What Do We Mean By Human Consciousness?

C.S. McClellan By C.S. McClellan, 28th Dec 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Society & Issues

One of the most basic human assumptions is that we all share the same kind of consciousness. Even when we accept that different cultures produce very different kinds of people, we prefer to believe that there is a fundamental something called human consciousness.

Science and Misfits

I have to resort to the vague fundamental “something,” because there is actually little agreement as to exactly what consciousness is. Science, which we look to to solve such problems, has actually made the task of defining it ever more difficult. Unexpectedly, the increasingly sophisticated studies in cognition are whittling away at the idea of a fundamental commonality.

The personal testimony of people who, in one way or another, differ quite drastically from the norm in the kind and quality of their consciousness, is also making a dent in the concept of commonality.
The term “neurotypical” has come to refer to the mass of people who possess what we would call “normal” or typical consciousness: neurologically typical. It began as a way to distinguish “normal” from the neurological functioning seen on the autistic spectrum. It gradually came to include, as it should, anyone who sees the world through a different set of filters and reacts to it in atypical ways.

What Are You Seeing?

If two people are watching a television program or a movie, we assume that they are both seeing the same thing. This is just one of the areas where both science and self-observation (since this is a personal examination of the problem) are telling me something very different — that what the two people are seeing may not be remotely similar.

An example: As a rule, I don’t care much for television series, and that includes mystery/crime programs. But every once in a while, back when I still watched TV, I would hear about a series that sounded interesting, and check it out, by renting from Netflix. One of those was “Wire in the Blood,” which I liked because it was edgy and dark, and character-driven. Disappointingly, much of what I liked about the first few episodes was toned down significantly, in very much the same way that “Dexter” was toned down to be more in line with mainstream tastes. I still enjoyed it, but not quite as much.

At the end of one episode of Wire in the Blood, Tony Hill, the main character, arrived at the scene of several murders while the killer was still there, and confronted him. I had no idea whether he had figured out where the killer would strike next or whether it was sheer coincidence that he happened to be there at the right time. What had just happened? Knowing that Tony’s deep insight into the mind was the key to his success, I had to believe that his presence was actually explained and I’d missed it. Something that had been in my peripheral awareness suddenly came into clear focus — I didn’t watch this type of program for the plot. I often missed important statements about what was going on. I would wind up not really understanding why things happened as they did.

What Am I Seeing?

So, what was I seeing instead of plot and the clues to what would happen next?

Faces — Is the actor’s face interesting to look at and does it express the appropriate emotions?
Voices — What is distinctive about the actors’ voices, and do they express the appropriate emotions?

Interactions — the shifting relationships between the characters.

Psychological plausibility — Is there something in the script that violates the established traits or psychological profile of a character?

I became aware that my attention homed in on factors which often gave plot a low priority. Because I’m skilled in pattern identification, and have a very low tolerance for repetition, the minute variations in a limited number of plot lines would lose my interest fairly fast. This reaction is the direct opposite of the species-normal preference for familiarity spiced with novelty.

Keep it Familiar, Keep it Stable

People put up with routine, not because they have no choice about it, but because it’s preferable to living in what they perceive as a disorganized and chaotic world. That preference tends to operate in every sphere of life. A television series can go on for many years without any serious loss of fans, simply by introducing regular infusions of novelty, no matter how superficial. Novelty covers up the recycling of old TV plots and enlivens the sameness of everyday life. It also helps maintain the status quo by distracting attention from issues that those in power would prefer to be overlooked. Much of what we label as news is nothing more a handful of themes presented over and over again with enough variations to make them seem new. And while our attention is fixed on them, the real news can safely go on in the background.

Images: Public domain, morguefile.com


Consciousness, Culture, Neurotypical, Psychology, Society, Status Quo, Television

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author avatar Retired
28th Dec 2014 (#)

Not only is there no agreement on consciousness, there's no agreement on what reality is.

We're definitely in trouble as human beings!

Thanks for posting some interesting and consciously written pieces, although you might get an argument about whether what you're saying is real. ( !!! )

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author avatar C.S. McClellan
28th Dec 2014 (#)

We might question not only whether what I'm saying is real, but whether you and I are real.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
28th Dec 2014 (#)

I get a feeling often we are in a dream phase only to wake up to reality later. We are clothed to withstand the elements here and the true self will be known only when the body is uncovered. We have no choice but to dream on and do good as per our inner awareness - siva

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author avatar C.S. McClellan
28th Dec 2014 (#)

I accept that as a viable philosophy -- for others. My own take is that we have to wake up in this life or not at all.

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author avatar GV Rama Rao
28th Dec 2014 (#)

Consciousness varies from person to person. It may vary with the context also. It doesn't obey any empirical or other type of formula.

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