What is this called?

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    Chris M

    For example, I’m driving along the highway.. then I become aware of the fact that I’m driving along the highway.

    Or, there are sensations of breathing at my nostrils.. then.. I’m aware that I’m sitting here and my attention is on the sensations of breathing at my nostrils.

    The awareness that I’m here doing whatever it is that I’m doing. (In Douglas Hofstadter’s terms, the full “strange loop”.) What is that? Is that ‘introspective metacognitive awareness’?

    What’s that called in Pali, is it an important thing in meditation? It seems to be an important difference in how I’m perceiving the world, but I don’t think I ever see it mentioned in any meditation instructions.



    Awareness (in its general sense) is defined in TMI as any imprint or registration upon a nervous system that is capable of producing an effect, either immediately or after some delay.

    Becoming aware of breath sensations and physical activities (e.g., driving) is considered to be Conscious Awareness; the portion of the content of awareness in the general sense that we’re subjectively conscious of in any given moment (which could potentially be reported).

    Metacognitive Introspective Awareness happens when the mind “stands back” and observes its own state and activities (e.g., thoughts, feelings). It’s the awareness of the mind itself.

    Awareness indeed plays an important role in training the mind, as the very practice of meditation could be summarized as cultivating exclusive single-pointed attention while expanding awareness (both introspective and extrospective) to be as clear and all-encompassing as possible. These key concepts are well explained in TMI’s interludes, should you wish to explore them at a finer resolution.


    Julian S

    Hi Chris, cool topic. I often have wondered the same thing.

    My understanding is that what you’re talking about is metacognitive consciousness, in that it is consciousness of what attention is doing. Now, as you know, consciousness can be further broken down into attention and awareness. So whether you are metacognitively aware or metacognitively attending would depend on various factors. The “strange loop” that Hofstadter talks about would be metacognitive attention. In reference to his earlier work ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach” (a great read!) Hofstadter remarks that the book is “[an] attempt to say how it is that animate beings can come out of inanimate matter. What is a self, and how can a self come out of stuff that is as selfless as a stone or a puddle?”. This magic trick is one played by attention, and awareness in most of us just goes along for the ride. The reason it’s such a dizzying, vertiginous experience is because attention can only metacognitively introspect on itself by changing its object from (e. g) the breath, or driving, to “knowing that it’s driving”. This involves creating a story out of “driving occurring” and assigning the role of protagonist to attention… which perspective immediately collapses, because attention isn’t driving any more, it’s attending to knowing that it’s driving. And then what? 🙂

    Metacognitive awareness on the other hand is the way of knowing that, when projected into consciousness, enables knowledge of what attention is doing without disrupting the act of attending. It’s in awareness that arises the experience of attention strange looping “over there”, and I suppose (but can only suppose, not having seen through the veils of ignorance myself yet) that it is this experiential knowledge, repeated often enough, with enough unification, that eventually leads to disenchantment with that recursive hall of mirrors and (or so I’m told) it’s cessation and freedom.

    With love,

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