Everyone knows how it feels to be conscious. Being conscious is the unique meaning of personal awareness that gives us the feeling of control and ownership of the experiences, feelings, and thoughts we have every day.
Many experts think that consciousness can be divided into two parts. These are the consciousness that includes conscious experience (personal awareness) and thoughts, beliefs, feelings, perceptions, intentions, memories, and feelings.
It is easy to assume that the content of consciousness is selected and controlled by our personal awareness. After all, thoughts cannot exist until thought. However, in a new research article published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology, we claim that this is a mistake.
We believe that personal awareness does not create, or cause beliefs, feelings, or perceptions. Instead, we think that the content of consciousness is produced “behind the scenes” by fast, efficient and unconscious systems in our brains. All this happens without any intervention by our personal awareness sitting passively in the passenger seat when these processes take placeç
This is not just a suggestion!
If these things seem strange to you, you can think of how every morning you recover your consciousness that the night before you’ve lost it, without making any effort; how thoughts and feelings arrive in a pre-formed form in our minds; you can think of how shapes and colors you see are made up of reminiscent faces and meaningful objects without any effort.
Imagine that all neuropsychological processes responsible for tasks such as moving your body or using words to build a sentence are not related to your personal awareness. We argue that processes responsible for the formation of consciousness work in the same way.
Our thoughts were influenced by research focusing on neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric problems and recent perceptual neuroscience studies using hypnosis. In addition, these studies using hypnosis method; shows that the person’s mood, feelings, thoughts, and perceptions can change through suggestions.
In such studies, the participants enter hypnosis initiation process to help them enter a mentally focused situation. Subsequently, participants are presented with suggestions for changing their perceptions and experiences.
For example, in one study, researchers recorded the brain activity of participants when they raised their arm intentionally, when it was lifted by a pulley, and when it moved in response to a hypnotic suggestion that it was being lifted by a pulley.
The personal narrative
All this may leave one wondering where our thoughts, emotions and perceptions actually come from. We argue that the contents of consciousness are a subset of the experiences, emotions, thoughts and beliefs that are generated by non-conscious processes within our brains.
This subset takes the form of a personal narrative, which is constantly being updated. The personal narrative exists in parallel with our personal awareness, but the latter has no influence over the former.
The personal narrative is important because it provides information to be stored in your autobiographical memory (the story you tell yourself, about yourself), and gives human beings a way of communicating the things we have perceived and experienced to others.
This, in turn, allows us to generate survival strategies; for example, by learning to predict other people’s behavior. Interpersonal skills like this underpin the development of social and cultural structures, which have promoted the survival of humankind for millennia.
So, we argue that it is the ability to communicate the contents of one’s personal narrative –– and not personal awareness – that gives humans their unique evolutionary advantage.
What is the purpose of these?
If the conscious experience has no advantage, what is its purpose is discussable. But we think that the personal awareness that accompanies passive processes to unconscious processes does not have the same simple aim as a rainbow. The rainbow is simply caused by the reflections, breaks, and scattering of the sunlight. So, none of these processes serve a specific purpose.
In addition, our results bring the questions about the concepts of personal responsibility and free will. If our personal awareness does not control our personal thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions and personal narrative contents that reflect our decisions, perhaps we should not be held responsible for them.
On the other hand, we argue that free will and personal awareness are concepts built by society. For this reason, free will and personal awareness are constructed as we see and understand ourselves as individuals and species; they are also represented in unconscious processes that constitute our personal narratives. In this way, we can communicate personal stories to other people.
The fact that the passenger is passively traveling on the passenger seat does not mean that we must lift important everyday insights like free will and personal responsibility. In fact, these insights are hidden in the functioning of our unconscious brain system. They have a strong influence in society and a strong influence on how we understand ourselves.