I’m toying with the idea of writing a book about enlightenment. To help sort out my ideas, from time to time I may write chunks of that potential book on this blog. One of the ways we can clarify ideas is by choosing technical terms and defining them carefully.
The word “know”
I’ll give “know” a special meaning so I can piggyback my definition of “consciousness” on top of it. I’ll use “know” as a general term that refers to any type of perception or awareness of any kind of phenomenon whatsoever. That sounds confusing but actually it’s a simple idea.
In English we say I heard a sound, I smelled an odor, I understood an idea, I felt pain, I remembered a memory, and so forth. All those verbs — heard, smelled, understood, felt, remembered — have something in common. We can say that each one describes a kind of knowing: a knowing of a sound, a knowing of an odor, a knowing of an idea, a knowing of a pain, a knowing of a memory. I propose to use the word “know” in that general way.
To help make this clear, here’s an analogy: animal is to tiger, dolphin, bee, lizard, elephant, etc. as know is to hear, smell, understand, feel, etc.
I hope this idea is clear. If we already had a word like this in English, the idea would seem very simple and natural, something little children could understand. But since we don’t have a word like this, it’s a little hard to explain.
The word “consciousness”
I’ll define “consciousness” as the ability to know, with “know” defined as described above.
By using “consciousness” in this way, I’m not only creating a definition but also suggesting the hypothesis that such a general ability exists, i.e., that there is a single faculty or power than does those various things. It might be the case, instead, that there are multiple consciousnesses each of which perceives a different category of phenomena. For most people, subjective experience is so chaotic and fragmented that they cannot settle this question through observation. Perhaps we can say that one of the outcomes of enlightenment is that we become able to settle this question by observation.