Saturday, March 15, 2008

Thoughts Give Rise to Thoughts

What does it mean to think? How much of the thinking process are we aware of? It is fairly clear to me that my awareness is not the same as the thoughts in my brain, my brain, nor my body. Although that ought to be the topic of debate some other time, these are my experiences; I doubt they are unique to me.

I am sitting, clearing my mind. Like a balance, my mind wants to sway one way or another into thought. Thoughts rise from my mind to my awareness. Some are rejected and more rise. Occasionally, my mind relaxes and holds onto one of the thoughts; I am aware of only that thought as it begins to change, and I am aware of my mind following each change, down the rabbit trail, so to speak. Eventually, a thought rises reminding my mind that I am trying to clear my mind and I release my thoughts. To think and to remember, in short term at least, feels very much like I am holding onto the thought which is dictating the thinking or which is resonating the pattern describing whatever I am trying to remember, so that is how I describe it. It is as though the thought describes itself and perpetuates it's existence in my mind in the same motion.

The way in which my thoughts rise to my awareness is what interests me now. With a clear mind, my only thoughts are those which rise to my awareness. It is almost as if this clear-mind-thing is more like a thought which serves to preserve itself in my awareness. It is a thought which perpetuates itself without describing anything, rather than the absence of thought.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What does it mean to be aware?

What is it to be aware? To experience awareness? To experience? What is it to be conscious? In the dictionary, these words define one another, but none are explained. Perhaps awareness is a fundamental part of everything.

In what ways are we different from the world around us? We are made of matter, energy, as is our environment. Protons, neutrons, and electrons are assembled into atoms, which are assembled into larger structures to make our bodies and our brains. These fundamental pieces also make up the rivers, mountains, and the air we breath. Also, any part of this system we exist in can be smashed up and broken into building blocks smaller than the atoms. When we smash the atoms, we get the protons, neutrons, etc. When we smash those, we get quarks, neutrons, and a plethora of other particles. Some of these particles are without mass, but are responsible for the binding forces which hold together atoms and other aspects of our world. We are made of the same stuff that makes up the world we live in. All that is different between us physically is how we are put together.

We are made of the same things, but we are put together differently. Is this enough to say that we are not the same as our environment? That we do not share aspects of what we experience with our environment? To say this gives rise to problems which are difficult to approach if we are trying to support the idea that we are special. - Before I go further with that idea, I must explain. I can't begin to say that we, or what we experience, is not special. But, perhaps our experience of this is not unique to us alone. - What does it mean if we, through the advancement of what we call technology, create artificial life? And this is not as far fetched as it once was; we are already successfully simulating functional pieces of rat brains on small supercomputers. Our simulations act as do their biological counterparts. If, over the next few decades, we are able to simulate an entire brain and hook it up to a body so that it can interact with the world, can it be conscious?

This is a fairly macroscopic approach to the problem of consciousness and one which we can relate to. It can be difficult to think objectively when our object of consideration is closely related to how we define ourselves. (Yes, I am saying that if you don't agree with me, you're doing so out of some emotional bias! Please humor me and disregard that :-) Here is another approach to the problem of awareness:

If I walk quietly into a room where you are sitting while the lights are off so that you do not hear me enter, are you aware of me? I expect not. What is different when the lights are on or if I thump my feet as I walk? If the lights are on when I enter, the light will reflect off of my skin and into your eyes and you will become aware that I have entered the room. If I stomp my feet as I enter, sound waves will ripple out through the air and cause your eardrums to vibrate making you aware of me. It is through the effect I have on you that you become aware of me. Cause and effect. What other sorts of things are subject to cause and effect? What things are not? I can't conceive any that aren't. If two molecules of air travel coincidental paths and bump each other, their paths and energies are affected. During the moments in which they are close enough to have an effect on each other, are they not aware of one another? Perhaps not conceptually, but maybe through experience. We humans experience and are affected by many things that we have no conceptual knowledge of. We do not need to understand to experience and be aware of the things that affect us.