Tuesday, December 13

The relationship between the conscious and the unconscious seems to be an important one in fields of psychology, creativity, religion, magic, even simple happiness and contentment, and yet it is not well understood. I know through my own observations that there is a distinction between the two. For example events in my past or concerns about my future will affect my feelings in the present, although I will not be thinking of them specifically at the time, that is, they will not be at the forefront of my consciousness. This suggests to me that they are in my mind, or on my mind, but are in the background: they are in my unconscious. Only when I think of them directly am I consciously aware of these factors.

I think the moments between sleep and wakefulness point to one aspect of the way the mind works, one that ties in with a lot of things. Picture the mind as a complex network of neurons, pathways between one concept and another, be they memories, ideas, plans, identities of people and places, anything. I see my consciousness as a point or spark of light that travels along these pathways at the speed of thought, often travelling over and strengthening oft-used pathways, but sometimes forging new ones, linking concepts that have not been linked before. The path that this point takes is a linear one, i.e. it goes from point A to B to C in a way that is to some extent directed by the nature of the thought I am thinking. Now when I snuggle into to bed and begin to drift off, I notice that this directed quality of my thinking is not so strong. It is more as if it is random, as if the spark of light is jumping from concept to concept, from node to node, without making any logical connections, and so I find myself thinking thoughts that are totally outside any regular pattern. For example, just before I fall asleep, I'll hear "Row Row Row Yer Boat" sung in a bizarre voice, or something equally as strange. Is is as if my point of consciousness is drifting around my mind and bringing oddly juxtaposed images, sounds and thoughts to the fore.

I think something similar happens when we are dreaming as well. Similar but not exact. When I dream I have many faculties available to me, my sense of sight, sound, etc., as well as my ability to reason and rationalize. Recently I dreamt that I was listening to some really good music and I wanted to write it down because I knew that when I woke up I would forget it, so, I proceeded to write it down as best I could, but I hadn't woken up yet, so I was writing it down only in my dream. I had my wits about me, in the dream, but the dream itself, the scenario and events, were alien and unfamiliar, even though it came from my own head. It seems as though dreams are a combination of the directed and undirected paths of consciousness: the settings and events are created from a collection of images and concepts picked up by a random walker meandering through my mind, but I still exist in the dream in a mostly normal way, that is, my linear rationing and reasoning ability still work as they do when I am awake.

I've been thinking a lot about how consciousness and unconsciousness work together and I will return to it. Do others have experiences of waking and sleeping and dreaming similar to the ones I have written here?


At 1:30 PM, Anonymous Ryan said...

Fascinating post, Bela.

Upon waking, I've occasionally had the experience that I am fully aware and awake, but with no connection to my identity or memory. I don't know where I am, what I am, when I am, and it doesn't matter. I feel fine.

It's fleeting. If I grasp at it, it disappears and my personal story floods back in. But before that moment, everything seems completely maleable.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Woah. That's wacked. Is it at all predictable? I've heard that other people occasionally experience something similar. I think I would freak out. But then again, I wouldn't know I so what would it matter?

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous ryan said...

No freaking out goes on. I have found it to be quite a nice experience. I can't predict when it might happen. It seems to be closely related to my state just before waking - like during a dream or just following one.

I need a new mattress. I haven't had a satisfying sleep in a long time.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Sam said...

In the first Walk, Rousseau says he experienced the same kind of thing after he was knocked unconscious by a big dog. He says he woke up and didn't know who he was, where he was, anything, and that didn't really bother him. I'll pull out the quote when I get a chance.


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