A lot of my posts discuss emotions. I'll start with a quick summary chronologically and then move on to the core of this post.
- In Emotions: Awareness of Hormones (April 2015) I discussed how the subjective experience of "feelings" are simply an awareness of different hormone levels in our blood.
- In Empathy: Awareness of Other Awarenesses (May 2015), I discussed how being aware of others' emotions and being aware of their free will is the core of our experience of empathy.
- In Moods (June 2015), I discussed how your emotional state can affect your choices.
- In Deconstructing Emotions (July 2015), I discussed the way to recognize that some of our language uses catch-all terms (e.g. "happy" and "jealous"), which are really just combinations of constituent emotions attached with some abstract thoughts.
- In The Role of Philosophy (July 2015), I discussed how emotions are one of the facets of life which are currently on the move from subjective to objective data.
- In The Bisection Method (September 2015), I discuss how to better define which choices you want to make in regards to an emotional situation such as a breakup.
Now that that's out of the way, let's switch gears a bit and discuss the animal kingdom. Lesser animals have significantly less (if any) self-awareness compared to humans. When they feel pangs of hunger, they react. They hunt for food for example. They aren't aware of their pangs rationally; they just know instinctually that in order for the pangs to be solved, they have to eat sustenance.
Whereas humans can feel hung pangs, but not necessarily react. Logically, our language has allowed us to classify and describe the feeling of hunger pangs. Our self-awareness has allowed us to make different choices. If we are on a diet, for example, we can use our awareness of a hunger pang, to recognize that we are choosing to ignore it for the moment.
We can choose to diet. Animals can't.
So based on that premise, the way to measure our self-awareness, is to determine how much we can make a choice, given an urge from the external environment (your own body's hormones as the external environment in this example).
So using that definition, what's next?
Imagine you're in marketing. You have a big presentation coming up for your boss, and you're nervous that you're slightly unprepared. You try to "pull yourself together" and calmly give it your all.
But what did you really do?
You became aware that the feeling in the pit of your stomach, was simply you being afraid of negative consequences for your career if your presentation didn't go well. Or perhaps you were afraid of being judged by your coworkers triggered from some old unresolved childhood issue.
You used your self-awareness and language to put a label on that fear, and made a choice of how to handle it, and how to present yourself, despite your fear. A less-spiritually-evolved person may have freaked out and screwed up such a presentation or had a panic attack.
How many people walk around with subconscious fears subtly dictating their every day decisions? Fears they aren't even aware of.
- Maybe they're subconsciously afraid they might die alone and therefore act more desperately in their sexual relationships, which yields them ending up with a sub-par mate they end up miserable with.
- Maybe they're terrified of being bored by life and are becoming an adrenaline junkie out of that fear (not out of an actual choice). Midlife crisis anyone?
- Maybe they're scared of their family judging them, and simply subconsciously choose what to wear to a gathering based on that.
By increasing their self-awareness of these fears, they would be able to recognize that they are simply experience some hormone related to fear, and truly make a choice despite that fear pang hormone they've detected in their body. They will have "grown" as a person.
How could we define our next stage of spiritual evolution as a species?
Here are a few examples of ways to increase our self-awareness, and thereby increase our choices.
- Being aware of what your hormones related to sadness when someone dies, you can choose how to deal with the emotions of that death, and choose to not push your loved ones away.
- Being aware that your personality tends to be one of extremes ("work hard play hard"), and make a choice of whether to continue acting that way.
- Being aware that the pleasurable feeling of a quick release of dopamine is driving you to use drugs, and choosing to find other methods to get your dopamine release.
- Being aware of a constant fear about the future is allowing you to remove your generalized anxiety disorder (the entire basis for the highly effective CBT method which has been shown to be more effective than pharmaceuticals in some cases).
- Being aware of your cycles and long term style of relationships allows you to choose a different partner next time who doesn't emotionally abuse you.
To measure self-awareness, we must measure out how many choices are stemming from underlying subconscious motivations (just chemicals in our bodies and brains).
The next time you feel a fear pang, just realize it's just some hormone interacting with your cells, and actually make a choice instead of simply reacting.
It's the entire basis for meditation. Becoming enlightened, is simply the process of becoming self-aware. Being aware of your true underlying motivations so that you can actually make a choice.
Eventually we'll be at a state where our fear pangs no longer dictates our choices as a species, the way our hunger pangs don't have to dictate our choices.
Constantly increasing self-awareness through technology (e.g. the internet containing our collection of knowledge to share), through self-exploration (e.g. meditation), or through science (e.g. measuring brain activity and hormone levels and correlating that with emotions).
What's will be the next step in our spiritual evolution? Meta jokes aside, what are we aware of that we aren't even aware we're aware of?