Practical implications of consciousness and knowledge
-In yesterday’s post I wrote:
That’s all very interesting, but I can already hear someone asking me, “Are there practical consequences?”
The answer is in the next blog post. Or will be.
And the answer is: “Yes.”
You mostly don’t need to know how things work
We use lots of products and tools and systems without knowing much about how they work.
Most of the time, all you need to know is how to get into one, how to start the engine, how to release the brake, how to speed it up and slow it down, and how to steer it. And the rules of the road.
You also need to know that when that little doohickey looks that way that you better find a gas station (or a charging station) so you can increase the supply of energy available to the car.
There are other things you need to know, too.
But there’s a lot you don’t need to know.
You don’t need to know, most of the time, how the energy that you stored in the car makes the car move.
You don’t need to know how car batteries work. For a gas-powered car, you mostly don’t need to understand how turning that switch or pressing that button, causes the engine to crank. How cranking the engine makes it catch. How pressing the accelerator makes the engine go faster.
Most of the time there are only two situations in which knowing things like this–and other, more detailed–car-related stuff has practical consequences:
When your car is not operating correctly, and you want to fix it
When your car is operating correctly, but you want to make it perform better
Here’s where I’m going to get to in a few hundred words:
Knowing the details of how your mind works mostly doesn’t matter. You just use it. But knowing the details matters in two similar situations:
When your mind is not operating correctly, and you want to fix it
When your mind is operating correctly, but you want to make it perform better
Alternatives to fixing and improving
Note the conditions attached to both those situations: “you want to fix it” and “you want to make it perform better.”
If your car isn’t operating correctly, you don’t have to fix it. Depending on how poorly it’s working, you have these choices:
Live with the problem
Find an alternative means of transportation
Fix the problem
If your car is operating correctly, there’s no need to make it perform better. You have the same two alternatives.
If your mind is not operating correctly, your choices are:
Live with the problem
Fix the problem
Find an alternative to the broken mental function
If there are no alternatives, you’re down to live with it or fix it.
Likewise for mental improvements
Knowing the details gives you options
I know lots of stuff about how cars work. Bobbi knows far less. When a car doesn’t work, I have options she doesn’t have.
I can try to apply my car-knowledge and find the source of the problem and fix it myself, or I can call on an expert.
Sometimes I know enough to know which of several experts is more likely to help. Occasionally I can use my knowledge to decide whether the expert I have picked knows how to fix the problem.
Bobbi has one choice: she calls the expert. Luckily she’s got an expert on call 24x7. Me.
If I want to improve my car, I know enough to do the research needed to find out how to improve it and what might work with my kind of car, and so on.
Or I can ask an expert.
Bobbi has one choice: she calls the expert. Again, it’s me.
Your mind is broken
A car that’s in good working order will probably continue to work well for years if you take it in for regular service and doing whatever the service person says needs doing. (This is one of the other things you need to know.)
At some point, the service person will tell you that you probably need a new car, and then you buy one.
Not so with your mind.
You probably know that your mind–like almost all minds–works better when you’ve slept, that it works very badly when you’re drunk or on drugs.
You may have learned that your particular mind: works best in the morning, or the middle of the day; that it does this kind of task best in quiet surroundings, this other kind best in a coffee shop, and this different type out in nature.
You might have learned some things about your mind that are quirky: like it shuts down completely when you see a clown.
You might have learned some things that help you acquire new information and new skills more effectively.
But most people don’t confront the sad truth: how many errors their minds make. They fail to operate correctly–in small ways–all the time, and in more significant ways, many times a day.
As I’m writing this, my mind conducts my thoughts to the fingers pressing my computer’s keys. Sometimes I press the wrong key. That’s a mental error. Sometimes I pick the wrong word — another, bigger error.
Because I’m paying attention right now, I’m noticing some of the errors that my mind is making. But most of the time, this kind of error goes unnoticed by most people most of the time. Noticing mental errors requires an intention that’s not usually present, and it often requires a skill that takes practice.
Most people have enough skill to notice big stupid errors with consequences too significant to ignore. But when the effects of an error are smaller, most people follow one of two simple, lazy strategies. One: they just move on. Two: they correct the error, but pay no attention to finding and correcting the underlying cause of the error.
In both cases, the mind that makes that kind of error will keep making that kind of mistake.
But what if you decided you wanted to repair your mind, so it didn’t make the same kinds of errors repeatedly? What if you decided that you wanted to improve your mind so that it could do the things that it does well, only more efficiently?
Just as with your car: to fix it when it’s broken or to make it better when it’s working, you have to know more about how your mind works.
Or, just as with your car: you need to call an expert.
Getting an expert to repair or improve your mind is similar to and different than getting one to repair or improve your car.
The similarities: you have to know enough to find an appropriate expert. You have to know enough to decide whether what the expert is recommending is likely to work–or likely to be worth trying.
The difference–and it is a big one: you can drop your car off at the expert’s shop and pick it up next Tuesday. You can’t do that with your mind.
You’re the only one who can do the work required to fix or improve your mind.
An expert can give you guidance–delivered through media or in real life. But you have to do the work.
And since you have to do the work, you have to have some idea of what you are doing.
Folk remedies and illusions
There are lots of folk remedies for fixing common mental problems.
You might be able to undertake some simple repairs yourself.
But many of those folk remedies are wrong because the mind works through a series of illusions, and most folk remedies don’t take that into account.
To remedy deeper mental problems or remedy or improve rapidly, you need to know how the mind actually works rather than how it seems to work.
You need to know the reality of mental processes, not just the illusions.
You need to be aware of the illusions and not be fooled by the illusions so you can make the repair.
The illusion of knowledge creation
Which takes us back to yesterday’s post.
Most of what our minds do is unconscious.
We have strategies for error correction, but we do them unconsciously.
What we do unconsciously is limited to what we do habitually. Our unconscious minds are lazy and won’t break out of unconscious patterns without conscious attention.
Without bringing consciousness to fixing a mental problem, very little will improve.
To fix a problem takes knowledge. The knowledge that’s needed is always already present, implicit in the mind, but it may require a lot of conscious work to bring that knowledge to consciousness.
There may be a way to become conscious of the knowledge that you need with less effort.
The previous post is a step in that direction.
It needs clarification. And will get it tomorrow.
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