Consciousness (Damasio)

The drama of the human condition comes solely from consciousness. Of course, consciousness and its revelations allow us to create a better life for self and others, but the price we pay for that better life is high. It is not just the price of risk and danger and pain. It is the price of knowing risk, danger and pain. Worse even: it is the price of knowing what pleasure is and knowing when it is missing or unattainable.

The drama of the human condition thus comes from consciousness because it concerns knowledge obtained in a bargain that none of us struck: the cost of a better existence is the loss of innocence about that very existence. The feeling of what happens is the answer to a question we never asked, and it is also the coin in a Faustian bargain that we could never have negotiated. Nature did it for us.

But drama is not necessarily tragedy. To some extent, in a variety of imperfect ways, individually and collectively, we have the means to guide creativity and, in so doing, improve human existence rather than worsen it. This is not easy to achieve; there are no blueprints to follow; the successes may be small; failure is likely. And yet, if creativity is directed successfully, even modestly, we will allow consciousness, once again, to fulfil its homeostatic, regulating role over existence. Knowing will help being. I even have some hope that understanding the biology of human nature will help a little with the choices to be made. Be that as it may, improving the lot of existence is precisely what civilization, the main consequence of consciousness has been all about, and for at least three thousand years, with greater or smaller rewards, improvement is what civilization has been attempting. The good news, then, is that we have already begun. ~ Antonio Damasio, in The Feeling of What Happens, p. 316, New York 1999.

Published by John Willemsens

Advayavada Buddhism teacher - Buddhist name: Advayavadananda. Born in Holland in 1934, lived 1939-1964 in Argentina, happily married to Anne.

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