Essay: Comments on Consciousness
- Obviously, at least to me, through self observation, is that most of our functions never rise to the level of consciousness. There is simply no survival need. I think the study of consciousness may explain aspects of "working memory" also.
Familiarity neurons fire and then appear to cause some functions to be reduced as unneeded. I walk into a familiar room and although something seems to know everything that is there it is only something unusual that causes the novelty neurons to fire and bring it to a higher level of consciousness. If there happens to be an emotional element such as evidence of a burglary it appears that I instantly notice a multitude of things that are different and a multitude of steps needed to be taken.
It may be that body movement illustrates best the changing condition of what is below and above the level of consciousness. My body may make literally millions of movements each day. It is only under certain conditions that any of this is brought up to the level of consciousness such as stubbing my toe or learning a dance step. One analogy is that consciousness is only the tip of the iceberg and the more than 99.9% below the water is what causes all the ship wrecks. :-)
So first I would take the liberty of saying that the amount of consciousness can change and that most functions can go on quite well without it. Another is that it is untrue but generally culturally accepted that consciousness is continuous, that in our waking state consciousness is always present and that consciousness is without degree. Consciousness although difficult to explain fully can be affected and may have an affect on what is categorized as working memory. There is the view, although I don't think it is fully true, that we only remember the moments of consciousness and that the degree of consciousness and the degree of remembering are nearly synonymous.
Some aspects of consciousness that I would include in a definition is self awareness including by some degree the content of one's mind, body condition and emotional state in the present moment. This "self knowing" or "remembering" the present is always increasing or decreasing and can vary considerably in intensity and length.
One of the ways to prove existence of something is to see if you can change it and show the affects. What affects the level of consciousness and what are the affects of its change? Suffering/conflict, familiarity/novelty, unfulfilled anticipation, effort and attention (uneven categorizations) appear to affect the level of consciousness.
We might speak of three types of attention; dispersed, attracted and intentional. The first and by far the most prevalent coincides with chaotic firing of neurons in some of our brain (details lacking). Patterns appear more randomly and memories of those patterns are less likely to occur. The second is when there is unexpected novelty or emotional occurrence that "takes" our attention. A pattern is imposed on our mind. It appears to me that the level of novelty or emotion has a corresponding affect on the level of consciousness and memories that occurs. The third or the most within our grasp is when we place and attempt to maintain attention against distraction. This effort also seems to cause emotional elements to occur and it may be, rather than the effort itself, it is the conflict that results in increased consciousness.
Another aspect of attention worthy of mention is focus and the sensitivity resulting from that. Somewhat like a camera attention can be without focus, random focus, or intentional focusing. There is degree to sharpness of focus which may also effect what is able to be viewed and be affected by or affect the degree of consciousness.
To go back to the room example we are sort of tricked into thinking that we are conscious of the whole room at each moment. Included in what is in focus is the assumed frame or the sense of the environment around it. If we looked at it digitally as one impression after another we could say that each time the focus is changed we have to re-remember or refresh the items in working memory. In my mind in relation to working memory the question ends up being not only what number of items can be brought into consciousness and focused on at one time but also what is called one item may be difficult to establish without considering what is happening above and below the threshold of consciousness (which may change from moment to moment).