I have covered a lot of ground in getting this far with my blog telling the inside story of consciousness. I here offer an opportunity to see that journey not as a sequence of hesitant steps, but as an adventure entire in itself. Here are a few bulleted reminders of the stages I have passed through.

  • Consciousness is a collaborative effort between mind, body, and world. It intercedes between perception and action, and can be bypassed by reflex thinking, rote learning, mimicry, habits, routines, prejudice, and ideology.
  • Solving the world puzzle from the perspective provided by our minds is a matter of conjecture based on personal experience, not knowledge, not truth.
  • Perception provides not a glimpse of the world so much as a heightened impression of the world from a particular wayfarer’s point of view.
  • Like Plato, we all share in the common failing of mistaking our personal solution to the world puzzle for the way the world really is. Our beliefs are custom-made for true believers (that is, ourselves, who couldn’t be more earnest).
  • The more ardently we hold our beliefs, the more likely we are to be wrong.
  • Expectancy and recognition reveal the participation of memory in perception.

No matter how finely we resolve the tissues of the brain, consciousness will elude us because it is an ongoing process of engagement between our minds, actions, and the world.

  • Attention is the gateway to consciousness. It is aroused by a delta signal stemming from a sense of discrepancy between what we expect or hope for and what actually happens.
  • From the outset, all awareness is polarized as being either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, satisfying or dissatisfying, right or wrong, true or false.
  • It takes persistence and concentration to explore the forbidden middle ground between the two poles of awareness.
  • The engagements that link us to our worlds couple perception to meaningful judgment to fitting action on one or more levels of nature, culture, community, and family, which in turn affects our attention and stimulates sensory perception.
  • Our engagements are told by the situations they create in our minds as made up of various dimensions of intelligence such as memory, sensory impressions, understanding, feelings, motivations, biological values, humor, imagination, temperament, interest, thought, and available energy (what I refer to as the life force).
  • Language in the form of speech, writing, thought, and comprehension flows from the situations we find ourselves in when we experience the urge to speak or to listen.

As a writer, I have long wondered where words come from. I now feel that our situated intelligence shapes our current situation from the dimensions of personal awareness (or intelligence) aroused in a given moment of experience. In being conscious, it is just those situations that we become conscious of, and subsequently respond to.

  • All life engages its surroundings in an ongoing exchange of matter and energy. It is the job of our minds to monitor how that exchange is going, and to feed-forward to judgment a selection of options for how we might respond. For good or ill—and engagements can strike us either way—we must engage in order to find our place in the world.
  • We are linked and anchored to our worlds by a spectrum of ongoing (often simultaneous) engagements. It is essential for us to keep up with what is happening around us. Hence we live in a world of media all striving to influence and inform us from their respective points of view.
  • Time is a calibrated sense of change that is not of our doing; space is a calibrated sense of change resulting from our own actions. Spacetime is a calibrated sense of change resulting from our simultaneously doing and perceiving at once.
  • Ownership and possessiveness are attitudes toward persons and objects with which we meaningfully engage in being fully ourselves. Money is a tool we use to engage on cultural terms. The law is our culture’s effort to regulate the conduct of our engagements so that each of us enjoys equal freedom and opportunity in pursuit of our personal goals.
  • Freedom is an opportunity to engage the world with full respect for the integrity of each of its inhabitants, whether plant, animal, or human.
  • Baseball, Roget’s Thesaurus, and the stars provide examples of aspects of the world puzzle we are apt to engage with in our search for personal happiness. There is no limit to the importance we project onto such personal engagements as primary shapers of our lives.

I view my personal consciousness as culminating in the image of a wayfarer finding his way among others who are making their own ways for themselves. Our respective journeys are so varied and personal, I identify with each wayfarer in taking on the challenge of finding a way forward from wherever she or he is at any given stage of life.

The task each one of us faces is solving the world puzzle in a meaningful way for ourselves, while respecting other solutions for other wayfarers on journeys of their own.


(Copyright © 2009)


Something I’m supposed to do flits into my mind for a tenth of a second, then is gone and I can’t remember what it was. I try to recreate the situation that brought it to mind, but often can’t figure what that situation might have been. This happens all the time. So I make lists of things to do. As I get something done, I cross it off. And keep adding new items as they come to mind.


Is my consciousness failing? Am I on the skids? I don’t know, but I think I’ve always been like this—even in school. I’ve been a listmaker ever since I can remember. I was so square in high school I got into the habit of writing down lists of each night’s homework; my version of pleasure being to cross each one off as I finished it. Now I have scraps all over my apartment reminding me of things to do—some are six months old. I’ve never gotten around to reminding myself to throw old lists away.


Here’s a list I found this morning. It seems to be about three weeks old. Old enough for me to have checked off almost everything on it. My handwriting isn’t that neat so I retype it here:


ü Negs to Eric Fri  [re. scanning of aerial photos]

ü 10:00 Kate McDonald  [re. drymount eelgrass poster]

ü John Sowles re poster  [fyi e-mail]

ü Newsletter Articles  [aerial photo, shorebirds, update]

ü send Hilary blurb  [e-mail poster abstract for program]

ü bank deposit  [royalty check]

û Charlie Todd eagle report e-mail  [no reply]

ü 2008 aerial mosaic w. S. Sjoberg  [re. membership perq.]

ü TBAG update  [re. January advisors meeting]

ü e-mail Jon Lewis summer meet, July 9 [re. program]

ü Shorebirds—J. Sowles, Margi Huber  [re. monitoring]

û Eric digitize aerials Fri.  [duplicate reminder]

ü floss  [shopping]

ü bananas  [“]

ü onions  [“]

ü Dove  [“]

ü cashew butter  [I’m allergic to peanut butter]

ü corn thins  [I’m allergic to wheat]

û bananas  [duplicate reminder]


Since my lists depend on jotting down items as I think of them, they have a free-form feel that transcends any kind of order or priority. I include just enough detail to remind me of what I mean, and that’s good enough.


What interests me about such lists is their relationship to consciousness. I generate them almost at random, whenever I think of something I want to do and am afraid I’ll forget. Such lists are made out of a sense of duty or responsibility, not passion. If they were driven by passion, I would remember them. Without that extra oomph, items tend not to outlast the duration of short-term memory. If I don’t write them down within seconds, they’re gone.


To get them back, I have to recreate or simulate the situation in which each item is important. If I can recall that setting or context, then very often the item springs to mind without further prompting. It’s just that I keep jumping from one situation to another faster than working memory can keep up with me. So various unremarkable items fall into the cracks in-between like so many crumbs.


Several of the items I wish to remember are leftovers from various meetings I have attended. The 7th item concerning Charlie Todd is a reminder to e-mail him about the breeding success of eagles in Taunton Bay for the 2008 season. Charlie is an endangered species biologist for the state, and he is the best source of current information because he flies over most of the eagle nests in Maine several times a year and knows what he’s talking about. He is also extremely busy. The editor of Friends of Taunton Bay Newsletter asked me for an eagle update at our February meeting. Once such meetings are over, I tend not to think of them until the next one. So I make notes to myself to do what I said I’d do to avoid showing up a month later empty-handed.


The Jon Lewis item 3 below Charlie Todd came from the same meeting. I was to ask him if he would talk us through an underwater video he made for an oyster aquaculture lease application. I’d seen the video at an aquaculture lease hearing, and suggested it as the basis for a program at our annual membership meeting in July. Here I am trying to be responsible once again. If I don’t write such requests down where I will see them, I never think of them again because I’m on to something else.


So goes everyday life from chore to chore. At least some days that’s how it seems. Left to steering my own consciousness toward activities that are meaningful to me, I would dispense with everything else in order to concentrate on jobs I am passionate about. Those I remember on my own because the flow of my life is all the situation I need to keep them at the front of my mind.


What I see now is that to-do lists create a wholly new situation expressly for the sake of remembering an assortment of items relevant to a variety of situations having nothing to do with one another. Things-to-do becomes a meta situation subtending all lesser situations. My consciousness came up with that strategy on its own. Yours probably did, too. How creative is that! And it works. Putting everything down on one list creates a situation that prods our minds to act. It works because there is an emotional impetus associated with putting something on that super list. Which makes it easier to recall later on. Too, there is satisfaction in the act of crossing items off one by one. Amazing, how consciousness monitors itself.


To-do lists, then, are definitely in the feedback loop by which consciousness engages the mysterious world. Even though my personal habitat—my apartment—is a mess, I get a lot done on various fronts because of such lists. Jotting things down involves physical effort and discipline as an aid to remembering them. And seeing the list provides visual input that serves the same purpose.


In The Mind of a Mnemonist, Luria gives details of situations his patient, a memory expert, creates in order to remember incredibly detailed series of things to recall. He visualized street scenes in his mind, and draped visual clues to encounter as he would stroll along, encountering one clue after another. Trouble was, he cluttered his mind with such scenes and could never get rid of them. Me, I merely clutter up my apartment, then conveniently lose each list under layers of new lists. Either I’ve seen to every item—or it’s too late now to remember what I haven’t done.