On a Better Metaphor for Consciousness

Until very recently, consciousness was considered sort of a “black box.” A mysterious phenomenon too complex to even attempt to explain in any objective manner. However, new theories are beginning to shine a light on the nature of consciousness. The following is my interpretation of how consciousness operates.

“Stream of consciousness,” is a misleading and ultimately inaccurate metaphor. “Hive of consciousness” or “city of consciousness” are better fits for our current understanding of the phenomenon. “Stream” implies a linear progression, thoughts moving forward single file. Human thought patterns more closely resemble a popcorn popper than an assembly line. 

Consider my average morning. The alarm clock goes off and I enter a vague level of wakeful consciousness. The following blur of thoughts emerge in no particular order

“Where is that alarm clock ugh I hate that noise my back hurts it’s cold outside no way its already 6:30 I have to pee man I don’t want to get up my mouth is so dry shit its cold in here I have so much to do today I bet the dog needs to go out what time is my first class ok five more minutes”

In less than few seconds, this barrage of thoughts has been condensed into a gut feeling, the cognitive shortcut that automatically tallies up every thought and feeling I have in reaction to the alarm going off and prompts me to act… “I want more sleep,” so I hit snooze. 

Hundreds of thoughts whirl in a nonsensical storm of neuronal firings. Then, they are bundled into chunks called gut feelings, and the gut feelings sometimes prompt us to take some kind of action. The whole process is very quick and very constant.

If we use the analogy of a factory, it would look something like this:

1. Different objects (thoughts) are thrown from all directions into a hopper
2. At varying levels of hopper volume, the objects are bagged up (gut feelings)
3. The bags are conveyed to three different locations
4. Most of the bags will go to the incinerator (the forgetting process)
5. Some, will be warehoused for later use (memory)
6. And, the remaining bags will trigger the “on” switch for any of a wide array of machines (taking some kind of action)

In the same way that our bodies are composed of millions of cells living out their lives as tiny coordinated components of the universe that is your physical self, your consciousness is composed of millions of random thoughts firing from different parts of the brain and living out their sparks of existence as coordinated components of the universe that is your conscious self.


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