Living without a conscious mind

When I was young, I have no doubt that I believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. I stop believing in them early enough that I do not remember the event – but I do remember the feeling that it was important to continue pretending to believe in them. I have encountered that feeling since when I have given space to some idea that I thought was a harmless little sham, something comforting to say, an old reliable metaphor, a poetic licence.

It came as a real shock to realize that others believed a myth; it was like finding adults who believed in Santa Claus. The conscious mind as opposed to the subconscious mind was one of those ideas. Although it had never seemed to me that I had any more than one mind, it did seem polite to allow others to separate themselves slightly from their actions. They could appear more modest or more blameless if they were allowed to let their subconscious to take the praise or blame. Sometime in my teens, I began to call people on their ‘my subconscious did it’ remarks. To my surprise they believed they had this other mind inside them that was bent on sabotaging their intentions. The only picture that made sense to me was that I had one mind and it was in no way divided – this mind perceived, thought and acted – and I was conscious of some but not all of this activity.

So I had a mind and it was the only mind I had. If I had to choose between it being a conscious or an unconscious mind, I would have to say unconscious, although the choice is somewhat ridiculous. And I also had consciousness – not a conscious mind just plain consciousness. My consciousness seemed part of my mind but not involved with my perceptions, my thoughts, my decisions and so on. All it did was supply an awareness. I have lived the next 50 years with this self image.

The problem is that other people seem to have a very different self image that they are as sincerely about as I am about mine.

I am encouraged that more and more published material uses the term ‘consciousness’ rather than ‘conscious mind’ as time goes on. Here is John R Searle’s definition which does not imply that the thought process is a conscious process.

What we need at this point in our work is a common sense definition of consciousness and such a definition is not hard to give: ‘Consciousness’ refers to those states of sentience or awareness that typically begin when we wake from a dreamless sleep and continue through the day until we fall asleep again, die, go into a coma or otherwise become ‘unconscious’. Dreams are also a form of consciousness, though in many respects they are quite unlike normal waking states.

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