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  • John Lewis

Pen & Ink: Conscious Bubble

An illustrative interpretation of consciousness:

A divine spark. An upstairs and down. Creatures in the deep.
Conscious Bubble

An individual is not just the body she or he inhabits. It's a bit more than that. The self is an abstract web that overlays a crowd of people. The nucleus of a person might be her body, but if, (let's say this body belongs to Sarah), she interacts with others, then Sarah's identity is a sum of her interactions with the universe. She gets to be inside other people's heads just as they get to be inside hers. Former boyfriends, college roommates, fifth-grade bullies, a mentor who changed the course of her life. But, just as these people, past and present, get to push and mold her identity, she too is at work molding and pushing theirs. The tug-of-war with these interactions also defines outcomes of future identities and selves. It's an exquisitely complicated thing. I am being literal when I say this, but there are pieces of Sarah extant inside the minds of anyone who comes into contact with her.


No person goes through life without some kind of interaction with others, no matter how reclusive she might be. We are designed for engagement. For community. Every idea and invention has been a result of collaborative experience. And so, when thinking about this, I'm inspired by the curiosity of one who thinks in metaphor and visual images. The body might be where the cells begin and end, but if we're to interpret the shape of identity, it might be something like a meta-substance carnival ride with seats hanging from a cable. The lights turn on, the music plays, the motor begins to spin the tower. As the speed picks up, the seats fly further out. The self is more than the center, the gyre of rotation; the self includes those passengers weighing and tugging the seats. And while material substance collides with Newtonian repercussions, the psychic collision, (no less impactful), collides within the field of consciousness. Think how often our mood, our thoughts or actions are affected not only by real conversations with friends, but also the ones we invent. The ones that never actually occur. If it's discomforting to think coworkers affect our happiness, even when they are not present, it's perhaps even more strange to think that we are doing the same to them. How much of our health and wellness is, in fact, defined by imaginary confrontations? I think... more than we care to admit.


The above drawing is simply a turn at depicting the emergence of an individual's conscious light. That "bubble," if you will. And underneath the bubble, is the individual's unconscious aggravation blistering up from the miasmic field of undefined consciousness. What I wanted to show with the top layer, is the light inside the bubble. This is the sharp-awake light, the will-to-act pinpoint. What I have come to learn is that the conscious aspect of human thinking isn't all that awake. We spend huge portions of our day on auto-pilot. For those who believe we do get to make decisions, the light represents this as a spark. A tiny piece inside the illusion of a larger bubble of apparent decision-making. The red line is the boundary between conscious and unconscious. This is a soft membrane dividing the two. The barrier is osmotic, and material leaks through both ways depending on circumstance: time of day, feats of comprehension, mood swings. The unconscious region below is mysterious but hugely influential toward our thoughts and actions. It is, in fact, much larger than the top layer. It has been around longer and it is the region that had to be developed first during the course of evolution.


The black ball in the membrane is what I artfully think of as the fractal spinner. Perhaps this is where dreams come from. Or rather, I think it is the thing dreams travel through. But it's more than dreams, it is a busy passage of cognitive activity between an "upstairs" and a "downstairs" of the head. It is a density inside every person's being that tirelessly circulates conceptual patterns between the conscious and unconscious regions. It never turns off. Creativity is a tricky thing. If one makes the decision to sit down and write a story, (the will-to-act spark at top), it is usually unproductive. It's hard to follow up a decision like that with something substantially creative. Not impossible, but certainly hard. However, avert thine attention; go take a shower, drive the truck, go for a walk, and one will often notice this loosening of effort, this untightening of focus, is rewarded with a river of musings and ideas. It's very common for artists throughout history to be known as avid walkers and hikers. We seek distraction out of necessity.


I think the fractal spinner is the sort of dark thing which hides behind light. And so, when we are at our brightest and most conscious, we make the spinner disappear behind an overwhelming beam. But turn this beam away and the spinner's 'ionization,' like the aurora borealis, will tease down the poles of awareness. Be shy when this happens. Do not look it in the face. Perhaps then, we find its ceaseless rotation will enter our field of vision. In truly special moments, often between waking and sleeping, one slips directly into the spinner's halo, and sees worlds scroll out in miraculous detail; every corner rounded, ever door entered, every hill surmounted, unveils a fully realized permutation of scenery faithfully informed by our universe. The fractal spinner borrows from reality, a decomposed reality torn up into bits, and instantly spits it out the other side fully assembled into an alternate world. It's all there if we learn not to blunt it with the cudgel of attention.


The viewer might notice that the fractal spinner casts a shadow into the basement of our head. This is true. I think there are interior regions to Sarah that she cannot see. The forward spark of her conscious investigation will always preserve a shifting, hidden piece of mystery. The spark can move around, but so too does the shadow, coy and cunning and forever thwarting our full self-discovery.


Beneath the basement, is a depiction of consciousness as something like an ocean. I can't, and I don't believe anyone who takes herself seriously, would claim to know what consciousness is. But, like gravity, it is something of an omnipresent potential that awaits for substance to arrange into a specific way such that it can experience reality. This is the ocean below the stack of bubbles. All of us draw from it.


There are also creatures in the deep. These, I have placed there for our amusement.

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