You are a living organism but you are different than a tree or fungus. You have an internal communication system with neurons that can detect and transmit the presence of stimulus. All those signals are then received by a central hub of neurons that make up part of your brain. Perception neurons in the brain are responsible for receiving the signals sent from the senses.
We aren’t the only species with the ability to perceive and react to our environment. What makes us different is the amount of activated neurons within our brains. Humans have significantly more neurons than other animals. This means we have more than enough neurons to perceive stimuli and store those signals in memory.
In order to send any signals at all, neurons in the brain must be activated and those that are receiving information from the senses must always be activated to stay safe. You wouldn’t want to turn off your sight while you digest food, you might get eaten! To stay alert, resources are allocated in the brain to keep some neurons always activated. The collection of constantly activated neurons is called the consciousness, otherwise known as you.
You exist within a living organism and, in a way, the consciousness was an “accident of evolution.” The consciousness doesn’t refer to all activated neurons, the Organism is still in charge of much of the brain to stay alive. The Organism is in charge of processes like hormone production, behavioral reinforcement, and the Basic Functions. You might call the Organism “your body” and you already know that it can “talk to you.”
The consciousness is you and you probably know what you can do. You receive signals from your senses. You have access to the motor center to move the Organism according to the signals received. You store signals into memory for later use and you can reactivate any of those stored signals. You can also manipulate stored memory to form new synapses. Consciously activated memory neurons make up the mental plane; this is why you are completely in charge of your imagination.
The consciousness is what allows organisms to adapt to their surroundings, instead of just dying so the better suited individuals can take over. However, the consciousness doesn’t always outrank the Organism. For example, your reflexes can activate your motor center without conscious awareness.
I like to think of the consciousness as a babysitter that’s responsible for putting the Organism in the best possible situation. The babysitter can set up a bath, it’s up the kid to not drown in the tub. After your consciousness prepares, you have to trust in the Organism.
The consciousness is limited. It’s basically your attention, or what you are currently focusing on. The Organism is in charge of everything happening in your brain outside of your attention. Neural paths activated by the Organism are often called subconscious thoughts simply because the consciousness is not present. Yes, this means multiple parts of your brain can activate simultaneously; you have trillions of synapses, after all.
The limited consciousness can be explained by resource allocation. The consciousness is a “feature” of the brain but it is not the most important when it comes to survival. When “resources are limited,” meaning the Organism is tired or lacking food or water, the consciousness “shrinks.” A shrinking consciousness simply means fewer neurons can be consciously activated. This is why it’s tough to think critically when you’re drunk, tired, hungry, or distracted by something like sex or pain.
The first time you ever threw a ball, you probably weren’t very good at it. You had to concentrate on the specific motions that you want your body to make. Your consciousness is allocated to the specific muscles that are part of the neural path to throw. With enough repetitions, you get better at throwing to the point where you don’t need to think about it anymore. The repetitions solidify the neurons to control the muscles in that way to the point where your consciousness can be allocated elsewhere; you probably know this as muscle memory.
When your consciousness is not necessary for you to access a part of your brain, we’ll call that neural path automated. You have plenty of automated functions like walking or speaking, think about some other processes that you used to have to concentrate on but now it just works.
When your brain loses enough resources, consciousness fades from the senses and motor center. We usually call this going unconscious or “passing out.” But you already know that the consciousness never turns off. When we sleep, the consciousness activates sensory memories in order to construct a scene for you to exist in until you wake up again. The memories constructed during dreams are quickly forgotten and replaced with the sensory information gained once you wake up and your consciousness has access to your sensory neurons again.
You are made up by your experiences which means each decision you make is based on a million past events that you’ve synapsed and solidified in your brain. Your consciousness, with the background of your past experiences, make up what’s called your perspective.
Your perspective is the way you interpret your world but it requires some prior understanding of the world. The prior understanding comes from your personal experiences. However, you are not limited to your perspective alone. You have the ability to empathize, replacing your experiences with someone else’s. Empathy is taking on a new perspective and consciously living and making decisions through the new perspective. You are just one of the many humans, there’s no reason you can’t trade histories, even for a little bit.
Understanding that your consciousness is the portion of the brain that is you allows you to choose how you want to allocate your resources. Sitting down for a meal while listening to music and trying to study for a presentation is going to split the resources, known as multitasking.
As my friend, Dan, once told me, “Don’t half ass anything; always put your whole ass into it.” Your consciousness can be expansive, but it works best if you focus on one thought at a time. If you’re emotional, cathart; if you’re curious, explore; if you’re hungry, eat. When we fully dive into a single neural cluster, we “feel alive;” so dive in.