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As soon as the topic of consciousness is raised, many people assume that one is speaking of something intractably vague or mystical, dealing with phenomena which can never be precisely specified, if they are even real at all.

That is so not where I am coming from, but if you really want to believe in something “out there” beyond your everyday experience, I may have something for you nevertheless.

Just “beyond” your conscious everyday experience, you are constantly immersed in an unending stream of unseen, unheard, unsensed phenomena comprising your “non-conscious experience.” There is nothing mystical-shmystical about it; it’s happening to you all the time!

A simple example will confirm this. Then you too can calmly and smilingly join the ranks of those who believe in the unseen, but on a perfectly rational everyday basis.

Imagine you are driving on the highway and at the same time totally engrossed in conversation with your passenger. Your hands and eyes and feet continue to keep the car on the road, adjust to traffic, respond to various situations, monitor your speed, and generally do a perfectly competent job of driving. Every once in a while you “pay attention” to driving, but between those times you are present only to the conversation. Now, consider a slice of time — which could be many minutes or even longer — between two instances of when you paid any attention, conscious attention, to your driving. Who was driving? In one sense, you, of course. But in another sense, nobody. “You” were with the conversation. Your experience of the car, the road, the traffic — all of it except the conversation — was non-conscious. That doesn’t mean it was unskillful or unsafe or incompetent. You kept the car on the road, at a safe following distance from other traffic, and in every way operated the vehicle perfectly adequately. You continued to experience your driving, and even interact with it, and at highway speed no less! The moment anything the least bit unusual happened, quite naturally your “attention”, which means your faculty of consciousness, snapped to it and you became present to that. How would you have known to stop paying attention to the conversation and turn your attention to the road, if you had not been experiencing it all along?

You can never consciously experience non-conscious experience, of course, as that would raise the thing to the level of consciousness. But the next time you do a shoulder-check — purely out of habit and without even realizing that you are doing it — and you discover a truck in your blind spot, you can be thankful that our experience is not limited to our consciousness.

By the way, if you want some insight into how animals experience the world, go back in your mind to driving the car but being “in” the conversation. Now subtract the conversation, permanently, and “you” go with it. That’s what being an animal is like. You get to do all kinds of amazing, skillful, adaptive, sophisticated things, but there is nobody home, ever.