Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Consciousness: Its Limited and Limitless Qualities

Posted by Jerry on June 16, 2006

An interesting facet of human consciousness is its eagerness to maintain its consciousness endlessly. In other words, we humans, generally, like to be conscious. We like to experience the experience of experiencing. (!?!)

Well, lets look at it in concrete terms. We all know that there are limits to our consciousness, i.e., we are not aware when we are unconscious. We are not particularly conscious when we are in a sub-conscious (dream-like or drug-induced haziness) state. And we are certainly not conscious in death. Moreover, in some ways and to some extent, being unconscious is the same as being dead.

Nevertheless, as humans, and given the nature of our consciousness, we are constantly speculating about the nature of death, unconsciousness, and sub-consciousness, and projecting our biases borne out of our conscious states into those of the non-conscious or sub-conscious states.

For example, we think about death as if it matters to us is some way; we might wonder what death is like–as if there is something about death to be experienced (i.e., to be conscious about). We think about what will happen to people around us after we die, like our families and friends, as if it would affect us in some ways after our death, or as if we would even know their fate after we die. It’s like we project our conscious experiences of life and thoughts into states and situations where they simply cannot belong.

Yet, I think we possess an adamant predilection to speculate about that enigmatic, unconscious state. It seems to me that we do not respect the metaphysical limits of our consciousness, i.e., the fact that we are not eternally conscious beings, that physical existence is ontologically prior to consciousness, that consciousness and unconsciousness are polar opposites and one has not even a trace of the other, that consciousness ends where unconsciousness or non-existence begins. [the formulation of this phrase is at best awkward, and at worst incorrect. But I cannot think of how to reword the idea without changing its impact and meaning].

It also seems to me that we in fact succumb almost entirely to the epistemic limitlessness of our consciousness. By that I mean, our consciousness is unlimited in its epistemic reach: there are no limits or boundaries to what we can think about, what we can dream about, what we can imagine or recreate, what we can speculate about, etc. (provided of course, that existence exists–which is the very fact I argue we most often ignore or forget). [For qualifications to this fact, see Musings on Metaphysics.]

Thus, it is because we do not respect or recognize the fact of the former (consciousness is metaphysically limited) but succumb to the latter (epistemically unlimited), that we have this penchant for desiring an afterlife where we will remain as conscious beings for all eternity. Dropping the crucial fact of the metaphysical nature of our consciousness (grounded in our physical being), we engage in flights of wanton fantasy on the wings of our infinite epistemic abilities, and speculate freely on the possible existence of a supernatural realm where our consciousness may continue to exist (where we may continue to exist–though exactly what does “existence” mean in this case, is never clearly explained. It is merely asserted that it will be an experience we will “feel” somehow).

We engage in the creation of imaginative creatures like souls, ghosts, spirits, etc. who all display signs of being conscious epistemically without any metaphysical requirements or explanations, and ultimately codify all these fantastical, imaginative, conscious creations into religious or paradigmatic belief systems.

I believe, we have unwittingly throughout our history, let our imaginations run so wild that we ended up believing in some of its craziest creations as facts of reality. We think, “if its possible for me to think of a God, there must possibly be a God.” Soon and over time, the “possibly” turned into “certainly”.

How easily we forget that given the limitless epistemic capabilities of our consciousness, we can theoretically think of or imagine anything or any entity. Does that necessitate its actual existence?

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One Response to “Consciousness: Its Limited and Limitless Qualities”

  1. jake_d said

    A very insightful idea! I seem to agree with all of it. You have a sharp intellect.

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