Meager Tools of Consciousness


  Do you dream in black and white or color?  Interesting that in the 50’s most respondents to that question would say b&w.  Now most say color.  What’s up with that?  Humanoid brains have evolved and grown in size, but not that much that fast…

  A philosopher* holds that the real answer is neither.  Those choices just happen to have been the most convenient metaphors or analogies for a given place and time – conjured up by those exposed to black and white film in the case of the former and color TV of the latter. 

  “Dreams don’t have to be pictures of any kind at all.  They could be simply thoughts – and thoughts, even thoughts about color, are neither colored nor noncolored in themselves.”

  We struggle with the meager tools of conscious experience to interpret the relationship between our brains – by far the most complex things in the universe – and everything else.  And to make it even (to me) less comprehensible, everything is relative.

  Know how if a tree falls in an empty glade there can be no sound?  Well, even should said tree remain upright, if there is no eye to look upon it, there is no color either.   Sight and sound are by definition the result of the interaction of stimuli, organ, and cerebral processor.

  At least to start with.  Research has shown that, for example, some originally sighted folks gone blind retain the ability to think in color, remember shapes of letters and faces while some do not.  Makes me wonder from time to time what one’s gray matter could cook up on its own.  Like, could one completely and forever sensory deprived somehow engender a hallucination? 

  Obviously, such experimentation has not been done on humans.  Unfortunately though. it has been on animals – monkeys.  Makes ‘em stark raving mad.  Would the far greater complexity of our neural networks make a difference?  For me the question comes down to the nature of consciousness.  Is it an emergent property dependent for its existence upon that meat pudding up there or does it exist independent of material origin?  There are respected thinkers on both sides of that issue. 

  At any rate, the richness of our interior lives is directly related to that of our experience.  Consider how different must be those of the two beings in the paragraph below: one an accomplished mountaineer on a ledge high of the side of a difficult and dangerous mountain and the other a peasant far below:

  ..We melt snow on our campstove.  Constellations cast flickering stories of gods, heroes and animals against a coal-black sky.  The earth spins, and for a few sleepless hours we linger far above the horizon.  We hover between the bliss of the heavens and the chaotic life on earth.  Time feels suspended: it’s as if we can view our planet from another, ephemeral world.  Far below, in the tangled rhododendron forest, the villagers of Moxi and Xinxing enjoy a rare cloudless evening.  With my headlamp, I signal our story to one resident, and he acknowledges our presence with his own flashing light…”**

*Perplexities of Consciousness by Eric Schwitzgebel reviewed by Nicholas Humphrey in the NYT BR 7/31/11.

**”Out of Darkness” by Kyle Dempster in Alpinist 35/Summer 2011 His and partner Bruce Normand’s route on Mt Edgar pictured above

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