philosophy, Uncategorized

The Unity of Consciousness

A good friend of mine woke me up in the middle of the night with a text.  I had left my phone near my nightstand to wake up in the morning and the text buzzed me — I was worried that somebody back home had died.  My friend’s text was, at least on first glance, not so urgent.

“I can not be a physical thing because I am unified and physical things are all made of parts.”

I got together with him in person at Jinky’s, a popular breakfast spot in my neighborhood.   His hands were shaking but he drank cup after cup of espresso.

“My brain is made of cells and my cells are made of atoms but I — what I actually am — is not made of pieces.”

“Sure it is.” I said.  “It is made of thoughts and feelings and beliefs and desires and memories.”

“No” he said “There is something linking all of those things — it is the I.  I think. I feel.  I believe.  I desire.  I remember.  That is a single thing.  And it is single in a way no atom or cell or physical item can ever be.”

“You are 1 you say and not 2 or 3 or 1/2?”


“How do you know that the I that thinks “I remember the text I sent last night” and the I that goes with “I taste espresso” are the same I?  Maybe you are two or more?”

“I don’t think that’s even possible. Everything I know or think or do is all part of my world.”

“How do you know you have one world?  The world has trees and planets and atoms and cells as you said yourself.”

“Because I know everything in the world. I bind it into one world.”

“But we don’t know that your I is one thing.”

“But I do.  I know that because…” he faltered “Everything I know I know.”

“I’m not sure you are clarifying anything.  All you are saying is that there are things and thoughts. You haven’t yet proved that they are one.”

“But the very fact that I am talking and experiencing this shows that it is all one.  If it were two then there would be things that I don’t know or think.”

“But there are.” I said.

“Yes but I don’t know them!” he said.  “So the actual world I experience and the actual I who is me is unified.”

“Do you mean to say, perhaps” I suggested “That you treat yourself as one? That you treat the world as one?  Because certainly it is up to you whether to treat a deck of cards as 52 things or one thing.  Perhaps your expression “unify” meaning after all in English “make one” is closer to your idea.  There are a bunch of thoughts and feelings and you make them into one.  And similarly the world has a bunch of plants and animals and rocks and stuff but you make them one by thinking about them.”

“Yes!” said my friend “Exactly right. I make them one.”

“How and more importantly why would you do that?” I asked.

Our conversation ended as such conversations often do with a barely perceptible slide into mutual embarrassment, which ocurring as it did below the surface of consciousness slid immediately into the occasion for mutual distraction from our embarrassment, and we talked about less important things — who we knew who lived and who we knew who died, who had sex and fell in love and had children and made money, and we left talk of the “I” and unity far behind.

But for  a moment there during breakfast I think we almost had something!


10 thoughts on “The Unity of Consciousness

  1. But for a moment there during breakfast I think we almost had somethings!

    FTFY 😉

    Probably the question to ask is if you were more than one thing, how would you know that? Or would it be seamless?

    To be fair, like a mexican wave is kind of one thing, I think he’s partly right – just not right to the degree of mysticalism and the supernatural.

    • mysticism is good for people who need a little mysticism. pragmatism is good for people who need a little pragmatism. that’s why these ways of talking and looking at the world were invented.

      • I think science, in it’s effectiveness, is swollowing up the world in pragmatism. How many heads are bowed into bibles as opposed to heads bowed into tablets? I’m not advocating for pragmatism in saying that, but instead that the mystic inclined might get closer and closer to being eaten alive (heck, even the pragmatic individual, when faced with the might of massive organisations/corporations, faces being eaten alive). The mystic inclined need to be given some way to navigate the pragmatic, since the world seems to be being forced into the pragmatic.

  2. I wonder how artificial intelligence (by way of two robotic men having that same conversation) would have answered those questions? Probably differently… each being programmed by a different code. Or, maybe they would have reached the same non-conclusion as the breakfast buddies. Almost.

  3. I don’t believe in rule-based artificial intelligence (I mean i don’t believe such a system would ever have human competence). If artificial intelligence just means something created by technological means I don’t see why they would have to look at these issues differently.

  4. We humans are a combo of experiences that enter as data in our underused brains for the first 80 years of life along with the inherited parent characteristics we are born with. Each of us on the way make decisions and choices while our brains jumble and rumble around and finally figure out the easiest, or most beneficial, or the most ethical choice from experiences. As in, Ohhhh that is a Sound Decision you’ve made there sir! Those choices reflect from the joy, happiness, sucesses, failures, anger, hope, laughter and thousands of human feelings. I’m not sure if a human manufactured storage brain, search engine, Wilson, or a housecleaning robot in a maids uniform (artificial intelligence) has anything to do with having competence.. If they are programmed to do that, is it real intelligence? – – – Hey, the more I think about the collection of squishy water filled cells I’m made of, the more I begin to think that the artificial me might be better adaptable. – – – – – 30% of the brains I am friends with are altered by drugs or drunks.

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