Tag Archive: Consciousness

OK, I have been building up to another post for a while, I have been trying to write one on the psychology of racism but feel there are some premises that should be explained before it. The first of these is going to be the lies we choose not to process. We think, thanks to our super efficient consciousness that we know everything that is going on in our brain but that is far from the truth. There are shortcuts, design flaws, things not worth noticing and beyond all that there is the unconscious mind that actually does all the work and gets none of the thanks.

We process lies, we are told lies and we process them. We add up whether there is any truth in the statement, we analyse all things associated with the situation, previous experience, what we know about the person speaking, whether we have any evidence and then we decide whether it is the truth or not. If you want to understand this better, consider it within a conversation with someone who might be telling the truth or not. Then assess things in terms of their usual familiarity about that person and whether or not they seem more easily retrievable. They should be. We make these decisions as to a persons’ honesty, we decide how we will treat their future information and our conscious mind takes all the credit. The problem with this is that it thinks it is in control, it needs to think it is in control and contradicting that would undermine consciousness as a whole. So, it will give glimpses of this decision making process, it will allow just enough reasoning to happen consciously and it will generally just get on with things.

There is an issue with this though, we only pay attention to a decision if it is hard or if there are things attached to it that make it particularly significant. There are a few little examples in normal life that should give an idea of the complications involved. How often has, what should be a simple decision taken ages to make, simply because you had the misfortune of paying attention at the time? Things like picking from a take away menu, becomes a massive decision, taking up your entire central executive (the conscious thinking bit). Or, you have been agonizing over a decision for days, then without thinking about it at all, you realise you have made it. This highlights, for me anyway, the interaction between the unconscious and the conscious decision making bits of the brain.

There are a bunch of studies coming out at the minute and for the last 6 or 7 years that will tell you that determinism is entirely real and I do not actually disagree with this but it is far from as simple as saying ‘well if I was only ever going to make one decision, I don’t need to think about anything’. There are moral, physical, neurological and societal reasons to confuse this issue but for now, I will just say that we are conscious beings and as such, there is large element of decision making that is automatic.

So, what’s the point? Well, in this instance the unconscious decisions, the things we don’t quite bother attending to, the things like a government telling lies or a government being racist or Louise Mensch being stupid enough to think she is a feminist, these are things that should concern us but don’t seem to be doing often enough. So, why is that? I am sure there is a complexity to this answer that I would not dare to approach in all honesty but a couple of things of interest is the way we at least appear to repress things we don’t want/ don’t feel the need to pay attention to.

We think (hopefully) that all the current MP’s, for example, are scum sucking leeches that only have big business and their own interests behind every single action (if you don’t think this, then this article is particularly for you). It is precisely because we attribute things like ‘liar’, ‘cheat’ and other generally unscrupulous adjectives that they get away with things like expense scandals, giving Vodafone a couple of million £ bung and flat out lying to students in the run up to an election. It is not always as simple as that though, there are thresholds and as I have mentioned, there are some cognitive processes that play their part as well.

To attend to a decision it requires either a conscious decision, which people are conditioned out of making in terms of politics or the decision to be particularly salient to them personally. If not, then as long as it doesn’t contradict current schema’s it will be dismissed using an attitude and everything carries on. It is worth mentioning at this stage, attitudes are formations of cognitions designed to make sure we don’t waste time and energy thinking about things that we already know about. If we had to decide every element of every decision, then we would do very little else. We develop attitudes, which are automatically achieved schemata that dictate what groupings of things are associated with each thing we experience. It is a way of saving time. These develop both consciously and subconsciously and I won’t bore you with too much detail about all of that. The point is, if you think that politicians are liars, cheats and thieves and they behave like that, it is not even going to hit the conscious thought process. It is far more likely that you will just carry out about your business, happy in the fact that actually your current understanding of the world has been affirmed again. In terms of operant conditioning, you are actually rewarded for being right about being cheated and apathy ensues.

All this matters because Marxists constantly talk about raising the consciousness of the working class and people talk constantly about the apathy of a generation. The simple fact is, while people attribute these things to politicians without fighting and questioning why they should be this thing and get away with it, apathy will continue unless what they do becomes massively important and requires conscious processing because of the threat it poses for the individual. So, it is necessary for change to happen for every person to believe that every act they carry out directly affects them and just writing them off as liars and cheats is going to compound the problem. I am not saying we shouldn’t think of them as this, there is plenty of evidence to suggest they are both. I am saying though, that actually, the expense scandal has almost actually worked in their favour. They sacrifice a few lambs, most of them are back in work relatively unaffected and life continues for them are we get done over.


A Material Model of Consciousness

Marx and Foucault both talked about the nature of history and consciousness, where it defines what we are and who we are in an instant and in the future. Marx suggests that our consciousness is a material product of our being and that our conscious conclusions are the same. Analysing the two slightly different definitions of consciousness posited by these two theorists and many others has resulted in my research into how this would work and some of the correlations with recent psychological modelling of memory and intelligent thought.

My suggestion is that firstly, the instantaneous, unidirectional model of consciousness currently living in the slot of ‘most accepted’ theory is questionable at best. Consciousness itself is far from being a unidirectional construct where all decisions are made facing forward. Our conscious decision making process seems that way from within our consciousness as we experience everything in a temporal directionality. We also experience the phenomena of control of this and our thoughts, however this is not as it seems. The product of our consciousness is subject to change, from within and without. What Trotsky said has a different effect because of time passing and the dialectics affecting it. Memory can alter over time, even within an individual, exampled by preferential remembering (e.g. when I was just a lad, I was the best football player in our team, a claim made by at least 6 other people but without challenge this idea becomes self conditioned following the basic principle posited in Bandura’s social learning theory but without the social element) and there is a reason to believe perception alters the physicality of a thing to match each perceivers materially constructed experience of previous products/ experiences.

The first element of consciousness to be discussed will be memory. The majority of the current memory models do not allow for a multi-directional factor of memory. Those that do are not complex enough to allow for a reason this might be the case. This is important because it affects our validity as decision making moral beings. Recall of a memory is not as simple as sending a request neurologically to retrieve information stored in a filing cabinet in the brain marked ‘info A’. It is a complex matrix of inter-related information stored in various forms in different areas of the brain and reformulated in the hippocampus. Once a memory is stored, it is not safe and incorruptible. Memories are subject to decay, associative alteration, misremembering, bias, reformulation errors, incoherent transfer from short term semantic format to long term episodic format. Memory, once it is in, is one of the testaments to the astonishing complexity of the human brain and the ultimate in bad science.

That is not to suggest the science surrounding the brain is bad but that the brain itself is bad at science. When something goes wrong, rather than expose its own fallibility, it lies to you. That’s right, your brain makes it up with cognitive trickery like the completion phenomena but with a vast array of functions, including salient thought, so you don’t know it is having an off day and can’t be bothered thinking whatever you want it to properly. So, we are more complex than apes but actually, make more mistakes than them, who is smarter? It depends how you grade.

Our conscious mind is constantly lying to us. The simple fact is, we have very lazy brains and that is why visual tricks work and why two people experiencing the same event will remember it completely differently. It is a perspective thing. We are influenced and have our attention drawn to things that are most salient to us and the rest we are not that interested in and just make it up. I am not even kidding, watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWSxSQsspiQ. (the link is a little example, that is pretty short and worth a watch). So, our consciousness can be wrong, it can be fooled and it is lazy. There are other examples but I won’t bore you with them all, for now please just accept me suggesting that you are all not as smart as you think you are and your brain is a bit crap.

Why does this slightly offensive rant matter to Marxist dialectical materialism? Well, the brain lies I have already talked about are an example of how what is a product of our consciousness in this instant is subject to change over time, even to be redefined by your own consciousness. This happens either as your material self alters and/or is altered by the social or the result of a prior consciousness is subject to change in itself. Take John Lennon for example, ‘Working Class Hero’ meant something totally different when it was written to what it is now, we compare it to now because we can do nothing else with the way our brain functions and we think we are comparing it using our older minds or those of us too young to remember it first time, even attempt to remember it as if we were there but we get it wrong.

The idea that our consciousness is a constant thing that cannot be altered is a rather silly one really. It is not added to until we die, it is merely altered. The social situation we are in changes our consciousness, either to fit the situation or not, depending on our temperament at the time. We feel that we have the ability to choose this but we don’t, not really. There are those of us that are naturally defiant, myself included, who think I don’t change for anyone but that is a product of a material history, in a material mind and consciousness is as a result of our history and will later be a part of our future and we are that shifting thing, that does not settle. There is a lot of talk of capitalism is modelled around our automatic brain functionality but that is actually really narrow and not nearly close to the truth, it is just close to how our mind has us perceive its own function so we don’t all get dizzy and fall down. Marx is much closer to how we work consciously.