Title: Self Awareness: Size: 21.5” x 30.5”x 1.75″: Media: acrylic, oil, collage & assemblage: Surface: canvas over masonite & board with wooden framework: copyright 2009 Lisa L. Cyr, Cyr Studio LLC, http://www.cyrstudio.com
“The only right and legitimate way to (a mystical) experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path, which leads you to a higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher understanding of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism.”
–Excerpt from a letter from Carl Jung to Bill Wilson – Jan. 30, 1961
Recently, I have begun to review some of my core postings here in John’s Consciousness, and in revisiting several of them these past few weeks, I have found that some of my insights and expressions have retained their centrality and sense of urgency even now. My experiences in the temporal world continue to point toward a synthesis of my many writings regarding the subjective experience of human consciousness, and my ever-expanding world within, when it is possible to attend to it directly, has benefited from the recent inclusion of serendipitous audio recordings of a kind of stream of consciousness that I have allowed to flow from within as I contemplate the stirrings within me. Central to these outpourings is a keen sense of longing to connect with other like-minded spirits out across the wider temporal world made available through modern technological advancements in communication and social media, and a much deeper personal and interior sense of longing for the kind of intimate sharing that can only result from developing a more spiritual worldview.
All of our longings, both temporal and spiritual, as well as the pain of new growth are felt both within and without. For me, the pain experienced within has always been the strongest and most difficult to endure. As an adult, I have come to understand more clearly now that something within me, long ago born and over countless centuries grown seeks acknowledgement in consciousness. As a youth, I felt this strange urge to express thoughts and feelings which burst forth without warning, and which I could not comprehend. Each time I would attempt to grasp the meaning of this inner force, bits and pieces of the curious puzzle would become clear briefly, and then vanish in the strictly-controlled religious world of saints and sinners and unquestioning obedience.
Occasionally, I would get glimpses of this inner world despite the pervasive atmosphere of strict controls and absolute rules, but could not sustain the thoughts and feelings long enough to make any significant headway. Looking back over the years, my whole being has now shifted from a traditional middle-class, religious upbringing, to a more unconventional and classless view of life that is a sharp contrast to the way it all began. Between moments of cognition in my inner realm, as rich and expansive as they continue to be, are extended periods of redundancy of obligation in the temporal. While most of these efforts represent necessary items that produce important results, it is often difficult to endure these gaps between meaningful awareness and dedicated efforts to sustenance, and it seems like endurance becomes more the goal than the means to an end at times.
Inner Worlds Within Worlds Art by Norman E. Masters
For some time now, the world outside of me has been at such odds with the world inside of me, that as I strive to maintain stability in both, I seem to be constantly shoring up the walls of one, deteriorating from neglect, and then racing back to devote my energies to the other. The subsequent chaos from running breathlessly between the two usually results in both alternately suffering to varying degrees. To complicate matters further, I have recently gained greater momentum in coming to terms with my inner world, significantly raising my expectations of achieving the goals I established for myself years ago. This hopeful progress, though uplifting, has created serious conflicts with my temporal existence. Thus far I have resisted abandoning my obligations for the sake of my work, and likewise refused to consider abandoning my work in favor of temporal considerations.
As with most esoteric undertakings, increasing comprehension precedes further progress. As my knowledge and appreciation of the complexities and subtleties of the evolution of consciousness grows, the many diverse and related theories begin to coalesce into a synthesis which is more comprehensive and quite beautiful in its depth and breadth. Human evolution, however convoluted or complex, has resulted in access to the penetrating self-awareness which characterizes human consciousness, and precipitated the development of human cultures, religions, and mythologies, as well as human psychology, philosophy, and a variety of sciences, all branching out like the veins of a large leaf, or a complex crystal formation.
The Psyche, according to Pythagoras “is the intermediary between two worlds: the Material and the Spiritual worlds. It is the Vital Energy that nests and inhabits in the matter”.
When we contemplate the astonishing variety of contingency necessary for human life to have progressed to this point, and to continue to progress beyond this point, it compels us to consider even some very unconventional points-of-view. How else can we arrive at such a distant destination in comprehension, as that of human consciousness, unless we remain open to alternative methods of enhancing our current comprehension, augmenting our current capacities, and altering our current level of consciousness? If the development of our ability to access higher levels of cognitive functioning, achieving an expanded intellect, and becoming self-aware, all were only just necessary adaptations for survival, and merely the consequence of natural selection, favoring those hominids with more complex brain architecture, there would be no compelling reason for consciousness to have progressed beyond a certain “survivability” level.
But if, as modern physics has demonstrated, we are all ultimately linked to the universal energies present in the early universe, and made from “the stuff of stars,” subatomic particles floating in the Higgs field, then it seems to me, that whatever forces govern the quarks, and hadrons, and leptons, and most recently, the theoretical “Higgs boson,” must be, in some manner, active within the wider universe of humans, planets, galaxies and super-clusters. All of existence, both temporal and metaphysical, must be a manifestation of and possess some degree of consciousness, only on a much grander scale.
If awareness of consciousness is an inevitable consequence of any evolutionary life process which produces creatures of sufficient cognitive ability and architectural complexity in the cognitive apparatus, then consciousness may well be what we can expect to find at the heart of the universe, manifested in an infinite variety of displays throughout. We will never know unless we expand our range of explanations to include every conceivable and inconceivable possibility.
Reflection on these ideas has produced within me a greater expansion of the role of connection to others in my ruminations. Time after time, whenever a heightened sense of connection to another kindred soul enters my awareness, many of the ideas which have been percolating within me come (sometimes suddenly) to the surface, and I am occasionally intrigued beyond words at the prospect of opening up to a wider world of subjective experience as a direct result of these encounters. In the weeks to come, I hope to explore these connections more directly as they relate to this idea, and to seek a greater understanding of how these connections lead to a deeper sense of self.
–more to come–
“If we seek genuine psychological understanding of the human being of our own time, we must know his spiritual history absolutely. We cannot reduce him to mere biological data, since he is not by nature merely biological, but is a product also of spiritual presuppositions.” – -Carl Jung from a presentation at the C. G. Jung Institute Zurich, Küsnacht, 15 Nov 1953
“If we can reconcile ourselves to the mysterious truth that the spirit is the life of the body seen from within, and the body the outward manifestation of the life of the spirit–the two being really one–then we can understand why the striving to transcend the present level of consciousness through the acceptance of the unconscious must give the body its due, and why recognition of the body cannot tolerate a philosophy that denies it in the name of the spirit.” – C.G.Jung from “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, CW, vol.10
The persistent assertion by modern scientists regarding the development of consciousness and the human mind as “an accident of nature,” is an idea which not only opposes our natural inclinations as cognitive human creatures, but also one that is difficult to sustain in a definitive way given the equally persistent assertions to the contrary by researchers in a variety of disciplines. The tendency of modern science to view the development of our human mind as an accident seems to me to be more a result of the limitations of science to explain it, rather than being a conclusion that is justified by the evidence.
Considering that it took hundreds of millions of years and countless variations of living creatures for life on Earth to produce Homo-sapiens, one could be forgiving of the empiricists for being a bit skeptical, considering that it is only one variation–an anomaly so to speak–in the pantheon of life. Considering the nearly miraculous confluence of events which permitted life to evolve on Earth in the first place, any suggestion that it was not only BOUND to happen, but inescapably bound up in the fabric of life, does require a bit of a leap intellectually. Although there have been some exciting and compelling exceptions over the millennia, scientists are frequently reluctant to include their intuition, and tend to resist directing their imaginative inclinations outside the realm of science.
No one disputes the essential nature of neurological functioning in achieving an awareness of experience. All one has to do is observe the devastating effect of trauma to the brain to establish how vital brain function is to awareness. It does not necessarily follow, however, that the subjective experience of consciousness is created SOLELY by the brain. Neurological functioning involves a multitude of interactions within the brain itself. It includes a process of fragmentation and re-integration of multiple components: neurons firing in specific sequences, synaptic transferal of electro-chemical impulses, sensory input, cross-referencing of iconic imagery and memories of previous experiences. It is a very complex process which still eludes our understanding, and any attempt to reduce it to biology alone must surely fall short of the mark. We may be DEPENDENT on our brains to enjoy our capacity as human beings to experience our existence, but it seems unlikely to me that our brains GENERATE that experience.
In an enormously compelling and technically superb rendering of how the brain supports and grants us access to the world of conscious experience, Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman, and his colleague, Giulio Tononi, explore at length the foundational elements and functional components of our complex thalamocortical system in “A Universe of Consciousness,” and their treatment of the subject is “highly plausible” according to the book review excerpt on the cover. The level of attention to detail in discussing the various aspects of conscious states is reasonably accessible for anyone with an intense interest in the subject, and they present the reader with an enormous body of information relevant to brain functioning. In a refreshing change from many treatments of the subject, the authors acknowledge the limitations of what we are so far able to discern about this complex organ:
“The ability of the nervous system to carry out perceptual categorization of different signals for sight, sound, and so forth, dividing them into coherent classes without a pre-arranged code is certainly special, and is still unmatched by computers. We do not presently understand fully how this categorization is done…but we believe it arises through the selection of certain distributed patterns of neural activity as the brain interacts with the body and the environment.”
When addressing this “distributed neural activity,” they cite the example of how we are able to read after “…a time in which we had consciously to learn about letters and words in a laborious way, but afterward these processes become effortless and automatic.” They then acknowledge “…How our brain performs these demanding tasks remains largely unknown to us.”
As someone who feels certain that a comprehensive theory of consciousness will eventually require us to include some sort of essential non-physical interaction, the anecdotal reports of visions, apparitions, and other psychic phenomena which humans periodically report, while mostly amusing to scientists and philosophers in our day, all suggest at least the possibility of an interaction with the ineffable or the mysterious. All of my research and study into the nature of our cognitive functioning continues to intrigue me beyond measure, but nothing I have encountered thus far has eliminated this possibility for me. On the contrary, much of it seems to ENHANCE the possibility! Much of the literature and astonishing progress in neuroscience points toward activity that is INFUSED with the spirit. Far from being dissuasive regarding a potentially “spiritual component” to human consciousness, examining the astonishing complexity of neuroscientific progress seems to me a fair indication of its PRESENCE!
It may well be that LIFE itself has, as a natural component of its nature, the infusion of nor-corporeal aspects for which there may only be a subjective awareness. That we are unable as yet to establish with certainty, a universal experience of a transcendent consciousness for all humanity is not sufficient cause to suppose that it does not exist. The quality and nature of our lives generally compare in many ways to that of all other living entities, and it is not difficult to detect subjectively, a profound connection to the natural world all around us, and to recognize that we are an essential member of the terrestrial community of life on Earth. Our higher cognitive capacities distinguish us in important ways, adding a significant element to our human nature which allows us to perceive and appreciate our interconnection with ALL life.
We owe the scientific community a great debt for the many benefits we enjoy today as a result of the advancement of empirical knowledge and the elimination of superstition and fanaticism which were the cornerstones of our ancient worldview. Science has brought us a long way from the “Earth as center of the universe,” mindset of ancient times, and in modern times it has created “miraculous” technologies that have enhanced life on this planet a hundredfold, and we need to continue to pursue its advancement vigorously.
But even as solid and predictable as the the laws of physics seem to us today, not one of them eliminates the existence of the human spirit, just as the many avenues of pursuing the human spirit cannot alter or eliminate the laws of physics. It doesn’t take an Einstein to conclude that both can co-exist and that each may be dependent on the other in important ways. Our subjective sense of “being” relies on being able to use our senses, but our senses do not BRING US into being, nor do they determine the significance of our existence. They are our window to the world of experience, and it is that world of experience that connects us to our sense of being and to the spirit.
“Never in the world were any two opinions alike, any more than any two hairs or grains of sand. Their most universal quality is diversity.” –Montaigne, Essays, 1580
In a letter-writing conversation with a thoughtful friend some years ago, the topic turned to how to engage others more deeply without abandoning our own sense of self or compromising our ability to function as an individual spirit in the world. My friend wrote, “…deep engagement without reluctance, in my opinion does turn the world upside down, and the only way to engage at that deep level, unless you are still in the womb, is to let go of your own consciousness. But there is a conflict because what we seem to hope for is deep engagement not with our primal undifferentiated selves, but with our developed selves; but the developed self by nature is separate, has evolved to live independently of the host, the mother.”
In response, I turned to the writings of C.G.Jung, and his ideas about the process of individuation, which, according to a notation in Wikipedia, “…is the process in which the individual self develops out of an undifferentiated unconscious – seen as a developmental psychic process during which innate elements of personality, the components of the immature psyche, and the experiences of the person’s life become integrated over time into a well-functioning whole.” Jung believed that “…the essentially ‘internal’ process of individuation does not go on in some inner space cut off from the world. Rather, it can only be realized within the larger context of life as it is lived.” Our developed selves, brought about by individuation are, in my opinion, perhaps more accurately described as being founded upon our primal undifferentiated selves, rather than as something separate from it, but it seems pretty clear that it is our developed selves which inspire conflict when it does occur. Conflict seems to me to be more of a cultural problem than one of the host being separate from the mother.
In a letter he wrote a few months before his death, Jung stated:
“It is quite possible that we look at the world from the wrong side and that we might find the right answer by changing our point of view and looking at it from the other side, that is, not from the outside, but from inside.”
For me, the connections I recognize as those which I strive to engage without reluctance and without turning the world upside down, transcend the developed self. The crucial point of the matter here seems to be our connection to the infinite. In his autobiography, Jung wrote:
“If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change…In our relationships…the crucial question is whether an element of boundlessness is expressed in the relationship…Only consciousness of our narrow confinement in the self forms the link to the limitlessness of the unconscious…In knowing ourselves to be unique in our personal combination—that is, ultimately limited—we possess also the capacity for becoming conscious of the infinite.”
– excerpt from Jung’s autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” 1963, New York: Random House.
I have struggled to come to terms with the compelling inner sense of a connection to the infinite that has appeared regularly in my writings these many years. I often struggle also with attempting to articulate this inner urging and to describe it in ways that can be appreciated by my readers here. Of necessity as temporal beings, we often resort to temporal references in order to allude to that which cannot be described in temporal terms. The nature of life, temporal existence, the physical universe, and everything relevant to that existence cannot be described completely in terms belonging only to that physical existence. We have devised ways of referring to these other aspects of life and existence, particularly as they relate to our very human nature, and acknowledge them as existing in a domain far removed from the temporal–as far removed from the temporal plane as we are from the quantum world of the very small, and the farthest reaches of the physical universe. Although we are, in some important ways, defined by these two opposing aspects, the truth seems to reside between them.
Sometimes, we all need to step away from the table, to catch up on our sleep, or to clear our hearts and minds from all the clutter that can accumulate. Wellness requires periods of rest; mental health requires periods of sleep and occasional disconnects. No one goes on vacation all the time, just every once in a while. It is unlikely to find peace in even a deep connection unless we are able to find some peace in ourselves. This is the absolute goal in successful relationships, and I feel strongly that I DO have some peace within me now. I may have some additional work to do through contemplation and ruminating on my path that brought me to my present place in the world, and psychologically we should all be continuously working to engage our hearts and minds in the pursuit of progressing as a person, but the foundation I now possess has been hard-won and warrants consideration when I sometimes still feel that twinge of the memory of the pain that led to the peace of where I am now.
Each of us suffers subjectively in ways that cannot meaningfully be compared to the suffering of others. As a person who cannot seem to avoid empathizing with the suffering of others, I have endured my own suffering with a fairly unique perspective as a man. My mother told me that as a young boy, when one of the other children in the neighborhood would fall down or be crying for some reason, I would also cry. As I witnessed the birth of each of my children, I cried buckets of tears, and holding one of my grandchildren now or when I see any newborn child, my heart absolutely melts. Reading about the tragic circumstances that seem to appear regularly in the news these days frequently brings me to tears. I can’t say I know many other men who have this problem. These experiences clearly are of the “very human” variety, and it seems to me that our very human nature is more complex and mysterious than any of the science, psychology, or philosophy of mind currently can illuminate.
Nature is not matter only, she is also spirit. ~Carl Jung; CW 13; Paragraph 229.
Travel with me for a moment or two. Back…Back in time…even further back…to the dawn of the fullness of true self-awareness in our primitive ancestors.
What a moment it must have been when humans were able to finally know with certainty…”We are here–we exist.” Sentient human beings, at some point, were able to acknowledge, “I know that I am.” It seems likely that it was not possible to articulate this acknowledgement at first. The realization may have been simply a very rudimentary kind of “knowing.” It must have taken much longer to develop a means of expressing this fundamental acquisition. It is also likely that the earliest form of cognition was visual or composed mostly of mental images, and perhaps the initial apprehension of awareness consisted mostly of abstractions that had no practical means to be expressed except through gestures and actions which eventually drove the necessity of expressing them through the early forms of language.
Countless eons passed with no true appreciation of this fuller and more specific form of awareness or knowledge of existing as an individual, and as a larger social group or species. But when it finally appeared, it must have been astonishing to those who experienced it. Some initial form of it must have been percolating below the surface–protruding into the primitive mind. There was no formal oral language. Perhaps some rudimentary signalling or series of gestures appeared at first, which communicated urgent instinctual needs and desires. At some point, the first truly sentient humans became meaningfully self-aware. At that moment, I can only imagine how they must have opened their eyes one morning, and knew that something was completely different than the day before. It clearly must have been a gradual unfolding, not an instantaneous realization, but when it finally took hold, it began the journey toward self-realization until it eventually blossomed into modern consciousness. On that morning, the early Homo sapiens must have been awestruck, and may not have known what to do with it, or why it was there. Without language, it would be impossible to express the experience in a meaningful way. It may have been frightening in a way, even disturbing. Imagine yourself having an extraordinary experience or brand new sensation and NOT being able to ask yourself or another with words, “What is this strange sensation?” “What does it mean?”
As time progressed, the earliest individuals with this new capacity, may have begun to notice this same strange new awareness in others. Perhaps, a glance, a signal, which on a previous day would have naturally resulted in an instinctual response, at some point, saw a day when that instinctual response rose up, but was quieted, suddenly paused, or halted, or stifled. It must have been confusing, having a sense that what was happening had never happened before. Gradually, every experience which followed must have seemed, in an important way, like a new experience, unlike the others before it. The emotional response to such a radical alteration of their daily experience might have produced a degree of chaos initially, making them fearful to some degree. We can only imagine how the experience of self-awareness in each individual may have affected their interactions with others as they struggled to comprehend the ancient world. It may have been like waking up from a dream, suddenly realizing you’re awake. We all know that experience, when maybe we have a repetitious dream, one we’ve had many times, and it suddenly goes quiet. There’s a transitional moment or two when you awake and you’re startled, and you think to yourself, “My God…it was a dream,” or even, “What WAS that?…it felt so real.” For those ancient humans, it WAS real.
This capacity to be aware of being aware, might very well have been the driving force behind the development of a more complex and grammatical language, beyond the practical necessities of communicating the day-to-day urgencies of life during those early epochs. Think of all the questions that must have come up, with no words and no one to answer them but themselves. No one to look to, no guidance, no reference books, no wise elder who had already been aware for many years–nothing could have prepared them for the acquisition of such a radical alteration of their daily existence. Try to imagine what it might have been like to experience those first days and nights with full self-awareness, when it truly all came together and was realized by the individual having that experience! When we think back to our earliest childhood memories, they are like little glimpses–fleeting moments where aspects of our experiences suddenly made sense. It must have been very much like that for those early humans, perhaps having been asleep and upon waking, able now to wonder what it was all about. All those moments when they had brief flickering episodes of awareness, now could have a fuller sense of a context within which to better understand the nature of their everyday experiences.
Imagine how compelling it must have been to finally be aware of a subjective experience, and how that might have pressed those early humans to want to EXPRESS and share this feeling, with no possibility at first of doing so except with non-verbal communication. Think about what it must have been like for them to have the realization, for example, of how every clear morning they would see the sun rise above the horizon, and perhaps, before awareness, they would point to it and usually make a sound or a gesture, without realizing what it was, and now, with awareness, it felt necessary to associate that brilliant, blazing, yellow-orange ball in the sky with the gesture or by uttering a sound, as if to indicate, “There it is again, look at it!” Attempting to communicate the sentiment of the idea, not the idea itself, but the feeling which arose within them, may have been the very vehicle for associating what they saw with the gesture or sound that they uttered. At some point, others in those social groups started making the same gesture or sound when they saw the sun in the morning, and whenever any individual had that experience, they also would repeat the sound, and eventually, through repetition, that concept became accepted and associated with that sound.
After many years of primitive associative activity, and the spread of humanity throughout the different regions of the world, different developmental achievements from the various social groups were acquired, shared, and assimilated into the local cultures. The instinctive usefulness of fundamental tasks which enabled the early humans to survive, with this new awareness, could be enhanced and expanded through a more complex cultural and social development. With the eventual creation of language, the ability to teach what had been learned to ensure the survival of their children gave the early humans a unique advantage over every other species. When, at last, they descended into what would become known as the Caves of Chauvet and Lascaux, the pictures that they drew of the animals became symbols of the animals that they encountered in the world. It took many thousands of years more for the very first pictographic languages to appear, but the groundwork had been established, and the beginnings of self-awareness that gave rise to the NEED for self-expression, altered the landscape of humanity forever.
The first sparks of consciousness in humans, which likely appeared in our ancient ancestors hundreds of thousands of years before the appearance of Homo sapiens, eventually blossomed into fullness once the requisite components of human development reached the tipping point, probably during the Aurignacian epoch some 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, but was not immediately useful or practical in the way it is for modern humans in the 21st century. Many theorists today suggest that language was acquired and spread rapidly throughout the human population once it began to appear, and although a rudimentary form of subjective consciousness may not have required it in order to exist, it may very well have made its development essential in order for the fullness of the capacity to be self-aware to unfold.
–more to come–
In the Review section of the WSJ this weekend in an article by Frank Wilczek, he casually suggested that it shouldn’t be so difficult to accept, intuitively, that life and mind emerge from matter, as if we were all just somehow mistaken or deluded about the source of life and mind. Wilczek shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2004. It was awarded jointly to David J. Gross, H. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek “for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction”. According to the dictionary, “…asymptotic refers to a function coming into consideration, as a variable approaches a limit, usually infinity.”
Here is a short blurb about their award from the Nobel website:
“The scientists awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics have solved a mystery surrounding the strongest of nature’s four fundamental forces. The three quarks within the proton can sometimes appear to be free, although no free quarks have ever been observed. The quarks have a quantum mechanical property called colour and interact with each other through the exchange of gluons – nature’s glue.
This year’s prize paves the way for a more fundamental future description of the forces in nature. The electromagnetic, weak and strong forces have much in common and are perhaps different aspects of a single force. They also appear to have the same strength at very high energies, especially if ‘supersymmetric’ particles exist. It may even be possible to include gravity if theories which treat matter as small vibrating strings are correct.”
How Wilczek feels like his visit to an artist’s rendering in an outdoor light display in Phoenix, Arizona somehow equates to an intuitive affirmation of how life and mind “emerged” from matter escapes me. Although the metaphor of lights blinking off and on is suggestive, in a way, of how brain activity might be viewed if such a thing were possible in the same way, to suggest that MRI, PET scanning, and other techniques for detecting blood flow in the brain are somehow visualizations which answer the age old question about how life and mind emerged, strikes me as completely overreaching. Here is a link to the video on WSJ.com: (The narration is only a partial replication of the entire article.)
After decades of research, study, and contemplation of many diverse features of subjective experience, and having expended an enormous amount of effort and energy in the process of discerning what might possibly be behind our extraordinary human subjective awareness of existing as a physical entity in the physical universe, for me personally, as well as for many prominent thinkers throughout human history, the reality is that while our subjective experience of being alive requires the cooperation and integration of physical systems in order for our temporal existence to register with sentient creatures such as ourselves, it is NOT…and I repeat..NOT in any way certain, by any criteria or judgmental standard, that those physical systems are the absolute SOURCE and PRIMAL DRIVING FORCE responsible for that experience in the first place. It is much more likely, in my view, that our physical existence is founded upon and derives its significance from a source as yet to be established with certainty, and very likely to be beyond our capacities for establishing an empirical proof. This inability to demonstrate or define categorically the source of all Life and consciousness does nothing to negate the possibility, that whatever it is that defines it or explains it, there may still be an ineffable and non-material source that produced all that we perceive with our senses, and all that we observe in the vast universe beyond the Earth.
The evolution of biological life in the physical universe on planet Earth has provided our species with an astonishing array of sensory systems, complex biological processes, extraordinary cognitive skills, and a profoundly fragile and beautiful physical environment in which to flourish and evolve, and regardless of our prowess in deciphering the scientific and mathematical underpinnings of the mechanisms and systems which facilitate Life on Earth, none of the intricate details and highly complex processes which support that Life can reduce the totality of our SUBJECTIVE HUMAN EXPERIENCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS to those physical mechanisms only. Suggesting that Life (with a capital “L”) can be reduced to an understanding of those mechanisms alone is like handing out speeding tickets at the Daytona 500. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.
In order to begin to understand how our subjective experience of being alive is even possible in the first place, we clearly do need to consider the gradual development of the complex macro-structure of the brain by examining the various stages of mammalian, primate, and hominid evolution, each of which contributed essential individual brain components, and how that development over millions of years facilitated the gradual sophistication of cognition and higher order thinking. However, once these complex structures and extraordinary cognitive talents were sufficiently developed, it might also be possible to accept intuitively, that it then became possible to utilize them in accessing a much broader intellectual and psychological plateau, and to establish a connection to what we describe as human consciousness or “the subjective experiential awareness of being alive.” This then allows us to hypothesize about the important contributions of specific emergent properties which are a consequence of the evolution and structural hierarchy of the network of various brain regions, while still allowing for the interaction with what C.G. Jung described as “the transcendent function,” or “non-physical substrates,” rather than simply characterizing the results as the “emergence of life and mind from matter.”
To assume from the very beginning of the conversation that it shouldn’t be “…difficult to accept intuitively that life and mind can emerge from matter,” sets a tone that feels limiting right at the outset. Moreover, as a means of coming to terms with the origins of life and mind, one might suggest, by that reasoning, it also shouldn’t be difficult to accept intuitively that life and mind emerged from the seeds planted by advanced beings visiting from some other universe in a multi-verse theory of creation, or perhaps as a result of an inter-dimensional crossover billions of years ago. It is the PRESUMPTION that matter alone might have been the sole source of life and mind which eliminates other possible essential components to their existence. While I completely understand that there are advantages for the scientist to justify their mechanistic worldview by simply claiming that Life and mind emerged from matter, I fail to see why it is so difficult to accept intuitively, the existence of other forces or energies, which we do not yet fully recognize or comprehend, which are equally possible and responsible, and required to provide a more comprehensive explanation for Life and mind.
While it is true, as the author suggests, that we have only a limited “…immediate experience when it comes to how physical systems represent information,” I do not agree that it’s primarily because of the way “…our own brains store and manipulate information in patterns of electrical activation.” The author’s report of how “most neuro-biologists accept that those patterns are the physical embodiment of mind,” does not automatically infer that those patterns are the “source” of the human mind, any more than “the patterns of radio waves” are the source of the transmissions we intercept on our car radios. Radio waves are a MEANS of proliferating the ideas and messages and content created by the users of those systems.
As any investigator of Astronomy can attest, there are many randomly generated radio signals in the wide expanses of the cosmos, but it requires an intelligent and deliberate manipulation of those signals to generate something recognizable as a message or to qualify as a type of specific content that is intelligible and meaningful. The mechanisms of thought are astonishingly complex and fascinating to study, and the advances in neuroscience have increased our understanding of those mechanisms and helped us to determine the nature of pathologies, to devise methods of counteracting the mechanisms of disease, and to find ways of reversing or mitigating the damage caused by injuries to the brain. In order to understand why all of the activity and structural complexity of the human brain is accompanied by a profound subjective experiential awareness, the “what it’s like” experience of being, requires a great deal more than “patterns of electrical activation.”
The artist’s depiction of patterns of light that we find so impressive and suggestive of brain activity is a fabulous work of creativity and artistic expression, and anyone who experiences a walk through the display in Arizona might rightly invoke the metaphor of electrical patterns in the human brain. However, it might be more prudent to equate the display with a representation of an underlying mechanism, which facilitates an artistic expression created for the purpose of inspiring and delighting the observers, who are fortunate enough to attend to the pleasures it offers as a work of art.
Some of the most personally compelling spiritual experiences of my life took place long before I could even identify them as being spiritual. My earliest memories of childhood were punctuated periodically with moments of a kind of “unconscious awareness” of energies or forces beyond my direct experience of the world; occasionally precipitating unplanned and unexpected eruptions from within me, which would often feel like being immersed in water for a brief time. Several early episodes of actually being immersed in water over my head in the lake during family vacations brought this feeling on as well, but the feelings were just as vivid and occasionally overwhelming when they occurred during equally compelling moments on dry land. I vividly remember the visceral experience of immersion in lake water bringing to mind these “spiritual immersions”– moments of profound mystery and perplexing confusion as a child, which felt like a completely normal part of my experience of the world at that time, but which now, upon reflection, seem almost “other-worldly.”
There were a number of episodes where I felt certain that I was seeing the world through the eyes of someone else; as though another personality had taken up temporary residence within me, and I felt as though my presence in those moments was simply as a witness, as this other person perceived the goings on around me. Although it was a bit confusing at times, and not especially pleasant to have these experiences, I never felt anxious or afraid while having them. Fear of what took place inside me was something that only became real during my indoctrination into the world of religious fervor in the years of primary education in the Catholic school system. As my training in catechism and church doctrines progressed, I eventually became fearful that there was something wrong inside of me, and after hearing about what happened to the “fallen angels,” who went against God during the beginning stages of the creation of heaven and earth, I concluded that it would be best not to tell anyone about these experiences.
Dreams that I had as a child often contained extraordinary content, well beyond my limited ability to decipher them or to understand the imagery in any comprehensible way. Again, just as it seemed in my waking experience of the world, although I could not identify specifically the nature or source of the dream imagery at all times, the vivid experiences within the dreams themselves felt absolutely real to me and I did not question their validity or reality in any way. It was simply part of the fabric of my experience, which I innocently accepted as completely natural and normal in a child’s eye-view. Reporting the content of my dreams or expressing confusion about what I felt inside was always met with either dismissal as being “silly,” or discouraged as a topic for conversation. For years after starting school, I felt increasingly uneasy about not being “allowed” to talk about my experiences, and eventually abandoned hope that I would ever understand any of it well.
The death of my beloved brother when I was only eight years old was pivotal in this regard. The absolute silence which accompanied this tragedy caused me great concern that I might somehow have contributed to his demise, even though it was never inferred or spoken of out loud. My inner world was thrown into a degree of chaos and grief that was unprecedented in my brief life, but in some ways, it solidified my belief that there were forces and energies beyond my comprehension at work in the world, and somehow, I was aware of their existence without any expectation of gaining an understanding from my small circle of family, school, and church. I was utterly alone within myself, and eventually began to suppress all such inclinations, except when forced by some extraordinary event to consider them again.
Death became something to be feared, and thoughts about death were to be avoided at all costs. A young girl who was hit by a car and killed when I was in third or fourth grade became a traumatic experience for me when I was forced to attend the viewing along with everyone else in my class at the time. It was explained that our attendance would be of great comfort to the grieving parents, and our display of sadness would let them know they were not alone in their grief. I was not sad. I was terrified.
As I grew up, the death of other loved ones, particularly my grandparents, and a beloved uncle, forced me to consider what it meant to be a living person, and what losing life truly meant. The church seemed to categorize life as a temporary housing of the soul within a body, with conception before birth constituting the moment when a soul was introduced into a body, and the loss of life as the moment when the soul left the body. This imagery made a strange kind of sense to me, although it was also still incomplete and unsatisfying as an explanation of my own experience of being alive. I hungered to understand more completely, and for a time, seriously tried to allow the Catholic worldview to fill in the gaps. The devotion to the church and its teachings displayed by my parents and extended family of adults gave me the idea that I was somehow missing the necessary components of faith, belief, and devotion, and I did my best to participate in the rituals and adhere to the rules, hoping that an understanding might eventually just dawn on me.
When I entered high school, I secretly began to question the years of indoctrination into the Catholic worldview, and as I did, my spiritual life began to unravel. I complied unquestioningly with the expectations of my parents and teachers, joining several of the extracurricular religious activities sponsored by the Franciscan priests who taught at the school, but for every actual “spiritual” experience that I encountered there and elsewhere, there were many others that made me question what I was being taught in theology class. I enjoyed the opportunity to read the more advanced writings of Thomas Aquinas and Saint Francis of Assisi, and found books about saints like St. Theresa of Avila inspiring and interesting, but they did not seem to satisfactorily address the questions that kept arising within me about my own soul, and my own experience of the world.
Although it was only in later life that I was fully able to appreciate it, I know now that I was extremely fortunate, as it turned out, to have a Catholic priest in my immediate family; Rev. Thomas Flanigan, affectionately known as “Father Tom,” a cousin who grew up with my mother. As a young boy, we would visit the Flanigans in upstate New York, and inevitably, at the conclusion of our visits, we would all kneel down, and my father would ask Father Tom to give us his blessing. Several times, I was lucky enough to be the one kneeling in front of him when this moment came, and he would place his hand on my head, giving me the momentary sensation of floating, infusing me with a fullness of spirit in that brief moment that I never experienced at any other time in exactly that way, or to that degree. There was something extraordinary about Father Tom, and as an adult, I sought him out several times when I was in some sort of crisis spiritually.
Just being in his presence was spiritually uplifting. I could feel myself opening to the radiance of his spirit as soon as I saw him. His unconditional acceptance of me as a person, and his non-judgmental approach to counseling was unprecedented in all my other interactions with religious people of every sort. One experience in particular produced in me one of the most profoundly spiritual moments of my life.
I had been invited by Father Tom to stay with him in the priest’s rectory during a weekend visit to attend a wedding of one of my own first cousins. When the invitation was offered, it was enthusiastically accepted by me, even though it seemed a bit strange that it was only offered to me. I was struggling at the time with my faith, and even though I hadn’t spoken to him directly about it, he seemed to recognize the need in me, and when I arrived at the rectory, he greeted me warmly and embraced me in the hallway entrance.
We talked briefly about the schedule for the wedding, and he extended the invitation to include serving as the altar boy at mass on the Sunday following the wedding. I agreed immediately and looked forward to the privilege of serving mass with him. I had been an altar boy in my own church for years, but it had been a while since my last opportunity to serve and I was a little nervous that morning as I prepared to join him at the church. It was an early mass, and there were only a handful of people in the pews, but from witnessing the actions and demeanor of Father Tom, you might have thought there were hundreds of parishioners in attendance. I assisted him in preparing for the service, just as I always had with other priests, but at that moment it felt much more like a sacred duty, and although it was conducted in silence, I felt completely confident in responding to his unspoken instructions.
Right before the service was about to begin, I stood off to the side of the altar, in the doorway leading out into the church, and watched as Father Tom prepared the altar and set up the items he would use to celebrate the mass. I was immediately struck by the degree of reverence he gave to the task, and marveled at the painstaking attention he gave to the details of his preparation. For several minutes, I felt an overwhelming sense of my own personal spirit rising up within me. Father Tom seemed to be glowing–radiant–amazingly calm and reverent. It was an unforgettable moment. At the conclusion of the service, during which I had to be periodically reminded of what to do, I was once again in silence in the sacristy, assisting Father Tom with changing out of his ritual attire, and when the moment came, I knelt down in front of him, and he laid his hand on my head, and gave me his blessing. I was near tears, but with a joyful heart.
When the time came to leave, I found it difficult to gather up my clothes and put them into my overnight bag, and even more difficult to say goodbye at the door to the rectory. Prior to departing, the day before, I had found a greeting card in the local drugstore with the Ziggy cartoon character on the front, with the words, “Thank Heaven…” On the inside of the card it said, “…for people like you.” I left it on the dresser of his room on the way out. For a long time afterwards, I felt as though I had reconnected to my personal spirit in a way that I had fervently wished to do, but had not been able to do for a long time.
There were a few other opportunities over the years to enjoy time with Father Tom, including one in which he invited me to spend the weekend with him at his lakefront retirement home in upstate New York. During what would be my last visit with him before he died, I was given the privilege to join him in his daily “vespers,” the prayers that he was obligated to say every day upon rising and before beginning his day as a priest. I was stunned to be permitted to share in what was normally a private ritual, and was able to recite most of the appropriate prayer responses during our walk around the lake, as the sun peeked out above the horizon. In spite of being mostly estranged from the church at the time, I never recall feeling more like a participant in the ritual of prayer than I did on that morning.
These recollections span nearly my whole conscious experience of being alive, and connect me to the core of my familial history in ways that would have been impossible to imagine in their absence. I am profoundly grateful to have known these particular spiritual experiences during my lifetime, but these moments, as significant as they were, took place amidst an even greater variety of spiritual events, and it seems likely to me that my introduction to the diverse paths of the “specific avenues to spirituality,” which began in my early twenties as a young soldier in Europe during the “Cold War,” and which continue to this day as I enter my sixth decade of life, contributed in numerous significant ways to the broad scope of my current appreciation of the spiritual nature of humanity in general, and of consciousness in particular.
For most of my early adult life, I struggled with my place in the world, searching for ways to express the deeper truth I felt certain resided within me, and several important and occasionally traumatic events in my youth and early adulthood inspired me to pursue a greater understanding of the nature of humanity itself, which I came to believe had a clearly spiritual foundation, which was unambiguously expressed in the human subjective experience of consciousness. The journey has been, at times, arduous and painful in the extreme, but also, at other times, astonishing and illuminating in equal measure. Based on several decades of investigation into a wide range of spiritual, scientific, philosophical, and psychological subjects, I recently began to describe and elucidate the results of my investigations into these experiences in my personal blog called, “John’s Consciousness,” on WordPress.com. While I have worked diligently to include both the empirical and the ineffable in my ruminations, the avenues of spirituality seem to resonate as those which point most prominently in the direction of my personal understanding. I do not now adhere to any particular religious practice, and while I recognize that many other people are able to find their spiritual center in a specific formal religion, all of my encounters with them have continuously pointed toward a more universal character to spirituality that does not require a specific framework in order to achieve a profound and rich spiritual life.
The subjects related to investigating the very beginnings of and foundation for consciousness, and the evidence for its first inklings in our ancient ancestors, is so compelling for me that I can barely contain myself when the subject comes up, and although there is a fairly wide range of opinion about the implications which can be drawn from earliest indications of the awareness of subjective experience by the early humans, for me, the evidence available in this regard, and the ubiquity of spiritual avenues and pursuits in nearly every human culture since the dawn of humanity, are an unambiguous expression of a deeply spiritual character to life itself, and by implication, to our inner lives as cognitive human beings.
After surviving a profound psychological, spiritual, and emotional event in my early twenties, which erupted within me as a young soldier in the service of my country, I began to search for some way to reconcile my experience by investigating the science of the brain, various principles in psychology and philosophy, as well as a number of avenues to spirituality. Without holding one above the other, or limiting myself to what was familiar, my reading and research often suggested avenues of investigation which I followed willingly, hoping to gain some further appreciation of my own inner turmoil.
One of the first and most influential sources of spiritual illumination came with my introduction to the writings of the famous Lebanese philosopher, poet, and spiritual author, Kahlil Gibran. As a young man, I served in the military overseas in Europe for two years. During that time, I came across Gibran’s writings as a result of a gift from a friend of his book, “The Prophet.” Within its pages, Gibran speaks to many of the central issues of human and spiritual life. Few have been able to express so eloquently, a view of the universal truths of our nature as both human and spiritual beings. His grasp of the inner workings of the human spirit, and his ability to inspire a sense of lightness and joy regarding human life, makes him one of the truly timeless spiritual writers for the wisdom of any age. I often sought him out throughout my many investigations, in moments of repose, as well as those of despair and need.
One of the most important passages for me, taken from his book, “Secrets of the Heart,” speaks of the beauty of life and in all of nature:
“Beauty is that which attracts the soul…when you meet Beauty, you feel that the hands deep within your inner self are stretched forth to bring it into the domain of your heart…
It is the Unseen, which you see…And the Vague, which you understand…
And the Mute, which you hear…
It is the Holy of Holies, that begins in yourself and ends vastly beyond any earthly imagining.
Truly, I say to you that thoughts have a higher dwelling place than the visible world.”
With these words, I began to understand the relationship between the mind of thoughts and the spirit of the inner self that transcends “the visible world.” He intimates that our perception of beauty is the natural result of our longing for something which exists “vastly beyond any earthly imagining.” While reading Gibran’s, “The Tempest,” I was amazed at the depth of his spirituality and his ability to express so clearly the thoughts and feelings related to the questions we all seek to answer. Many of Gibran’s writings have informed my spiritual views over the years, and he was one of the first individuals who was able to speak to the very heart of my spiritual self, and he remains relevant to me today as I navigate through my research into the non-physical aspects of our very human nature.
Another profoundly influential source of spiritual guidance and illumination came when I began to investigate the principles of transcendental meditation. While living in what was then called the “Federal Republic of Germany,” (West Germany was divided from East Germany at the time.) I began to take a serious interest in writing poetry, which I had done periodically in high school and in my early college years, and during my review of books of poetry and about poets, starting with Gibran, I came across a reference to the Upanishads, the mystical writings of Hinduism, which have many passages that include poetry, and some that are completely in verse. At the time, I had not looked into Hinduism before, and wasn’t familiar with the ideas it contained, but was intrigued by the verses which seemed to speak to the idea of a “universal soul,” or Brahman, as well as the “innermost individual soul,” or atman. These were unfamiliar terms to me then, and as I reviewed the material further, it spoke of “the nature and purpose of existence,” as well as the methods of meditation and the “Transmigration of the Soul.”
While at the library, I saw a flier posted on a bulletin board about a school in town which had classes on “The Science of Creative Intelligence,” based on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had been visited by the Beatles and other luminaries of the day, and who founded the community of schools which offered his teachings. It seemed like an interesting opportunity and I spoke with a representative at the school and arranged to take the class. It was particularly challenging since the class was normally attended by Germans, and was being presented in the German language. I managed to become familiar with a fellow associate at the school who knew English well, and was able to get a more nuanced explanation of some of the more complex ideas when I needed it. For each practitioner of transcendental meditation, there is a unique word or “mantra,” which facilitates the silencing of the mind and the opening of the soul of the individual to the transcendent aspect of “self,” and acts as a means of reaching within to our deepest sense of our individual nature or “atman.” The Science of Creative Intelligence expresses a belief in a higher reality than that of sense experience; a higher kind of knowledge than that achieved by human reason, dividing reality into the realm of the spirit and the realm of matter. The practice of meditation as a means to access the inner realm exposes us to the philosophical concept of transcendence, i.e., existing outside of nature. According to this view, there is a direct connection between the universe and the individual soul. Intuition, rather than reason, is regarded as the highest human faculty. I enthusiastically embraced the practice of meditation, and it sparked a long association with the supporting Vedic literature.
The final exam in the course required giving an oral presentation of one of the main ideas from the class, and I chose to illustrate the idea of how each of us contributes to the whole of humanity, like a small piece of a very large puzzle, and each of our creative acts and efforts spring from an intelligence of which we are all a part. From that moment on whenever the Vedas came up in my reading, I immediately looked it up and related it directly to what I was reading.
When I returned to the United States in the late seventies, I had become fairly well acquainted with a variety of selections from the Hindu “Vedas,” or “Vedanta,” and eventually encountered the Bhagavad Gita, and was immediately enthralled by the story of Arjuna, with whom I quickly identified as someone struggling with both his temporal role in life, and with his inner life as well. The story addresses Arjuna’s struggles as a soldier and his doubts about his duties–a struggle I knew well. His mentor, Krishna, actually was a historical figure, but his significance in the Gita is as a “symbol of the divine dealings with humanity”, while Arjuna typifies a “struggling human soul.” The story is viewed as “an allegory of the inner life, and has nothing to do with our outward human life and actions”–(Wikipedia)
Shortly after returning to the USA, I once again attended to my university studies at Rowan College in Glassboro, where I took a class on mythology, based on Joseph Campbell’s book, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces,” and it altered my consciousness in ways that are still being felt these many years later. Campbell opened me up to a diverse selection of paths to understanding, including a much richer and expanded appreciation of the Hindu Vedas and the Upanishads, as “profound metaphysical and speculative works closely linked to the “Brahmanas,” (commentaries on the Vedic literature). According to Campbell, these works “emphasize knowledge and meditation, and are the first Hindu attempts at a systematic treatment of speculative thought.”
Perhaps the most important ideas that I encountered in these writings concern differentiating between the phenomenal aspects of existence, and the universal soul or “Brahman,” and the individual soul or “atman.” The texts were originally written in Sanskrit, but have been translated notably by “Shankara,” a man who lived between 788 and 820 A.D. His translation expresses the belief that “Brahman and Atman are identical,” and that “the individual self is prevented by ‘avidya,’ or ‘ignorance,’ from understanding the non-dual universal nature of pure being (Brahman.).” He writes:
“As long as the self remains without real knowledge, it will blindly look for its true self in the phenomenal world. It remains enmeshed in that world, again and again experiencing samsara, a series of existences, deaths, and rebirths each unenlightened soul undergoes as a consequence of its karma…Through the proper knowledge of the Vedanta, the individual soul recognizes the limitless reality forever existing behind the cosmic veil of maya (illusion)…realizes that its own true nature is identical with the Brahman, and through self-realization achieves moksha (release from samsara and karma) and Nirvana.”
In an anthology of Vedic writings entitled, “The Vedic Experience,” by Raimundo Panikkar, I found a good summary of what I derived from my reading of this literature:
“There is a constitutive dissatisfaction in human life. Even if one has done one’s best, other possible actions have remained undone. Disillusionment is, according to the Indian tradition, the beginning of philosophy. It may also be said to initiate the process of transcending the human condition.”
But perhaps more than any other benefit that I gleaned from the course, was being exposed to the writings of C.G. Jung, who introduced me to the idea of archetypal images, and inspired me to investigate further, many of his collective works, which frequently site passages from the Vedas. Jung’s insightful and scholarly treatment of psychological states, as well as his writings on the collective unconscious, and the personal unconscious, shook my foundation right down to my roots. I spent every available moment I could acquiring and devoting my energies to Jung’s writings, and after searching determinedly through those I could locate, I found this passage from Psychology and Religion:
“The unconscious process…when brought to the surface…reveals contents that offer a striking contrast to the general run of conscious thinking and feeling… The first effect is usually conflict, because the conscious attitude resists the intrusion of apparently incompatible and extraneous tendencies, thoughts, and feelings, etc. Under normal conditions, every conflict stimulates the mind to activity for the purpose of creating a satisfactory solution…Dreams, fantasies, and psychoses produce images to appearances identical with mythological motifs of which the individuals concerned had absolutely no knowledge…
The moment of irruption can be very sudden…so that consciousness is instantaneously flooded with extremely strange and apparently quite unsuspected contents…In so far as the forms or patterns of the unconscious belong to no time in particular, being seemingly eternal, they convey a peculiar feeling of timelessness when consciously revealed.”
Finally, I had a perspective from Jung that helped me to understand the traumatic event which led me to investigate the many “specific avenues to spirituality” these many years.
“Finally we must make use of all the aids which intellect, imagination, sense-perception, and memory afford in order, firstly, to intuit simple propositions distinctly; secondly, to combine correctly (compare) the matters under investigation with what we already know, so that they too may be known; and thirdly, to find out what things should be compared with each other so that we may make the most thorough use of all our human powers.” — Rene Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, circa 1628
Throughout each of my personal investigations of the subjects related to my experiences in the early seventies, especially those which catapulted me into the most astonishing, chaotic, and emotional period of my life, I have been compelled to attempt to penetrate their mysteries and implications, based on both the intellectual and metaphysical foundations of human endeavors. At first, as an uninitiated and rudderless spirit in the world, I could only take stabs in the dark–disoriented in the extreme as I was–and while it took some time to decipher and organize these efforts, I gradually progressed beyond the chaotic stage and began to comprehend the experiences more broadly.
After applying years of persistent and determined mental effort, it seems to me, that we may only be said to truly comprehend our lives experientially, while still requiring and receiving much benefit from research and expansion of our knowledge generally. Our perceptions of the world, through an array of sensory faculties and cognitive skills, assist us as we construct and try to make sense of our daily reality, and although there are characteristics of our sensory systems which are subject to potentially erroneous interpretation of their input, as is the case with optical illusions, there are adequate safeguards available to nominally functionally brains and sense organs to feel confident in making judgements regarding the true nature of what we perceive, and to determine with reasonable certainty that we exist in the physical universe, as a substantial living entity. There have been a variety of accomplished thinkers throughout human history who have written at length regarding the range of what we might express with confidence in this regard, and I am not so enamored of the conclusions drawn from my own experiences to suppose that they represent some sort of comprehensive explanation. I present my ideas and thoughts here more as an explanation of what has brought me to suggest them as a beginning to unravel it all.
With basic functionality of all our perceptual and intellectual systems intact, we are able to propose judgements regarding our perceptions. Quite independent from the actual quality or accuracy of those judgements, we have good cause to feel at least reasonably confident that as conscious cognitive creatures, that we are HAVING experiences based on our ability to perceive. Acute perceptual disabilities caused by disease or injury to the brain, and heightened perceptual capacities such as the many varieties of synesthesia, represent the low and high range of quality possible in our experiences, and to some degree, we generally rely on the agreement of our fellow sentient beings to assist us in gauging the reliability of our interpretations, along with whatever previous experiences we might have available to us in memory. It is clear that we each enjoy a unique perspective as an independent observer of our own experiences, and that we interpret them from a relatively narrow subjective viewpoint most of the time. Not surprisingly, we may occasionally find ourselves as the lone possessor of a solitary interpretation of a particular subjective experience, as with personal trauma, as well as sharing what might ultimately turn out to be a mistaken view of the ideas and experiences of thousands of other confident perceivers, as with those who believed that the earth was flat, or that the earth was the center of the universe.
Numerous considerations including social, cultural, biological, and specific neurological components can contribute to the general run of experience for most of us, but our individual interpretations of our unique experience of existence, while clearly difficult to verify subjectively for those who are NOT us, even when they are standing right next to us, rely on what can constitute a remarkably different perspective, and in spite of possessing a similar range of shared experiences and education, may seem quite out-of-the-ordinary to other sentient beings.
“Just as the imagination employs figures in order to conceive of bodies, so, in order to frame ideas of spiritual things, the intellect makes use of certain bodies which are perceived through the senses, such as wind and light…The wind signifies spirit; movement with the passage of time signifies life; light signifies knowledge; heat signifies love; and instantaneous activity signifies creation…It may seem surprising to find weighty judgements in the writings of the poets rather than the philosophers. The reason is that the poets were driven to write by enthusiasm and the force of imagination. We have within us the sparks of knowledge, as in a flint: philosophers extract them through reason, but poets force them out through the sharp blows of the imagination, so that they shine more brightly.” — Olympian Matters, Rene Descartes, 1619
Think of the varying degrees of culture shock when an individual is transplanted from a previously narrow or isolated environment of a rural character to a big city or urban center. The individual, having developed keen instincts in the previous realm of experience may find themselves virtually without adequate resources to make sense of the altered environment. Likewise, a sophisticated city dweller who handles the intricacies of city life and who may have a fine command of the urban environment, might find a remote rural landscape equally challenging. In each case, the perceptual and cognitive apparatus are fully functional, but require an additional number of experiences before comprehension can catch up. Imagine now how my own limited experience of the world thwarted my early attempts at comprehending the “eruption of unconscious contents,” (Jung) in 1973. Is it any wonder that I turned to philosophy, poetry, and investigation of the whole range of human thought and experience through the ages in order to come to terms with what happened?
If it is true, as my research and contemplation of the subject of the subjective experience of the human version of consciousness suggests, that consciousness is a manifestation and an expression of a non-physical reality which is the source of all life in the universe, and if we are able to affirm consciousness as a means through which we are able to gain access to the transcendent source of our awareness, aside from the many intellectual and spiritual benefits such knowledge might provide, it may provide, among other things, a source of genuine solace for all sentient beings who might be facing their own mortality or that of another. Reviewing my ideas on the spiritual aspects of existence generally and of consciousness particularly, it seems more urgent than ever to attend to the conclusions they infer for me, based on these ideas.
In the next few weeks, I will be posting some of the foundational ideas and conclusions drawn from the years of developing myself as a philosopher, poet, and serious student of the science of consciousness, and hope to expand the conversation throughout the new year here at WordPress.com.