The awareness of conscious experience is an after the fact phenomenon.
Let me explain (caveat: I don’t know what I’m talking about. Bear that in mind, as you should for everything you hear and read)
We think we have free will or control over our immediate conscious experience. It’s an extremely useful concept. It appears to work like this: I am feeling something, I am thinking, I’m about to do something in reaction to something else. I’m aware that I’m experiencing all of the above.
The “I” is a necessary fiction to survive in the real world full of dangers and relationships to navigate and survive. There’s a driver making all the decisions in consciousness. However it doesn’t really stand up to close examination. It’s odd.
Whatever you are doing or about to think or have an inclination to do is not controlled by your immediate attention. You can’t pre-think that you are about to think of something. It’s already too late. The “thought” has already happened and has merely been brought to your attention. It’s already happened within consciousness and we are skilfully tricked into thinking the decision was ours (by ours I mean the “I” referenced above), was logical, was well weighed, and then the decision made. It wasn’t like that. We had/have no idea what we will think next, what we will do next, what our inclination may be until after the fact and we are very skilfully “tricked” into thinking it was us (I mean our immediate attention) all along.
Even being aware (mindful) of our conscious experiences is only an appearance in the same conscious experience set, which means it follows the same logic. Our awareness is made aware of our close attention to conscious experience after that awareness has already happened. This is a babushka doll waiting to happen, which is a bit mind blowing and unnecessary for this discussion.
Well, who is it then? Of course it’s still “you”. But the way you think of yourself, your conscious experience (and the background to the next decision, inclination, reaction) is created by memory. And the next thing “just happens” taking all your previous experiences (appropriately weighted, somehow. This process is unknown and probably unique to an individual) as input. And after it’s “happened” it appears in conscious awareness (if you’re mindful of the experience at all; we mostly aren’t though) and you think your mindful attention made it happen. It didn’t.
For example, there’s a ripe tomato on a tomato plant in your garden. You reach to pick and take a bite, with little or no thought. None of that action is a result of your consciously making an immediate decision (see above). Your prior experiences (memory) decide for you. Perhaps you haven’t eaten for a while so you’re hungry enough to enjoy a tomato; you didn’t have a bad experience as a child being forced to eat them so you like the taste; you aren’t living in the time tomato plants were introduced to the West and the fruit was thought to be poisonous; etc, etc. The plethora of “decisions” made as you pluck the fruit and take a bite are, probably, beyond counting; the mix of them is unique to your consciousness but the decisions are not in the control of your immediate attention. For one thing, there are too many to make as your consciousness creates the inclination to pluck and eat the tomato.
This doesn’t mean that your conscious experience make up is random and you could end up getting all stabby for no reason and running amok. The make up is unique to you and your lifetime of conscious experiences. If there’s no tendency to get all stabby there, you won’t. It’s just that your immediate attention, the thing you identify as “I”, is only being told about things after the fact. It feels like our awareness/mindfulness (the “I” in everything) is along for the ride like a not very smart sidekick that likes to think it’s in charge, is convinced that it is in charge, and is making all the decisions when, in fact, it has no say whatsoever (in the moment).
We feel like we are leading the discussion of our lives and how amazing is it that we can think and discuss this fiction? It’s a scary concept that perhaps we’re not in control, right? But we (as in our personal biological entity) are in a commanding position, just not in the way we think we are. We don’t understand this decision making communication happening in our brains. Not yet, anyway.
Memory and the individual adaption to our unique experiences are what drives our own particular flavour of consciousness. There is no immediate free-will but there is a direction for our unique lives that is influenced by every prior experience (appropriately weighted), and that’s consciousness. We still have no idea what the process is. Other than something that every living thing has. Every thing that has the capacity for memory and has individual adaption to past conscious experiences.
Yeah, I know. This is just more obfuscation; it’s not an answer. Interesting though, isn’t it?