A quick map of consciousness

Prior knowledge: Many maps lightly held, Leaky concepts, Boundaries

(Well “good” is in the map, not the territory.  This diagram very quickly becomes a mess, but before that happens, let’s talk about reifying the parts of this model to see if it’s useful)

Playing around asking the question “what is consciousness”, yields a great deal of trouble. I don’t really want to pin down what consciousness is but I want to work around it.

To me right now, it seems like consciousness is the ladder between the map and the territory.  In the diagram, on the left is a thought, suggesting that “this is an apple” on the right, pictured is a red apple.  When the attention points at a red apple, the consciousness is filled with a map of declarative definition that labels, names and concludes that this is an apple.  

Consciousness seems to be a label generating machine.  Something fundamental about brains is that they map the territory.  They quest towards mapping the territory.


This brings us to the question of – how do I have a good life.  I have 3 strategies:

1. [content] Look at different apples

2. [map] modify so that there are more positive opinions of apples

3. [relationality] appreciate looking at rotten apples if that’s what’s to look at today.


If I look at dead apples all day, I’m not going to auto-magically have a great day.  On the other hand if I look at great apples, I’m going to be impressed and delighted.  The apple could be replaced with beautiful artwork, nice sunsets, tasty food, nice music.  Whatever strikes in the heart of desire to be attended to. Improve the content is a reasonable and helpful strategy sometimes.

Sometimes it’s not the content that’s the problem.  Maybe there’s nothing wrong with apples but they make me puke.  Then I can try the map.


If every time I see an apple I remember that one time I bit an apple and found half a worm, maybe there’s some work I can do so that I don’t keep thinking worms when I see an apple.  Even sunsets are irrelevant when I’m too busy on my phone. If art galleries remind me of my ex, music reminds me of screeching cats (not in a good way), food reminds me of how fat I am (and how I can’t take care of my body). Maybe the work to be done is in the map.  Sometimes with more and less force, the map can be trained to be less miserable when presented with stimuli. Usually the good stuff is found by passing through the uncomfortable, not avoiding it.

Sometimes I can’t shift the content.  I’m living in the developing world, sometimes sickness and suffering is visible.  Sometimes it’s a very real awareness that if I’m not careful it could be me. That’s where the 3rd method comes in.

There’s parts of the map that start to relate to other parts of the map. That’s what I start to call “relationality”.


I look at an apple.  It reminds me of the time I bit into a worm.  How I relate to that content is flexible. I can feel bad about being dumb that time, or I can look at it and laugh about how ridiculous that was. Maybe thinking of worm-apple-gate is my minds way of warning me to be careful it doesn’t happen again.  That time I went to see the sunset and could not get off my phone, I was upset about something, maybe I’m being reminded to be kind to myself, now I know better. Screeching cats – Hilarious! Food makes me fat, but it’s really really good food.  So tasty! Maybe the question of balancing good food and living!life is worth considering.

I have a chance to see how I’m relating to the content, and I can travel to different maps.  

How?  Slowly.

That process of “travel to different maps” needs to be done in the way of being that travels all the way down the ladder.  If I brute force the attention to move elsewhere, my relationality is “brute force”. My map says, “I gotta brute force my way around here” or “that’s not important” and my content becomes all about the things I avoid.  Sure I can brute force my content to be butterflies not machine guns, but that’s not going to substantially change a map with trouble brewing. I can’t always control what I see. but I can work towards relating to those experiences better.

This post has been quick and dirty. I hope to build on it later.

Cross posted to lesswrong: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/AMnwQDYx97nEp53df/a-quick-map-of-consciousness

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