How to be conscious of consciousness

Antonio Damasio gives an account of the arising of ‘core consciousness’ which maps easily onto the gnoxic meaning-cycle diagram, with emphasis on the automatic, instantaneous and unobservable nature of the process:

Core consciousness is generated in pulselike fashion, for each content of which we are to be conscious. It is the knowledge that materializes when you confront an object [W], construct a neural pattern for it [ception], and discover automatically that the now-salient image of the object is formed in your perspective [M], belongs to you, and that you can even act on it [practice]. You come by this knowledge, this discovery as I prefer to call it, instantly: there is no noticeable process of inference, no out-in-the-daylight logical process that leads you there, and no words at all—there is the image of the thing and, right next to it, is the sensing of its possession by you.

— Damasio (1999, 126)

By the time you are conscious of a phenomenon, its Firstness (quality), Secondness (actuality) and Thirdness (mediation by your ‘perspective’) are already intrinsic to the experience, and only a later abstractive process can distinguish among them as elements of it. Damasio goes on to explain that the time scale of brain events makes them invisible to us. If it takes half a second for the brain to generate a ‘pulse’ of consciousness, then we can’t be immediately conscious of events happening faster than that; we can only model the process and then analyze it as a train of events. The same is true of processes – such as evolution – going on at higher time scales than the human focal level; we can be conscious of them only by theoretical means.

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