At an altitude of 10km, I race toward Montreal. I have hours at my disposal and intend to use them well. But as is often the case with my mind it is heading in another direction. Instead of dissecting the concept of thought, so strange and out of reach, it deviates. It enters a simpler dream and with that, I leave the airplane cabin. I travel through space and time and visit my first own home, the place that forged two lives into one. I walk through rooms and scenes but all of a sudden reality rushes back into my mind and I am inside the plane again looking at the notebook’s screen, facing a rather empty page.
Back to work. I convince my mind to jot down some ideas and a similar experience takes hold of me. A new world materializes. I observe my thoughts and try to articulate some first understanding meanwhile my sensed surroundings disappear. Often it seems that what comes from without is beckoning with more vigor than anything from within but there is sometimes no clear distinction between the external world and those internal to me. A thought can stir my feelings, produce vivid scenes in my mind, and fill my head for hours to come.
A thought is the full range of experiences: impressions and an emerging flow of recognition. It is a universe. Sometimes small and fleeting other times grandiose and as long-lived as I am. Even outside reality becomes just a thought. More vivid and detailed than any other world in my mind but just a label in the end. When I dream perception isn’t granted the light of attention and so my dream’s impressions build the foundation of what is now reality. During the dark of night, only this thought lives and earns its name.
Reality, thoughts, and dreams become the same. Worlds created to experience, manipulate and inhabit. But where are they coming from? Are they of my own doing? Am I in charge? Sometimes it feels that way. Writing these articles at least gives me the experience of inner control. I force myself not to deviate and inhabit that thought until I found its conclusion. A spot in the realm of the unknown made understandable. But during all that time my mind tries to drift away into the ocean of other, simpler thoughts. Thoughts that are created relentlessly in an infinite number. But I stay here.
I will that world into being. So I think. But the truth is thoughts materialize without any of my doing. I may ask myself about my favorite movie just to be confronted with pictures, sounds, and names, some being more pronounced than others. They just appear in front of my mind’s eye and all I do is decide. This reality as small as it is was created for me. I didn’t choose any of its details. And even that very question was not of my doing. I needed a question and this idea entered my mind. How little control I have. Not even the smallest of worlds is my thiefdom.
But at least I can manipulate them to my liking. Can I? Sometimes a dream doesn’t feel right. An itchy feeling that something is off and needs my attention. It cannot progress and so my mind’s eye shifts towards the place of resistance. Alternative paths materialize and I only chose one option. My dream changes and starts to flow again. Even when I model a world its design is out of my hand. Creation and transformation happen behind a curtain. I am not allowed to peek.
And did I just say “I chose”? What an illusion. I didn’t make a decision but just accepted what was dominant. I went down the path that felt more right. The path of less resistance. That feeling of being right or wrong determines “my” decision but it is nothing I control. I do not choose what is right. I only feel it. And there might be a rationalization, an articulated story I tell myself why it has to be that way. But that is the path put into words. I am already on it. The decision was made.
So, am I only left with the power to accept? I accept that answer. I accept that dream. I accept my mind’s creations. But even that feels wrong. This thought hasn’t reached its conclusion. A flood of worlds makes itself aware in every breathing moment, a cacophony of thoughts that all strive for this single spot in the sun. And I just sit there in that place of resistance, wrongness, and resolution. Whatever thought wins is decided beforehand and so is its path. A rigged game. I do not accept. There is nothing left for me to do except experience consciousness.
And with that, I come to the bitter conclusion that I do not force my mind back into the struggle of complicated thought. No. This inner voice - yet another dream - pierces through and pronounces that I shall return to the struggle. Why? Because there is a profound feeling accompanying this command. A feeling of necessity that is controlling the light of attention. And so I write these essays not because I want to but because I have to.
- Essay series index
- Previous: Attention, Vivacity, and Continuity
- Next: Time
A1 - What happens to “I”?
“I” and “me” come into being exactly when there is resistance and struggle. When a world doesn’t know how to proceed. At that very moment, my mind expands, and many thoughts race through ontology, in the hope of discovering a new path. There is a feeling of broadness, a holistic whole from which “I” emerge.
While walking the known path “I” recede only to return when faced with novelty. “I” return and become aware of all the impressions and recognition that are rushing into my mind. A decision needs to be made and I just experience it from an all-encompassing point of view. “Me” therefore is the confluence of a neverending stream of worlds and the observation that a single one survives. Where there are too many thoughts resistance builds up and “I” appear. This is in stark contrast to a state of flow, a place in consciousness where there is no “me” but only pure experience. Everything feels right and time, space, and identity disappear.
But doesn’t that mean that “I” can only exist as an agent when there is a struggle, challenge, and danger? To become self-aware I have to enter the unknown and try to follow the path untrodden. But who is deciding to venture on? Where is that motivation coming from? I have concluded that agency is an experience that emerges out of a struggle for attention. There is no decision to make because the decision is already done. There is no opinion to form because the result gets presented to me. What does that to agency?
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