We have been speaking about the problem of thought, the possibility that conscience acts as a factor for increasing consciousness and the function of the body in relation to consciousness. And I'd like to expand this last idea a little more. As part of this discussion about the body contributing somehow to consciousness, we may include the possibility that we exist in a simulated reality. A little later I'd like to propose that sound (particularly music) possibly functions as an anchor of self in psychological time.
I am standing on the S-Bahn immersed in associative thought, passively content as one is content in sleep. And something in me becomes aware of this low level of consciousness and, for some reason, begins to struggle. I think to myself quite clearly "I exist" and then "the world is real - this is an actual train, the passengers are real" and, at that moment, everything changes. The world comes into focus. I feel my existence as a sensation in the spine. I am no longer trapped in my head but have expanded into the network of nerves and muscles in the body. But I can't hold it for more than a few seconds - I fall back into reverie.
I am left with several strong impressions - firstly that thought can act as a trigger for the experience of non-thought. Or, in other words that, at that moment, thought functioned as the tool of being and not the other way around. Secondly, the experience consisted of an intense feeling of being-in-the-present coupled with the sensation of the spinal column, a feeling of embodiment. And thirdly, the notion that the world was actually real and that I existed in reality created a shock sufficient to jolt me out of semi-consciousness.
Perhaps we accept our semi-conscious level of being because we do not experience the actual world but, rather, a simulcrum - an image that overlays the world. And part of that simulcrum is our own self-image - we imagine ourselves as alive in a vital world but what we actually experience is more like a dream state. Sensation in the body can help to still the thoughts and bring us into the present - but this alone is not enough, we must also know that we exist and that the world is real. By this we bring the thinking mind, the emotions and the physical senses together in an effort of consciousness.
The idea that we occupy an artificial reality has been philosophically explored by Baudrillard in his Simulcra & Simulation. Sensation in the body does not occur automatically or just through wishing for it - it must be developed. There are daily exercises for increasing sensation in the body - most of you will know of Gurdjieff's sensing exercises, a description of them can be found in transcripts of his eight meetings in Paris.
Tonight I tried an experiment with music - I loaded my ipod with songs that had been important to me at various times of my life, beginning with songs I'd loved as a teenager and moving forward chronologically. I listened to the entire collection of songs while walking along the river. With each new track I felt myself actually become the person I had been when the song had had the most effect on me - different personality traits rose up and were submerged again like waves, an array of two-dimensional 'I's each lasting only 3 or 4 minutes.
The striking thing was that it didn't feel as though I was remembering past selves in the way that, for example, I might remember a good book or a holiday. I actually became these previous selves in real time - one after another, memory without thought. And it occurred to me that music, at least (and maybe other things too - smell?) may function as anchors of the self in time - an imprint in the brain that bypasses thought (or emotional thought without verbal thought).
Witnessing these previous false 'I's appearing and disappearing further impressed on me the possibility that we exist as simulations in a simulated world. Each music-triggered self felt as real as the next, just as the world feels real until its actual realness eclipses the simulation like the sun erasing the morning moon.
To clarify a few points:
1. An experience of being requires the conscious knowledge that one exists and that the world is real - this should not be taken as given
2. Sensation in the body, when combined with intelligence and feeling, can prolong a flash of consciousness
3. Sensation in the body must be developed through daily practice
4. Music might function as memory without thought - and anchor of one's various selves in time.