On Philosophy

August 19, 2006

A Work In Progress

Filed under: Mind — Peter @ 2:36 am

Today instead of the usual post I am going to put up some preliminary diagrams and thoughts that will eventually become part of an account of consciousness.

So without further ado, a diagram of the conscious mind:

And a quick illustration of how consciousness progress over time:

The sense of self: comes from the ability of the conscious mind to reference previous conscious states. We would expect a being with this kind of mind to develop a sense of “my thoughts” and “my sense impressions”, and from these ideas generalize to an idea of “I”.

Consciousness: One definition of consciousness is that which we are aware of. If we accept this definition, which I do, what I have labeled as the conscious mind above should properly be considered the “possibly conscious mind”, i.e. the aspects of the mind that may be conscious at a given moment. I say “may be conscious” because what is truly conscious then is only those aspects of the “possibly conscious mind” that our attention is focused on, and hence get moved to the part of the mind that contains previously conscious states. What makes part of the mind conscious then is that it is “copied” or “referenced” in future states so that it can be examined and so that future thoughts can be built on it.

Attention controls which parts of the “possibly conscious mind” become conscious. The actual decision as to where the attention will be focused is based largely on the conscious mind, especially our thoughts, but the process itself is unconscious, which explains why your attention will be diverted to fast incoming objects, even if you haven’t been consciously focused on the external world.

Although thoughts and previous conscious states have been drawn as separate in the diagram there is an important connection between them, specifically thoughts are often about the previously conscious state that our attention is directed to. For example if your attention is on your senses your thoughts will be about the external world. The actual process by which thoughts are generated is however unconscious and, like attention, occasionally thoughts that don’t seem to be related to anything currently conscious will be generated by the unconscious (possibly one of the sources of creativity).

Another misleading element in the diagram is the portrayal of previous conscious states as picking out one part of the possibly conscious mind exclusively. It is more accurate to say that one part of the possibly conscious mind is “copied” or “referenced” with greater detail leaving the remainder as “outlines” or “sketches”. Even when you are focused on the external world you are aware of your own thoughts, they are just relegated to a less important and less intrusive role.

Finally there are connections between thoughts, senses, mental imagery, and imagination that are not made explicit by these diagrams, which I will detail at some future date.

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