Being Human: Conscious Mind

You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.

— Ayn Rand

An Emergent Cosmopolis

The Emergence of Mind


Once the physical side of the body/brain is reasonably well developed, when the brain becomes such a complex network that it can support the self-referral self-identify of human consciousness, there emerges a sequence of selves. These selves follow the cognitive operations of the human mind, starting with the awareness of attending to one's experience with the associated injunction to be open to experience. Consciousness is simply the awareness of intending, and there are only a few general questions that require attending if the entity is to prosper and survive.

  1. What am I experiencing?
  2. What intelligibility is to be given to what is experienced?
  3. Is that intelligibility true or false?
  4. Given such an understanding, what is to be done?


Conscious is a self\organizing recurring schemes of recurrence that like the development of the brain emerge one by one over the course of a decade or more. There is a sequence of emergent intentional selves that follow a pattern, answering or attempting to answer the above four questions. Each occur in order, for one cannot understand what it is one is experiencing unless one has something to experience. And one cannot determine if one's understanding is true, without having understood something. And there's no need to decide what to do, if one doesn't know what is taking place. This is the core of Lonergan's transcendental method, a cognitive structure built around experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding.


Each level of consciousness has associated with it an injunction that sets criteria for answering the question for the conscious mind. As the brain has its own criteria--fit with reality and internal consistence--the mind adds its own specialized objectives, aims, and standards:

  1. For experiencing, it is to be open to experience.
  2. For understanding, it is to be intelligent.
  3. For judging, it is to be reasonable.
  4. For deciding, it is to be responsible.

Taken together, they form the criteria for undertaken the most serious of human tasks: the creation, maintenance, and improvement of a world mediated by meaning. While the brain provides the conscious mind with the object/token field of a non-conscious mediated world, the conscious mind builds a formal structure upon its foundations. These foundations encapsulate the pre-conscious structuring of limitations, scarcity, and death.



Base Level Recurring Schemes: Experiencing

What each person experiences is already structured by the non-conscious mind, that mediated world of objects/tokens, fields, and constitute the psychological present through which each person lives their lives. In this way, the brain conditions the conscious mind, setting the foundations upon which consciousness can build its formal world mediated by meaning. Human beings live in a symbolic world, one that is connected however distantly with the sensate world yet with its own manner of being. It is a meaningful symbolic world constructed from the experiences of a non-conscious brain, fixed with the finality of the infinite yet constrained to the vulgarities and conditions of the world into which a person is born and lives out their lives.

Experiences are not random objects and events, but instead the result of a directed intentional conscious that notices certain features and sets aside others. In the same way the brain selects what it will categorize from a multitude of signals, so too consciousness selects from a wide variety of possibilities. The eyes focus on this object, not that; the ears pay attention to these sounds and not those. And together the human being attends to what it chooses to attend, setting aside other parts of the brain's psychological present to emphasize others. So it is that a human being can focus on the conversation of a close friend excluding the voices of other party-goers. The result is that as the conscious level of experiencing is conditioned by the brain's object/token field, so too is that field sublated by the conscious act of attending to what it is the person wishes to experience.

This conditioning/sublating mutuality raises the notion of a gate-keeper, a censor that acts to prevent knowledge acquired through non-conscious intelligence from ever reaching the conscious mind. The brain has no choice in what it selects, recognizing only patterns intelligibly to itself. But the mind does, and so the act of sublating can not only select the useful from the current field but also set aside or repress those elements that for one reason or another it cannot or will not deal. The errors initiated with this self-censoring are then conveyed further up the ladder of cognitive operations, eventually conditioning the highest level's concern with terminal value. The result is the individual acts in such ways that he or she cannot understand, cannot explain, even though these actions seem counter-productive in the extreme.

The transcendental injunction to be open to experience is none other than a call to set aside for a moment the concentrated act of attending to experience and allows the individual to take into account features that would otherwise be ignored. For example, fear and terror as well as desire and need all act as telescopes that bring a few objects closer but in doing so ignore much of the world. This adds additional uncertainties, those "unexpected" events that were not anticipated simply because the person was not paying attention.



Understanding: Allocating Meaning to the Sensate World


The single most important cognitive event at the level of understanding is an insight. An insight enables the person to make sense of things. It is the different between wondering about in the dark and knowing what is so--although determining whether or not it is so requires a shift to the next highest level of cognitive operations: judging. Such an event does not happen at random, but as the result of an intentional need to know. And when it does happen, meaning is brought into the individual's world, the second conscious act after that of experiencing.

The conscious mind does not have an insight as such; that work is carried out by the non-conscious brain whose token creation and manipulation respond to the sublating effect of the conscious mind's need to know. The well is primed by prior efforts of the mind to answer the question it poses, something that directs the brain's attending to certain recurring patterns rather than others, or recombining known patterns into new arrangements. But the brain can communicate and new intelligibility to the conscious mind only when the conscious mind is not busy with the problem. But when the mind is diverted, relaxed, or otherwise distracted, then the brain's solution can rise to consciousness as an experienced moment of intelligibility in which the question is answered and all makes sense. And because the insight has its roots in the brain's non-conscious object/token field processes, the insight becomes habitual: the person literally perceives the world in a new way. It is for the same reason that insights build upon each other, for they build up the complex object/token fields that serve as the experienced foundation of conscious living.

Not all questions are of the same type. Some questions deal with practical tasks of how to achieve certain ends or carry out business in an unique time-and-space-specific situation; this is the realm of common sense meaning that relates the world to human interests. There are other questions involving why things are the way they are; these lead to the empirical heuristic methods of the sciences. Still others relate to how it is we come to know or how we know the right action to take; this leads to the reflective intelligence of metaphysics and ethics. There are other specialized realms of meaning such as scholarship, or artistic endeavors, or higher mathematics.

All in all, the entire human mind is quite creative in the questions it can ask, but ultimately it boils down to one overriding question: the existence of God. Such a decision, for it is a pure decision, sublates judging, which in turn sublates understanding, which then modified the experienced world. And when this happens, the world becomes a world mediated by divine meaning. But we are not there yet.



Affirming Reality: Judging

Insights are one thing; knowing they are true or not is another. So insights beg the question of their accuracy, their reliability--an answer to the question, Is it so?

This involves a change in self. The self in search of understanding is a detective-like self searching for clues, trying out possibilities, and eventually coming to know how the data all fits together in a single explanatory insight. A self that is aware of itself engaged in answering the question "Is it so?" need to be a dispassionate judge whose focus on coming to the truth overrides any personal satisfactions that might otherwise get in the way. A dispassionate judge is ideally reasonable, carefully collecting and sifting through the evidence, balancing one possibility over another, and finally affirming or denying the insight as an oversight.

The intentional self is still a judge, even though the judgments involve may operate in different fields of endeavor. Mathematicians have their own ways of collecting and weighing evidence, as do empirical scientists, philosophers, scholars, artists, or even theologians. But in the end they all come to a virtually unconditioned judgment of "yes" or "no", virtually unconditioned by the fact that unbeknownst to those involved a further question may be asked that when answered will affect the judgment.

There are different criteria when it comes to making a judgment. For example, an over-reliance on concepts may lead to a idealist epistemology, where the "primal form" of a concept is taken for reality without being subject to verification via a judgment. Or evidence may be restricted only to the sense data of bodies and their properties/conjugates, in which case this limitation affects the reliability of any judgement for there may well be other question that could be asked that were not. Naive realists determine what is real only by what can be seen, confusing his or her world mediated by meaning with the sensate world of common sense bodies. The appropriate epistemology is that of a critical realist, where--following the cognitive structure of the mind--correct judgments are based on being open to experience, intelligent in understanding, and reasonable when it comes to making a judgment. Taken together, an insight can be confirmed or denied.

Judgments sublate both understanding and experiencing, for it determines what is or is not real when it comes to both. A judgment sets into motion two different processes. The first is one of assimilation, where the individual accepts as being real--or not real--the judgment, something that includes an increased differentiation of identity and operations. For any judgment exists only as a decision of the mind before it can be accepted by the individual as an actual reality. The second is one of adjustment, where the initial change is integrated with the other elements of the person's world mediated by meaning. Sublation affects both operations. Both are essential when it comes to intellectual endeavors appropriate for the institutional roles and tasks that are part of the good of order.



Responsible Action: Deciding


The human good is always concrete, either a particular good or part of the good of order of society, or determining what is really important. Deciding what to do is to intend value, and making that intent real by adding to the human good in whatever form it may take.

While deciding occurs at any of the three levels of the human good--particular goods, good of order, and terminal value, it is especially important at the level of reflective understanding where what needs to be actualized is the person's potential for being free. The thing about deciding is that the choices that a person makes depends on the prior choice of what is or is not to be of ultimate value for that person. Such a decision acts like a telescope, bringing some aspects of reality into close focus while placing others outside the scope of one's concerns. This focus sublates the lower cognitive levels, affecting the judgments made, the understandings reached, and the range of experiences the person undertakes. If a person desires wealth, this desire becomes one of the criteria for making a judgment, directs one's need to understand toward economics, and places the individual within institutions whose primary purpose concerns wealth.

Freedom is not a license to do whatever one wants; it is being able to do what is necessary. Liberation means the freeing of the individuals from those things that bind him or her in ways that are detrimental to their own well-being. For example, an individual may restrict his or her attention to only the things that will affect them, ignoring all other concerns. Such egotism will meet resistance, and that resistance will lead to various constraints being put upon the individual. The same goes for a group bias, which calls out for the resistance of various suppressed groups. Or the pursuit of power above all things, for its own sake, will blind the individual from truly understanding what is going on and what may need to be done.

The "terminal value" level of the human good actualized the person's potential for freedom by focusing attention on improving the orientation of that person. Although it is the individual who needs to do the work, it is only in a community of others seeking to liberate themselves from various constraints that the work is carried out. This process of mutual self-mediation involve the individual's encounter with someone whose value choices are better than their own. It carries with it the willingness to change, to take on a better orientation that the person has achieved up to that point in time. It is a call to intellectual, moral, and religious conversion, for it is only when one knows how to know what is true, is willing to cast aside personal satisfactions in order to do what is right, and surrenders the search for god-like powers in favor of the universal perspective of the Divine Mystery that a person is truly free.


 © Russell C. Baker, 2017