Commusings: The Hard Problem of Consciousness by Jeff KrasnoFeb 20, 2021
Do you ever go through phases where you dream consistently and vividly night after night? I am in such a chapter currently. It has prompted me to excavate the work of Carl Jung. Dreams are fascinating, complicated and, on occasion, hilarious.
I hope this missive elicits an examination of human consciousness with a few laughs along the way, and I apologize in advance for the borderline inappropriate account of this recent subconscious flight of fancy.
I lean on the following disclaimers:
1) My well-publicized thirty-three-year career in monogamy should buy me some political capital.
2) Can I really be held responsible for my unconscious mind?
3) Who hasn’t had a slightly naughty dream? ;-)
Feel free to share your dreams with me at [email protected].
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The Hard Problem of Consciousness
Last night, in the throes of REM sleep, I had a dream so ridiculously Freudian that it might banish me for life to a Victorian velvet couch. I’m not completely confident if the more fitting venue for my subconscious antics is a psychiatrist’s office or the Laugh Factory. Perhaps both.
This dream, like many, reveals the typical wanton desires, ingrained anxieties, and neurotic self-sabotage that lie just beneath the thin veneer of consciousness. I’ve simply set it to the Benny Hill theme song. I am dissecting it, despite the risk of personal embarrassment, because it provides insight into the mind’s confounding complexity, the nature of attention and the paradox of being simultaneously conscious and unaware even within your subconscious.
Here’s the scene as it projected in the theater of my cerebral cortex:
Schuyler and I have retired for the night, settling into a sedentary, if edifying, evening of Queen’s Gambit. But we’re not in our normal bedroom. We’re in an unfamiliar, spartan, windowless box that allows for little more than the bed upon which we’re semi-recumbent.
I crack my laptop to queue up the climactic end game of Beth Harmon’s chess odyssey. Without thinking, my fingers dance reflexively on the keyboard and dexterously navigate Netflix. My index finger hovers above the mouse pad. I am about to click the play arrow when the door swings open and a woman saunters into the room. She is ravishing. Her raven hair, ivory skin, and emerald eyes suggest that she’s jumped right off the chess board, except she is more scantily clad than any Queen. She stands at the foot of the bed, juts a hip out to one side, and, with a devious feline squint, makes us a proposition.
I glance at Schuyler and, to my giddy surprise, she does not appear immediately opposed. In the midst of this reverie, I whisper under my breath, “this is a dream come true.” Emboldened now, our interloper takes her place on the edge of the bed, slips off her chemise, and eyes us intently. But before I can even move my pawn, the door opens again and a vaguely familiar middle-aged hippie dude trudges in.
Oblivious to any lascivious drama unfolding in front of him, this man helps himself to the diminutive en suite bathroom. Just moments ago, I had not been even remotely aware of this water closet adjoining our room, but now my entire attention lasers in on it – like a police helicopter shining a spotlight down on a fleeing burglar. In fact, this bohemian should be arrested considering what he is currently stealing from me.
What now transpires are some of the most maladroit minutes in human history as our budding menage is forced to engage in clumsy small talk while we wait. The awkwardness of this moment is only further exacerbated by the longevity of this bedraggled man’s stay in the bathroom, which could only suggest that his business there was more complicated than originally anticipated.
After a thorough rehashing of the week’s weather, our brunette guest inquires as to whether we know this man. Strangely, I do recognize this guy from somewhere. I am searching for his name but cannot quite land on it. I am inexplicably sure however it begins with a B.
This precipitates a descent into the land of Rumpelstiltskin.
Is it Brett?
I don’t think so.
What about Ben?
Zzzzzzz. I make the sound of a game show buzzer.
Brody. Bennett. Bruce. Byron.
Sorry, but no.
This name deducing derby presents a new frustration. While his name escapes my tongue, my consciousness is quite aware of what his name isn’t.
Schuyler peevishly mutters, “I don’t think his name starts with B.”
After five agonizing minutes that I can only compare to a balloon with a minuscule leak, Mr. B-something emerges from the bathroom. He is misted in an aerosol of lavender Glade like Pigpen from Peanuts.
Totally unconscious of the ruin he has wrought, he notices the laptop on the bed and asks what we’re watching. Apparently, he’s binging Fleabag on HBO. I have been rendered completely mute. And my nemesis exits from whence he came.
The third point of our triangle looks at us with reluctant surrender and shrugs. I consider a Hail Mary but I know it’s not worth the trouble. The moment has clearly passed.
She slips her t-shirt back on and slinks off. And I reach for the laptop, the play button still beckons. Click.
And … I wake up. Looking down, I evidently now have a novel understanding of the hard problem of consciousness.
Immediately I laugh out loud. How could I be upset? My subconscious has meticulously scripted this entire R-rated rom-com for my on-demand viewing displeasure. Somehow my unconscious mind is able to storyboard a saga inside of which I am, at once, conscious and unaware. And internal to the subconscious activity of this dream, my attention can be focused toward and away from objects as if my awareness is bobbing along a stream – even if it isn’t. Within the dream, I am absolutely convinced of my free will – despite my obvious lack of it.
This begs the question: How much of my waking life is determined prior to consciousness even if I feel like I am in control of my destiny?
I look over at Schuyler deep in slumber next to me. I consider rousing her and recounting this mad affair, the unconsummation of which must be a subconscious affirmation of my profound devotion to her. I am not sure she’d see it that way.
Instead, I decide to try and go back to sleep. I’m drifting into the liminal state before slumber when I jolt up in bed. A light in some remote part of my brain illuminates.
Brad! Fucking Brad!
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