Hamlet lamented in a famous soliloquy, “Thus conscience (i.e. consciousness) doeth make cowards of us all.” Shakespeare demonstrated in his plays and sonnets a profound grasp of the human condition and beautifully illustrated our foibles in various characters such as Hamlet. Hamlet, as well as many literary figures, portrays for us a soul tortured by consciousness and Hamlet noted in this same soliloquy that such “awareness” can stymie one into inaction. In clinical lore of recent decades I have often run across the “Hamlet Syndrome”, the plague of many young men who are so conflicted they have trouble making decisions, thus their many dreams and fancies, “lose the name of action.” (And this “syndrome” usually captures only males…but not exclusively.)
Another theme of Shakespeare was madness and his understanding of this common human malady was not unrelated to his insights about consciousness. For, consciousness is a phenomenon one is to be immersed in and to step outside for even a moment and become aware of “consciousness” is not unrelated to madness. For this leap into meta-cognition for someone who has never doubted his way of looking at the world, i.e. his conscious grasp of the world, will find the sudden dawn of a perspective on his perspective frightening. As philosopher Paul Ricoeur noted, “To have a perspective on one’s perspective is to somehow escape it.” The terror of this meta-cognitive leap is so threatening that most people live their entire life comfortably ensconced in the narrow view of the world they were given by their tribe, usually deemed as decreed valid by the gods/God.
By discoursing here on this matter I am giving the impression that I’m in the camp of the “conscious” ones and in some sense I do feel I am. BUT, consciousness flows from the depths of the heart and to be conscious is to realize that the depths of the heart are endless so that one can never bask in the comfort of thinking he has arrived with a wholly “conscious” grasp of the world. The best I can personally ever hope of doing is to own my very skewed view of the world and hope that as I continue to age my “skewing” might be increasingly open to other viewpoints, leaving me always without accomplishing “objectivity.”
But damn it, it was so much easier in my youth when I mindlessly and dutifully imbibed of what the Apostle Paul described as “the wisdom of this world.” Yes, in my case doubt was always there nagging at me but I always returned to my script and just doubled-down on unexamined truth, not yet willing to acknowledge that I was merely demonstrating the “bad faith” noted by Jean Paul Sartre.