What a privilege to be aware of anything, and to be aware that one is aware is astonishing. Consider for a moment the vastness of the universe and the astonishing number of stars. It’s something approximately like ten to the twenty-second-power stars. And now consider how huge our star is compared to our planet Earth, and how minuscule we are compared to our Earth. In the midst of this large universe, that at the moment doesn’t have a discernible consciousness of itself, I and presumably you, too, can be conscious of its existence and of ours too.
Right now I have a diamond-studded ring in front of me, and these tiny stones are considered valuable, and yet in the vastness of the universe these common carbon atoms compressed into crystals must be existent in huge quantities. Self-conscious organic brains must be infinitely more rare, and yet I have that quality at this very moment, and so do you. What an astonishing gift! The Universe didn’t give consciousness to us. Consciousness is just an artifact of the working out of processes that were latent in it from the beginning.
Perhaps only in the last ten thousand years of human development did self-consciousness come into being. That was the contention of the popular book”The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” by Julian Jaynes. In that book, Jaynes explored some potential proofs of that idea, that were not convincing, but just because the proofs were weak doesn’t mean his idea was wrong. It’s is difficult to know what people were thinking about even in books written this year, let alone three thousand years ago. What we think of as our personal thoughts that arise in our mind because we think about them, people in Homeric times apparently considered to be spirits from some other dimension speaking to them.
My thought of the moment is that I am now aware of being aware, but most of the day I am thinking about whatever it is that I am doing. If someone asked me at this instant, I would be thinking of my fingers tapping the right keys to get the right words onto this screen that are in my mind. While doing that operation I’m only slightly aware of my surroundings, and not really aware of my conscious place in the vastness of the Universe, even though that is what I am writing about. Is my awareness of my thoughts any different from the awareness of my fingers? Not much! In a second I can shift my thoughts from these keys, to out the window, to the vastness of it all, and it all seems to be the same awareness; it’s only the choice of my attention that is different.
Are my perceptions any different from the squirrel, or the robin outside my window, or is it only that I have an ability with language and can write about these things? I am aware that I am aware, because of language, and perhaps I am only aware that I am aware because other people have communicated to me that this is a thought worth pursuing. If no one had ever brought up that question, in the random confusion created by the interaction of people arguing about things, perhaps I nor other people would ever be aware of the fact that they can be aware, or become more aware of being aware through contemplation. There doesn’t seem to be any advantage to being aware that I am aware of, like there is an advantage for the robin to be aware that a bit of food is on the ground in front of him. Quite the opposite, my being aware seems to be a use of my time and attention that has no survival value.
No doubt it is counterproductive of my own well-being to spend too much time observing my awareness of my place in the Universe; that activity doesn’t seem to help me to survive and prosper. All the same,
I enjoy the awareness that I am aware of my awareness and of its rareness.