I have always asked the question “what is consciousness“. I vividly recall being a 10-year old and wondering how/why my experience was different from anyone else’s. Not in the “do they see colors the same as me” kind of way, but in the more literal sense of “why am I in my body and not in that body over there?”
I observed how two people walking down a hallway would adjust their pace and direction to avoid each other: such precise, robotic calculation! I thought, perhaps a better question would be “why am I a human and not a computer? or a tree?”
So I resigned myself to studying behavior — the closest ‘occupation’ I could find to answer these questions. As I’ve said before, this lead me to the mechanistic processes underlying behavior: to Neuroscience. I rationalized, if you understand the trees, you can understand the forest! But there’s a disconnect in that logic. The whole is not something to be understood through the details; subjectivity is not something that can be rationalized. To ask the question “why am I in this body and not in that body” is to miss the point entirely. In fact, what I had been doing this whole time was zooming.
A detailed comprehension of individual trees will never describe the emergent property that is the forest. Similarly, understanding the forest will never represent the unique unit that is the single tree.
I feel entirely silly for having missed the point for so long. One of my favorite philosophers, Daniel Dennett, has been trying to tell me what to do since the year I was born. Another of my favorite philosophers, Douglas Hofstadter, calls it “jootsing” or jumping out of the system. In regards to jootsing Dennett says:
As a general rule, when a long-standing controversy seems to be getting nowhere, with both “sides” stubbornly insisting they are right, as often as not the trouble is that there is something they both agree on that is just not so.
Both sides consider it so obvious, in fact, that it goes without saying. Finding these invisible problem-poisoners is not an easy task, because whatever seems obvious to these warring experts is apt to seem obvious, on reflection, to just about everybody.
This should start to sound familiar, since jootsing is the exact opposite of zoom. It is the act of seeing the two sides of an argument as one, coherent, emergent whole. It is accepting that you can never know your self and that you can never feel others. Dennett even describes it in the preceding quote as reflection.
If you haven’t guessed yet, jootsing is eightstep.
And this leads me to who I want to be as a life coach. In Dennet’s words I want to perform heterophenomenology: “an explicitly third-person, scientific approach to the study of consciousness and other mental phenomena” in order to joots. This is different from philosophical counseling because, while I want to expose internal inconsistency and conflict, I do not want to ascribe traditional philosophical theories to people who were clearly never interested in doing so in the first place! Instead, what I can provide is the capacity for you to organize your own philosophical framework. To help you place your feelings and thoughts into a logically valid, unique structure that may or may not be congruent with prevailing philosophical theories.
I’ve realized that studying consciousness is unbelievably more simple than I ever imagined (because I was never very good at imagining anything at all!).
All you have to do is interact with it.