A scale of awakenessitude
This morning, before I "woke up" and then later "woke up" I woke up. But I was in a dream. Let me be more clear.
( Background reading: thoughts about waking up in posts like this and this and this and more -- but hey, you can use the search box at the top of the blog too, can't you? Or you can keep reading, and look later.)
So the story.
Before the first waking event, I was unconscious. Asleep. Out cold. Nothing was happening, although science says that if you are not dead, some part of you is always awake. Probably true for me as well as you.
Then I became aware that I was walking into my house through the sliding door from the porch. The hardwood floor in front of me was covered with muddy tracks --- dog tracks and the tracks of human shoes. I remember being annoyed; I remember wiping my feet, wondering why other people hadn't wiped their feet, wondering why our friends, whose dogs had almost certainly made those tracks, had not cleaned up. I remember going to the sink, grabbing a purple sponge and starting to clean.
Then, while cleaning, I realize it is a dream. I am not yet "awake" much less "awake." I'm awake enough to know that the reality I was immersed in was a dream; awake enough to know that there was a different, outside reality; yet continuing to watch my dreamscape with partial attention -- the way I might have watched a television show while deciding what to do. I might know a show was on, but I wouldn't remember what happened.
Eventually I woke from that dream into conventional reality -- the dream we share together. And later, while making coffee I woke from that dream, and realized that I was making coffee. I watched my hands going through the motions. And still later, after falling back into the common dream, a friend of mine, Justin, sent me a hangouts message saying he was awake and reminding me to wake up. And I was awake again.
This is all a prelude to a piece I started writing last night -- or dreamed I started writing last night. The piece is a scale and nomenclature for the levels of consciousness, awakeness, awareness, that I experience. I'll set them against the background of this story.
0 = dead. I have not experienced this, or if I have, I don't know or remember it. Dead is when all systems, including the self-monitoring ones, are turned off.
1 = unconscious. That's sleep. That's where this story starts for me.
2 = unaware dreaming. I'm dreaming, but I don't realize it until later when there's a state change and I realize that I had been dreaming. A lot like (8) and higher, see below.
3 = aware dreaming. I'm dreaming, and I know that I am experiencing something, but I don't know it's a dream. I started the dream of muddy footprints unaware, then aware, but still believing it was reality, not a dream.
4 = conscious dreaming. I'm dreaming, and I know it's a dream. That is: I am aware of my own existence as the watcher of the dream. It's not just happening. I am watching it. Akin to the Sam Harris experience of being immersed in a movie, and realizing you're in a theater, watching light projected on a wall.
5 = lucid (controlled) dreaming. Same as 4, but I know I can change the course of the dream. This is different than being in state 3 and dreaming that I have made decisions. I'm aware that I am the decider, even as I decide. It's unusual, fun when I can make it happen.
6 = waking. I'm still immersed in a dream, and I'm aware of the world outside the dream. The transition can be from any lower state to this one. Except from dead, I suppose.
7 = conditioned consciousness or waking dream. This is my normal "awake" state. I'm immersed in the experience, but as a passive observer who doesn't realize he's an observer. This dream is the one that everyone calls reality. Or that all the other characters in the dream call reality. In this state, I'm a mindless spectator, watching the show. Everything that "I do" is actually done by auto-Mike.
8 = momentary waking. That's the moment I wake up in the metaphorical movie. Or the moment of metaphorical waking up in the metaphorical movie. But it's only a moment. I realize I've been in a dream, then often go right back to the dream. But for that moment, I know there's something apart from the dream.
9 = watching. I'm now awake enough to watch what I'm doing -- how my hands are moving; that I'm looking a the dream from a point of view located in my head. What's being watched is physical. I'm aware of an "I" that is watching.
10. mindful watching. I'm not only watching, I'm also aware that there is a mind that is doing some thinking as whatever is watching continues to watch. I don't have the feeling that "I am thinking" because the thinking happens without intention on my part. But I know it's happening. The thinking is often quite idiotic. Sometimes snatches of song play over and over. In New York, you can be a new man. Like that.
11 = checking. Awake enough for long enough to turn my attention to that which appears to be awake, and to check whether it is an illusion. Exercise from Sam Harris, I wrote about here. When I reach this state, which is not necessarily a consequence of getting to states 9 or 10, my state instantaneously changes. If state 8 is the metaphorical moment of realizing that I was immersed in a movie, and now realize I'm watching, this state is akin to realizing that I had been watching the movie through the screen of my smart-phone, and now I'm watching it directly.
12 = disconnected. Even in state 11, I'm still the only entity in the universe. Right now, as I write this, testing these states, I'm aware that I am, where I am, what I am doing. If I take a moment, I am aware that the "conventional self" is an illusion. But I'm not aware of any other "selves," conventional or not, in the "universe." So this state is the moment of realizing that others might be conscious.
13 = aware of others -- sonder. This is hard. I cannot do it reliably and maybe not at all. It's a state in which I am aware that others are as aware as I am. Not just paying lip-service to the consciousness of others, but knowing it, the way I know I am conscious.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has a word that I think matches this state. It's the realization that others are "living a life as vivid and complex as your own." The word is "sonder" (Video, definition) Sonder is a good concept but I think a shit word. It does not suggest that idea to me. Sounds like yonder. But I did not write the dictionary, or if I did, I don't remember doing it. So I conclude (perhaps incorrectly) that someone else did. I imagine that it is someone whose life is as vivid and complex as my own. Maybe more so because he (or she) invented sonder. And he (or she):
...is living a life as vivid and complex as my own—populated with his own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that I'll never know existed, in which I might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
So there you go! I'm here, conscious and awake.
And for a very, very, very brief moment I am considering that whoever invented sonder might have been just as conscious. And trying to imagine that you, who I imagine reading this sometime in the future are not just set-dressing for my story but are also conscious. And imagine you might take a moment to examine your consciousness.
And I imagine that you might then consider that I am more than ust an extra in your story. That I don't exist merely to explain how the blog post you are reading right now came into being -- should you wonder.
And there are others, as well.
I hope that's easy for you.
It's not, for me.
But fun to try.