Categories of consciousness
|Infinite recursion using mutually-facing mirrors. Source: Serendip.|
Let us start from category (1): Folded consciousness. What is peculiar about it is a kind of infinite recursion of self-referential awareness: When you read this article, you are not only aware of what you are reading, but you are also aware that you are aware of it. As a matter of fact, you are aware that you are aware ... that you are aware of the article. This infinite recursion takes place in finite time in our minds, much like Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the tortoise. Another metaphor for this is the effect you get when you place two mirrors facing each other and reflecting each other's images: The images seem to immediately form a tunnel of ever smaller mirror frames forming arches into infinity.
The mirror metaphor suggests a geometric analogy for what is going on: The 'surface' of consciousness seems to fold in on itself until it faces itself like two mirrors facing each other. Indeed, we could think of consciousness as an ocean of reflective liquid mercury. In this analogy, experiences would be ripples, waves, or any form of disturbance on this otherwise perfectly calm and flat mercury ocean surface. Now, imagine a segment of this mercury ocean rising as a thin and flexible sheet of mercury (a la the alien water probe in the movie The Abyss) that can bend, twist, and fold; imagine it coiling up around itself so each part of its surface faces another part of its surface head-on, the same way that each point on the internal surface of a hollow cylinder faces another point of it. Now, since liquid mercury is reflective like a mirror, these mutually-facing surfaces will infinitely reflect the ripples and waves propagating through each other. This is folded consciousness, which represents our normal state of egoic awareness. The folding of self-reflecting consciousness is an amplification mechanism for certain classes of experience. Not only that, it allows us to think about our thoughts; a unique form of awareness. Unfolded consciousness, on the other hand, corresponds merely to the ripples and waves propagating through unfolded surfaces of the liquid mercury ocean, which are not reflected; not amplified. These ripples and waves are still conscious experiences available to each one of us, but without the reinforcement of infinite recursion and without self-awareness.
|Liquid mercury. Source: Wikipedia.|
When different parts of the ocean of consciousness fold in on themselves, creating the glare of infinite recursion, every ripple in the ocean of consciousness that is not captured into a fold fades away in comparison. In ordinary language, these other ripples become 'forgotten.' The glare of infinite recursion, while shinning light and reinforcing particular, localized ripples in the ocean of conscious experience through self-referential awareness, also causes the amnesia that makes all other ripples as invisible as the stars at noon. This way, the folding of parts of the ocean of consciousness in on themselves provides a localization mechanism for consciousness; it creates localized and limited points-of-view in the ocean of Mind, which is perhaps the very source of individuality. Perhaps we are each a small part of the ocean of consciousness that rose up as a thin sheet and coiled around itself. The tighter each coil folds around itself, the more limited and localized experience becomes, but the more clearly it is perceived. Such notion ties in neatly with the hypothesis that our brains are like whirlpools of consciousness, which I discussed extensively before. Indeed, a whirlpool is a folding of the stream of consciousness in on itself, along a specific dimension. To make this analogy more solid and complete, one would have to postulate a hyper-spatial, most-likely fractal geometry to accommodate a sufficient variety of hierarchical, hyper-spatial foldings that accounted for human experience. I have been thinking about that lately.
So there you have it: A first, draft, partial attempt to interpret the different categories of conscious experience according to a single, coherent, metaphorical framework that also explains the emergence of the individual; the emergence of particular points-of-view in a single ocean of reflective Mind. Then you might ask: If our individualities are just illusions caused by the amplifying effect of local folds in the ocean of consciousness, how do we regain awareness of the Whole? I could see two possibilities: Either all local folds and coils disappear, so we return to a flat and undifferentiated ocean of consciousness where all ripples of experience are equal in lacking local amplification and self-awareness, or the entire ocean of consciousness takes on one single mega-fold where all ripples in it are equally amplified through infinite recursion, and global self-awareness becomes possible. I, for one, like to imagine the latter as the universal telos.
Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.