What is the Stream of Consciousness?

What is the Stream of Consciousness?


One of the hardest things to describe or to be properly aware of is what it feels like to be inside our own minds. The second-by-second flow of images, words, feelings and sounds inside our heads that philosophers call: our Consciousness. All day, this consiousness is filled with a tangle of material that flashes by an observing eye so fast and in so multi-layered and dense array; we can generally only rest and focus on a minuscule part of what is before us. There are waves of sensations, fog-banks of moods, collisions of ideas and swirls of associations and impressions. Consciousness doesn’t just unfold on a single cinema screen of the mind either. We can think of it more like a multi, multi-plex where a dozen or more moods and emotions are projected at once in a fractured collection of images, reminiscent of a puzzling collage of Avant Garde videos. Most of what we have felt and have been, will disappear before it can ever be held and examined. Furthermore, little of the richness of consciousness ever makes it out into public discussion. When we open our mouths and tell other people, for example: what we think or how we’re feeling. We have no option but to radically simplify the nature of experience like a journalist filing a 100 word piece on a battle or political revolution to an indifferent, domestic audience a continent away. We might say we’ve had a “quiet day so far” or are “fairly cheerful at the moment.” And a generous social code means we don’t remind one another of what an inaccurate portrait this must necessarily be. Part of the reason why we’re not quite aware of the true nature of consciousness is the fault of literature. In most of the novels we read, characters are attributed an utterly implausible, yet superficially beguiling, clarity of mental functioning. For example: the influential, 19th Century, English novelist: Anthony Trollope, liked to offer his readers a snapshot of what was supposed to be going on in his characters’ heads. In his novel: Phineas Finn, a man is elected to parliament and Trollope describes him travelling by train to the capital to take up his post and musing moodily on his political prospects. He had many serious, almost solemn thoughts on his journey to London. He wondered if he would make a failure of the great matter he had taken in hand. He could not but tell himself that the chances were twenty to one against. Now that he looked at it, the difficulties loomed larger than ever! Trollope gives us the sincere impression that this really is how human beings think when they sit down on trains and consider their futures. The sort of novels that Trollope wrote have even been described as extremely “realistic”. And yet the problem is that, of course, no human who has ever existed, actually thinks or feels remotely like this. It took until the early 20th Century of writers to focus on and respond to this foreshortening. In 1918, in his great novel Ulysses, the Irish writer James Joyce, for the first time, made the move of putting a kind of microphone inside his characters’ minds to pick up on what became known as: ‘The Stream of Consciousness’. It sounded radically different from anything Trollope or past novelists had ever described. At one point in Ulysses, we hear the stream of consciousness of a heroine Molly as she lies in bed beside her husband Bloom in the middle of the night. Is he dreaming? Am I in it? He smells of some kind of drink not whiskey perhaps the sweety kind of paste they put posters up with. I’d like to sip green and yellow expensive drinks staged or Johnny’s drink. I tasted one with my finger dipped out of that American that had the squirrel. He must have eaten oysters. I never in all my life felt anyone had one the size of that to make you feel fuller. What’s the idea of making us like that with a big hole in the middle. I hate people who come at all hours, answer the door and you’re all undressed. We come to know more about our own consciousness via Joyce’s unusual portrait of Molly’s. Like ours, Molly’s mind moves extremely fast from one topic to another. At one moment she’s thinking about liqueurs, then about an American she met at the theter then a second later she’s wondering if her husband’s been eating oysters. Then she thinks about his penis. Then she wonders about her own body. Then gets irked by the idea of people coming around to the house when she’s not ready to open the door. There’s no dominant central theme that gets carefully explored. Despite the monstrous complexity, Ulysses, arguably, still amounts to a radical simplification of the true nature of experience. After all, the novel exists only as words, wheras our real stream of consciousness includes a disjointed and random streaming of films and pictures. Images constantly flit across consciousness. Sometimes we’ll see something extraordinarily specific, a door handle from 27 years ago or an image of a boat on a canal in Western France or remember looking out of a train on a journey through Germany, but there’ll be no further details or real sense as to why this has come into our heads right now. Nevertheless, Joyce’s work is hugely significant because it helps us to start to see what we’re up against when we try to understand our own minds. It is not a case of just opening up a hatch and finding a welter of well-formulated thoughts. When we turn our attention to ourselves, we won’t be able to locate crystalline attitudes and precise ideas. We will discover only chaos and illusive thoughts. More significantly, it’s from this prime-evil mulch, that we will have to assemble the solid and serious plans we need to navigate through existence. We have to decide: What we care about? How we should direct our lives? Who we should try to be? Knowing more about the stream of consciousness prepares us for the work that we have to do to pull out from the stream, the decent and accurate thoughts we need. The mind won’t automatically yield clear answers when we ask ourselves what we think or where we might direct our energies. There can naturally be a temptation to avoid the hard work and there are some alternatives to proper introspection. Some of the content we hold in our minds is coherent and very easy to grasp, but it suffers from a marked draw-back: it isn’t really ours. It’s second-hand, stale and a derivative bank of ideas and plans. We have certain notions in our heads that come, not from our deeper resources of feeling and intuition but from what we have sucked in uncritically from outside from what we’ve read in the newspaper or heard about from parents or friends. These are: our received ideas. We don’t need to think hard at all to regurgitate them. They’re just waiting in prepackaged form in the reception room of our minds. An yet, it’s only the thoughts and feelings that are originally unprocessed that come from the caverns in ourselves that are the ones richest in information. Even if they’re also, painfully, the hardest to make sense of. Knowing a little more about the stream of consciousness shows us that our brains are a more delicate, messier organ than we’re normally allowed to imagine. Many of the introspective tasks we set ourselves turn out to be more fiddly and are going to need more resources than we typically allow for. Yet the rewards for mastering introspection correctly are immense. For it’s by becoming experts in our own streams of consciousness that we have the chance truly to understand who we are. and thereby to align our lives with the way we really feel and with the goals that can truly satisfy us when we reach them.

100 COMMENTS

    What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.

    I don't see images or text in my mind, I just look around in the present unless I want to think about something. My mind is quiet.

    Hello School of Life, I really like this particular video, but I was wondering if you had a book of some sort that would guide us through the process of becoming experts in our own minds.
    I'd love to understand more about my own feelings and original ideas, but I have no idea how to begin. Spending 5 hours a day "cataloging" my feelings and emotions (as loosely stated in a previous video) is not very practical or feasible. Therefore, I would like to know if you had some additional information that would help guide me through a realistic process of understanding.

    This sounds like a completely undisciplined mind: without organizing the multitude of channels of thought into a single collective, learning how to get them to form a cohesive voice, and sorting them into a proper order of emergence.

    The Stream of Consciousness Part 2: Adolescence and the combination of hormones with conscious thought. Please and thank you!

    Consciousness are thoughts and ideas, including feeling and emotion. If material does not 'actually' exist, the physical is merely an interpretation of 'consciousness', which I call God.  God generates everything, in which there are some bio-interpretators (maybe there are non-bio units that I don't know and undersrtand) to interpretate consciousness. These units can also generate their own thoughts (maybe statistically).  They interpretate their own thoughts and that from God but they cannot identify the sources of their thoughts. They do not know that God exists and take god's though as their own.  Therefore, the physical world is under the control of God. Each unit has an illusion of a physical sphere under his direct control and the sphere is the self.  For me, my thoughts controlled me, that is I.

    Hi ! I really like your videos and i've been watching them for some time, i am studying eastern thinking and i am glad do tee that you're doing a great job of explaining it in a western way of thinking ( through a various diferent kinds of topic and videos ) ! Its probably not what you originaly intented, but somehow it is

    i was with you up to the last bit. i think the only honest conclusion from what your admirably clear presentation says is that we do not 'really feel' anything. it's more that we have to try to be a reasonable representative of the varied, contradictory voices that we contain

    His stream of consciousness comment went on and on. He paused, thinking to himself of the readers of his comment, and how many of them might be read his comment while completely naked, or eating pies, perhaps chicken or that nice curried vegetable that he liked. It doesn't matter, he thought, there were few of them that would bother to hit 'Read more' , and the chances of finding one of them that was naked, eating a chicken of curried vegetable pie were slim. Even more slim was the chance of them replying. He felt depressed, and took another bite of his own pie. He had written this same comment 3.14 times. That was enough, he thought, as his pie repeated on him.

    What he is portraying is not consciousness… it's your mind projecting itself onto you. Which you do when wandering off or when dreaming, visualizing… 'being in your mind'. It's "the state of being conscious; awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings". So consciousness is the AWARENESS of what he is describing. It's a big difference.

    Great videos, this is why I stopped worrying poetry many years ago. It started feeling unexpressive of my own feelings.

    It's very hard to find what you want in your mind. I seem to be able to backtrack through thoughts in order to remember a particular one I wanted to remember. But it's not like following a map, it's more intuitive, like instinct.I suppose we would get better at that, learn more about our stream of consciousness, by watching more School of Life, eh?:)

    "proper introspection" " allowed to imagine" Life is but a school sweetheart. Doesn't quite ring true does it? Peace

    I had to comment on this. My thoughts are far more like the thoughts in the old books. I don't see any images, all my thoughts are words and I analyse the same topic clearly and to death before moving on generally. I met someone that never thought in words and that baffled me. Everyone thinks differently

    OMG, I have ADHD and I thought this was exclusive to us (With ADHD), But now I realize thats just another strange part of being human… Awsome!

    I see these images and clips in my mind at night while I'm laying in bed. I see lots of images of spiders and I find it odd because I don't own or see many, and I'm not extremely afraid of them. Some images and clips are really trippy and some are vaguely familiar. If I focus on the passing images and lay completely still I feel like I'm inside of my head and I don't know where my limbs are. I just feel my lungs breathing and I feel like I'm in infinite space. So hard to explain the feeling

    it's funny, I was saying to a friend just the other day that reading someone's mind would be confusing and not even nessicarily contain the answers we want in a way we could understand as we don't generally think in full sentences but fragmented broken words, pictures and senses bought up by memories

    What age would someone know that last week they didn't know how to speak? What age would someone know they are alive?

    ehm what if i dont have pictures (except realy rarely, random memories in One picture that fades in a splitsecond or random Colour nebulas), Sounds or Smells (i dont even Know if other People Think of Smells and can actually "smell" them. ofc i mean as a Memory or something )

    i also actually only have like One Stream of thought, that can completely fade or Change to Another Stream but mostly it holds for some Time, i mean ofc it changes but like in a Essay where Everything is Building up….

    what i can have an Impression of is emotions
    i also mostly remember specific Moments as emotions i guess
    not to Sure Bout that

    answeru me

    Before a head injury about a year and a half ago, my stream of consciousness clipped along at a rapid pace, jumping from idea to idea, and I was aware of it, the disjointed half-concepts. Now my thoughts do not move as they used to. I can still feel the stream of ideas, but it's as though my mind's eye has gone dull. It's gotten better. I don't think it's healed.

    This was by far the hardest video for me to watch because my thoughts about the topic ended up being complete distractions from the actual video while staring at the visuals. lol

    When I started paying attention to what was going on in my mind, I realized that for the vast majority of the time what I am doing is not thinking. It's rather a vague, elusive, undefined mishmash of feelings, moods, and negative assumptions that have all blended together to create my current mental state. I do not experience one coherent thought after another.

    True consciousness is found in the current moment. What you're talking about here is ego. Just my opinion. I don't think it's healthy to need goals to be satisfied and content. Of course they play a part in comfort and to ensure that we have material things that we want – but to look for external achievement to bring happiness is fallacy and dangerous.

    I'm lying in bed. This video is good. I need to stop censoring my thoughts too much. I also want to come in contact with my actual thoughts/feelings. Most of the time people ask questions and we answer it without really knowing what we actually think or feel. No thought is given to the response. Like toasters spitting our something ready. Not aware of the heat or butter. It's sad because everyone's actual thoughts if they'd just get to know them are so wildly interesting and unique, it would be a blessing to us all to encounter someone who attempts to become aware of what's actually going on inside then speak it 😍 😔

    Stream of consciousness, you say… Hmm, to me the only moment I sort of experience this is when I'm writing. Suddenly, there are so many things to write about and so many perspectives on a given issue so I end up rambling in a more or less clear way. This often happens when I'm having a conversation with someone online and because there's so many things I want to mention I sometimes feel like I'm thinking very forward and my response turns into a monologue or a letter. It's weird and can be bothersome, because at some point it gets tiring as much as it's satisfying.
    Compare that to my mind which is a quite place in general, almost like I had no unconscious thoughts flowing through it except of random earworms maybe. It literally takes a conscious effort to think, some starting point – otherwise my mind will stay quiet. I feel that because I've been not very talkative person for most of years, when I start to write and so at lenght, it's my mind trying to catch up on thinking so to speak…

    I have just logged in to honestly say that there wouldn't be a video explaining the stream of consciousness technique both practically and technically. Thank you so much for giving your time to prepare such an explanation. Please do not stop releasing these kinds of videos. It even gave me goosebumps while watching because the video is so sincere and easily-understandable.

    It’s a Dream Theater song, with a fast solo played by a great guitarist, John Petrucci.
    It was released on the 2003 album, “Train of Thought”.

    I live somewhere high up that i can see the city center from. Its a few miles off but at nite the lights are beautiful. Sometimes i just stand and look at the colours and the sky line. I wonder how i got here to b able to see anything at all n contemplate its beauty. Sumtimes i wonder if im just a pair of eyes attatched to sum sort of energy vibration…

    Anyone else got here writing 'Stream of Consciousness' with the sole purpose of listening to the Dream Theater song, but instead got here? The dude also mentioned 'Images and Words'.. can't be a fckin coincidence, right?

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