In this article I outline my understanding of the phenomenon of consciousness.
The three levels are: totally unconscious, partially conscious/unconscious, and totally conscious. All phenomena fall into one of these three categories for each person.
Totally unconscious phenomena are things which people don’t know that they don’t know. Partly unconscious are things people know, if only vaguely, that they don’t know, and conscious are things people actually do know.
The difference between a partially unconscious phenomenon and a totally unconscious phenomenon is that there is no humility with regards to totally unconscious phenomena. Obviously, when a person doesn’t know that they don’t know something, there is no way they could be humble about it.
There are significant benefits to being ignorant of something. The basic formula can be illustrated by someone who has spinach stuck in her mouth at dinner. So long as she remains ignorant of the spinach, she can talk without any sort of self-consciousness. Her dinner guests may be well aware of the spinach, but perhaps she is clearly enjoying telling a long story, so they won’t tell her, being aware of the price she will have to pay for bringing the spinach to consciousness. This is a good example, because this type of ignorance is so common that it is easily forgiven, because its commonly realized that it could happen to anyone.
Here are two more illustrations of how ignorance is bliss, so to say: In the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, what the Emperor doesn’t know doesn’t hurt him. The people in the crowd say nothing, either because they want to remain ignorant of the scandal as well, or because of diplomatic tact, but they are sensitive (either consciously or unconsciously) to the price of knowledge. Remaining ignorant was acceptable to everyone but the little boy, because he knew nothing of the price of consciousness. The second example is the story of the Garden of Eden. The basic story is that before Adam and Eve knew anything about Good and Evil, their ignorance allowed them to live in peace and with no fig leaves over their genitals, but when they ate the fruit, their knowledge was accompanied by an extraordinary change in circumstances – they had to hide themselves from each other, and all previously plentiful resources became scarce.
Therefore its no trivial matter to consider moving from total unconsciousness of something into partial consciousness of it. Our modern times rarely heed this fact, so it must be emphasized. One must weigh the costs and benefits of making someone conscious of something. But of course, in order to weigh the costs and benefits, on must deeply understand the effects which making something conscious has on people, both in general and in specific. The most common case, and the one which leads to the most strife, is when a parent’s partial consciousness of something makes them overvalue how important it is, and thus consciousness of it is forced upon their children before the children have any ability to handle it. This raises the issue of partial consciousness.
The initial discovery of a thing can suck the discoverer into it. The thing presents an aspect which was not previously accomodated by the discoverer’s view of the world. The price which is paid is that many of the person’s rock-hard beliefs are realized to be not beliefs, but assumptions, and as such they are now vulnerable to doubt. This is the price of consciousness, to turn beliefs into doubts. These doubts have their good side and their bad side. The good side is that someone who doubts has a better chance of witnessing truth than someone who just believes. The downside is that, as in the case of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, doubt absorbs life force and confidence, which are sometimes the only thing standing between success and failure.
There is a parallel between the price one pays for higher consciousness, and the process of capitalist investment. The whole idea with investment is that you give up some capital now in order to get profit later. As with consciousness, and assuming pure capitalism (with no fraud or corruption), there is risk. Nonetheless, the processes of capitalism correspond with the psychology of consciousness increase – sacrifice now, gain later.
The state of partial consciousness is extremely frustrating, because you now know that you don’t know. Only with total consciousness do you actually underand the whole picture. The closer you get to total consciousness, the more you know, not just about the original item, but also about the effects which bringing that item to consciousness has had on you. Total consciousness understands the practical effects of both the original item and the particular effects which that item has on people when it is brought to consciousness.
Why is it so important to size up the effects an item when brought to consciousness? Because it’s part of understanding something to understand how it affects other people when it is brought to consciousness. Total knowledge of a thing *requires* understanding how it affects other people. The effects of being aware of it are a very important characteristic of it:
Say an asteroid were headed straight for Earth and was going to cause the worst apocalypse imaginable. The two pieces of knowledge involved are: the actual effects of the asteroid’s hitting the Earth; and the effects which knowing the asteroid is coming to Earth will have on people.
Getting to total knowledge is hard, because first one must familiarize oneself with the phenomenon per se, and only after some time does it start becoming possible to imagine what it’s like for someone else who is discovering it.
All phenomena fall for each person into one of the three categories, total unconsciousness, partial consciousness, and total consciousness. Different items will be in different categories for different people. It is very common for a person to be approaching total knowledge in one area while still being completely ignorant of something else. Humility is only possible when you know that you don’t know.
When you totally know something, you not only understand the thing but also how it affects people. Therefore you can judge from moment to moment the value of mentioning it to someone. What I’ve found is that there are many cases where people arrogantly think they understand something without even knowing that they don’t know. In these cases, it is rarely useful to tell them outright that they don’t know, because it’s hardly possible for them to believe that there’s anything they don’t know. Yet there is unconscious jealousy. They feel the world has betrayed them by not letting them in on some secret.
So let’s say one person knows something that the other person doesn’t even know that they don’t know. The price of knowledge for that ignorant person could be quite high, since the first thing they would have to discover would be their ignorance, which tends to come as a shock, because there’s hardly anything more embarrassing than when you finally realize you don’t know anything and that you’ve been a real asshole the whole time. So the person who knows is trying to deal with the person who doesn’t know that they don’t know, and the person who doesn’t know can’t fathom what they’re experiencing because their condition doesn’t register as anything familiar. The person who knows can’t assault the ego of the ignorant person, because no one can withstand being told that they don’t even know how ignorant they are.
What has to happen is that the person who knows must become comfortable with paradox. The ignorant person seems to them a chaotic volcano of totally unrelated behaviors, all of which represent the ignorant person’s attempt to cast his experiences into known molds. If the person who knows allows any one of those casts to settle into place, he will have to deal continually with the ignorant person’s arrogance, thinking he knows when he doesn’t. Nor can he talk directly because the ignorant person’s ego can hardly withstand to discover how clueless he is. Therefore the right thing for the knowledgable person to do is to maintain the paradox, dodging the lava while never directly confronting the issue.
Typically an ignorant person will be able to come to consciousness, but only on his own time. Any premature forcing of the issue will result in violent ego confrontations which often don’t do any good. The job of the knowledgable person is, as I said, to maintain the paradox. When I observe the life of Bob Dylan, I see an extraordinarily good example of this. He seems to fit perfectly into the mold of the person who knows a lot while at the same time realizing how impossible it would be to tell people directly what he knows.