(Copyright © 2009)


(Note: This is a continuation of Reflection 100: The Way Ahead, Part I, which appeared Friday, May 8, 2009. –SP)


6. We must be cautious in incorporating contributions made by others into our thinking because there is often no way to verify the conditions under which those contributions were developed. No two minds are the same, much less even similar. The most coherent results flow from a single mind fully integrated within itself. If we can contribute anything at all to the study of consciousness, let it rest on the disciplined integrity of individual minds gathered within themselves. Opinions and advice from others often amount to little more than hearsay because the best part—the voyage of self-discovery—is usually left out.


7.     Consciousness is fed by concrete, highly processed sensory input being mapped onto an abstract ground of concepts nearly devoid of specific content, together with a certain emotional climate within body and mind. These sensory, conceptual, and emotional components add to a fully-funded experience within consciousness as if they were inherently inseparable in all minds. But the details range widely from person to person, each mind on its own being responsible for the combined import and meaning of the components assembled in consciousness. Often one word will be used in referring to the full assembly, while individual hearers might internally refer to very different experiences by that name. All communication based on or about consciousness must be sufficiently thorough to make room for personal differences in consciousness.


8.  Discovery of what it means to be fully conscious requires the extra step of being conscious of oneself being conscious. You have to rise above yourself and look down in awe at the workings of your own mind. How wonderful it is that we can do this, or learn to do it if we haven’t yet developed the skill. This is the gift of introspection, in which the mind observes itself within a situation of self-observation. The more hours you put in, the better you will be able to do it. No life adventure is more demanding—or potentially rewarding.


In the world revealed through introspection, a sense is gained of what it means to be humanly aware of oneself. A deep appreciation of one’s own mind is the reward, and a realization that an unexamined mind may well lead to carelessness in addressing world events. By this approach, only the mind can be known: all else is conjecture and speculation—which I suggest is the root of the crisis we are now experiencing. Thousands of pundits broadcast their views, but how many have put in the ten-thousand hours necessary to know their own minds rather than a world situation they can know only partially, and largely secondhand. Thinking about a situation is not the same as living it in personal consciousness.


9.  The world has been ruled by assertive, dominant strongmen long enough. It is time to bring a new sort of person to the fore, one who understands compassion and humility as human strengths, not weaknesses. No leader can impose civic or world order by decree. A thousand minds must work in concert to achieve order that is both durable and flexible at the same time. Dominant strongmen rule by primitive force; those who have come to terms with the fallibility of their own minds rule through compassionate understanding. What the current state of affairs clearly demonstrates is the need for less force in the world and more compassion for others.


10.     The left-brain interpreter is key to understanding why we individually do what we do, collectively resulting in the world being as it is. It is the executive function of the brain that makes sense of all that is going on in the mind in relation to one situation or another. Making sense is the mind’s chief business in coming up with a plan of action appropriate to those situations. The point of living a life is doing, then redoing, not watching from a safe distance.


     To function, the interpreter must be involved in a situation represented in consciousness. It requires a clear focus of attention, backed by a state of bodily arousal. If uninvolved, the interpreter takes a holiday. Which is how we let the world situation get away from us on so many fronts. We simply haven’t been paying attention to the many impacts we have on our cultural climate any more than on the natural world. We have delegated our oversight responsibility to others, and proceeded as if on cruise control.


     That is, we have let ourselves be distracted so that our left-brain interpreter is out of the loop regarding the cultural and environmental impacts of our behavior. A sorry state of affairs because what distracts us is often of very little consequence—like surfing the Web, watching TV, mindlessly chatting on cell phones—in general making ourselves comfortable when we should be on high alert.


     Life has become so much a matter of routine for many of us, our priorities have been turned upside down so that trivial details are high on our lists and important matters are scribbled in lightly at the bottom, if they make the cut at all. The world we live in is reduced to the world in our heads, which even though all-consuming at the moment, leaves the long-term consequences of inattention to more important matters beyond our mind’s grasp.


     Being out of the loop, our interpreters look for interesting reading, or find involvement in pithy drawings by Roz Chast or films by Woody Allen. That is, they feed vicariously on other people’s consciousness and life involvement as more interesting than their own. Such interpreters donate money to worthy causes as a proxy for taking relevant action on the home front. With the collective result that they wake up one day to find the world, the economy, and people at large in far worse shape than they had realized. Out-of-touch interpreters are incapable of planning appropriate action because they haven’t been tracking the various situations which, unattended, have collapsed.


     That is why I say we have to pay particular attention to our left-brain interpreters so they make sense of the cultural and environmental scene in a way that corresponds to the true states of affairs. Only then can we engage in activities appropriate to the messes we are actually in because we have inadvertently contributed to them by not paying attention.


     Learning to mind the personal interpreter is the primary goal of the program of consciousness study I am here advancing. I mean “mind” in two senses, 1) to pay attention to, and 2) to supervise or direct. If we can accomplish that revolution in consciousness, we can begin to undo the harm that laissez-faire consciousness has inflicted and continues to inflict on the natural and cultural worlds.


With this summary of my blog, I seem to be setting consciousness studies back 2,500 years to the days when a panel in the forecourt of Apollo’s temple at Delphi bore the inscription (in Greek), Know Thyself. But thinking about it, I realize that most of the cultural wars and disasters humanity has inflicted on itself and its planet have occurred in those two-and-a-half millennia. Maybe the Greeks were on to something that has been lost in the intervening span. We have become overawed by the material world and underawed by the wonders and follies of our minds. The rub is that we don’t hold ourselves responsible for the world because God or the gods run it as they will, while unobserved behind the scene our minds are given free rein to cavort at random as if by some unstated, basic human right. As Alexander Pope described humankind in the final couplet of his poem, Know Thyself:


Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:

The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!


The goal of the brand of consciousness study I recommend here is to update humanity’s self-image by going to the source of our problem of inattention, learning as much as we can about the workings of our left-brain interpreters, and then rebooting them with an updated list of priority situations to be dealt with through active participation so that we become less of a joke or riddle to ourselves.