2. About the formation of consciousness
2.9. Lessons about the process of consciousness
Brain, mind, and consciousness are subjects that are not very well understood by science to this very day. Different approaches are competing for attention but none is truly satisfactory. In my personal search to make sense of consciousness I borrow elements of some of these approaches while integrating them in a holistic or set theory vision that is animated by the idea that the dance between polarities is what creates the reality of any entity.
The subjects are so vast and fraud with so many ideological a priori that I feel it is necessary to start by clarifying the context that shapes our perception.
2.9.1. The context of human perception
On July 7 2012 a group of neuroscientists meeting at the University of Cambridge signed a document entitled “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals” declaring that nonhuman animals, “including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses are conscious” (1).
Notwithstanding this act of bravery, in the general context of human exceptionalism, there is still no unanimity about what consciousness means. Some scientists say that consciousness is about the understanding that you exist while labeling the fact as being aware of one's existence or self-awareness.
The scientific approach in the field of consciousness is characterized by the presence of many hypothesis but very few certainties. Focusing always deeper in the matter that constitutes the brain is certainly delivering an observable field of particles, neurons, that interact among themselves along synaptic channels. It is also noted that particular human expressions are lightning up some specific areas of the brain. But a model of how the brain works at the micro level is still elusive.
When it comes to the mind uncertainties multiply:
In my mind there is no doubt that 1 and 5 are founded in ideology and have no foundation in reality. 1 is founded in the ideology of materialism. Matter mutates into life as if it was a mechanism that is independent of the universe's working principles. And 5 is founded in religious ideology. Life is created by a chief designer who is, God, the ultimate cause.
2, 3, and 4 offer a richer perspective and it seems to me are also complementary.
I think the sages and animist men of knowledge had a more profound outlook on what consciousness is all about than Modern men of knowledge whose actions are, far too often and mostly unconsciously, being driven by ideologies, and most particularly by individualism that:
Tens of thousands of years earlier the animist men of knowledge had a systemic understanding of the whole of the universe and they knew that all living particles were conscious and equal particles sustaining themselves at the substance of the sub-system earth. So they acted on this knowledge to instill respect, among their fellow tribesmen, for all living species and their environment. Yet this was not a perfect world and tribal societies imposed their footprint on nature as all other species do. But the weight of that foot was very light indeed and remained so at all times. That weight was manageable for the natural processes to absorb. This contrasts with Modernity whose foot is the foot of an elephant in a china store. A few neuroscientists, in 2012, that means during the last 5 minutes on the scale of the long history, discovered that nonhuman animals are conscious and they drafted a declaration on the subject to inform the world but the Western world remains convinced in human exceptionalism also called anthropocentrism.
So we have on one side what Modernity calls “primitive societies” that knew for a fact that all living species were constituted of equal-conscious individual particles and acting on this knowledge they showed respect and empathy for their human brethren and for all individual particles of all other species. And then on the other side we have Modernity and its societies that are still living in the certainty of human exceptionalism while a few of their neuro-scientists had their conscience strained recently after zooming in the brains of other species.
This begs the question who is more advanced among the moderns and the primitives and who has the highest consciousness about what reality is all about? This question naturally implies that for all the sophistication of our modern knowledge it looks like humanity may be facing a wall at the end of a one way street. The arrow of time is indicating a general direction followed by life towards increased levels of consciousness and more complexity but history also indicates that:
But let's come back to the conclusion of “2.2.2. the emergence of awareness” where I stated that the true nature of consciousness is progressive like on a ladder where each level represents a distinct height.
2.9.2. From relative to absolute consciousness
The ground level on the path toward consciousness represents its emerging state while each level up represents the absorption of a higher form of knowledge:
This progressive nature of consciousness suggests that different mechanisms are at play at different stages of the development of consciousness. In other words what I mean to say is that things just don't happen like that by accident. There are mechanisms at play that have their own reasons to push for higher levels of consciousness:
The gradual expansion of knowledge gives rise to an increasing consciousness. But this process indicates that knowledge is relative because it is always subject to revision in light of newly discovered things.
Trouble occurs when the worldview shared within a society presents itself as the ultimate truth and the powers that be feeling threatened by new “knowings” use force to conserve the status-quo. A conflict then arises between knowledge expansion and that worldview. Such a conflict is one particular expression that eventually arises from a particular set of interrelations between the “conservation-change polarities” evoked in the graph of the cycle of life.
But what I want to retain at this stage is the inescapable conclusion that the knowledge generated within the scope of a far remote sub-system of the whole is inevitably relative. In the case of humanity the whole is the universe which generates the absolute knowledge that governs all its sub-ensembles and their parts. But that absolute knowledge remains largely unattainable to the observation of the parts of the sub-systems of the whole. Consciousness is the process of conquering the different unknown strata of that absolute knowledge and the highest stage of consciousness is “universal consciousness” which gives to read the mind and see through the eyes of the universe.
“The cosmos as a whole, is prior to its parts in the sense that every proper part of the cosmos depends on the whole, asymmetrically. On this view, the one is the ground of all things, all concrete entities, while the many exist in it, and through it, as “moments”, namely, as events of various durations, and as process configurations, i.e., systems or objects, of varying scales and of varying degrees of stability. Making the whole prior to the parts reverses our conception of which entities are basic, and it also implies that no part, big or small, is either immutable or separable from the rest of nature.” (3)
This description of 'cosmopsychism' by Itay Shani has the merit to situate what is the chicken and what is the egg between the whole and its parts. In substance the egg is the parts that constitute no more than fleeting localized “moments” of the whole. In that sense the whole trumps its parts. This questions the ultimate validity of approaching reality from its basic constitutive parts as science tries to do. If for every part within the universe the ultimate reality is the whole then it goes without saying that trying to understand the working of the whole through the study of its localized basic constitutive parts as science tries to do is bound to fail for the simple reason that these parts are no more than “fleeting localized moments of the whole” which means that they are bound to change:
Starting from the study of its localized basic constitutive parts, as science is doing, certainly projects some light on what is going on locally. But what is going on locally is merely the local manifestation of the actions of the whole as being expressed in matter, energy and eventually in consciousness. In other words these local manifestations are no more than the localized ripples and waves on the ocean of reality projected in time and space by the actions of the whole. At the least this suggests:
But to possibly grasp what the universe is all about we would need to be able “to read its mind and see through its eyes”. We know that the universe as a whole is the ontological ultimate reality or better the all encompassing set that constitutes the absolute reality of all the parts within that set. We know that the universe is growing (expanding) and constantly changing locally to adapt to that growth. Its growth and local changes are not random but resulting from its internal programming. Science succeeds to capture the rules of that programming in their expression as “fleeting localized moments of the whole”. In other words what science succeeds to capture is the localized expression of the universe's actions resulting from its internal programming but not the programming itself. Such a relative knowledge is mostly actionable at the local level. This means that for the parts of the whole at the local level such a relative knowledge procures the working rules and principles that manage all aspects of their daily lives. And so pragmatism encourages the formation and acquisition of relative knowledge.
The internal programming of the universe is what gives it life and shapes its consciousness. As an all encompassing living and conscious ensemble the universe is the absolute reality for all its constitutive parts and its knowledge is the absolute knowledge. In that sense absolute knowledge trumps relative knowledge and as a consequence relative knowledge has to submit to the rules of absolute knowledge in order to avoid the collapse of those who put it into practice. The practice of Modernity is a perfect illustration of this idea. It was so successful that it forgot about the principles enunciated by the absolute knowledge derived from the working of the whole and as a consequence it pulls human societies into the great convergence of its numerous side-effects which ends with the collapse of these societies.
Pragmatism advises citizens to stay clear of absolute knowledge, for, it brings nothing meaningful in the management of their daily lives. Taoism is very clear on that subject. Absolute knowledge has always been the field of research by excellence of the men of knowledge and more particularly of the wisest among them; those who were considered their ultimate wisemen; their sages. So when societies lose their men of knowledge, their sages, they put themselves on a path to extinction.
But can sages, who are also parcels of the whole, possibly read its mind and see through its eyes? In other words could a sage attain full consciousness of the absolute knowledge of the universe?
The “twin-spirits / twin-souls” encounter (4) evoked by the animist tradition certainly leaves some traces of the ultimate animistic wisdom that consisted in reading the universe's mind and seeing through its eyes. But shamanic knowledge transmission has always been a secret domain and the encounter of the twins was so much more secret even than the traditional apprenticeship that it is very unlikely that anything will ever transpire about the end-game of the twins' encounter. According to the legend if the process concluded successfully both twin-souls woman and man of knowledge would have attained universal consciousness.
Cosmopsychism is a relatively new philosophical approach. It argues that (3):
So Cosmopsychism recognizes the absolute (pure) consciousness of the universe that grounds individual consciousness. The Indian tradition traces the fundamental ideas of its civilization to the Vedic literature. “The Vedic system of knowledge appears already to be in place by the time of the R. gveda, conservatively dated to the late third or early second millennia BC” (5).
In “Mathematics of Pure Consciousness” Paul Corazza states that “Adi Shankara, the foremost exponent of Advaita Vedanta, declared 'Brahman alone is real, the world is mithya (not independently existent), and the individual self is nondifferent from Brahman.' A fundamental question is, How does the diversity of existence appear when Brahman alone is? The Yoga Vasistha declares, 'The world appearance arises only when the infinite consciousness sees itself as an object.' “ (5)
In Vedic tradition enlightenment—higher states of consciousness--are the goal of education. So here is our second example of an old knowledge system that teaches how to read the mind of the universe while seeing through its eyes.
The very early origin of the Vedic texts suggest that this system of thought was an extension of animism as was also the case for the Traditional Culture of China. This encourages us to come back to the “The 'twin-spirits / twin-souls' encounter” (4) evoked by the animist tradition of becoming one with the universe through Universal Consciousness.
How did ancient animist sages understand this universal consciousness? I'll come back to this question in “2.9.4. Life comes with respnsibilities”.
2.9.3. The absolute consciousness of the universe
After the formation of empires in the East, in China and India, the men of knowledge explained that everything derives from the whole or the one ensemble that contains the whole of reality. The knowledge about reality was thus logically thought to reside in the whole ensemble and from there flowing back to all its particles. In the Middle-East another idea took root. It was considered that the working of reality was contained in the basic fundamental particles of matter. In other words the basic fundamental particles (elementary particles) contain not only the explanation for the reality of their own being and working they also contain the explanation for the reality of all entities. In this model all entities are indeed being conceived of as being derived from these elementary particles. That means that the working of these particles would then contain the explanation for the working of the whole universe.
The East privileged a holistic approach to knowledge while the West privileged an atomistic approach. Then in Modernity the reason at work within capital focused exclusively on the atomistic view. Results came in extremely fast. The industrial phase of capitalism was followed by exponential economic growth that unleashed an exponential growth of population.
These two graphs indicate that the exponential growth in population starts with the industrial revolution. The starting phase includes Europe and the US followed by Japan then the Asian Tigers in the sixties. This makes up just over 10% of the world population. But with TV and cinema spreading worldwide the US model of life blows up the minds of the citizens of the rest of the world. “The great growth periods of the past were matched by giant increases in steel production from newly industrializing nations. China’s industrialization was just the latest, greatest example of how economic growth is driven by fixed asset investment.” (5) The conversion of China to Modernity helped to increased the world's GDP by 50%! See following graph.
But the rest of the world is still in the preparation stage of its conversion into Modernity. This means that some 70% of the world population (mostly India, Africa, and the Muslim world) are eagerly adjusting their local context to convert to Modernity and consequently the World GDP has in store the promise to further triple, quadruple, or more in size! But is this a sustainable proposition? I don't deny the intrinsic right of all the people of the world to have access to a Western lifestyle. What I question is the realism to expand a Western lifestyle to the whole world. How could a finite earth that already exhausted many resources, to provide its lifestyle to the West, procure what would be needed to provide the whole world with a similar lifestyle?
There is no doubt that, measured at its own standard, Modernity has been a thorough success. But now, that this becomes obvious to all, problems are setting in. A series of crises erupted that each individually has the potential to destroy life on earth. But there is worse. These crisis are converging and interacting amongst themselves which accelerates their impact:
At this stage the question that pops in my mind is the following. Can success possibly become excessive and provoke the opposite of what was hoped for? The answer to that question is a resounding yes.
We have seen in “2.9.2. From absolute to relative knowledge” that the knowledge, generated from the local expressions of the actions unleashed by the whole universe, is relative at best. It is indeed relative to the local context where the expressions of the actions of the whole are manifesting themselves but it is mostly nonoperational in the contexts of higher ensembles and more particularly in the context of the whole and one universe itself.
The problem with atomism, when united with the reason at work within capital, is that its success blindfolded humanity to the relative nature of its knowledge while leading it to forget about the absolute knowledge of the universe. In other words knowledge generated in a local context is operational at transforming that same context but such transformations need to remain compatible with the working of the whole. What we are learning today in Late-Modernity, at the price of our societies' collapse, is that the application of relative knowledge, out of the bounds of what is acceptable to the absolute knowledge of the universe, is a deadly proposition.
We know that societies and civilizations are mortal. They are living entities that die in the same way as the individuals and when they die their citizens die with them, or fall back to an earlier form of societal organization, or immerse themselves in other societies or civilizations through migration. But today after the West imposed Modernity, in a sheer totalitarian fashion, to the whole world we discover that this worldview is bringing the world on the brink of societal collapse which could possibly lead to the extinction of humanity as a specie. This would be the ultimate price our species could possibly have to pay for having defied the working of our one universe.
Was the risk worth it?
Having said that; the fact is that we are still here. Whatever the outcome of the game of life may be in the future we continue to live in the present. I feel that we need to come back to our senses and finally recognize that the absolute knowledge and consciousness of the universe trumps the relative knowledge of science. The whole is prime. The parts are depending on the whole. This means that we have to integrate science within the absolute knowledge that our universe puts at the disposal of our men of knowledge.
2.9.4. Life comes with responsibilities
The principle of life is contained in the consciousness of the universe. What is not in its consciousness has no chance at all to ever emerge. In other words what is deemed possible in the whole, life for example, will eventually emerge in its sub-systems. But there is no guarantee that this will be the case because the sub-system has its own internal arrangement. A number of conditions have indeed to coalesce inside the sub-ensemble for the possibility of life, that is present in the parent ensemble, to possibly emerge in that sub-set. Once life has emerged it evolves within the contextual conditions of the set that contains it. But this evolution has to remain within the bounds of the workable within the systemic environment procured by the higher containing sets and ultimately by the universe or the ultimate set.
Life can't escape the primacy of the ultimate knowledge and consciousness of the universe. So to thrive life has to fulfill its responsibilities towards the whole. Nor biological, nor societal, evolution is random indeed. Humanity makes choices, via its societies, that engage the citizens' lives forward. The same goes for all species. Those choices have consequences. Therein lies the responsibility of all species to conform the application of their relative knowledge to the absolute knowledge of the universe. This is indeed the condition to go forward on the arrow of time. Being unable to conform one's relative knowledge to the absolute knowledge puts that species on a path of decline that eventually concludes in, its demise, its extinction.
The universe somehow does not care if a species goes extinct. It has the luxury of time. Species don't have that luxury. Extinction means the game of life is over. Other species arise and eventually conform to the path of the absolute and they survive. So life contains its code of conduct that imposes the conformity of the relative knowledge of a species to the absolute knowledge of the universe. That's the responsibility of a species. But does the story end there?
In 1.2. I wrote: “After every spirit-mates have split into the spirit-twins of a category/specie and these spirit-twins all reach full consciousness they fuse with their arch-spirit offering it the gift of the sum of their full consciousness. The end of this process sees the arch-spirit gaining complete consciousness of the condition of its species or category. In this process the species-category also reaches full consciousness of the fact that the whole is the total inter-relatedness between all its particles as well as the inter-relatedness between its particles and the particles of all species-categories in their environmental context. After gaining full consciousness, of how their species-category operate, the arch-spirits gain access to the universal-spirit and offer it the gift of that consciousness. This is when the feed-back loop between that specie-category ensemble and the whole is completed and the interaction flows uninterrupted forever which means that the feed-back loop sets in perpetual motion the further exchanges between the whole and the particles of that specific species/category. ”
This was the view expressed by the rare true sages among animist men of knowledge. But tribal life and animism have all but disappeared from the face of the earth. Sure there remain pockets of people here and there that still practice the traditional apprenticeship and so we might hope that the knowledge is somehow preserved. But if that knowledge was miraculously preserved here or there the socializing among men of knowledge, that led to the consecration of some of them as sages, did not possibly survive. This socializing was how the men of knowledge were sharing the evolution of the “twin-spirits / twin-souls” encounter and how they came eventually to recognize some of them as sages after that encounter completed successfully. It is a practical certainty that this kind of socializing has completely vanished and with it the recognition of animist sages.
But while we can only deplore that loss the question remains. Does such a kind of practice still exist? I mean the practice to try to close the consciousness feed-back loop between a species-category ensemble and the whole? I'm not limiting my question to animist practitioners. Such a practice or similar was also a practice in Vedic and Taoist traditions. Could it still be alive among their men of knowledge?
This question, in my humble opinion, is perhaps the most important question we face today. Knowing, if such practices succeeded to attain their promises to close the consciousness feed-back loop between the set constituted by the human species and the whole universe, is vital for our species. I'm well aware that answering such a question is the domain of real men of knowledge but where are they? Even if the animist “twin-spirits / twin-souls” encounter, and the Vedic search for pure consciousness, gave way only to human constructions, at the least, the fabrication of such constructions has to be seen as a trial at modeling an abstraction from the working of reality that is based on the long haul observation of the rhythms of nature.
Such narrative models are not being built from the randomness of the imagination of the men of knowledge but contain time distilled truths about the working of reality. The fact that animism arrived at conclusions, that were largely similar everywhere on earth, is proof of the validity of its long haul time distilled truths. Once adopted by human societies the perceived truth of such narratives was steering societal behaviors to stay clear of such behaviors that appeared to be not workable over the long haul. That was the gift of animism that some power societies wisely made theirs and incrementally developed further into animism+ philosophies.
2.9.5. species, societies and individuals
The worldview shared by the citizens of a society is what glues that society into a cohesive whole. Without such a cohesiveness societies are observed to collapse and their citizens die. Some might eventually survive by migrating and integrating another society but generally only a minority succeeds such a feat. The consequence of societal collapse is thus tremendous:
A worldview must thus be considered as the material that forms the pillars sustaining a societal house. When the worldview of a society weakens the societal pillars start to crack and the societal house soon collapses.
I will devote a complete chapter 3 to “ culture, worldviews, and civilization” later on but I want to conclude the present chapter by relating the links between:
As we have seen in “Part 2. Theoretical considerations. Chapter 1. About the formation of human knowledge” the societal production of knowledge and its acquisition by the citizens is a field that received vastly different answers from one worldview to another. For evident reasons of limiting the scope of this text I'll limit the comparison to the differences between the Modern worldview and Taoism the traditional worldview of China.
Let's start with Modernity which, however fragile it may be nowadays as a worldview, still shapes many of the beliefs of the citizens in modern societies. For Modernity knowledge has to be spread among all citizens. In other words modern societies present themselves as democracies that recognize the individual as the pillar of society and as such the individual should have access to the highest form of knowledge acquisition, and should be free to participate in designating representatives to take in charge society's decision making process. But what is left out of this idealistic presentation is the societal reality. The characteristics describing democracy are not an ideal in itself. They are nothing else than what is required by the economic system, set in place by capital, to possibly run:
Compare this to the worldview of Taoism upon which rest the whole edifice of Chinese society. Knowledge acquisition is the preserve of men of knowledge who act as society's knowledge vessels. The practice will be expanded with Confucius who proposed a system of knowledge acquisition based on the knowledge acquired by these men of knowledge and made available to whomever wants to learn. The learning is sanctioned by a system of exams and those succeeding to pass these exams were then proposed to perform the decision making at the administrative level of their successful exam. This is called meritocracy and is still applied nowadays in China albeit not in the most reliable fashion. Comparing the result of democracy and meritocracy one is left with the unmistakable conclusion that the decision making process of democracy is very weak to say the least. Democracy could never have mustered the success of the economic reforms in China that meritocracy so brilliantly steered. This will be debated and many will downplay the importance of the role of meritocracy in this economic success. Others will downplay the success itself as if it had been unfolding by miracle. But the facts on the ground are so powerful that for those who know these facts there is simply no discussion possible. China has proven the prowess of meritocracy; point – end of discussion. This does not mean that China's meritocracy is without flaws. It is indeed filled with flaws but its architecture allows it nevertheless to gradually correct these flaws. Now a big society's decision making system will always rely on power to implement its decisions and this unmistakably will always attract the interest of opportunistic individuals or groups that will try to manipulate the system at their advantage while fostering the ego and individualism of those who detain the keys of the decision making process. In the Tao Te Ching Laozi answered these short comings by proposing that the best society is a small society. He had in mind the memory of tribal non-power societies whose decisions were taken at the unanimity and without the need for any institution of power. Taoism, in Laozi's vision, is indeed derived from animism and he regarded it as the ideal societal system. Concerning knowledge Taoism is indeed a pragmatic compendium derived from the absolute knowledge of the universe. The Tao is viewed as the way that the systemic reality or the absolute universal reality drives all there is in the universe. So the highest form of knowledge is to recognize the Tao and to surf on it without resistance. The Tao is meant to instruct people how to conduct their lives and manage their societies. Laozi considered that societies should not encourage people to acquire knowledge but let them free to behave by themselves. Spreading the acquisition of knowledge, says the Tao Te Ching, is like forcing people to learn what they will have to obey in their life and as a consequence people lose they spontaneity and start to calculate how to obtain advantages. Non learning and non action was conceived as the better path to consciousness. In other words Taoism teaches that people should learn by themselves and not following an imposed creed. And at the image of animism knowledge production should then be in the hands of the men of knowledge who people can consult when they need some information or some help.
This short presentation on the differentiation between Modernity and Taoism, about the role of knowledge and the exercise of power, could not have given a starker image of otherworldliness. It's not that I want to paint otherworldliness. It's simply that, in the West and in China, the reality of life culturally and societally paints itself as a different world.
The lesson we should retain here is that different contexts shape different forms of knowledge and this results in vastly different forms of individual consciousness and different forms of societal binding.
Taoism breeds people who are firmly conscious of the primacy of the absolute knowledge of the universe over the relative knowledge being produced in its sub-systems. Being conscious of that they feel free in a fundamental way to be and act how they want amidst the context of their sub-system while their society is being administered by the most qualified among them. Modernity on the other hand breeds obeying automats who have no clue at all about their living in a sub-system of the whole universe while their society is administered by representatives of capital holders. By privileging relative knowledge while willingly ignoring absolute knowledge the West has assiduously albeit unconsciously shaped the endgame of Modernity. Late-Modernity is the era when societal collapse unfolds!
The revised graph given in 2.8 may help us understand where the West went wrong.
The interactions visualized in arrows 2 and 3 have been ignoring 4. In other words consciousness forgot the necessary connection to systemic reality and in consequence increased complexity became detached from the path to the whole and started to contradict the working of systemic reality. But it all started with a decrease in the interactions represented by arrow 7. In other words the process goes like this:
But how does such a set of principles fare when put in application in a real case study? Let's apply it to climate change for example but we could as well apply it, with the same results, to whichever of the other crises that plague Late-Modernity:
This set of rules induced from the graph of the cycle of life indicates the ultimate importance societies play as intermediaries between species and their individual particles. This will be the subject of chapter 4 in this series.
1. “Self-Awareness with a Simple Brain” By Ferris Jabr, 2012-10-18, in Scientific American, Mind, Vol.23, Issue 5.
2. Sapience. A concept introduced by George Mobus
3. “Cosmopsychism: A Holistic Approach to the Metaphysics of Experience” by Itay Shani
4. Twin-spirits / twin-souls
5. 2005 Australia's Treasury Department
6. “On the Science of Consciousness in Ancient India” by Subhash C. Kak. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, LA. Published by Indian Journal of History of Science, vol. 32, 1997, 105-120
7. “Yoga Vasistha in Vasistha’s Yoga” by Valmiki. Venkatesananda (trans.). State University of New York Press. 1993. Cited in “Mathematics of Pure Consciousness” by Paul Corazza. Department of Mathematics Maharishi University of Management