Occasionally, when drifting into wakefulness on a lazy morning, I start imagining a memory of my first such experience. Did I first awaken while swaddled up in a crib, or was it perhaps even in the womb that I first noticed anything? And what does it mean to “notice” anything? Perhaps it involves a change of some kind, for which notice seems to imply having some idea of a past mental state that is different from the present. Perhaps it was the first intake of harshly burning air which contrasted so shockingly with what had gone before, or the moment after that when I first noticed that the fear of that breath was just a memory.
In all such imaginings, it seems that having a mental state which includes some sense or image of another such state is the first step towards consciousness. Then the fact that the image itself includes another, and that the fading sequence of memories within memories is what we end up interpreting as the passage of time.
I suspect that it is only after we have adjusted to the sense of time (perhaps by extrapolating from the sequence of changing senses of relative comfort and pain that we perceive in our sequence of nested memories) that we start to notice the fact that our immediate experience has other kinds of structure as well. We can feel pressure from the left as different from the right, and to some extent the same applies to sound. Of course even just the tactile experience is much more complex than that, and the visual field is even more so.
It must be daunting at first, but before too long we notice that there are distinct tactile sensations (in what we later will identify as the eyelids) that correspond to distinctly different visual fields – with that of the closed eyes being mostly dark with diffuse areas of light that are uncorrelated with our other sensations, whereas when the eyes feel open the visual field changes in tight correlation with certain tactile sensations that we will later identify with positions of the neck (and eyes).
Eventually we come to interpret some of the changes we experience as being of our own volition – and to identify certain parts of our experience as corresponding to more or less discrete objects occupying more or less well defined regions of a 3d space at each point in time.
Sometimes we plan our voluntary movements in order to reproduce remembered positive experiences – or even to achieve novel combinations of such experiences that we imagine may be even more satisfying. Since our imagination and memory are generally not fully detailed reproductions of the immediate experience, it may be necessary to simplify our mental representation of objects in an imagined scenario. We may associate a simple sound with the stuffed toy we want to snuggle or the soother we want to suck, and use these as a private language to stimulate memory and imagination of various scenarios – much as a mathematician may also develop a private language to label objects and relationships that are too complex to call to mind in complete detail (long before – or without ever- using those terms to communicate with anyone else).
Awareness of Others