To help us understand conscious experience better, I suggest we all adopt the same minimum set of terms. First, let’s just accept physics’ account of physical matter and processes. Then we need terms for only consciousness. Here’s what I suggest:

Conscious experiences. These can differ wildly; some people don’t have them.

Resources available to consciousness. “Mind,” stored mainly in physical brain matter.

Conscious self. A useful hypothesis that conscious experiences assume “experiences” them.

MysteryX. The nature of consciousness and how it relates to matter. Currently inconceivable.

For mysteryX to become conceivable could take centuries. So let’s accept it as a mystery and refer to it simply as that, “mysteryX.” Unless, that is, we explicitly mean that what we’re proposing promises to help us understand it.

Resources available to consciousness: we refer to these, from inside consciousness, as “mind,” from the outside as brain functioning. They include memory, reason, innate and acquired ideas.

Conscious Self is likely not something distinct that can be “discovered” by science. It likely arises when consciousness becomes reflexive and wants to identify the person who’s experiencing it. That conjured-up self then becomes another resource available to later conscious experiences for recall. Though it probably doesn’t exist as a separate reality, the concept helps us relate our conscious experiences so I suggest we make ourselves free to use it.

USING THESE TERMS TO THINK ABOUT OURSELVES

What’s interesting about conscious experiences? Not how aspects of mind correspond to particular brain regions and functions. Sometimes scientists claim such correspondences say something about mysteryX. But they don’t. Most of us assume such correspondences exist, so they aren’t either surprising or interesting.

What’s more interesting is what connects one conscious thought to another. From inside the experience the connection isn’t sensed as physical. For lack of any other connection I assume thoughts evolve into one another. That’s how my thoughts feel, more like species emerging from one another rather than connected by physics.

Also interesting is exploring ways conscious experiences can be enhanced. Ways to make them more enjoyable, for example.  Generally this involves dedicating some present-moment conscious thought to an activity not necessarily pleasant in itself that will lead to more pleasant experiences in future such as taking dancing lessons.

Fortunately, we may assume we can make these choices, that we have free will. We’re saved from science denying we can make these choices by mysteryX currently being inconceivable. This means science can’t know whether the laws of physics apply to conscious experiences or not. From how choices made in past conscious experiences have enhanced later conscious experiences, in line with our expectations, we may assume that they don’t. So we have some degree of free will.

My set of terms may apply to only a minority of people. Some world cultures may discourage reflexive conscious experiences, they may instead shape resources available to consciousness primarily in terms of social role and obligations. Perhaps 5% of people worldwide may have no mind’s eye, be unable to bring a self to mind. For some people in our own culture conscious experiences may not be reflexive, able to study themselves. And resources available to consciousness may differ so enormously we should bear in mind it may be impossible to compare conscious experiences.

So what’s interesting? I say, resources available to consciousness—learning about them, looking for new resources to add to them. And identifying resources our culture embeds in us that we might want to change or eliminate. This strikes me as a job of the humanities.

The job of the sciences I see as equivalent to coming up with quantum theory—coming up with an understanding of mysteryX. I don’t expect that to be any more easily achieved. I doubt we’ll see much progress in current lifetimes. Don’t accept cheap fixes.

WHAT THESE TERMS SAY ABOUT THE UNIVERSE

When a new bridge is built, based on novel physical principles, does that imply the existence of creativity? If so, where does such creativity exist? Throughout the universe? I don’t see any sign of it on Mars or any other planets. I see it only on the Earth. And, what’s unique to the Earth? I suggest, life having harnessed mysteryX to the point of being able to conceive of novel bridges.

Unless we’re going to appeal to human exceptionalism, mysteryX is a feature of the universe. So it may exist around us unobserved, like dark matter. I think it is best conceived of what connects the process of evolution to conscious experience.