Experiencing the “Layers” of Consciousness

I’ve been writing about the way conscious experiences inform us about several levels or layers of reality, all at the same time. Here’s a way to practice thinking of your mind as a multi-layer detection device. I’ve also found that this exercise helps me notice the complex texture of sensuous existence.

Turn on music (preferably instrumental music, or vocals in a language you do not understand) and close your eyes. Start by listening in your usual way. Then focus for a few minutes on each of the following interpretations:

(1) Think of the sounds you hear as states of the instruments themselves – the vibration of piano strings or drum-heads, or what a horn’s doing as the air flows through it.

(2) After a while, think of the music as sound-waves striking your ear.

(3) Then think of it as a series of sensory experiences, auditory perceptions inside of your head.

(4) Finally, think of the music as what you get, what you receive in being aware of your own perceptions. Now you are focusing on sound as a state of the experiencing self.

Which of these interpretations felt most fitting? Did it seem as if you were in touch with the outside world (interpretations 1 and 2) or your own mind (interpretations 3 and 4)? Or perhaps all of these interpretations seemed equally apropos.

You can do the same thing with other sensory modalities, such as taste. Are you directly experiencing a hot pepper or indirectly detecting it through taste-phenomena? With scent, are you directly or indirectly detecting the particles within an onion that make it smell so strong?

If you alternate between external and internal interpretations, this may help you empathize with both philosophical externalists and internalists.

Roger Christan Schriner

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