The concept of consciousness and the basic workings of the human mind is one that we thought we had figured out. It is this ‘consciousness’ that forms out thoughts, emotions, feelings, perception, beliefs and memories, the way in which we react to the world around us on a daily basis.
However, experts are now asking the important question what if everything we believe to be true is actually misinformation?
We believe that our personal awareness is able to select from a preprogrammed set of responses, stored away as ‘contents of consciousness’ in our mind. After all, we have control over how we think and feel, correct? We choose when to be happy and when to be sad. In fact, many of our self-help style programs are built on just this concept – harnessing the power of our personal awareness to choose the emotions, feelings, and perceptions that will propel us forward in life and create a positive, happy environment.
A new research paper published in ‘Frontiers of Psychology’ challenges this belief. Instead, it introduces the idea that these preprogrammed responses aren’t selected by our personal awareness at all. Instead, there is a process that goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in which non-conscious systems within our brain generate a response without any influence from our personal awareness at all. What does this mean? We don’t actually get to choose our feelings at all, we simply become aware of them and choose how we act based on these thoughts.
If you stop and consider what they are stating, it really does make sense. When was the last time you found yourself facing a difficult situation and actively thinking about whether you were going to be upset without feeling anything? Instead, those who try to make that idea work are often already experiencing sadness or anger, while trying to actively apply a different emotion to the situation – but the pain that you were feeling is already present, fully formed and very real.
Instead, each of us has what is referred to as a ‘personal narrative.’ This is a subset of our consciousness that exists alongside our personal awareness, however, we are unable to influence or control it. It is created based on our experiences, thoughts, and beliefs, constantly updating and evolving as we continue to experience life.
Interested in learning more? Check out this video from American neuroscientist Dean Buonomano:
Here’s another great video from philosopher Dan Dennett, discussing ‘The Illusion of Consciousness”:
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