Mental States vs. Stream of Consciousness
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 19, 2006
We are used to think that we can talk about state of some system in particular time, and we imagine that the change comes somehow outside of it, so to say, as if it is possible for a certain state to last through time if there is nothing to change it. We also project this kind of model to our conscious state too, and try to analyze our consciousness in terms of some states which can be fully described. But if we look at what is going on in our heads, we don’t find such thing… there is no pause, you can’t get hold of some moment as distinctive and separate. In the end… there are no moments and there are no momentary states.
Any conscious mental act, happens in the wider context of what is happening. In such a context some mental acts are more connected and dependent to the whole stream of consciousness, and some are less. A thought for example – is most of the times part of thinking, and our thinking happens in a stream where it is hard to catch or notice a particular thought and isolate it from the others in that stream. There are some other states, where one can say “Eureka!”, as if as some idea has just appeared in our heads from nowhere and maybe in those cases one can speak of thoughts which are not dependent on the context. At least not on the conscious context.
Take “looking at” as other mental state. It is hard to imagine some simple state which would be reduced to pure looking at something, and which would last time. In fact when I take a look at the flower in front of me, I can’t just look at it, there is no such moment to be isolated – in the moment when I put my attention to it, in that same moment I either start thinking something about it; or it associates me of something else, and my thought process goes in some other direction, while the image of flower fades away from my attention; or it invokes some emotions in me, which probably will again induce some thinking; or simply, if I succeed to keep my intention to the flower, my gaze goes over its surface noticing some other things about the flower.