The Soggy Towel of Consciousness

“So the universe is not quite as you thought it was. You’d better rearrange your beliefs then, because you certainly cannot rearrange the universe.” ~Isaac Asimov

Consciousness is not a canvas billboard plastered with our individuality. It isn’t an assembly line, churning out a steady output for any given input. It isn’t a movie reel, whose smooth continuum depicts a chronological narrative. Consciousness more closely resembles an offshore swell break whose every quality is determined by a multitude of subtle and overt factors. Cardinal direction of swell, wind speed and direction, temperature of the water, tidal height, lunar position, and ocean topography all contribute to the mad variance of that salty cascade. And though there is a certain consistency to the pattern of our consciousness, the numerous and subtle factors that define it can sometimes transform it into something unrecognizable.

Human consciousness is like a thick towel constantly being punctured by distraction, twisted by emotion, knotted by chemicals, and wrinkled by bias. It is shrunk and stretched in the washing machine of time. It is colored by belief, and stained by experience. It is torn by trauma. And after decades of tumbling around the great drier of life, it can become thin, worn out, staid.

There is a disparity between how we gauge our consciousness on the whole and the way we apply it in individual moments. Level headed examination shines a rosy light on who we are. Our character blemishes are obscured from the distance. From such lofty retrospective heights, we can rationalize, validate and justify our actions. We can externalize blame, or pin it to emotion. Our brains are master weavers capable of seamlessly braiding the hard facts of reality with enough ambiguity to veil their own folly. Given time, the brain can rationalize any of its actions. This process can leave many of our negative emotions unresolved and set to trigger again at the next instance.

But moral ideals matter less up close. In the moment, especially in the heat of an argument, it is common to abandon rational thinking for the sake of self preservation.

The other day I witnessed a vicious example of man’s ability to reconcile his own brutality. This man in question beat another man until he was spitting blood into a puddle of water. The victim was hunched over with hands raised, desperately apologizing and pleading for respite. Panting like a wild dog, the brute said to him, “Why did you make me do that?”

What kind of insanity is that? How quickly his mind was able to separate itself from the brutality implied by his actions. Moments after his vicious attack, his brain was already externalizing the shame. The video of his memory probably shows him being provoked beyond restraint. If I asked him days later if he thought himself a violent man, I wonder if he’d reply ‘no.’

And this happens all the time, albeit not with such gruesome effect. All day, everyday, people live life embarrassingly susceptible to their emotions. It’s as if however they’re feeling at any moment contains some objective necessity. It’s as if they believe their decisions made in the flames of anger are equally valid to the ones made under the cool drip of reason.

But let me not single out anger. All emotions tint our perspective of the world, our present-moment consciousness. I only condemn negative emotions here because the irrational actions taken while under euphoric influence aren’t usually a cause for concern. Maybe you’ll annoy people with your affections, but you won’t cause blood to congeal in a gutter.

Actions made in assent to an emotion are feral. They stumble chaotically through a simple progression of incident, emotion, and reaction. There is no thought. There is no rationality. But the idea that we’re living impulsively, and not making rational choices is discomforting, so we exalt our emotions to absolve ourselves.

If our emotions truly dominate our consciousness, and we cannot but assent to their pull, then we are free of the responsibility of our actions while under their spell. That is a premise that many people seem to tacitly assent to. But it is patently false, and that dogma only propagates negative emotions through the rash actions they incite.

The notion that consciousness flows steadily and clearly through time is an illusion created by the mind to maintain an intuitive grasp of reality. To reconcile the chaotic nature of consciousness is to wrestle with perception, it is to defy memory, and rebel against the ego. Doing so is difficult, and the subtleties that mark the way can remain hidden for a lifetime.

But if we can only surmount the emotional inertia of all our individual moments, we can direct our consciousness deliberately. And overtime we can craft our identities deliberately as well.

Thank you for reading.


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