By Laura A. Roser

On Consciousness and How Thought Structures Affect Our Reality

Have you ever wondered if reality is subjective? Is what you’re experiencing similar to what other humans are experiencing? Do your senses interpret stimuli the same way as the majority of people around you? Is reality mostly molded by your thoughts, or is there a concrete reality you’re accurately seeing?

Cognitive scientist Daniel C. Dennett has spent his life studying the mind and how it processes information. In Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds, Dennett writes:

“To put it really somewhat paradoxically, you can’t have consciousness until you have the concept of consciousness.”

In his book, Dennett goes on to summarize some thoughts from the work of American psychologist Julian Jaynes (1920-1997), who is best known for his theories about the Bicameral Mind.

“Jaynes suggests that history was invented or discovered just a few years before Herodotus, and one starts to object that of course there was history long before there were historians, but then one realizes that in a sense Jaynes is right. Is there a history of lions and antelopes? Just as many years have passed for them as for us, and things have happened to them, but it is very different. Their passage of time has not been conditioned and tuned and modulated by any reflective consideration of that very process. So history itself, our having histories, is in part a function of our recognizing that very fact. Other phenomena in this category are obvious: you can’t have baseball before you have the concept of baseball, you can’t have money before you have the concept of money.”

This is an interesting thought—the idea that we need to invent and name things before they can show up in our lives and the world. It is said that an increased vocabulary opens up opportunities. When you know certain terms, such as “balance sheet,” “net profits,” or “gross revenues,” your sophistication as a businessperson is enhanced. The same is true of learning the jargon of any industry.

In estate planning, words like “will,” “trust,” and “foundation” give you a structure by which to plan your affairs. Before these structures were created, passing on financial assets was much less sophisticated.

When I first began trying to conceive what kind of non-financial legacy I’d want to pass on to my heirs, the solutions were relatively elementary—at least from my vantage point—because most people I ran into and things I studied had not conceptualized how to package up someone’s essence as a person or cultivate non-financial assets within a family and pass that on. Thus, the structure of a “Meaning Legacy” was my answer to creating a system by which these non-financial assets (such as wisdom, values, and beliefs) can be transferred to others.

Of course, the terms “history,” “money,” “consciousness,” or “Meaning Legacy” are an opening into a world that is made richer by one’s depth of knowledge. As Dennett writes in Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon:

“If you can approach the world’s complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things.”

This quest for deeper understanding is what makes life rich—discovering worlds within worlds through curiously exploring what fascinates you.

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by Laura A. Roser
CEO and Founder of Paragon Road
#1 Expert in Meaning Legacy Planning