I take my seat as Sam says to sit down and stare at an object. Concentrate on it and let it be the focus of attention he reckons. Then to turn attention on itself at look at the thing that’s doing the looking.
No problem. There’s my glass of water, shining in a sunbeam. What’s looking at it? There you go: it’s an animal, about six foot tall, sitting on a cushion in silk pyjamas with it’s legs crossed.
It’s strange to me that Sam expects me to look at the source of attention and find there’s no there there. When I focus attention from the glass to the thing focussing on the glass I just find a animal on a cushion and the abstract functioning of it’s nervous system.
He’s not talking about that though. He seems to expect me to find nothing when I look at the source of the attention and I find a tall dark haired male homo sapiens.
Yet Sam continues to insists there’s nothing there.
Okay, so perhaps he’s just talking about the animal’s eyes?
Is the question then, “Try and look at your own eye, huh! You can’t can you?!”
Well. Obviously. Unless I use a mirror. But even sans-mirror the eye still exists and the animal on the cushion is able to make it’s own eye the focus of it’s attention without difficulty.
Think about your eye? I can think about the way light passes through the lens onto the retina, I can visualize images of sliced up eyeballs and remember songs about sliced up eyeballs and have thoughts that reference my eyeball’s functions and forms.
Sam is presumably thinking even more abstractly, about the systems in my brain which direct and divert attention.
Perhaps then it’s “Think about how your brain thinks, huh! You can’t can you?”
That doesn’t seem like a hard thing to do. I can divert my attention to the models in my mind of my best understanding of brain function just as easily as I can force my attention onto my thoughts so as to transcribe this blog. I can think about abstract things like the quick-sort algorithm or the concept of the squaring function or a number with an imaginary component or a network protocol.
I can’t look at them in my visual field, or hear the sounds they make, for they are not physical things. But I can focus my attention on them and reference them in thought and describe them with words and search for them on google and copy and paste them from stack overflow.
Does he just think that my mental model of myself and brain function doesn’t exist in the same sense that the squaring function doesn’t exist? It has no corporeal form, sure, but abstract things are still things. My world has many abstract things in it and they are often the focus of my attention.
Is he just pointing out that my models of myself are quite likely fairly inaccurate? Coz I’d say the models are more likely wildly inaccurate. Filled with unknowns and conjecture.
But whether I think of myself as an animal sitting on a cushion or a human being in an evolutionary tree, or a person in a society, or a nervous system in a flesh casing, or a complex of abstract neural systems interacting in a mathematical space, I still find something to point my attention to.
Is there some other way of thinking of myself that I’m missing? I am not surprised to find no soul. I haven’t thought I had a soul since I was a kid. They are clearly made-up things. I am not surprised no homonuclus is sitting behind my eyes.
The interacting neural systems which give rise to consciousness are going to want to tag physical location for objects which have physical form. The most obvious coordinate origin is to to centre on the head. It’s arbitrary, but convenient. I don’t think he’s saying to direct my attention to the arbitrariness of centring a coordinate axis on my head. Truth is that’s just a convention and if I think about my place in the solar system rather than my place in the room I put the sun at the centre.
Perhaps I just have already had whatever epiphany he’s expecting me to find? Coz it seems to be that the rest of the mediations are very different from trying to think about the mathematical and neural interactions which could give rise to consciousness.
Context-switching between “looking at a glass” and “pondering the integration of abstract functions which might give rise to consciousness” is very different to just training focus by concentrating on the breath.
Probably related is the way he keeps saying “notice that you are not creating the things you experience, they just arise in consciousness”.
Um. No. The animal on the cushion is really genuinely creating the experience of seeing. What else would be doing it? In particular the animal’s nervous system’s networks are taking signals from light sensing cells in the retina and abstracting and integrating them into the more complex system of sensory data and experience.
It’s totally really is me doing it. I am sensing. It would not be happening if I wasn’t there, and I probably wouldn’t even notice the way light plays across the water if you hadn’t directed my attention at it.
How am I supposed to notice that it’s not me doing it, when it quite obviously is me doing it? Is the game to try and hypnotise yourself into believing untrue things?
Is it just a sentence parsing issue? Am I to think of “me” in that sentence as excluding the parts of me which construct my senses? Is it supposed to be deep to point out that if you exclude the parts that build the senses, then rest of the system doesn’t build the senses?
I mean maybe? Seems highly unlikely anyway. I would expect that the creation of the experience of seeing a glass needs information from the eyes to be deeply integrated into the global state of the system, including it’s stored memories and experience-built concepts and past reactions that are likely a function of the state of the whole network rather than just some subset of it.
If you exclude the parts of me that are constructing the experience of sensing, what is left isn’t actually me.
I suppose it’s true that some functions of the brain are performed without global awareness. I can’t feel a neuron fire. Though I can direct my attention to the electrochemistry of neural firing mechanisms.
What has two thumbs and is the thing which is constructing my senses? This nervous system and the interactions of it’s abstract systems.
I can point at my awareness of myself as easily as I can point at the glass or the water or the concept of hydrogen dioxide or “the halting problem”. I can describe it, it’s a part of the model of the universe that the animal on the cushion has in it’s mind.
It’s totally and really there and exists as surely as the square root of minus one exists or the image of the glass in my mind exists. Why does Sam seem so sure it isn’t?