Consciousness and the unconscious

There is no morality beyond what people imagine is right or wrong or Ought to be. People with these imaginings evolve through natural selection, from being a social species, and we may observe different people with different ideas about what Ought to be, and what they value, and from that construct a morality to achieve the best result for that society.

Shakespeare thought that arguable: he has Hamlet say There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

I used to think my morality is for me– that is, when I have a thought about what is the right thing to do I should do it myself, not impose it on others. I don’t know their difficulties or blind spots. Now I think others’ morality is for anyone but themselves, something they can agree on to judge a victim together, to feel good about themselves.

If we construct a morality to enforce our will, this depends on not knowing what we are doing. If we imagine ourselves to be moral people, we could not bear to be aware of using morality as a weapon.

This not knowing why we do what we do applies to lots of things. An example from the NYT:

We think we are sharing news stories in order to do one thing, like transfer knowledge, but much of the time aren’t really trying to do that at all — whatever we may consciously think.

Someone asked whether Mr Trump believes what he says. That ignores why people say things- to enforce dominance or show submission, to build community, to evoke feeling- Mr Trump’s insight is that truth does not matter in doing these things. His opponents might care but his supporters don’t.

As an evolved being, it matters whether I can reproduce, and whether I am conscious of what I am doing depends on whether that increases the likelihood of reproduction over fooling myself. I am not sure it does.

So morality may be an illusion. How could it not be, when pretty much everybody crashes through the world hurting other people and hurting themselves – cheating, lying, sneaking, betraying, laying about them with the broad sword?

And so, consciousness, in which morality plays such a part- mine more or less OK, others’ a mess of viciousness and hypocrisy- must be illusory too. And morality goes beyond conscious impressions into analysis. Under the self-forgiveness I find self-blame.

We have to live with the best we can do, and with disagreement. Often I know what I am doing but not beforehand that I will choose it. I can be in two minds, knowing I ought to get up and shower, and deducing that I don’t want to only from the fact that I don’t, because consciously I imagine that I want to. From this I deduce that unconscious motivation is in control, and conscious motivation- what before thinking about it I would tell myself or others that I wanted- is often illusion.

Or the mechanism linking desire to action is in some way broken, that I want to do something but that does not mean I do it. Then “I” could still be perfectly good, and do bad things haplessly.

So it is necessary to sit in contemplation of what one imagines one wants. Setting words aside I imagine a possible or remembered act and consider what I feel about it. Or I consider what I have actually done in particular situations, rather than what my self-image tells me I ought to (want to) do. Was my past act triumph, failure or simply what emerged from me in the circumstances at the time?

Imagining I could do better may be false reassurance, imagined safety from similar mistakes.

There is a human being, that acts and desires, sees and fails to see, but it is so much more than consciousness.

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