Consciousness – Sentience – Sentience

Friday, January 16th, 2009 at 8:09 am.
by pre.

Smash yourself in the face with a book. As hard as you dare. A bit harder than you dare if you can manage it. Make yourself feel pain. Really. It will be instructive. It will be helpful if you read the rest of this article with a fresh memory of what it’s like to feel a smack in the face.

Your sentience is the reason why pain hurts. It’s why if you followed instructions your face even now still tingles, still has little micro-bursts of intense demand for your attention.

Of course sentience isn’t only about pain. Yes, it’s the reason why pain hurts, but it’s also the reason that joy is joyful, pleasure is pleasurable and ecstasy ecstatic. It’s why you feel a drive to get up in the morning (or, indeed, a drive to stay in bed when you should get up). It makes the difference between a philisophical zombie and a real person. Between an automaton and a being.

Directing Sentience

You’ve already been exploring perception awareness, which is one special case of sentience. You’ve been trying to increase the degree to which you’re aware of your perception. You’ve also looked at mood awareness which is also an example of sentience. You’ve tried to learn to manipulate that sense, control your mood by paying attention to the things which make your mood change.

These two examples have taught you that by focusing your awareness onto something you begin to understand it more deeply. Not necessarily on an intellectual or verbal level, but on a visceral level, in the gut. Not the way you understand how to calculate simultaneous ballistic equations but the (in some ways deeper) level on which you understand how to catch a ball.

What Is Sentience?

Humanity still has very little objective idea what sentience, subjective experience, might be. What it’s made of, how it works. At the Transcendence Institute we’d hazard it’s some kind of pattern in a feedback network, but that’s certainly too simple to explain it and nobody really knows in any detail at this point. It is clear however that it’s related to attention, to learning, to the mind’s way of improving itself. It is certainly a survival trait and therefore subject to natural selection.

This explains why pain hurts: To get your attention onto the thing which has to be attended to right now. It explains why pleasure is so attention grabbing, why desire so driving.

It does not explain how these things operate on a cellular, or molecular level. For that you will have to wait, or join the search for understanding by becoming a molecular biologist.

It does not explain why it feels the way it feels, for this you will doubtless have to wait even longer, or join the information theorists or perhaps the neuroscientists or more likely some discipline not even invented yet.

However it does hint at ways in which you can learn to control your consciousness. Ways you can use your sentience to improve your sentience.

You know that the things that you apply your awareness to, you learn about. So you will learn to direct your awareness onto the fact of your awareness. You’ll learn to feel your pleasure more deeply, your pain more exquisitely, your joy more joyously, all by directing your attention at the fact of your experiencing those experiences.

You’ll be directed through this, and more, during our next meditation.

Next week we’ll see what happens when you apply sentience to itself, when you spend a lot of your attention trying to understand your attention. When your sentience grows into sapience.