Attention, awareness and consciousness

Friday night I attended a networking meeting for what they call Content Creators, a meet-and-greet here in Saigon, Vietnam. I was in conversation with a random person, when suddenly a tall, young man entered our circle. “Hi, my name is Max. I have a question for you guys: What is happiness?” Max was dressed casually, with a T-Shirt and jeans, he looked muscular, with full, blonde hair, and was wearing a mini air-conditioner around his neck. “Aha,” I thought “a pick-up artist. Good for him. Haven’t met one of his kind for what seems like well over a decade. But… what does he want of me?”

Max smiled confidently, told us proudly that he was an English teacher, and was happy to answer what that thing around his neck was. A pretty girl passed by and said “Talk to you later Max, I have your number.” Max’s smile widened even more, and he announced loudly “God, I love Vietnamese girls!” I first turned to look at the girl who was already gone, then to the circle of guys who fell quiet in admiration of the young stud, and lastly to Max, and thought “That seems like progress—because initially I was under the impression that you only love yourself.”

The next day I had lunch with my neighbour, a well settled, comely looking Vietnamese woman in her 40ties, who is into Yoga and Mindfulness. I brought fresh, organic salad from a local farm in Da Lat, Vietnam. Da Lat is known for its beautiful nature, forests, lakes and mountains. When nibbling on the leaves she closed her eyes and her face turned into a blissful expression. I thought “That’s happiness.”

Back home I wondered what the official definition of happiness, the noun, might be. I clicked a bit around the Internet. Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster, Google. My thoughts drifted to the book I’m reading these days, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. A 1976 book by the psychologist Julian Jaynes (1920-1997). I stumbled down a flight of words on Wikipedia. Every click a pit without bottom, it seemed like. Or call it an endless sky, if you will. All definitions from Wikipedia:

Consciousness, at its simplest, is sentience and awareness of internal and external existence.

Sentience is the capacity to experience feelings and sensations.

Awareness is the state of being conscious of something. More specifically, it is the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel, or to be cognizant of events.

Cognition refers to “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses”.

In philosophy of self, self-awareness is the experience of one’s own personality or individuality. It is not to be confused with consciousness in the sense of qualia.

In philosophy of mind, qualia are defined as individual instances of subjective, conscious experience.

“Interesting” I thought. One word leads to the next and they all go in circles. Seems like a whole lot of people have been spending a whole lot of time on these definitions. I poked around some more:

Attention is the behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether considered subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information. 

Introspection is the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings. Introspection is closely related to human self-reflection and self-discovery and is contrasted with external observation.

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one’s attention to the present-moment experience without evaluation.

And then… I left it at this.