The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Of How Real Dreams Are and How Dreamy Reality Is

The experience of a dream may feel so utterly bizarre for today's mind, but we have to go back millions of years to realize that it is probably far less bizarre than it appears to us today. It is likely that, millions of years ago, our waking life was not too different from our dreaming life.  Consciousness in dreams is a series of flashes that are fragmented and very emotional. It is likely that waking consciousness  had exactly the same character: mostly nothing would happen to our consciousness (no thinking, no emotions, just mechanic, instinctive behavior) but situations would present themselves suddenly that would arouse strong feelings and require immediate action.  Our waking life "was" a series of emotionally charged flashes, just like dreams. The difference between being awake and dreaming was only the body movement. As we rehearsed the day's events during dreams, we would feel that the sensations are perfectly normal.

Today our consciousness has acquired a different profile: it has evolved to a more or less smooth flow of thoughts, in which strong emotions don't normally figure prominently. We think when we are commuting on a bus or while we are shopping in the mall, and the most violent emotion is being upset about the price of a shirt or suddenly realizing we just missed our stop. They are peanuts compared with the emotion of being attacked by a tiger or of being drawn by strong currents towards the waterfall.  Our waking consciousness has changed and dreams have remained the same. The brain is still processing off-line, during sleep, our day's events with the same cerebral circuits that we had millions of years ago, and therefore it is still generating the same flow of emotionally-charged flashes of reality. When the brain is awake, reality does not impinge on those circuits in the same way it did in the hostile, primitive environment of million of years ago. The world we live in is, by and large, friendly (free of mortal foes and natural catastrophes).  But when danger does appear (a mortal foe or a natural catastrophe), then our waking life becomes just like a dream: "it was a nightmare", "it didn't feel real", etc. In those rare and unfortunate circumstances (that hopefully most of us will never experience) our waking life feels just like a dream: flashes of reality, violent emotions, apparent incoherence of events, etc.

Because of the society that we have built and the way we have tamed and harnessed nature's unpredictability through civilization, our brain does not receive the sudden and violent stimuli it used to. This is what makes most of the difference between being awake and dreaming. It is not just a different functioning of the brain: it is a different functioning of the world around us.


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