The Mental Void

Lately, I have become very interested in consciousness: where it comes from and what it does. (You can read my post about it here) There really is no definitive answer to this really big question, but the way I see it, consciousness is an evaluation of your perception of the physical world. This evaluation takes into account your memories, your desires, your opinions, and causes you to act in a certain way: either physical and/ or emotional. It is us basically thinking about the puzzle pieces of our world and deciding how to put them together. Additionally, we don’t really recognize our consciousness being there, much like we don’t think about our brain whenever we see or hear something. So, as I was learning more and more about consciousness, the more and more I thought back to a personal experience that I rightfully labeled as the “mental void.” Now that I think about it, it was an experience in which I was forced to become conscious of my consciousness by realizing the limitation of that very consciousness. What is this mysterious situation you are talking about? Well, to simply put it: toothache.

One day, in early September of 2017, I woke up to find that I had a toothache. I’ve been experiencing pain on the same tooth or almost a year at that point, but I didn’t worry too much, it was probably just my wisdom tooth wanting attention. I went along with my day as I normally would: I had some breakfast, drank some tea, read my book. All the while, the pain in my tooth grew worse and worse. As the day approached its end, I found myself unable to do much of anything except lie on my bed and be consumed by the horrible, horrible pain. This was something worse than boredom, though. In any normal situation, I always had my thoughts I could count on, but now, by consciousness was so focused on the pain that it didn’t have any room in it to allow me to carry a thought. I didn’t have this observation at the time, but I did have enough cognitive capacity to realize that the only thing that existed in my life at that time was pain. And having your consciousness be aware of that, well, that’s what real boredom looks like: something you cannot shake away or mitigate, something that permeates every thought in your head, something that is like a weight, sitting on you and not leaving. I also felt very powerless: how could I not control my thinking? My perception of the physical world also began to fade (maybe my consciousness just gave up on analyzing it). I remember though, at one point, having difficulty counting the number of painkillers in my hand that I was about to take.( which, for some reason, were not even working) The next day, I went to the dentist, who told me what my problem really was: a poorly patched up cavity from almost five years ago caused the inside of my tooth to root so badly that it infected two nerves in that tooth. After getting my tooth fixed and therefore regaining full ownership of my consciousness, I felt nothing but gratitude.

Although I am very unqualified in giving advice in many areas of life I think I can say this with confidence: Please be grateful for your thoughts. Because under normal human circumstances, it’s the only thing that will stay with you forever. Sometimes thoughts drift to some unknown places, sometimes they lead to places you do not want to go, but we can always bring them back: we can always control them, and they are always there to keep us human. 

28 thoughts on “The Mental Void

  1. I… Don’t agree. I think your approach is too clinical. In my opinion cognition is a small subset of Consciousness… But that maybe because we have different definitions for it.

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    1. I believe you may be right. I just looked up what cognition means, and it seems I have been using it incorrectly. I guess I thought cognitive ability was the same thing for some reason, which is definitely wrong, I should probably fix that. I was able to perceive the world around me in (mostly) the same way that I normally do, I just wasn’t able to really think about it and be “present” within it like I normally am. In hindsight, it’s an exaggeration to say that my entire consciousness was taken over, but that’s what it kind of felt like.

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      1. Your nerves were shooting signals of pain and your brain responded to it. Since it wasn’t something your brain was used to doing regularly it took more effort, which made you less able to think than normal. That’s a physiological response to sudden trauma. Your brain’s protecting you from harming yourself.

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      2. I don’t really know that much about the science behind pain, but I think that you are right. My brain’s response to the pain probably meant that there were a lot more nerve activity within it. Since the brain can only perform a certain amount of tasks per given time, the fact that I wasn’t able to think properly really makes me wonder how much consciousness is a part of the brain…. But this is how I see it: because the brain was so focused on the pain, (in the way that you described it to be) the mental image of the world that the brain analyzed and presented to me had a heavy emphasis on the pain, and not much on anything else. This made the consciousness preoccupied with the pain, hence the unpleasant experience that I had. But that’s just what I think, it could all just be pure science, but I’d like to think something beyond scientific laws happened to me (maybe because I like to feel special 🙂 )

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      3. Look up Cartesian dualism if you feel like doing some heavy reading on the topic. Descartes is interesting as well.

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      4. Descarte’s Meditations. Sorry left that out in the previous comment. After that try Sartre. You’ve made me revisit all my old text books with this article 🙂

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      5. Descartes? That sounds pretty mathematical, I think I remember learning some of his theorems at school. But I looked it up and it looks as if he was a well known philosopher as well. I’ll look more into it, seems interesting.

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  2. Aha! Reading the comments above reminded me of what I learned and was trying to recall in my response to the last post!

    What it was, was something about how the sub-conscious isn’t separate from the conscious as in further down, or hidden, its there all the time and it is simply the thoughts we aren’t aware of, cos they are either not relevant, or not relevant enough to become conscious – something like that anyhow. Just that I had always perceived the subconscious as sort of further down or deeper than the conscious, but the guy was saying no, they no longer see it as a separate pool of thoughts or memories – anyhow, I think that was what I learned that day – tho there was some other stuff in relation to illnesses they were talking about, cures for degenerative diseases and so on.

    I imagine its the conscious thoughts which are passed forward to the conscious part of the brain, but I think brain scans show other areas can learn to do what a damaged part can do if needs be – suggesting perhaps its difficult to say which actual part is where the consciousness resides!

    It gets me thinking perhaps the soul is in fact the nervous system?

    and then we get the spiritual types come in and talk about chakras, and stuff like that, which works, but does anyone even know why . . . yet?

    Toothache! Argh! I had that a few yrs ago, really debilitating!

    Today I forgot what day it was, and couldn’t even remember if I had a bath yesterday or not – weird how that happened – still not sure what threw me off today.

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    1. I totally agree with that point of view about the subconscious and the conscious both being separate and equally important parts of the mind. The way I see it, there is just so much happening in the world around us, that we cannot pay attention to everything at once- there is, after all, a finite number of nerves within our nervous system. Our consciousness, which is where our emotions, desires, biases, and memories reside, decides what to pay attention to, while the rest is seen subconsciously. I wrote a post similar to this on my blog a while back, it’s about how, because the brain decides what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to, makes us live in our own separate realities. Here is the link if you want to read it: https://katsobservations.wordpress.com/2018/05/27/subjective-reality/

      This morning I could not remember for the life of me whether or not I’ve brushed my teeth or not. The consciousness cannot be perfect- I guess that’s what makes us human.

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  3. I like how you used your personal experience of pain overriding your ability to think clearly or at all at times. We have long subscribed to consciousness as the differentiation between sentient beings and animals thus placing ourselves on the top of the list. But science and technological advancements have proven that Dolphins are the most intelligent mammals on the planet. We have since documented evidence that other mammals are far more advanced in cognitive skills and consciousness than was previously given credit. Our new understanding of ourselves is proving the centuries-long beliefs accepted as fact are indeed inaccurate at best. In all of this is the thread of philosophy that asks why and the scientific approach to answer the question. The mind is an amazing thing and no matter how we consider it, we should continue to ask how and why and seek the answers. Your discussions are always thought-provoking and interesting. I look forward to more.

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    1. Hello! It’s funny that you bring up dolphins, I just had a very similar comment from someone on a different post. But here’s what I always thought about animals: that they are all intelligent in their own very special ways. Maybe because I am not a scientist of any sort, but I never thought animals should be compared, almost like apples and oranges. For example, dolphins may be considered more advanced than humans, but a lot of what they can do (like echolocation) we can’t do and vise versa. Also, my dog Zeus cannot do a lot of things that humans can- but I’ve felt that he has the superior ability to sense and understand human feelings, not to mention his superior sense of smell. The reason that humans rose to such dominance, I think, is not consciousness related, but because of our size and large population, and maybe our fine-tuned survival habits. And I definitely agree that the mind is so amazing and interesting, no matter what animal it belongs to, but I like looking at the human mind, probably because I am is possession of one.

      I’m so glad you like my posts; I really like yours as well. The short stories are very intriguing (though I must admit, I accidentally read one of the series in reverse chronological order and in utter confusion before I realized my mistake 🙂 )

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      1. You have a dog named Zeus? Your cool points just skyrocketed Kat 🙂 I think that we are in possession of a human consciousness forces us to focus on it, which we do with amazing diversity. Understanding ourselves is a good start in understanding how we fit into the big picture of nature’s zoo. And if Dolphins were so smart, they would stop working for humans for snacks and demand equal pay. 😉

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      2. Yep! Zeus is a golden lab – one of the smartest animals I know. 😀

        My theory is that Dolphins understand that demanding a wage for their hard work will not only disrupt the entire world economy, but it might also potentially thwart their plans of world domination.

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      3. LOL! 🙂 Your insights into the insular Dolphin society’s clever plans is genius. I’ll bet Zeus has his own plans with your devoted help. Your comment made my week, Kat. My face hurts because I can’t stop smiling.

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      4. Glad to see that my comedic skills aren’t as hopeless as I had thought they were!! (no matter how serious the Dolphin debacle may turn out to be) 🙂
        Zeus definitely has some plans of his own. It’s really just a matter of time before he acts.

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      5. I do think your comedic skills are first rate which is a common trait of all masterminds. I do hope to read about Zeus’ adventures here 🙂

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      6. Please tell Zeus Happy Birthday from me. He’s approaching middle age and surely is a wise dog that can share a lot of experiences with us. I bet he’s witty too.

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      7. I did. He says thank you. Zeus has definitely had a lot of experiences in the five years of his life, including two brushes with the police (from two different towns), multiple swims in the Atlantic Ocean, and a plane ride.

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      8. Ha ha haaa! 🙂 Zeus is a bit of a rascal and adventurous spirit like his namesake. That’s totally cool. I’ve never dog paddled in the Atlantic before so I’m going to have to level up to keep up. 🙂

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  4. I can relate. Toothache is the worst. Funnily enough know I have to think of the prextext of this Lady Gaga song, where se says “trauma is the ultimate killer” Trauma is believed to be so powerful it can actually delete memories in your brain. Don’t know if this is scientific either, yet it seems plausible, because your brain naturally tries to protect itself from harm. Children for example seem to not be able to think straight at all, after having suffered physical trauma (even small one, probably because theay lack coping mechanisms at the time).

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    1. Lady Gaga – offering worlds of wisdom. 🙂

      Though I doubt that what I went through was actually trauma. Some of my memory from the experience is gone, but it is not effecting me in any way right now, except that I think about it pretty often. Maybe my brain has the right coping mechanisms? Who knows. The brain is a truly wonderful and mysterious thing.

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