Consciousness v. Mind

I am interested in parsing out a distinction between consciousness and mind. Early on in “Stepping Into The Light,” Damasio describes loss of consciousness as “dissolv[ing] into unsolicited unknowingness.” I thought about this in relation to meditation, which describes the meditative trance in similar language: primordial awareness, vast, nothingness that is not a void, etc. Part of meditation is observing the mind (almost never called consciousness) and breaking attachment to what the mind creates. This is different from losing consciousness; meditation is supposed to be a bright and clear and alert state (I am sorry I do not have better, more precise language). I found Damasio’s later discussion of consciousness as an understanding of images to be useful in this regard because it is clear that mind and consciousness are different.

However, he later writes that the presence of an individual “never quits… The presence must be there or there is no you.” In mediation, we are trying to move away from an I-centered approach or view. Meditation is (sometimes) about dissolving into expansive awareness without a center, without an I, without attachment and subjectivity. I think. I am interested in learning more about mediation and identity or sense of self.

Unrelatedly — Damasio’s comment on asides and digressions is a perfect example of the singular and linear aspects of consciousness that are simply unavoidable. Our brain — our higher-level thinking — cannot hold two trains of thought or discussion simultaneously. He links this to physics but I think it can be equally linked to consciousness. His later exercise of looking forward, then back at the book, then 180 degrees behind indicates that our brain/consciousness can only process one image/experience at a time. So his witty little aside about Elizabethan asides actually is a great example of how consciousness works.

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4 Responses to Consciousness v. Mind

  1. Amber Chiac says:

    This question really fascinates me. As both a dedicated yogi and a graduate of a women and gender studies program, it’s been a struggle for me to rectify the feminist insistence on embodiment and the yogic ideal of transcendence. I’m new to meditation and pretty ignorant about the eastern philosophic theories that inform the practice so this is just speculation… I think the meditative concept of self-discovery involves transcending the self in order to recognize the universality of self. So I guess it’s not so much that consciousness and subjectivity are lost in this process but that they are temporarily suspended in the recognition of the unity of all things? In the book Siddhartha, the character Siddhartha describes self-discovery as the recognition that reality is not outside of self and things but within self and things. In order to overcome the self, you need to go inward, and in order to penetrate the self, and you need to access universal consciousness. In Self Comes to Mind, Damasio describes the uniqueness of human consciousness but he also describes the self-similar intelligence of micro-organisms such as amoeba. So maybe human consciousness, as an evolutionary response to the world outside of the self, can never really be contained or transcended?

    Not sure if any of this makes sense haha.

  2. Dagmara Lachowicz says:

    Yes Julia , however I will repeat again Suum Cuique…

  3. Liz Foley says:

    Meditation is a great example of an altered state of consciousness that might complicate Damasio’s categories and terms – and this post is forcing me to get a better handle on those terms myself. I have a feeling Damasio would say that in meditation you lose the autobiographical self but maintain the proto self and core self (or maybe that the autobiographical self is not lost, per se, but seamlessly merged with the other two). I’m pretty sure he would say that even while meditating one always maintains primordial or bodily feelings, and maybe emotions also, but that one loses or dissolves into other states the type of “feelings” that include awareness of one’s own emotion. This might make it possible to lose the “I” on one level while retaining it on a more subterranean level (the “I that never quits”).

    What you say about “expansive awareness without a center” reminds me of Jill Bolte Taylor’s description of feeling an ironically joyous oneness with the universe at one point during her stroke. I bet there’s a suspension of a certain level of autobiographical consciousness that’s at work in both situations, with the key difference being that meditation is a voluntary suspension, a sort of attempt to gain control of one sort of consciousness by giving up control of another – whereas Taylor’s experience was an anything but voluntary loss of control. Still, both experiences suggest a region or level of universal consciousness that may be constantly present without our perceiving it or having access to it under normal circumstances.

  4. Dagmara Lachowicz says:

    Hi Julia
    Damasio states that “Being conscious goes beyond being awake and attentive”.I think that we humans tend to overcompartmentalize everything , hence why the difficulty to understand the true nature of things arises. To parse out the distinction between consciousness and mind , we would have to first define what is consciousness? Therefore , your analogy to meditative states is quite adequate. Once again everyone’s experience with the numinous is very subjective, I can only speak on the behalf of my person’s experience.
    My person understands consciousness in this way ; consciousness is simply unconsciousness , seldomly experienced during mundane intervals of every day life.
    Occasionally, we are showered with magical rays of sunshine , thus inspiring unbearable pulchritude of “Creation”. Anyone who has ever given birth to anything , no matter what medium of creative expression they yielded to knows this.
    The “mind” in my understanding is the watcher, the homunculus , the guard of the 12 gates to the mental city, it is fully conscious . Most of the time it operates by the laws of logic bounded by social and psychological confinement. More over , it is shaped by our experiences , our homes , parents , beliefs. And most of the time is busy naming and labeling things . Longing for the order of things -like a raving lunatic I must say.
    Nothing is one dimensional , not three dimensional either , so there are many levels and steps in this process. Ultimately , the challenge arises not in bridging the invisible with the visible, but once one finds a way to cross over , one might not find a way back!!!

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