Showing posts from November, 2011

What am I?

I was in a train the other day, on my way to the airport for a week-long trip to Asia. Sitting quietly and listening to music, I was completely lost in my thoughts as the train stopped at a major railway station to let some passengers off and take some more in. It was not my destination, so I just lazily contemplated the movement of people going busily about their business on the platform; a veritable sea of hundreds of individuals, each locked, like myself, inside their own thoughts, worries, dreams, and disappointments; each immersed in a mass of other people, rubbing shoulders with others like themselves, and yet each profoundly alone in his or her unique perspective of this show we call existence. How many unfathomable life stories were represented by each of those tiny, insignificant bodies going busily about the station, like bees in a hive? How many novels could be written about their individual dramas? Each of those lives was equivalent, in complexity, richness, nuance, and s…

Consciousness and memory

Often, when we wake up in the morning after a night of deep and uninterrupted sleep, a dark void of nothingness seems to stretch back to our last moments of awareness before falling asleep. Therefore, we very naturally conclude that we had absolutely no conscious experiences during the preceding few hours. Similarly, upon returning from general anaesthesia, we hold on to the comforting notion of having had no subjective experiences during the course of whatever medical procedure was performed on us. Yet, strictly speaking, all we can assert from our state of mind upon waking up is that we cannot recall any experiences during the preceding hours; not that experiences were absent. Unlikely as this may sound, for all we know we may have had spectacular dreams, lifetimes of rich perception and insight, but simply not remember a thing.

It is impossible for us to distinguish between the absence of a memory and the absence of a past experience. Indeed, states we ordinarily associate with un…