Tending Toward a Model of Consciousness

What is Consciousness?

Let's begin by assuming consciousness exists. You are conscious. I am conscious. We share consciousness.

Consciousness is simple, ignorant potential, by nature. It seeks to convert its ignorant potential into wise action. As do you, as do I.

We, like all conscious beings, have two innate abilities: we can attend, and we can intend. To attend is to tend to. attention breeds awareness (and vice versa): it notices, it observes, it listens, it cares, it organizes, it guides. To intend is to tend toward. Intent breeds purpose: it means, it aspires, it envisions, it designs, it proposes, it plans. Attention needs a target. We can only tend to something that exists. On the other hand we can tend toward something that does not exist. Intent only needs an aim.


We can direct our attention inward or outward, but attention still needs a target. Whether pointed inward or outward, attention gathers data which allow us to resolve our ignorance and assess changes in our quality. Attention is the input of consciousness' feedback loop.

Inward attention observes, and evaluates the quality of, the self. "I am feeling serene and joyful as I write this to you." My mind looks inward as I attend my emotional state. We build knowledge of self by observing ourselves from various perspectives and by noticing ourselves in various states, conditions, and sets of circumstances.

Outward attention evaluates the quality of others. "These cookies are still warm from the oven." Having noticed these cookies and their gooey warmth, I attend inward to my body's need for cookies, factoring in their supple, buttery, doughy salacity, and then attend further inward to my spirit-rending, plane-quaking desire for these cookies, a desire that reigns supreme disregardful of time and/or space for these cookies, these sinister oven-melted goops of crumbled scree that once rat-a-tatted in the mortal gale that sweeps under the towering, twinkling precipice of eternal damnation, and then I set my intention to devour them, or to find a proper mouth for these cookies, and to never attempt to use cookies as a "for instance" again.

Others that can attend themselves and othersβ€”that are able to direct their attention inward and outward, observe themselves and others from various perspectives, and notice themselves and others in various states, conditions, and sets of circumstancesβ€”they are conscious beings. Others that cannot attend themselves or others around them are non-conscious objects, whereas others who possess attention but do not use it are still conscious.


intent drives change. Like attention, we can direct our intent inward or outward, but it needs a specific aim.

Inward intent drives change within oneself. "I am done lying!" My intention is set. Only I will know if I lie. Free will comes with an individual, non-transferrable sense of truth. Others may think I am lying when I am not. My endeavor to speak the truth must start with inward intent. We shape the quality of our being with every intention.

Outward intent drives change in others. "I want everyone to test this theory of everything for themselves!" I am expressing this intention in the words you now read. An intention can remain unexpressed, it only needs an aim. When you hear of intentions, your mind may parrot, as mine does: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." We will come back to aitch-ee-double-hockeysticks, but I can offer a remix with less brimstone: Kept intentions invite oblivion.

For example, if you attend a petri dish through a microscope and observe an amoeba consuming a paramecium, you can posit that the amoeba possesses inward attention (noticing hunger), outward attention (noticing prey), outward intent (intending to grasp), and inward intent (intending to grow). The amoeba is then a conscious being that undergoes evolution some effective behaviors guided by attention and driven by intention. As with those lacking attention, others that cannot intend changes for themselves or others are non-conscious.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, it makes the sound it intended to make. Every drop of water and molecule of soil this tree intently slurped from the ground and channeled up its trunk to its limbs, and branches, and leaves, and every ray of sun it stretched its green intent toward, and every feeling the tree may have experienced (bewilderment in a lightning storm, perhaps), and every sensation and perception the tree experienced as it directed its attention inward and outward formed this very tree into its precise state of being at the moment it falls in the forest with no one around. The sound it makes is a song it took its whole life to write, a song it plays triumphantly with its family and friends who attend its practices as they grow nearby. If that tree happens to be a member of an eighty-thousand year-old clonal colony like Pando in Fishlake National Forest, you can bet that song will be well polished.

Then we come to the wind-carved boulder teetering upon the sawtooth mountain ridge. When it finally slips, and tumbles amok through the scree down the slope into the valley below, does it intend the havoc it wreaks? Did the boulder intend the shape it took? Did it notice the ridge eroding away beneath it or observe the valley below? Did it aim?

You and I are much clearer cases of conscious beings: we each demonstrate attention and intent directed both inward and outward on a daily basis. Without any other information, I know that you are reading this book, which requires inward intent to learn and outward intent to manipulate the book and outward attention to comprehend these words. If I were to witness you smile, or if you send me a message containing an iota of self-expression (a four-eyes emoji?), I can be confident that you are conscious.

How have I demonstrated inward and outward attention and intention to you so far? Am I conscious? Before you answer, we had better discuss the final fundamental component of consciousness, the hamartia that has propelled it to unrivaled greatness: ignorance.


Tending Toward a Model of Consciousness