Confounded By Consciousness

Stefany Anne Golberg explores the philosophy of Miguel de Unamuno, a man who lived “in a state of existential crisis, hovering over the abyss”:

“I am,” wrote Unamuno 100 years ago. But who am I? All we have is our individuality, wrote Unamuno — if we are something else we are nothing. “They tell me I am here to dish_Unamuno1925 realize I know not what social end; but I feel that I, like each one of my fellows, am here to realize myself, to live.” All I have is myself, wrote Unamuno, and still he tried to run away. Consciousness, he learned, was not all it was cracked up to be. Consciousness, which has shown us many interesting truths about existence, has brought even more confusion. The more systems of thought we develop — the more equations we prove — the more contradictions we are handed. The more we learn about life on Earth, the more mysterious the universe becomes. When we back away from this confusion, we become hypocrites, wrote Unamuno. Yet, when we confront the chaos, we suffer. Consciousness is our gift and our enemy. “Consciousness,” wrote Unamuno, “is a disease.” This thing called consciousness, we learn, is simply awareness of one’s own limitations. In other words, it is consciousness of death. And this is the tragic sense of life.

(Photo of Unamuno in 1925 via Wikimedia Commons)