# The limits of consciousness

Humans are constrained by biological limits, and our consciousness has its limits too. Because Consciousness is intentionally ordered information, the limit that we want to understand is how many bits of information can we process. Apparently, we can only handle 110 bits of information per second. For us to understand what another person is talking about, we must also process roughly about 60 bits of information per second, which is why we can’t simultaneously listen to 2 people talking that well.

As we’re using “per second” as the unit of measurement, naturally how we spend our waking hours is important for the quality of our life. We have roughly 185 billion bits of information that we can process in our lifetime.

Mihaly seems to indicate that this is related to working memory, but I don’t really understand how consciousness is related to the concept of working memory. See Working memory limits.

# References

Mihaly, Flow (pp. 28 - 29).

It seems we can manage at most seven bits of information - such as differentiated sounds, or visual stimuli, or recognisable nuances of emotion or thought - at any one time, and that the shortest time it takes to discriminate between one set of bits and another is about 1/18 of a second. By using these figures one concludes that it is possible to process at most 126 bits of information per second, or 7,560 per minute, or almost half a million per hour. Over a lifetime of seventy years, and counting sixteen hours of waking time each day, this amounts to about 185 billion bits of information.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the Secret of Happiness - YouTube

but actually our nervous system is incapable of processing more than about 110 bits of information per second and in order to hear me and understand what I’m saying you need to process about 60 bits per sec.

  • To control consciousness is to be able to focus attention at will
    • The information that enters our consciousness will either make us content or discontent. As we also have limits to our consciousness (The limits of consciousness), we need a gatekeeper to only allow good information to enter our consciousness if we want to be content. That gatekeeper is our attention. Attention determines whether a piece of information is something that we’d like to process, therefore we need to learn how to focus our attention at our will if we want to feel more content.