How can consciousness investigate itself? One way is treat consciousness as an object, like tables and trees and transistors. In this ‘third person’ approach, consciousness becomes a thing, located ‘over there’. You observe behaviors associated with it, measure its presumed outputs, or ask conscious subjects questions.

The other way is to focus on your own conscious experience, to look ‘within’. This is a first-person approach. It has its problems, but it seems to speak to the heart of consciousness in a way that third-person inquiry does not. Because we just can’t avoid the fact that consciousness seems to come with a first-person perspective built in. I am the one who is conscious. At least, that’s how it looks to start with.

Active in each moment, consciousness always improvises. So first-person inquiry into consciousness is by nature creative—playful and dynamic. It happens in the act of being conscious, and it naturally leads us to be conscious differently.

The Story of Mankind from Earliest Times to the Present Day

We are so set on making stories, asleep
even, only the mind moving, lying intent
to stroke whatever comes to it, awake
while the body sleeps, identifying sounds
with events, feelings with faces, picking out
from the day’s debris whatever will make do.
Awake, our invention finds more room to move,
sets up itself in three dimensions as if
it were there, assigns us almost consistent roles
to hold from day to day, necessitates
a past we must have had, and a time to come
where, even now, the story begins to be true.
What may, in fact, go on, if indeed it does,
has nothing at all to take from the story we tell.

— William Bronk


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