Thursday, November 04, 2004


Another idea - at times it occurs to me how vast the realm of possible conscious states is compared to what you experience at any one moment in time. Consider just vision - as I've argued in other places, we have an effective resolution of about a million pixels (there are several million color sensitive cone cells - mainly located in the center of our perception - and some hundred million light intensity sensitive rod cells intermixed there and dominating further out {which is why its easier to see faint stars when not looking directly at them}, but all this visual information is compressed by the retinal neurons before sending it down the optic nerve to the visual cortex) so if each pixel can see a million different colors, there are (10^6)^(10^6) different possible images we could see, an astounding number. Likewise, out of all the possible thoughts we can have and memories we can access, we only focus on some tiny subset at any one point in time (our RAM is much smaller than our hard drive, so to speak). I've thought of a pleasing metaphor to sum this up: consciousness is like exploring the Grand Canyon with a flashlight on a cloudy night. It's actually quite nice, all sorts of colorfull rocks and hardy vegetation of various sizes, but every so often the thick clouds will part and the bright moon shines down, vaguely illuminating the vast dramatic landscape out beyond. And even then one can't even begin to imagine the lush jungles soaking in the monsoon, the cracking ice of the glaciers sliding down the mountains, and the waves of blowing sand drifting towards the giant crashing waves of water under the glaring noon day sun, all of it far over the straight-line curve of the horizon.

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