Subjectivity as a tool for survival

I walked past one of those book vendors you see all over in the Village.  Most of the time I look at those tables of books and wonder how those guys make any money at all.  I always am hoping to see something worth reading, sometimes I even stop and browse.  For about two seconds.  Last week I purchased a textbook titled Cognition, Brain, and Consciousness.  It is bright yellow and was propped against the leg of the table there on the sidewalk.  Was this a way in which my subjective consciousness stepped in to help me survive this course?  It does have several graphs and pictures to help guide me through some of what Damasio is saying.  All joking aside, in the myriad of new and exciting bits I’ve gathered from this week’s reading, the most interesting to me is the idea of subjectivity being largely connected to how we survive.  I realize the unconscious organism, the self-less can operate, however I am guessing that an unconscious human would not be able to last very long.

Still, I am more than a little bit concerned with the idea that each individual, with our individual maps and the images they produce, which are “available directly but only to the owner of the mind in which they occur,” is heavily reliant on collective groups of individuals.  Im thinking specifically of creative and philosophical individuals.  I’m thinking about the ways in which, for example, Henry James has influenced the thinking of so many.  I found a quote from him in my new textbook.  Damasio refers to him as well, but I thought that was because he was trying to appeal to those less scientific.  When I came across James in the textbook I realized there is a very strong connection between the creative minds and the scientific ones and this connection has a lot to do with consciousness.  (70)

The amazing and frightening idea churning in my mind is that while we are a group, while we do act as a species uniformly (as in we are born, we speak, we work, we eat, we procreate, we die ), we are all quite isolated in our consciousness.  No two have the same consciousness and yet we have this “feeling” of connectedness.  Is this feeling false?  The James quote reads;

Millions of items…are present to my sense which never properly enter into my experience.  Why?  Becuase they have no interest for me.  My experience is what I agree to attend to…. Each of us literally chooses, by his ways of attending to things, what sort of a universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit.

– from The Principles of Psychology (1890)

As our mapping of our surroundings and experiences “is not a mere copy, a passive transfer from the outside of the brain toward its inside,” how do we function together?  Our reading this week has me thinking that our functioning has a lot to do with our subjective observations and that we are way more delusional than I considered.  This seems obvious now that I have typed it here, but it is more important, worth more consideration now that I have read biological validation.  (64)

Damasio has presents a positive light on this idea saying our “categories of psychology ( emotion, perception, memory, language, intelligence, and consciousness ) become less odd and far less mysterious […] an inevitable and endearing logic.”  (60)All of the things he mentioned are susceptible to our subjectivity.  I guess the most simple and explicit way I can express my concern is with a question:

What is our subjective consciousness hiding from us in order to help us survive?

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4 Responses to Subjectivity as a tool for survival

  1. amelia daly says:

    Darby, that text is on amazon prime!

  2. Amelia, I love the James quote you provided. I wrote it down on a post-it and put by my desk. There is a very interesting element about the idea (albeit perhaps debatable) that our perception of the world, our consciousness within ourselves and of ourselves, is comprised of only partial elements from “reality” due merely to the fact that there must be some filtering, or perhaps a better way to say it might be “curating” or own experience. People have particular individual outlooks, tendencies, habits, either learned or instinctual, that make their perceptions unique but that also make them incomplete. James’ assertion that his experience is “what he agree[s] to attend to” gives him a power which I doubt any of us have. Perhaps he means merely that his mind sorts out the pertinent details for him, but that seems more tactical than I feel it really is. I might be leaning a little too much on psychology and sociology here but I find it hard to leave them out of my attempt to understand this weeks readings. There are so many infinite nuances in this discussion! There is a street book seller near me in astoria…maybe he has some old brain textbooks that I can buy to help me sort it out too!

  3. Jason Tougaw says:

    Will you bring that book to class? I’m curious to see it.

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