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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On being conscious

Is this a picture of a real place, or a simulated reality?

It was a book on modern art that did it. Must have back around 82, the squat on New North Road. The book was Mark (Wilson/ Mob)'s . Can't remember what the hell was in the book, but on my journey back home, down in the tube station at midnight there was a huge advertising poster. Its edge was torn and I could see layer upon layer of all the previous adverts exposed like geological layers. I looked down and saw rubbish scattered on the platform and - BANG - it was all art!
It was as if I was having a lucid dream whilst wide awake, a sudden heightening / deepening of perception and awareness. As if the dingy dark tube station had been wrenched out of its context and placed in an art gallery, as if the randomness of everyday life had become intentional - the poster purposively torn, the rubbish thoughtfully placed.

I had a similar experience tonight, walking up a short path along a filled in and grassed over railway cutting. But rather than art, the experience was one of a heightened awareness of 'being conscious', of aliveness. Over the years I have got used to such flashes so whilst enwrapped in the experience, I also tried to understand it. I wondered what was going on in my brain - if a brain scan at that moment would show different parts of the brain 'lighting up'?

And how unique was this heightening of awareness of being conscious? Is consciousness subjective or objective? Are such moments always private , interior and personal - or can they ever be shared? Beyond these thoughts, others lurked - Ramsay Dukes/ Lionel Snell's Johnstone's Paradox - the world as a simulation (as in The Matrix and PK Dick etc).

But could any simulation of reality contain so much data? A tangle of vegetation borders the path, growing on the old railway cutting - which I can remember from when it still was a railway cutting 40 years ago- and the edges had been roughly cut back from the path. A tangle of grasses and nettles, brambles and weeds lay in a yard wide strip, the dead vegetation already turning brown and yellow. The path itself a strip of tarmac, but overlaid with patches of moss, green in winter, but brown in summer. Here and there the dried up moss has begun to flake off the tarmac in small sections. I saw a few wild raspberries amongst the ash saplings and picked a handful, savouring their bitter sweetness.

Can any simulation of reality be so real?
What about dreams? Occasionally, in moments of lucid dreaming, I have tried to compare the texture, the feel of dream reality with waking reality. For a few seconds it has felt real, but the attempt always seems to break the dream and I wake to find the handful of dream soil I had grasped has vanished.

And yet...
Dream houses, dream places, dreamscapes - all are simulated creations, are 'mindstuff' made physical, made flesh. Where is the consciousness of the dreamer in the dream? Or should that be of the sleeper in the dream? Surely 'consciousness' in the dream is equally in all parts - in the person of the dream self/ dream selves, but no less in the dream world around the person.

There is a theory, unproven, perhaps unprovable, that 'consciousness' is a fundamental property, right up/ down with matter, energy, space and time. So that our brains do not somehow generate or create consciousness, but receive and amplify a consciousness which is embedded in reality.

Thus there is no 'individual' consciousness as such. Instead there is a collective and all -embracing consciousness. The sense of having a personal consciousness is therefore a product of memory and experience. Can I come up with an analogy? Maybe in the way that although every human shares a distinct set of genes, each individual is also unique.

I don't know. It is difficult to get away from the feeling that 'my' consciousness is like a light from within shining out into the world around me and illuminating it. Sometimes, like tonight, or that night 23 years ago, it blazes forth incandescently, other times it is but a flickering candle casting shadows everywhere.
It does feel as if, when I can turn the focus inward and/ or outward in the right way, that the individual aspect vanishes and....? A wordless, language less state of being emerges and merges with a seething chaotic quantum ocean which is / is not identical with the 'world', with 'reality'.

Maybe such experiences are equivalent to the 'waking from a lucid dream' ? I have had dreams which flowed smoothly and unbroken from 'being asleep and dreaming' to 'being awake and conscious'. I can, given a bit of private space and time, make the similar shift from waking self-consciousness into waking non-self- consciousness. I have even tried to maintain that state through into 'public' space and time but it doesn't last for long. It is like the lucid dreaming problem. Just as trying to test the boundaries of lucid dreaming leads to waking up, so the need to maintain functionality in social consensus reality leads to the forgetting of non-self -consciousness. One might as well try and walk around naked (like the guy who keeps trying to walk naked from Lands End to John o' Groats) as try to stay ego less in social reality. We need to wear our ego masks just as we need to wear clothes if we are to function and exist in everyday life.

The best that can be said is that by thinking of the ego, the social self, as a mask, as a suit of clothes, that mask can be adapted and changed. The self becomes a chameleon. Or is that too passive a mode? What if, to quote Zounds, one wishes to 'subvert' everyday life : " If you've got a job, you can be an agent and work for revolution in your place of employment" ?

Yeah, well, maybe. Never quite worked out that way when I worked for London Rubber. Now it is late and I need to return to social reality and go to sleep so I can do my parenting /caring stuff tomorrow.


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