You and I are not really all that conscious, so would we assume other folks to be conscious?
Because each of us goes through the day being continuously aware of something, we assume that we’re conscious beings. I mean from moment to moment, we’re aware of this, then aware of that, and then something else. First a thought about your work, then your butt itches, then you remember you need to stop at the grocery store, then you sneeze, and then you admire a passing girl.
You see? Continuously aware of something or other.
However, that’s not the whole story.
If we take a viewpoint outside our own busy brain, and consider one thing that’s outside ourselves, in the environment … for example, consider the color of paint on the front door of the house three doors down the street from where you live.
What color is it?
Many of us will not know. Because when we consider just one thing outside our own busy monkey-mind, it’s clear that we’re not very conscious of that one thing, not very conscious at all.
And the two things are related. Because we’re so internally busy being aware of this, of that, of this other, we’re really much too busy to be very conscious of the multiplicity of things and people and events and colors and sounds and temperatures and tones and stuff and stuff and stuff … all around us. The being busy — which makes us think we’re aware — is actually interfering with our ability to be conscious of things outside ourselves.
The book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind is perhaps the best book ever written that explains how human consciousness came to exist. In this book, author Julian Jaynes uses an analogy for consciousness. He says that our conscious is much as if we were a flashlight in a dark room. Wherever we look, we see light. But all around us — behind and to the sides and above and below — all around us there is a vast darkness, which we can never perceive, because that’s never where we are looking.
Accepting this situation is not to say there is anything wrong. We are finite creatures in an infinite universe. That’s the deal. We are feeble and so very limited, in the wide world around us. How could we possibly be conscious of all the vast and imponderable concatenation of single things through which we swim as in a rich broth of sound and sensation?
The answer: We cannot.
By our nature, by our limitation, we cannot be conscious, no matter how busy we are being aware of this, of that, of this other. Our freedom amid this vast barrier is that we can thoughtfully choose what kinds of things we’re going to be aware of. We can learn to operate a mind, to operate a set of emotions, to operate a body. Learn how to treat others, how to find what we want and what we think we need, how we will cherish others. This is our freedom. The freedom to choose … if we’re thoughtful about … being alive.
But now to the point: If you and I are not actually all that conscious, day in and day out, then why would we assume that other people are conscious?
And the answer is that they are not. For example, if you start a new business and you advertise in the paper and pass out leaflets up and down the street, then you will be amazed how staggeringly long it takes for your community of people to actually become aware of your existence. Each of those people has such low consciousness of any one thing — such as yourself — that they can remain amazingly unconscious of you and your thoughts and your needs and your existence. Oh, for years and years, it may be.
So we shouldn’t suffer about what other people are thinking about us. They’re generally not conscious of us at all. And there’s a lot of freedom in that.
Knowing this handy Rule-O-Thumb, go forth and prosper.