Essential Properties of Experience

Intrinsic existence: Consciousness exists: each experience is actual—indeed, that my experience here and now exists (it is real) is the only fact I can be sure of immediately and absolutely. Moreover, my experience exists from its own intrinsic perspective, independent of external observers (it is intrinsically real or actual).

Composition: Consciousness is structured: each experience is composed of multiple phenomenological distinctions, elementary or higher-order. For example, within one experience I may distinguish a book, a blue color, a blue book, the left side, a blue book on the left, and so on.

Information: Consciousness is specific: each experience is the particular way it is—being composed of a specific set of specific phenomenal distinctions—thereby differing from other possible experiences (differentiation). For example, an experience may include phenomenal distinctions specifying a large number of spatial locations, several positive concepts, such as a bedroom (as opposed to no bedroom), a bed (as opposed to no bed), a book (as opposed to no book), a blue color (as opposed to no blue), higher-order “bindings” of first-order distinctions, such as a blue book (as opposed to no blue book), as well as many negative concepts, such as no bird (as opposed to a bird), no bicycle (as opposed to a bicycle), no bush (as opposed to a bush), and so on. Similarly, an experience of pure darkness and silence is the particular way it is—it has the specific quality it has (no bedroom, no bed, no book, no blue, nor any other object, color, sound, thought, and so on). And being that way, it necessarily differs from a large number of alternative experiences I could have had but I am not actually having.

Integration: Consciousness is unified: each experience is irreducible and cannot be subdivided into non-interdependent, disjoint subsets of phenomenal distinctions. Thus, I experience a whole visual scene, not the left side of the visual field independent of the right side (and vice versa). For example, the experience of seeing the word “BECAUSE” written in the middle of a blank page is not reducible to an experience of seeing “BE” on the left plus an experience of seeing “CAUSE” on the right. Similarly, seeing a blue book is not reducible to seeing a book without the color blue, plus the color blue without the book.

Exclusion: Consciousness is definite, in content and spatio-temporal grain: each experience has the set of phenomenal distinctions it has, neither less (a subset) nor more (a superset), and it flows at the speed it flows, neither faster nor slower. For example, the experience I am having is of seeing a body on a bed in a bedroom, a bookcase with books, one of which is a blue book, but I am not having an experience with less content—say, one lacking the phenomenal distinction blue/not blue, or colored/not colored; or with more content—say, one endowed with the additional phenomenal distinction high/low blood pressure. Moreover, my experience flows at a particular speed—each experience encompassing say a hundred milliseconds or so—but I am not having an experience that encompasses just a few milliseconds or instead minutes or hours.

— Dr. Giulio TononiIntegrated information theory, Scholarpedia

132 // Meaningful to Me

I spent another night tossing and turning, waking in the night, and struggling to fall back asleep. I can’t even remember the last time I slept soundly through a night or didn’t wake up with dark circles and heavy limbs. Still, considering the chronic sleep deprivation, I’m feeling pretty good today.

I feel light, like a weight has been removed from my chest for a time. I wouldn’t quite call it happy, but something very near it or something very far from melancholy, anyway. It’s more of a lack of pain than a euphoria. Sometimes when you’ve been low for so long, just getting to neutral can be a major sense of hope and pride.

Perhaps it’s only that the sun has finally returned, and the workday is scheduled to be an easy one. I feel ready to focus, ready to work, ready for a few steps forward for a change.

I read a blog post today from someone lamenting that they had fallen short of their goal and only finished half of a draft for their next book. I am by no means invalidating the feelings of failure, but couldn’t help thinking how proud this person should be to have had the courage to start at all and to make it halfway! I’m still working on ideas and anxiety. I hope one day to have gathered half the resolve, focus, and determination this blogger has. I hope they know I’m in awe of them.

The most I can ask of myself is to get through a scheduled hour of real writing. Not reading or research, not image editing, not journaling, real writing, followed by some time spent actually editing. When I say real writing, I don’t mean profitable writing, though someday soon I’d love for that to be my pursuit. I mean, writing that is meaningful to me. Writing I hope holds some value for you.

It may only be a personal essay, a poem, or a book review, but it’s writing I take seriously. It’s practice for something bigger and it’s purifying for the psyche and, for now, that’s all I ask from myself and from writing. I suppose it’s all I can ever ask.

Follow Your Anxiety

The School of Anxiety is The School of Greatness // Academy of Ideas

“How each person self-realizes will differ in its particulars, but there is a general formula that can lead us in this direction—some have said follow your bliss, others have said find a passion, Kierkegaard would say follow your anxiety.

Each step on the path to self-realization is patterned the same—envision a possibility that could further our self-creation, experience the anxiety that accompanies the prospect of moving forward into an unpredictable and open-ended future, but move forward regardless. If the possibilities we are unfolding in our life are free of the intermediate determinant of anxiety, this is not a sign of mental health, but instead suggests that we are living in a manner that betrays our potential.”


The title to this video “The School of Anxiety is the School of Greatness” is one of the most encouraging and motivating phrases I have ever read in regards to general anxiety and fear. A shift happened while watching from wanting be rid of my fears, toward a desire to embrace it. For some, for many in fact, this may be the only way to finally move forward.

131 // Thinking About What I Think

Today proved a bit more productive than yesterday, or, perhaps not. Perhaps it was only productive in a different way. While yesterday I could find the time and focus for personal pursuits, today I had to return to work obligations and expectations. It was hard at first and I regret not allocating time for writing when I could but it felt good to make progress in other parts of my life too.

We’re hiring in my department and I’m thinking about what it means to have power and privilege over choosing people. I don’t hold much sway in my workplace but my opinions are at least heard if not always considered or heeded. It feels overwhelming to think you could play a role in someone’s employment. That you could help decide whether they have more work or less, more money or less, or are considered for more opportunities or not.

I’m thinking about what I think makes a good employee or coworker and by what criteria do I choose to recommend someone be brought on or let go. I think I lean too much on my gut and rate social or personal personality traits far too highly. I think too much about whether or not I will like a person and not enough about whether or not they can perform the work.

Whether or not I like them personally is a “me problem” just like if someone doesn’t like me I consider it a “them problem”. I come to my job to perform a function and receive a paycheck that’s all. It is a transaction and whether I enjoy the work or like my coworkers is besides the point, mostly. My point is being liked and making friends is not what I am being paid for and it is not essential to the role I play in my workplace. I should not expect more from others than I believe should be expected of me.

I should see people for their capabilities, their enthusiasm, their contribution to the goals we set as a team and leave the considerations at that. I also should use what little power I do have to further normalize this kind thinking when it comes to who should be offered advancement opportunities.

Be the change and all, you know?

Goals // Week 19: Time Without Work, Without Worry

This week I’m absolutely taking it easy. Between my birthday celebrations, Mother’s Day, upcoming weddings, and the world opening up in general, it suddenly it feels like there isn’t enough time to do all the things I have to do let alone anything I want to do or even to do nothing at all! I’m in desperate need of resting both my body and my mind, of finding time to be present, and of silence and solitude.

So, I’m keeping the goals light this week. The outside world is putting on the pressure and rather than pile on, I think it best to be kind to myself and provide some times of relief and release. There needs to be time for things I enjoy: writing of course, but other things too like podcasts, music, TV, games, walking outside, sleeping, laughing, and reading. Time spent not just without work but without worry too.

This week I will:

Finish writing my review of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil and draft a piece for World IBD Day next week. I have the words written but the anxiety and resulting avoidance over editing and ending any piece of writing, no matter how trivial, continues to plague my existence. The only way through it is through it.

Read for 30 minutes every night before bedtime. Utterly failed at this goal last week, but I’m trying again. I’m already so behind in my reading goals for the year and every day the gap between where I should be and where I am grows. I’m trying not to be so hard on myself, but I can’t waste the days this way. If the trend continues, social media sacrifices will have to be made!

Make one or two black out poems. I’ve missed pouring over newspaper and magazine articles remixing the words of writers better than me into Instagram poetry. The results aren’t technically perfect, nor are the sentiments profound, but the work forces the mind out of its course and feeds creativity. More than that, it’s just plain fun!

Keep my headphones close. I’ve missed the magical way music can transform my mood into anything I want or need. Music can bring you up, bring you down, transport you far away, or bring you back to the present. When you are stuck behind a desk all day, wishing you were anywhere but here, music is the only way to travel.

Spend some time behind the wheel. For those new to the blog and unaware, I suffer from pretty severe driving anxiety. I rarely drive anywhere unless absolutely necessary, but I’m ready for more flexibility and independence in my life, and that means I have to face my fear and start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s been far too long and I am far too late, but it’s better than never. I can do this!

This week I will not be so hard on myself. It’s been hard not to compare my place or progress with others. Everyone seems so capable and everything I do takes so much effort and half the time results in failure or disappointment. I know this is a problem of perspective, and I know that there are so many things I can do better than most. It’s just most days and in most situations, my soft skills seem of so little value.

This week I will work on finding my own way rather than going the way of others. I cannot do what others do and expect the same results others get. I am me, and I can only be me, and using my unique set of skills I can pick a path that feels a better fit, that feels a better journey, than struggling along someone else’s rocky way.


130 // Barely Getting By

Well, this Spring is continuing to bring more clouds and cold than sun or shine, and with it I’m continuing my trend of reclusivity and introspection.

I’m over these clouds and I’m over these pensive swings but rather than wishing for other weather or lighter moods, I’m planning on taking advantage of the ease with which words have been coming to me and spend my time in quiet focus.

The office is empty, and expectations of productivity are low. I’m grateful for the peace but it still doesn’t compare to being at home, cozy in bed, listening to the rain wash down the windows while I read a good book and sip a cup of strong coffee.

There clearly wasn’t enough weekend for me to do all the nothing I wanted because all I can think about now is the nothing I want to do the first chance I get but I expect that freedom won’t come until at least this coming Saturday morning. I’m imposing no expectations of rising early, writing, or working on anything at all. As good as moving through the tasks and to-dos feels, I think a day of doing nothing at all is long, long, long, overdue.

Until then, I’m simply putting one foot in front of the other. I’m breathing and barely getting by with the bare minimum. I’m surviving. I’m warning all my coworkers and loved ones alike—expect a complete lack of enthusiasm and eruptions of fiercely anti-social behaviors through the end of the day with relapses probable through the end of the week.

Sorry, not sorry.

129 // Tomorrows After

It’s getting easier. I woke just after my alarm and though my body protested and made sweet promises, if only I stayed in bed cozy under the covers, I still managed to make my way to the kitchen table to write. The words flowed without needing to be forced. And though I wish I could stay here all day, I’m happy enough with my progress that I can get on with the rest of the day free from resentments and regrets.

Coffee, as always, is the catalyst, but I’m starting to appreciate the motivating effects of a good breakfast and proper hydration. The mind, it turns out, is easier to wrangle when it isn’t preoccupied with your most basic biological needs.


I think this year’s Mother’s Day celebrations were a success! My mom was happy with her nails and the Your Mother’s Story Lined Journal I got her. She’s lead a remarkable and tragic life and I think it’s time we start writing some of her memories down and organizing them into something that could be passed down. My mother-in-law loved her homemade quiche and the signpost my wife built with all her children’s names and the number of miles away they are in any direction.

Now the focus turns to Father’s day, and then a barrage of birthdays through the summer and fall before the end of the year holidays. Looking ahead, suddenly, the time between now and 2022 seems too short and far too filled with stress. Suddenly, looking forward through time, I can feel my chest tighten with the panic of time tick, tick, ticking by. Suddenly life itself is too short.

And just like that, my mind has run away with me. Just like that I can start to spiral. This is why practicing mindfulness has become such a priority in my life. I tell myself that’s why a year lasts as long as it does. You cannot take it all in at once, the way my mind keeps trying to. You have to live it day by day, or, preferably, moment by precious and surprising moment.

This day, this holiday, was a good one. Tomorrow belongs to tomorrow and all the tomorrows after.

128 // Faster Than I Can Cope

Some days are easier than others, this one is proving a lot harder than most. The starting came easier than expected, but the my mood and motivation deteriorated soon after.

It’s the first of our Mother’s Day celebrations. I bought my mom a nice bouquet of flowers and an adorable cactus (her favorite plant) vase to set them in. We went out to the nail salon and had a girls’ day of being papered for a bit. Afterward was a delicious lunch at a restaurant nearby. The outing was fun, but by afternoon fatigue was setting in and my anxiety was rising.

It’s evening now and dark storm clouds are rolling in making me melancholy and lethargic. Looking forward to the next few days of dreary weather, I can’t help feeling pretty low. It seems no one day can ever contain only itself. No matter how hard I try, the past and the future seep in through the cracks faster than I can cope.