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Counting the Components of My Consciousness (auxiliarymemory.com)
73 points by lermontov 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

Excellent article!

I've never had a mini-stroke, or at least, not one dramatic enough to act on. There are little lapses in consciousness, especially at times of stress, but whatever. Maybe just some subsystem crashing and rebooting.

But his stuff on LSD matches my experience exactly. For some years, I got into the habit of taking maybe one or two milligrams, just before going to sleep. Usually a little drunk, and very stoned, with a full stomach. So I'd wake up, perhaps 3-4 hours later, in the middle of the peak.

I clearly remember just being the observer. There was no self-talk. No language at all. Just observing. But not observing external reality, because those systems were also hosed. What I was observing, I think, were internal states. Maybe comms traffic among subsystems.

But I really have no clue what I experienced, in any detail, because it was timeless, and memories are timelike. All I remember is being very calm and happy. And the amazing hallucinations, a mix of geometric and periodic (but less so than with peyote) and "organic" and flowing (but less so than Psilocybe spp).

I also remember the process of coming down from peaking. As TFA notes, subsystems came back gradually.

one or two milligrams?? that's about 10 hits. but you can't mean micrograms, since one or two mcg is below even micro-dosing levels. So I'm curious if it really was 10 hits (which seems like an expensive way to sleep!), or if you meant something else.

Yes, what you may call ten hits. But this was a long time ago, and I was buying LSD by the gram, for reselling. So it wasn't such a big deal. Maybe $10 worth. And yes, $10 was worth a lot more then. On the other hand, it was arguably a business expense, in that megadosing is a good way to check for purity. I was the quality-control partner :) Also, I didn't take that much of a lot before testing smaller doses, progressively.

"It’s then you realize that your thoughts are not you. Thoughts are language and memories, including memories from sensory experiences. If you watch yourself closely, you’ll sense you are an observer separate from your thoughts."


Very interesting read indeed.

Not sure if observer is needed at all to have efficiently functioning system, though. Rather contrary: it _feels_ the impact of the observer on external world or even internal states is at most very limited, if not totally negligible.

Not sure as well if observer goes away in case of sleep or anesthesia. Maybe, just maybe the subcomponent responsible for forming memories is shut down and therefore there are no memories from that period. The observer could be still present, patiently observing the _void_ and/or snoring and/or _anything else_.

Or maybe there is no observer at all, the observer is just the way the brain coordinates/integrates all the rest of the sensations -- a sensation itself.

This is something that interests me intensely.

I had a drug experience once that "I" was a story I was telling myself about a conversation between a number of distinct drives or entities in my head, and that I could "uninvite" them from the conversation, or with discipline create or destroy them.

I've always wondered if this had any basis in reality.

That's interesting. I've never done drugs, but I'm very interested in consciousness and neuroscience. Both modern philosophy and neuroscience appear to be converging towards the idea that the "I or the self" is an illusion and that consciousness is a predicting machine. So the drug caused your consciousness or brain to create multiples illusions ( or multiple "I's" ).

Some fashionable philosophers and futurologists share this view, but it is not backed by any new factual findings. To me the statement "the self is an illusion" is borderline oxymoronic: who is it that is having the illusion, if there is no self? An "illusion" is by definition an incongruence between objective reality and subjective perception. And subjective perception requires, necessarily, a self.

This felt more like the splitting of an atom to me-- something that was previously thought was indivisible.

You should alter your consciousness if you want to understand it :)

None of these were exactly analogous, but they show that others are thinking along the same lines. Thank you, fantastically interesting.

A little OT but this notion that the observer is not you can be a great revelation for many people who are suffering from depression.

Because sometimes it's easy to confuse the voice in your head to be actually you and since it's you, it must be right! But when you disassociate it as a third person and maybe give it a name and treat it as a seperate entity that though lives inside you (or your head) but it is not you, you can start giving it the same treatment as you would give a negative or positive comment made by a third person about you and actually apply rational logic to what is being said by it (your observer) and even defend your position instead of just taking everything on face value or trust.

Not that I agree with the article but that is literally the opposite of what it said. The article says the voice is NOT the observer.

This reminded me of Jill Bolte Taylor talk and experience of her stroke.


Fascinating concept: watching your own brain have a stroke.

"Oh, there goes my control of my left arm. Oh, there goes my sense of smell. Oh, language is nextgsnghghqfnvjznv"

Also sounds terrifying

I had a migraine a couple of months ago that I thought was a stroke. I didn't even really have a headache, just suddenly had tingling in my hands, and limited vision. I pulled by bike to the side of the road and sat down on the grass, then called my wife. I realized during the conversation that I couldn't remember basic words like "library" (where I was going) and "numb" (what I was experiencing). I felt just like me, but I had like 60% vocabulary. That was one of the scariest experiences of my life -- not pain or disability, but simple loss of words.

I had a similar experience recently. It was also one of the scariest experiences of my life. Afterwards I spoke with my doctor about it, and they used the terms "anxiety attack" or "panic attack". In my case, it was brought on by a combination of eating poorly, drinking too frequently, sleeping irregularly, and letting myself become stressed out about work in my off hours. It was bad enough that I spent the following week in-patient at a hospital. That said, having three structured meals a day, sleeping regular hours, and not having my phone - I felt like a new person by the end of the week.

Not sure if this relates to your experience, but the lesson I learned was: Take real vacations. Where you are not tethered to your phone, social media, work calls, PagerDuty, social calls, etc. You can just eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and take in the moment. Even if it is just for a day, take time to remember what it means to be human.

Edited: for tone

I experienced this as well, a few years back.

I'd been feeling fuzzy all day at work - losing track of what I was doing, constantly searching for common words. Eventually I decided to head home.

I got to the train station and started feeling a rising sense of worry, especially once I noticed that my left arm had stopped obeying any commands, so I texted my partner. Texting was hard. The words were in my brain but my thumb wouldn't obey me. Eventually I got there. I noticed a few typos, but I couldn't find it in me to correct them and I reckoned it was understandable enough, so I sent it; partner later reported back that the text was completely unintelligible. He called me, and I couldn't get any words out except the word 'help'.

He looked up my location on Maps, called an ambulance, and told me to find a seat. By the time it came, the episode was mostly over and I was back to just feeling very fuzzy and having trouble speaking clearly.

They took me to hospital, booked me in for a CT and MRI, kept me in for a couple of days of observation. The doctor later told me that what I'd had was an atypical migraine, rather than a stroke. I'd never had a migraine in my life, and (other than a regular pain-migraine which kicked in the day I came home from hospital) I've never had one again.

Brains are really, really weird.

It happens during live broadcasts on occasion:


This sounds similarish to a psilocybin trip, not the paralyzing part but seeing mental faculties (or likewise things) being 'disabled'. "Oh there goes my ability to speak English, and there goes my ability to remember, oh reason gone, what? Yay, whoooo, huh? What's going on?"

I had a similar experience with general anaesthetic.

"10..9..oh there goes the left-hand side of my brain...8.."

I have no objection to the idea that consciousness is made of many components. However, I think the interesting jump the author makes, which I'm not fully prepared to follow, is to presume that careful phenomenological observation will give us the insights needed to create a new observer.

He mentions that in the course of meditation, you learn to "distinguish all the components of your consciousness." I think that might be "many" rather than "all". There's a lot we can learn from meditation, but I think these lessons are mostly about how to work with the minds we have, rather than how to create new minds. It's not as though centuries of serious Buddhist meditators arrived at a recipe for creating new consciousness.

Why might the subjective, internal, phenomenological approach not be enough?

Having a body, feeling your body, and using your body might let you learn deeply what it means to have a body. But if you want to build a new body, you'd better spend some time looking in microscopes and analyzing proteins and a thousand other things. The experiential view isn't enough. Objective exploration of the real world is needed.

And setting aside how one should go about acquiring information about how minds work, is the question of whether we're equipped to arrive at an operational conceptualization given that information. He talks about animals, drugged or impaired humans and heathy humans as all having fundamentally different cognitive capabilities. I can do addition in front of a dog with an abacus, a chalk board, etc, but it won't conceptualize addition. It's not obvious that just because we have language and tools and symbolic reasoning and social cognition that our particular ape brains are going to be able to hold the concepts of how minds work.

> ... how to build an artificial observer.

Can't be done, not even in principle.

> how to prepare my observer for the dissolution of my own mind and body.

The observer is unaffected by death or birth. If you can give up attachment to the impermanent aspects of your being then death is a change not an ending.

(This is the whole point of human life, everything else is kind of a sideshow. Less than one in a thousand ever even think about this stuff, of those less than one in a thousand will take it seriously and seek. Which is really really sad, because the path, though narrow, is not particularly hard. Avoid BS, seek Truth with persistence and sincerity. Do it every day. Eternal life guaranteed or triple your money back!)

I am scared thinking about the implications of this if true. Normal reaction?

edit: I had a really high dose of LSD about ten years ago and it really changed my perspective of what reality is made of. I feel like the filter of ego on the true reality of the universe is just a tiny slice of the full spectrum of what is possible/actually happening.

I though about such things from when I was about 7 years old. But I'm probably not spiritual enough. I perceive that the observer is subjective counterpart of brain's mechanisms, which move the focus of attention, and brain's ability to focus attention on its own internal processes. Why the observer exists instead of not existing is the other question, and I don't expect much progress on it in the nearest eternity.

The observer in isolation is the act of observing observing itself, and as such it is featureless and, in a sense, outside of time. So, yeah, eternal life. The catch is that it's life in general, it has nothing to do with your everyday life.

Do you refer to ren or ka?

You're using Egyptian terms, yes? I'm not referring to either.

Yeah. Sorry. I mean no disrespect.

I only know that stuff from Burroughs' The Western Lands, which is his take on a "book of the dead".

No apology needed, I didn't feel your question was disrespectful. :-)

FWIW, this is a decent description of what I'm talking about: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramana_Maharshi#Self

> Ramana considered the Self to be permanent and enduring, surviving physical death. "The sleep, dream and waking states are mere phenomena appearing on the Self," as is the "I"-thought. Our "true nature" is "simple Being, free from thoughts".

I'd like that, and thanks :)

As I understand it from Burroughs, there are seven souls in the Egyptian theory. Three of them are eternal. Sort of like components of Ramana's Self: Ren (meaning, destiny), Sekem (energy, power) and Khu (guardian). Then there's Ba (emotion), Ka (the double) and Khaibit (memory). And Sekhu (remains). The only one left after ones death is Ka, which has the chance at eternity in the Western Lands.

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