Consciousness can be described as the sense of personal awareness, which gives us humans the feeling of ownership and self control over our emotions, thoughts and experiences that we have every day. Experts believe that it can be divided into two parts, or the experience of consciousness/personal awareness, and the contents of consciousness (such as thoughts, beliefs, sensations, perceptions, intentions, memories and emotions).
It’s easier to assume that the contents of consciousness are chosen and controlled by ourselves and our personal awareness because after all we chose what to think or when to think and our thoughts don’t exist until we create them.
However, a new research posted in Frontiers of Psychology, argues that this might be a mistake.
The study suggests that people’s personal awareness does not interfere in choosing or creating their beliefs, feelings or perceptions, but instead, they are generated “behind the scenes” by fast and non-conscious systems in our brains.
Not just a suggestion
At first this might sound a bit strange but if you think about it it makes sense.
Just think of how effortlessly we regain consciousness every morning when we wake up or how thoughts and emotions arrive already formed in our minds.
Considering this and much more, it’s easy to accept the idea that neuropsychological processes responsible let’s say for moving our bodies, take place without involving our personal awareness.
Well apparently, the process responsible for generating contents of consciousness does the exact same thing.
There are some studies that show how a person’s mood, thoughts and perceptions can be altered by suggestion. Researches use hypnosis on the participants in order to help them enter a mentally focused and absorbed state and then they make suggestions to change their perceptions and experiences. This form of hypnotic suggestion has the power to alter a person’s perceptions by simply communication an idea or belief.
The personal narrative
Scientists think that these contents of consciousness are a subset of all our emotions, thoughts and believes, which takes form of a personal narrative that is continually being updated.
This personal narrative provides information that are stored in our autobiographical memory and it shows its importance by giving people a way of communicating the things we have perceived and experienced to others.
So in few words, the ability to communicate the contents from a person’s personal narrative (and not awareness) gives human beings their exclusive evolutionary advantage.
What’s the point?
It’s still not very clear what’s the real purpose of consciousness, but as a passive and also a necessary part of the non-conscious processes, it might not even have one.
This raises a lot of complicated questions about free will or personal responsibility. Some suggest that if it’s proven that our personal awareness does not control the contents of the personal narrative, then we shouldn’t be held responsible for our acts and deeds.
However, free will as well as personal responsibility are constructed by society, and just because consciousness has been placed in the “passenger seat” this does not mean we need to dispense with important everyday notions.
In fact, free will and personal responsibility have a powerful purpose in society and have a deep impact on the way we understand ourselves.