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Elliot Rabinowitz's picture

Some thoughts...

Consciousness personally proved challenging to discuss this past week due to its lack of a solid definition. While talking about it, people seemed to refer to lots of different kinds or types of consciousness. As like many of the topics we have discussed, using one term to represent a number of distinct things leads to difficulties. I think this flaw hindered our conversation – we repeatedly got caught up on what “consciousness” really is, while it in fact seems impossible to generate an all-encompassing definition for this complex, multi-faceted concept. If someone can create a really solid definition that brings in all of our thoughts, that’d be awesome. But, considering how many years people have been struggling with this task, I don’t find it likely to be solved any time soon. With that said, I think our conversation did lead us to some interesting areas to analyze further in depth throughout this forum.


Two general sub-areas in particular grabbed my attention. First, the differences (if there are any) in the consciousness of someone who is not awake. That could include someone who is asleep, hypnotized, comatose, sleep-walking/talking, etc. Along with the differences between these states comes the importance of comparing consciousness in the moment and consciousness in some longer period of time. For instance, certainly hypnotized people (and sometimes people who sleep-walk/talk) can be aware of their surroundings, reflect on their own actions in a larger environment, judge those actions/thoughts, and maybe even change them during the hypnotic state and potentially even afterwards once awoken (e.g. using hypnotism to alleviate phobias). However, their abilities to make decisions and interact with the environment seem at least partially controlled by someone else – the hypnotist. Should they be considered conscious? Are they conscious in the moment, but not once the wake up? Is it not consciousness at all and the influence of hypnosis depends on the power of the unconscious mind? I’m not really sure, and I think a lot of these questions can be broadened to the other “not awake” states I suggested above. Discerning what the differences between all of them, particularly in relation to consciousness, is not an easy endeavor.


The other part of the our conversation that really hit me was while our discussion concerning the power of the unconscious mind for not only learning, but also enacting complex and astounding physical and intellectual tasks. For athletes and musicians, I think this definitely makes sense – practice makes perfect. Getting something so engrained in one’s mind (or nervous system) so that one’s muscles just “know” how to do it can allow one to somehow do it better than actively attending to every muscle movement. However, I then think about this in non-extracurricular activities, but about performances such as surgery. For example, what if I need surgery on my knee – I would want my surgeon to do the best job possible. However, would it better for him/her to unconsciously do the procedure or rather think about each step meticulously, making sure to not mess up? In being so careful, would he/she maybe be more likely to screw something up? The applications for this unconscious performance seem endless in many aspects of life, but I’m not sure I like the idea of having my surgeon (no matter how experienced) just not really pay attention while cutting my leg open.


Thanks for an engaging discussion and I’m interested to see what the rest of you think…


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