Awareness – Self Awareness – Self Consciousness

Friday, November 7th, 2008 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

You’ve learned to examine your awareness of your perception, but you are of course aware of things other than your perceptions. As well as being aware of things you perceive from the world, you’re also aware of things going on inside your head. You’re aware of your emotions, your thoughts, your evaluations of yourself. This we term “Self Consciousness”.

Much has been written on what “the self” actually is, what exactly people mean by “I” when they say “I believe in god” or “I don’t like maths” or “I can has cheezeburger?”, much of it barely coherent pseudo-philosophical rambling nonsense and most of it contradicting the rest. In the opinion of the Transcendence Institute probably Hofstadter or Dennet are about as close to an answer as anyone is, but for our purposes it really isn’t important what “The Self” is. It’s not important because you don’t need to know what “the self” is in order to become more aware of your self consciousness and the way it effects your actions. For our purposes, we’re going to use “Self Consciousness” to refer to your own brain’s monitoring systems. Circuits in the brain which are directed at the brain itself, ‘senses’ feeding back information about a brain’s state back into that brain. These systems surely exist, and whether or not they are what your local street preaching philosopher or the guru in the temple means when they say “Self”, it’s all that we mean. Just your own awareness of your mood, emotions and mental processes.

When you look out into the world and focus your attention on the shadow cast by the light falling from and sparkling off of an object you are not directly aware of each photon exciting a rod or cone at the back of your eye. You can’t even tell the absolute magnitude of the intensity of the light at any point. You barely even notice when your eyes succade from one part of that object to another. Your awareness of the image is an awareness of higher levels of abstraction than these base inputs. Not photon impacts and wavelengths but lines and shape and form.

The same is true of your internal senses, your self consciousness. You are not aware of the adrenaline molecules affecting neuron firing rates. You’re not aware of the growth of synapses or some pattern-recognition system’s current recognition strength. The information that you do get comes in the form of moods or vague gut feelings, things like weariness or nervousness or excitement or trains of thought.

And just as you have learned to focus on and pay more attention to your external perceptions by concentrating on them and practising, so the same techniques will help you to learn to listen more closely to those internal perceptions which tell you not about the greater world, but about your own state.

Try it now. Concentrate for a moment on your mood. Are you happy? Distracted? Engrossed? Bored? Drunk? Excited? Just as you’ve learned to turn down one sound to emphasise another, so turn down everything else and listen to your own internal feelings. Of course our guided meditation this month will help you do that for a few minutes.

The meditation will take you through some visualisations, and three times you will be asked to spend a minute examining your own internal state, to really pay attention to how much you do or do not feel a particular trait.

Why?

As you practise paying attention to your self consciousness more, you’ll get better at it, you’ll be less likely to hammer on a door saying “I am not fucking angry” because you’ll realise that in fact you are. You’ll be more willing to concede that you’re hurt or stressed or tense if you learn to better recognise the subtleties of those emotions.

Knowing your own mood is invaluable in daily life. It can help you to better understand your own actions, even to control them. Asking yourself “Am I just angry?” and learning to notice when you are can be enough to stop you getting into an unwise fight or argument. It can help you to both understand your behaviour and to change it if and where needed, to compensate for bias.

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