Some recent questions to myself:
Reading philosophy and psychology for so many years, was I looking all along for an explanation of consciousness?
Through neurological and evolutionary science, and more philosophy and more psychology and, in addition, some anthropology, some history. And fiction. And rhetoric. Trying, perhaps, to understand the self? Through criticism, through art, through literature?
Looking carefully at art, reading literature closely: were those also endeavors to comprehend what mind is? Other minds? My own mind? Through the creative act, perhaps?
Is the ars poetica a kind of manifesto of human consciousness from an individual perspective, yet open to interpretation by other human minds? And the beautiful–what is it that even makes beauty a significant concept? Where did that come from? Evolution and the sexual drive (see Dutton riffing on Darwin)? Society? Synthesis? Ego? Inspiration? Angels?
Is every story a scaffold to consciousness? A hedge against oblivion? (Self-oblivion, the hardest navigation act there is: depression, hopelessness, loss of self-knowledge, coma).
I wonder if the stories we tell to others and to ourselves, employing memory selectively whether or not we realize it, act as a kind of (modern-day, metaphorical) Chain of Being through which we develop Theory of Mind and, beyond that, a sense not just of ego but of neurological consciousness. If stories are what make us human.
[Note: I do not hold the medieval concept of a hierarchy in which Man, angels, and God stand above all other things; the stone and the plankton have as much value–likely more–than I do in the workings of the cosmos, as far as I am concerned. I post this Enlightenment-Era engraving here for metaphorical and aesthetic reasons because I take pleasure in the delightful monkey.]
Stories have tremendous value to human beings in ways we are still discovering; see my previous posts here, here, here, and here (among others). I keep coming across claims for the significance of story in surprising places–most recently in Dutton’s The Art Instinct and in Atul Gawande’s latest book, Being Mortal. Widely different texts, similar observations.
How is it we know who it is we are?
Possibly, in the process of inventing the story of ourselves, we become human. Perhaps the story of ourselves is fundamental to conscious “human” minds.
Speculation. But I love recalling that my children, when they were very very young, consistently made one particular demand of me: “Mama, tell me a story!”