Consciousness and Care

human-mind

As a followup to the last post, I want to discuss the relationship between consciousness and care, in particular to understand why care is a uniquely human process. Antonio Damasio, whom I referred to in the last blog post, spoke about consciousness early in the book I also cited, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Conscious.

Consciousness is, in effect, the key to a life examined, for better or worse, our beginner’s permit into knowing about the hunger, the thirst, the sex, the tears, the laughter, the kicks, the punches, the flow of images we call thought, the feelings, the words, the stories, the beliefs, the music and the poetry, the happiness and the ecstasy. At its simplest and most basic level, consciousness lets us recognize an irresistible urge to stay alive and develop a concern for the self. At its most complex and elaborate level, consciousness helps us develop a concern for other selves and improve the art of life.

The first part speaks about a “life examined.” This echoes Heidegger’s most basis notion about the meaning of human being. Of all living creatures, human are the only species that may confront the question, “What does it mean to be?” The self awareness necessary to ask this question requires consciousness, as Damasio goes on to discuss in the book. Further, humans act in the world everyday with some understanding of Being, although they may not be aware of it, and in some other situations may believe that life (being) is meaningless.

Damasio’s use of concern is important as it is a prerequisite to care. He adds that concern of self and others is critical to “the art of life,” another way to point to the necessity to care for self and others to survive. Damasio, like Maturana, describes life as the process of successful coping with the external and internal environment such that the basic structure of the organism is maintained. Maturana calls this process “autopoiesis.” The use of “art” suggests that humans are capable of knowing and able to learn from their experience of living. There is nothing in any of these thoughtful probings of human existence that suggests anything about a set of inherent needs, other than those necessary to maintain autopoiesis, food for example.

Other living organisms also have concerns about the world within which they live, but they are not conscious of either the world as we see it or of any kind of self that reflects on their concerns. Their concerns cannot be transformed into care, a word which implies agency or intentionality. They have only very limited capabilities to master the art of living. Agency or intentionality require both consciousness and a built-in mechanism, care, to respond to what becomes conscious. Humans and other species have additional response mechanisms that rest on unconscious (or on nonconscious, as Damasio writes) processes.

In Sustainability by Design, I found it convenient to develop a catalogue or taxonomy of care (depicted in the previous post), placing the range of human intentional actions in to a small set of discrete groupings, like subsistence, family, or aesthetics/creation. These categories can be used in a self-assessment to determine what’s still needed to be done on the way to flourishing. Flourishing can be conceived as a sense of completion in the processes (art) of living. Live is never complete in a static sense until death.

Heidegger adds authenticity to the ontology of human Being. While a very complicated notion, it’s central meaning is simply that one’s care comes from the self, not from conforming to the outside culture. Authenticity is exceedingly difficult to find today, given that the idea of need dominates daily life. We are told we are needy creatures by authority figures (scientists, economists, political leaders, and others). Our social institutions are built on this belief. If we believe we are simply insatiable, needy creatures, our individual and collective (cultural) habits will follow. Self will come to dominate everything else with the results we see, degradation of the Earth, human deprivation and suffering, disappearance of other species, and so on.

The competition that self brings is presumed to be the primary means to master “the art of living” that Damasio notes. It should be obvious that this is not working. We have neglected the concern (not the same as need) we have for ourselves, other humans, non-humans, and the transcendent attached to our consciousness. Those four categories comprise everything out there that finds its way into our consciousness.

Is this so complicated? I do not think so. Those who have elucidated the basic concepts here, Damasio, Heidegger, Maturana, and others, have done the hard work. It’s time to stop constructing our worlds around need as the core of human nature. The place to start is in every individual. Start acting out of care and the social institutions will follow. Care for family and the social dysfunction we see now will begin to vanish. Acquire material goods only as tools and resources for your caring in the various categories and the load on the Earth will lighten. Set out a schedule to attend to all the categories and eventually the sense or feeling or consciousness of flourishing will show up. The insatiability fed by societal pressures will begin to abate. Time to smell the roses will become more than a metaphor. This is the only way sustainability can come forth.

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Jack Harich said:

There's some deep thinking in your posts:

"What would business want to sustain? Very simple question in this domain: growth. Growth both in the overall economy and for each firm. Growth drives strategy. Virtually any initiative taken by a company is aimed at producing growth. Eco-efficiency or CSR are only means to that end." - Yes. My root cause analysis of the global sustainability problem found four subproblems. The "growth is good" paradigm is the intermediate cause of one of them.

"Even as the environmental issues community has grow over the years, it has become less effective compared to the early days." - Why is that? Could it be because popular solutions do not resolve root causes? That thread runs throughout your writing, especially "Sustainability by Design I have skimmed online.

"I give high marks to my colleagues seeking “The Great Transition” or something called “sustainable consumption, or decoupling economic growth from environmental harms and on and on, but all ignore the root causes of our problems." - Exactly. Hardly anyone is focusing on finding and resolving the root causes of the sustainability problem.

"Maybe I am just as insane as all the others, but I see the only way to break out of our dithering is to dig deep into our cultural structure." - Definitely. Digging deep, ie deep analysis of the fundamental forces involved, is how science has solved all of its toughest problems.

"These same powers are not the right ones to do the job. They are all committed to the current paradigm because it is the system that gave them whatever power they have. So they are extremely unlikely to lead us into a brave new world." - Yes.

[So] "It’s up to us. I think the best place to start is to begin to think of yourself as made up of cares...." - There are other places to start. I began research on solving the sustainability problem in 2001. I started by developing a formally defined problem solving process. The process can be continuously improved until it's good enough to solve the problem. This is similar to the way another formally defined process, the Scientific Method, drives the work of scientists.

"Unsustainability provides strong evidence of the failure of the existing paradigmatic structure of the US society, and other similar modern polities. In doing what the culture tells us is normal, we have begun to produce such large negative effects that the society and the larger global context is increasingly threatened." - Yes again.

"It is very difficult to reveal the root causes for the failure of the current cultural structure (paradigm) to produce both the goods we seek and to avoid the bads." - It certainly is. It took me two years to grasp the problem to solve and another seven years to produce a root cause analysis that was stable, cohesive, and complete. This has been published in a 2010 paper, a 2011 book, and a 2013 paper in submission. Links:
- http://www.thwink.org/sustain/articles/009/ChangeResistanceAsCrux.htm
- http://www.thwink.org/sustain/publications/books/03_CommonPropertyRights/index.htm
- http://www.thwink.org/sustain/publications/papers/index.htm#FindingFundamentalForces

The last link, the 2013 Fundamental Forces paper, is I suspect the best place to start. It's the most concise and up to date.

"The famous Toyota Production System used a procedure called the 5 Whys to get at the root causes of problems in the automobile manufacturing process." - TPS is an excellent root cause analysis process. It's a great example of how productive the right problem solving process can be.

"My analysis of unsustainability and the inability to produce well-being, which I define as flourishing, gets down to two primary root causes, our belief of what it is to be human and our belief in the way the world works." - My analysis found four subproblems and a main root cause for each. This gets into what Joseph Tainter wrote when commenting on the Fundamental Forces paper above: "I enjoyed your paper and think it is a worthwhile contribution. I believe, however, that there are further things that you need to consider. ... how to get consensus on root causes. Science is a social process, depending on consensus. Would searching for root causes just shift the focus of debate from searching for superficial causes?" Joe makes a very astute point here: How are scholars, environmentalists, and governments going to agree on the main root causes?

"I find it very difficult to find any of our institutions that work effectively for the majority of people. Politics has become hyper-competitive, played as a zero-sum game where only one side can 'win.' The common good for which the political system was constructed has gotten lost." - Oh yes! I think you will enjoy reading the section in the Fundamental Forces paper about the Dueling Loops of the Political Powerplace system dynamics simulation model. This shows why those supporting the common good are losing to those supporting special interests, especially corporate interests.

"I am deeply troubled by the selfishness I see everyday around me and also through the media I read. The system is truly broke and needs fixing." Yes it is. See the Broken Political System Problem in the Fundamental Forces paper. We are thinking together here.

"I have offered 'solutions' only for making very small changes toward replacing need with care; competition with empathetic relationships, selfishness with compassion and more." - I've gone a little further. The Analysis led to four subproblems, four main root causes and the high leverage points for resolving the root causes. Solution Convergence led to 12 solution elements for pushing on the high leverage points, in order to resolved their connected root causes.

I've ordered your two recent books and look forward to a tasty treat!

Jack Harich
Thwink.org
June 23, 2013