Ever stumble across something — even something you’ve not thought much about — and then suddenly see it everywhere around you?
This strange stumbling-into-obsession has caught me in the last couple of weeks with the concept of consciousness. What the hell? What is it? When do we have it? When do we have too much of it, or not enough? All questions I’ve assiduously avoided for god knows how many years.
It all began with a podcast: Sam Harris interviewing genius primatologist/neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky. The Biology of Good and Evil. The conversation can’t be summarized in a sentence or two — it’s too rich — but the quote of the nearly two-hour interview was Sapolsky declaring:
I believe free will is what we call biology we haven’t discovered yet.
If true, of course, this means that we are all fundamentally unconscious. At least in the sense that we do not realize or cannot see how powerfully we are being driven by biology. Driven perhaps even against our own beliefs, or what we think we believe.
How about that? Makes a fellow feel small, and foolish. And maybe that’s why I’ve noticed a few things as of late.
From Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground [part one, chapter nine]:
Suffering — why this is the sole cause of consciousness.
In Hardy’s “The Self-Unseeing,” he visits the remains of his childhood home and recalls where the door was, how the floor felt, how his mother sat “staring into the fire” while her fiddler husband “bowed it higher and higher.” The last two bittersweet lines, “Everything glowed with a gleam/Yet we were looking away” remind him that they couldn’t possibly have been aware of the harmonious moment while living it. We’re always late for consciousness, the neuroscientists say.
Does it follow then that happiness requires a kind of un-consciousness? A life inside our biology?
What would Fyodor say?
There’s more, but I haven’t found it yet…