I’ve been reading Julian Jaynes’ book: The Origin of Consciousness in the Break Down of the BiCameral Mind, recently. It has stood on my shelf for years, and lately I’ve been on a kick of picking out those books I’ve not studied much and re-reading them, looking for gems to learn, and to speak about. Jaynes does not disappoint.
In the first chapter, it states:
“Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of. How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate! I tis like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. ”
Cue mind explosion. I love this metaphor. Sure it is relevant to Jaynes’ discussion, but how relevant is it to so many other things? How narrow is our vision without knowing it, that what we see we bring with it our own light? We do this when we read, we see only what we see through our eyes, our experience, our history. When we write, we chronicle only what we have seen through our own lights. When we witness pain from others, we see it with the light we have, which shields us from the darkness around, for better or worse.
We should remember how narrow our vision can be when we judge others, or judge situations; we should remember that we can’t see what’s hidden in the dark, and that our specific light picks up certain things that others don’t. Our flashlight may be stronger than others, or weaker than others; we may see things that others couldn’t possibly see, or vice versa. As Jaynes describes in terms of consciousness, it is terribly difficult to imagine ourselves without it, as it is all we know.
Is it possible to see things beyond the light we produce? Or are we doomed to have narrow visions as we shine our flashlights around the world?