Life has many strata. Upon conception, we begin the arduous journey to the awakening of consciousness. Gradually, the tissues within the embryo begin to differentiate, and by the end of the third week in the womb, the spinal column and central nervous system begin to form. By the end of six weeks, brain waves are detectable and there are visible convolutions in the burgeoning brain signalling the beginning of a cerebral cortex. After about twelve weeks, the spinal cord, nerves, and the thalamus are all present. Sensation begins.
Around 17 weeks along, the developing child can have REM sleep. Between seven and nine months, four out of five senses, excluding smell, are active in the developing baby, and many of the basic brain functions are available. Perception has a foothold in the living tissues and although the majority of physical attributes have been constructed, there are still many miracles yet to take place.
And yet, holding a newborn child in your arms tells you that they are not yet fully conscious in a meaningful sense, except to say they are open to every possibility; a clean slate in some ways but also genetically inscribed with a variety of inherited traits. All of our basic human conventions, our desire for explanations, our drive to explore and discover, are, in some measure, inherited; essential to our survival.
We awaken slowly to consciousness. It happens not in a day, or a week, or a month, but only after years. It does not spring forth suddenly one day, but rather minutely in microscopic increments, just as our ancient ancestors slowly acquired it over millions of years of evolution. Some experts in the field of neuroscience insist upon the brain as that which “generates” consciousness, and there are important relationships between cognitive functioning and our subjective awareness, but this premise seems far less obvious to me. We clearly depend on the neural mechanisms and chemical features of the brain to interact with the world in a meaningful way, and when there is malfunction in those mechanisms, a chemical imbalance, or significant damage to the brain, access to consciousness is clearly compromised.
It is true that the universe in which we exist appears in many ways different than it is in actuality. Our perceptions of life here on earth are replete with examples of contrasting appearances to the realities we now know are far different than they seem outwardly. Our relationship with space itself is based on a limited knowledge of its true nature, and we have not as yet penetrated that nature very far except within the limitations of our corporeal existence. Our abilities to detect certain aspects through science and technology are limited, but we really haven’t been engaged in the process very long either.
Annie Besant, (1847 – 1933) a prominent speaker and writer of her day, wrote:
“The soul casts a part of itself out…this part is the mind of man–the part of the soul that is working in the brain…it cannot pierce through this thicker veil of matter. All that greatness that we know as the mind is only this struggling part of the soul, working in this brain for purposes of the soul’s growth. As much of the soul as can manifest through that brain is the mind of the person we know…it is only an instrument, only an organ of the soul, manifested for the work it performs.”