Friday January 29, 2010
OK, so I’ve written about this before, but I’m still not sure that I’ve got to the bottom of it, so at the risk of repeating myself I’m going to have another stab at it. Or, at least, at reframing, once again, the question that has been recently haunting me.
As regular visitors will know, I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what some folks call the cognitive unconscious. My cognitive unconscious is not some terrible area of inner darkness where, unbeknownst to me, lurk various childhood repressions and Oedipal shenanigans, but instead the large chunk of my mental processing, as a living creature going about its business in the world, that goes on unbeknownst to what I call “me”. Despite the claims of some that Buddhist meditation is a sure-fire way of finding out about our inner world, of mapping our internal geography, or of consciousness becoming transparent to itself, so to speak, there is increasing evidence that much of our functioning is, and forever will be, cognitively closed to us, at least from the point of view of first-person methods, whether meditative or otherwise. And this has interesting implications not just for how we see meditation, but for how we see ourselves.
Here, I think, things get rather interesting, because we tend to think that our minds are our own affairs, curious little empires for which we are the sole authoritative ambassadors. But if much of what takes place in our minds takes place in a fashion that is closed to us (and that may always be closed to us, which was the thrust of my previous post on the subject), then this does tend to erode this sense of self-certainty, and it tends to eat away at the authority that we often claim for ourselves. For there are a great many philosophical constructions of what it is to be a self, or an agent, or a perceiver, that simply do not fit with what we now know about the cognitive unconscious, with what we now know about how our minds work.
So this is what I’m still not sure I’ve got to the bottom of: what does this fact that most of my mind’s business is really not something I will ever have access to mean for the way that I conceive of myself? What does it mean for the sense I might have of being me? Because it seems to me that the more we know about how we actually function, the more this knowledge makes strange what we might otherwise take for granted in experience. And this is where the fun starts.
Something, as Bob once said, is happening here. But I don’t know what it is.
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