On Friday I had the pleasure of gathering with some very interesting people (including the Schuylers, Betsy Burroughs, and Jeff Saperstein) at Doug Englebart’s house to discuss Consciousness. Yassi Mogahaddam started us off asking what consciousness is. It’s clear that any time we’re awake we’re technically conscious, but there are appear to be two different types of consciousness.
To illustrate, we used the situation of driving. There are times when the driving is automatic, and our minds can wander to solve problems or listen to the radio. Then there’s the case where someone swerves in front of us and we can no longer rely on our automatized processes and we’re in the moment. We might even get angry. All this is ‘in the moment’ still, or what Don Norman terms ‘active cognition.
Then there are the times when we think about what we’re doing, observing ourselves being angry perhaps, and as someone pointed out, integrating our different modes of perception. Don called this ‘reflective cognition’, but there’s more. Eastern wisdom tells us about being centered, and clearly there are times when we’re consciously reflecting on our own learning and thinking (meta-cognition and meta-learning).
Of course, consciousness means many things, and more than one attendee mentioned efforts to achieve higher consciousness. I naturally had to bring up wisdom, and we talked about how we might achieve it.
We reviewed historical notions of consciousness and the development of our intelligence and attitudes (the ability of the ancient Greeks to spend time philosophizing comes in some part from their use of slaves, despite their analyses of the importance of freedom), and of points of view.
The point I want to make is that self-improvement is not necessarily a natural state, and it takes cultivation to turn people to a path of seeking more than what’s just best for themselves. Robert Sternberg has argued that we should explicitly teach wisdom in classes, and I think it should be made intrinsic to our curriculum. And this holds true at the organizational level as well!