YOUR SELF IN BLIPVERTS
Let’s define individual consciousness as a distinct self-aware identity passing through a succession of moments in time. It is your locus of spatiotemporal sensation (i.e. limbic-reality experience, memory-echo experience) parsed through the brain-prism of cerebral disposition (memory).
The “self” is convincing to “itself” by its very nature, and we feel it subjectively as a linear continuity, aligned with the arrow of time. But what if instead we described the reality of consciousness in terms of a staccato frame-rate that seems continuous only because memory is ontologically persistent and the experiential crucible is spatiotemporally consistent – and therefore predictable. The brain itself works faster than the frame-rate required for quotidian self-conscious identity, so it’s able to give an absolute impression that’s perceptually indistinguishable from objective continuity.
As in vision, where one actually spends a lot of time functionally blind, the conscious experience one “lives” doesn’t flicker on and off either. The brain fills-in gaps in the very existence of the self from one moment to the next, just as it fills-in the moments of blindness to create a continuity in wakeful vision. Our brains, as they parse, analyse and represent the anthropomorphic lived experience, construct a faster frame-rate than can be perceived by the conscious self (in an everyday sense) so self-aware identity manifests as a continuous phenomenological experience. But it isn’t!
Try watching a fast frame-rate filming of an old TV screen and you’ll see the TV flicker though if you’d been watching it in person, the image would have seemed smooth and uninterrupted.
Schizophrenia becomes a plausible corollary given the fact identity is formed by the brain to be convincing and robust if interrogate. Drug experiences likewise shuffle and shift emphasis in the brain’s algorithms of identity creation but the toolkit of self-awareness tries to stay relevant regardless. Thus a trip is invariably familiar and fascinating, convincing and transcendent concurrently. Meditation can shift the perspective of the self to dwell instead on the gaps. This inevitably morphs into a technique of dissolution because gaps in the frame-rate of consciousness are times we don’t self-consciously exist so to perceive the gaps is to lose the egomaniac self.
Dissolving the conscious-self doesn’t necessariily change the reality of the mind, though, nor even need it redefine the mind’s gestalt experience in any significant sense.
THE MIND AS PHENOMENOLOGICAL PARSER
Define mind as: the gestalt of your brain and its feedback mechanisms, housed in your skull, a universe of neural networks divided into hemispheres interconnected by the corpus callosum; excitation and inhibition synapses and neurons and glions and whatever-the-hell-else, starting with zygote-algorithm building blocks and evolving through iterations of exponential-growth cell generations into an unparalleled toolbox of multivariate, multifaceted, multitasking phenomenological parsing; a de facto conscious homo sapiens individual.
The subtle complexity of parsing develops as a person gets older, since memory not only parses the experience but logs an impressionistic snapshot in the brain. Different flavours of parser both input a particular emphasis and log via a distinct impression algorithm. The input and logging parser may begin simple but since it develops with every moment, the sum of its impressions re-parsed into the extant genetic and predisposition algorithm; thus each moment can change a mind’s parsing of reality but in practice it seldom does. The bigger the algorithm stack, the less impact a single newly parsed impression or re-parsing of logged impressions will be.
Free will is bolx. Conscious mind is at most a commentator on moments past (albeit fractions of a second prior). Free will may not be an illusion but conscious free will and conscious-choice probably is.
This shouldn’t be a nihilistic thought since it doesn’t mean the mind itself can’t make choices. It just means the self doesn’t, though the mind has enough resources to make an unobservant self blithely ignorant of what’s actually going on.
The conscious self is plausibly an illusion. Better perhaps to think of the self as a frame rate security daemon operating within certain parameters. The daemon happily follows a path of least resistance, per its evolution from pre-intelligent brainstuff cells, and creates discord otherwise. The mind shouldn’t be conflated with the self. The mind is far more potent. Meta-analysis of the moment is an assertion of independence by the self (conscious or subconscious) but while at first it’s a pushback against the mind, with training it can aspire to throw off the slave-state and forge a more symbiotic relationship.
“The self can’t escape the mind except by metaphorical suicide: meditation or madness.”
Free will of the conscious self IS an illusion, patently. But free will of the mind: this is more difficult to dismiss. Just because there’s no logical case for free will of the self, it doesn’t mean there’s no case for free will of the mind.
Let’s say we were somehow aware of all the variables involved in a moment’s brain-parsing (inputs, memory, substrate, every molecule in the brain): would that equate to an entirely predictable “this is what it’ll be like, in the next moment”?
Chemistry is very consistent but not infinitely consistent. There’s an estimated 456 trillion trillion atoms in the human brain. More than stars in the observable universe. The moment you accept there’s only a finite predictability in a chemical reaction – which is objectively true, so far as current scientific consensus – you open the door to what could conceivably be the basis of free will.
COGNITIVE DISSONANCE – DRUG DIVERGENCE
Consciousness is tied together moments, the stuff of memory parsed through the prism of disposition and lizard brain in the crucible of sensory and neuro experience. The self is just a frame rate that seems consistent because memory and the crucible are persistent therefore both consistent and predictable. The brain works faster than the frame rate of self-conscious identity so it can give the absolute impression of continuity – as if it’s objectivity.
Consider the way vision works, where you spend a lot of time functionally blind but in conscious experience, what you see doesn’t flicker on and off. The brain parses its multivariate inputs at a faster frame rate than the normal parserate of your self awareness; so conscious mind gets a continuous sensory experience. But try watching a fast frame rate film of a TV screen and you’ll see the flicker. Dissolving the conscious self doesn’t change the reality of the mind, nor even the mind’s experience. Free will of the conscious self IS an illusion, patently. But free will of the mind: this is more difficult to define.
The self is the product of dialectic, informed by experience and parsed into – and retrieved from – memory, woven into stories by the brain’s sense-making executive function. How can cognitive dissonance NOT be as prevalent it is? Think of a fact – a limbic moment or a piece of information or a possibility that’s to be considered. The fact is presented to the self, at a moment in time, in among the busy parade of considerations that’s part and parcel of the continuum of being. Let’s say this fact runs contrary to the codex of stories considered acceptable to the executive. The fact is only presented for a limited time: the length of time it’s thought about, or the flicker of time it’s actively being encountered.
Now, for all the rest of time, the codex of stories sits unchallenged, in accord, winnowed of contradictions, i.e. as de facto reality. The short-lived fact collides with the deep habit of codex accord. It will need to be an overwhelmingly consistent, assertive, undeniable fact to overmatch the accord of the codex of stories, whether the latter is objective reality or a spectrum of bullshit. Truth has a natural accord, because truth is the path of least resistance in a vaccum. But nothing in life is a simple, fundamental binary true-or-false. Everyone exists in the codex of stories. Cognitive dissonance therefore is the natural state.
NOTE ON ALCOHOL DIVERGENCE
Alcohol creates a divergence in the biochemistry of brain-state. This divergence is included in the impression of brain-state experience as it’s parsed into memory, as experienced through the sober or the pished up iteration of your personality. These memories build over time, like drops of moments-in-time falling into a vat of impressions, coloured according to brain-state biochemistry. Think of it as if (over-simplified into) sober and drunk coloured drops.
Over time, the amount of altered brain-state colour in the vat of memory becomes significant enough to render the divergence in two increasingly distinct versions of the consciousness blipvert. The personality manifested out of the codex of stories diverges further and further from the personality of sober normality. Eventually a complete schism devolops. Hello alcoholic! Hello black-out! Hello Jeckyl and Hyde!
Because the executive need for consistency (accord) from the codex of stories needs to weaponize cognitive dissonance (i.e. separation) to stay coherent, to disassociate from the discord of big divergences created by the irreconcilibility of sober and altered brain-states.
Perhaps the blocking out of certain childhood trauma works the same way?