chapter  2
32 Pages

Unity, introspection and awareness

The term awareness is used in different ways, and not all of these uses specifically concern consciousness, let alone the unity of consciousness. Sometimes the term is effectively synonymous with knowledge or belief. We say such things as ‘I wasn’t aware that Britain has so few high mountains’, or ‘Were you aware that Susan and David have divorced?’. In this sense, ‘awareness’ is not directly concerned with experience at all. I may have been aware of Susan and David’s divorce without consciously thinking about it. My interlocutor was not querying whether I happened to be currently thinking about this state of affairs; the question was about whether I knew about it, whether I had this piece of information stored away somewhere. As far as specifically conscious awareness is concerned, several further uses of the term need to be distinguished. Sometimes, the presence of conscious awareness is taken simply to indicate the presence of experience, in any form. ‘Consciousness first appeared on the scene with simple organic lifeforms, previously the universe was wholly devoid of awareness’. When ‘awareness’ is used in this way it is virtually synonymous with ‘consciousness’ and ‘experience’, as I use the terms. But this is not the most common use of ‘awareness’ in relation to experience. ‘I watched a dog stroll across the street, but I wasn’t aware it was Seamus’. Here the lack of awareness indicates the failure to recognize an individual (an individual that one would recognize ordinarily or in other circumstances). We sometimes say we are aware of something if and when we notice or pay attention to it. ‘It had been getting dark for some time, but I only became aware of it when I started to read the newspaper’. Recognition usually involves concepts: I

can only recognize (be aware) that the tea I have been given is Earl Grey if I have the concept of Earl Grey tea. But recognition does not always require concepts: when a mother picks up her young child, the child may recognize who it is that has picked them up (be aware that it is a familiar visual presence) without having the concept ‘mother’ or ‘person’. Similarly, animals may recognize all manner of things for which they have no concepts (of a linguistic sort at least). We also use awareness in relation to introspection. When we want to find out about our current experience, we introspect: we deliberately focus our attention and see what we find. Think of what you do when you wonder whether your toothache is getting better or worse. As you scrutinize your toothache, you become introspectively aware of it. There are also some purely philosophical uses of ‘awareness’. According to one influential doctrine, consciousness has a two-level structure: all experiencing consists of an awareness of some content.