Copyright © 2008)

In 1865, Herbert Spencer glossed Darwin’s “natural selection” as “survival of the fittest,” a phrase still ringing in our ears as self-evident truth. But if the fittest are to survive, what are they fittest to? Easy, we say, their surroundings. The natural environment. And in our human case its step-child, the cultural environment. Which raises hard questions: How are the fittest to gauge their fitness to surroundings they can only dimly entertain? Are we talking personal fitness, species fitness, genetic fitness? Is fitness a quality of life or a statistical abstraction after-the-fact?

 

From my point of view the issue is: What can consciousness tell us about the circumstances on which survival depends? I can’t know my surroundings directly because any act of perception changes everything in translating the outside world to neural terms my mind can barely understand. The natural outside world consists of trees, rivers, air, sunlight, bacteria, and their ilk; my mental apparatus consists of neurons, dendrites, axons, ions, neuro-transmitters, synapses, hormones, etc. Whatever form survival issues may take on the outside is surely lost in translation to inner awareness.

 

We idly go on believing we live in the real world, a world we can see/hear/taste/touch. We’re kidding ourselves. The whole of existence is in our personal experience, not any outer world. Life is an inside job. Coming out of a movie, we often have a sense of seeing the world for the first time. Everything is new, fresh, clear, and really strange. Movie vision takes over our seeing. But it eventually wears off. Our conventional outlook reasserts itself and everything returns to “normal.” But conventions are conventions, not reality.

 

Some people are mad about Sarah Palin because she speaks their lingo. Others see her spouting a list of talking points without substance. We fashion her image to suit ourselves. Such is consciousness. It works inside-out. The world is what we make of it. Feel of it. Dream of it. Imagine of it. More often than not, we find what we seek, not what is there. We fit the world to our preferences, prejudices, and past experiences, not vice versa. We, not the world, do the heavy selecting in deciding how we present ourselves to it.

 

Our views on Governor Palin (and others) are a reflection of who we are. Such views have little to do with any woman/mother/governor from Alaska, and say far more about us than about her. Consciousness is as consciousness does. What we get is what we give in the first place, what we look for from our point of view.

 

The street scene after the movie becomes movie-like because we project our persisting movie vision on it as if it were part of the illusory world we just sat through for two hours. Horse lovers see horses all around them. Sailors see waves, boats, and gathering storms. Expectancy is destiny. Ask any vet with PTSD. We are all experiments, broadcasting our fitness (or unfitness) for life outward in hope against hope.

 

In that way, rightly or wrongly, consciousness fits us to unanticipated life events. In novel situations, it is our primary survival tool. That’s why it has been selected for. As a guide to the unknown. Consciousness gives us the possibility of living an original life independent of reflexes, habits, and what we have been taught. It allows for judgment and imagination, equipping us to break from the herd and go our own way. As if life depended on it. Which it does.

 

What we don’t see coming is sure to get us in the end. In the meantime, proactive consciousness, if we use it wisely, gives the clearest view ahead. It puts experience, judgment, feeling, and imagination in the loop of awareness so we can do some selecting of our own and not abandon our fitness and fate entirely to our mindless genes. ¦