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What would it be like to be more or less conscious?

  1. Aug 13, 2010 #1
    What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    I think consciusness is on a continuum and that brings up some questions. I think everyone would agree that in some way lower lifeforms, while conscious, are "less" conscious than we are. A dog is less conscious than you. A flea is less conscious than a dog. A microbe is less conscious than a flea. At each level they have less introspection, less analysis, a smaller range of thoughts, less "smartitude".

    In what others ways might they be less conscious? What would it feel like if you were less conscious?

    More interestingly to me, what would it feel like if you were more conscious? What does that mean? Perhaps more access to the functions of your brain that are normally unconscious? Maybe like the ability to control your own heartbeat, or conscious access to the processes occuring while asleep.

    Are autistic savants more conscious since they seem to have access to things that perhaps are hidden from the rest of us?
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2010
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  3. Aug 13, 2010 #2


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    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    This is how I imagine it:
    I think self-consciousness plays an important role. If we can imagine degrees of self-consciousness, and a state of the complete absence of self-consciousness, I think the task is easier. If a creature is not self-conscious, perhaps its thoughts are exclusively focused on the surroundings. In that case it is easier to imagine lesser degrees of awareness by imagining weaker sensory experience and less capacity to understand the dynamic mechanism of the immediate surroundings.

    Now, suppose you are forced to intensively focus on your surroundings, as if you were escaping in fear or desperately looking for something. You are in a larger degree disallowing your thoughts to reflect on the self as an entity. Higher intensitivity will result in lesser degree of self-reflection and self-consciousness, and taken to the extreme it will be comparable to a creature lacking self-consciousness.
  4. Aug 14, 2010 #3
    I share this view and I hope that this will be proven while we are alive. Until then we can only speculate. Personally I think while you are under stress, you are actually less conscious. If you meditate you can achieve different forms of consciousness too, which should have lower value than your normal state (time passes quicker as you forget about it). Maybe it has something to do with generated information pro second too. Before different incidents a lot of people report that "thousands of things gone through their mind for less than a second" (time passes slower). Maybe in that period of time this person was more conscious. Or maybe there is a cap of our species consciousness (http://www.questforconsciousness.com/conscious.html). As for autistic savants, I highly doubt that their degree of consciousness is the same as ours.
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  5. Aug 14, 2010 #4
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    Consciousness is often a product of exposure to different situations. Someone who has worked in food service or retail, for example, has a very different consciousness of what is going on in a restaurant or store than someone who is only conscious of the consumption environment and the professional behavior of the personnel. Similarly, you can probably remember being a child and having a very limited consciousness of things based on your immediate interest in them. Really, this interest-limitation continues in adulthood but adults have stronger tactics for denying the relevance of consciousness that doesn't directly appeal to their interests. The current green-movement and the way people respond to calls for conservation or consciousness of resource scarcity demonstrate this.

    In fact, there is reason to believe that people are happiest when their consciousness is minimized. For example, someone who has had recurrent car trouble and has learned to pay attention to certain noises, fluid levels, temperature level, etc. drives less care-free than a teenager who just races around without concern for fuel-economy, wear and tear on parts, safety, etc. Nevertheless, although ignorance/unconsciousness is bliss in this sense, it also makes people more susceptible to problems that they cannot control. So, for example, children or adults who aren't conscious of how things work are subject to frantic grasping at straws when things malfunction. Their only hope is to have access to enough money to be able to replace or otherwise pay someone to fix any problem they encounter in life - which explains why there is so much frantic clamoring and manipulation for money all the time. Money, among other things, facilitates the ability to live well despite relative ignorance and unconsciousness.
  6. Aug 17, 2010 #5
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    +100. I love this idea and I think you may be on to something. If you are in the zone, you can't be thinking about how unhappy you are.
  7. Aug 17, 2010 #6
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    True, but there's a catch. Namely, if you are aware that there's something to make you unhappy that you are blocking from your consciousness, then you will be unhappy because you're not at peace with whatever that is. So consciousness is not something you can actively block out. Once you are conscious of something, you have to figure out a way to make peace with it. Without that peace, you are in a war of repression against consciousness, which does NOT produce happiness.
  8. Aug 20, 2010 #7
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    I do not think that being less conscious makes us happy, per se. I think being less self-conscious makes us happy. When you're 'in the zone', you're still very conscious -- in fact, you're hyper-engaged and thus hyper-conscious. But you lack cognizance of your consciousness.
    Note that I'm defining consciousness here as consciousness of something, not as self-awareness. Thinking about what your mind is just feels like pointing the camera at the screen, so-to-speak. Useful mental exercise, but ultimately consciousness of self seems like a roadblock to being really conscious (by the above definition).

    So the answer to OP's question, I think, is this: go try some speed.

    But seriously, compare your groggy morning-state to what you feel like during the afternoon (or whenever your optimal arousal time is - for me it's about 4:00 AM :rofl: ). Being 'more conscious than usual' would be to your optimal arousal what your optimal arousal is to being groggy.

    When self-discovery types talk about meditation and Zen and whatnot, this is what they're referring to - becoming 'more conscious' by becoming less self-conscious, ultimately achieved by training yourself to focus.
  9. Aug 20, 2010 #8
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    Good point - well explained. But it actually suggests why self-reflection is a useful method to achieving better non-self-conscious consciousness. The reason is that somehow people get trained to identify with externalities (this includes aspects of their subjectivity they have learned to externalize) in terms of self. So many people have difficulty being conscious of almost anything without becoming self-conscious when some part of what they perceive comes into question. I.e. they're passionately non-objective, taking almost everything personally - often even the very claim that they are non-objective. Think about how many people you know who feel personally insulted if you question their objectivity. Most people are consumed with self-consciousness in this sense.

    Self-reflection allows you to come to the realization that the things you identify with as you "self" are really just ideological constructions that your ego identifies with, causing you to take things personally. I don't think it is possible to totally overcome the part of the mind that identifies and takes things personally, but I do think that rigorous exercises in self-reflection can help people overcome a great deal of personal identification that interrupts consciousness and eclipses it with self-consciousness.
  10. Aug 20, 2010 #9
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    Do LSD and you'll realize what "more" is like. :P
  11. Aug 20, 2010 #10
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    I think using LSD just causes people to be overwhelmed with cognitive activity to the point of rejecting the benefits of increased consciousness. I think this is why so many people who were/are "hippies" embrace emotionalism and intuition and reject more cognitive approaches to reasoning. It is unfortunate, imo, that LSD was promoted as being "consciousness enhancing" when the ultimate effect was to reduce consciousness and discourage it as overwhelming. How can people achieve peace-of-mind with greater consciousness if they only associate it with hallucination?
  12. Aug 20, 2010 #11


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    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    I'm pretty sure I'm less conscious in the morning right when I wake up. I'm also pretty sure that our general level of consciousness fluctuates already throughout the day, so we more-or-less know what it's like to be more-or-less conscious.
  13. Aug 21, 2010 #12
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    But think of what it would be like to not understand any physics of anything going on around you. You would just see things without being conscious of what or how. Like kids are amazed by carbonation or prisms or whether cars are powered by squirrels running in wheels.
  14. Aug 21, 2010 #13
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    I'm not sure if something like knowledge of physics is the same thing as consciousness. I could imagine a situation where one was more knowledgeable about physics, but less consciouss overall.

    The only thing I can think of that felt like more/less conscious was my personal experiences with MDMA. I would say that being under the influence of MDMA felt like being "more" conscious then normal, which is also a reason I would not recommend it. (The effect from initial experiences can not be repeated, and being aware that normal experience is "less" then a possible state of being is a bit of a bummer.)
  15. Aug 23, 2010 #14
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    I think it is more like physics, or other knowledge, can help raise your consciousness/awareness of certain things that were always happening "right under your nose." A middle-school teacher was telling me, for example, that she asked students to study their toilets and write down how they thought they worked. She said the responses she got for this assignment were widely varied. Probably many of the students had never thought about what causes a toilet to flush. Someone who understand physics, however, might be able to assess how the toilet actually works and would therefore be conscious of more than someone who just knows that it does work and leaves it at that.
  16. Aug 23, 2010 #15
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    Hm, interesting thread. So it seems we got three aspects we're discussing:
    S: Selfconsciousness
    C: Consciousness (of your surroundings)
    A: Awareness (without necessarily realizing it, esp. when you're working on instincts)

    Interestingly enough, due to earlier comments, it indeed seems like higher S will generally reduce A (and maybe C); lower animals, on the other hand, are very aware, yet completely lacking in S. It also seems like C can only appear when S is present, implying you're somehow relating the exterior world to your self.
    Imagine being called up in the middle of the night; at first you'll probably stumble around the room not sure where you are or what you're actually hearing. But I suppose the confusion isn't elementary, because I can imagine someone picking up the phone (which constitutes a non-confused orderly movement) but still being without a genuine S and thus also no C; everything seems to be pure A. The funny thing is that we generally can't remember A if it was without C. Or is our memory divided so that only conscious experience can be consciously recollected?

    Would it be fair to say every living (vaguely defined) thing has A yet only we have S?

    EDIT: as for the subdebate about physics: what about a computer having all physical knowledge attainable by us? It would not suffice for an S. Then again, it might be a moot point as people were saying it could heighten S, but not initiate it. But clearly a general student cramming all physics knowledge in his head won't experience a heightened S (much like a computer...), yet I would somehow have to agree that someone taking in physics with a fresher look could gain S, but then what constitutes a fresher look? It might be an empty statement, because that "fresher look" probably implies a consciousness of the universal principles that the physical knowledge seems to bring, thus explaining nothing unless it bites its own tail.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2010
  17. Aug 23, 2010 #16
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    Last edited: Aug 23, 2010
  18. Aug 23, 2010 #17


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    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    No, Mr Vodka got the divisions right. Humans have the extra skill of instrumental self-awareness through speech and socialisation. Then biological awareness divides into attention and habit.

    So there is a three-way complexity here that makes the OP an incoherent question. Or at least we have to separate out each of the three kinds of "mindfulness" and talk about them individually.

    For instance, greater attention - does that mean your experience is narrower because it is more focused?

    Or greater habit - does that mean you are less self-aware because you are acting in more automatic "fire and forget" fashion and so less able to self-report?
  19. Aug 23, 2010 #18
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    Greater attention, is your experience narrower. Intriguing. I would have to say no. For example, while you are driving in a vehicle you lose control and strike a tree. As your vehicle motioned toward the point of impact you were focused on the tree. While you did not see the entire event taking place your narrowed focus still engulfed your senses, your awareness of the event. Your awareness, your narrower view, was filled with the experience.

    Fire and forget would fall under the same as instinct correct? you react then think, however, you aren't really. Your 'reaction' is based on your mind devising a plan in seconds on how to react to any particular situation. Are you less self aware at that moment, perhaps. As you fall down the stairs are you thinking 'this is going to hurt' or 'where do I grab to stop myself'. Actually, neither. You are consumed by the moment. In the case of a longer event however you have time to think, react and even prevent the event.

    Hmm, I think I have strayed :) sorry.
  20. Aug 23, 2010 #19
    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

  21. Aug 23, 2010 #20


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    Re: What would it be like to be "more" or "less" conscious?

    You could read for example....

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