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What Is Consciousness?

Inviting the Subconscious Introduction
When we talk of consciousness there are several things we can say in order to define the word. Being awake and aware of our surroundings is to be conscious. Using this definition we are including animals other than humans, because they share this kind, or level of consciousness. Humans are said to have a higher level of consciousness than all other known creatures on Earth however.
One reason for this is that we are self-aware. I can see myself as an individual, be aware of my identity, and create a self-image. I can also compare myself to, and consider myself separate from, everyone and everything else. We are aware of our surroundings in a way other animals are not. We see beauty in sunsets, landscapes and wildlife. We can see, and act on, the possibility of manipulating our environment to a degree that goes far beyond anything other species do.
Most definitions of consciousness include ‘being awake’ as mine did, although we are actually still conscious, to some extent, when we are asleep. Loud enough noises, bright lights and other sensory information can all wake us up if necessary. So sleep is obviously not the same thing as total unconsciousness.
We also talk of the sub-conscious, levels of consciousness of which we are not aware in the way we are aware of our everyday thoughts and sensory input. It has been argued that ‘deeper’ levels of consciousness are where instinctive and habitual behaviour patterns reside. These patterns may guide aspects of our behaviour and attitudes without us being entirely, or even at all, aware of them. Our sleeping state and those elements of consciousness of which we are not always aware are nevertheless, still aspects of consciousness.

Theories of Consciousness
There are many theories as to what constitutes human consciousness (e.g. see alt.consciousness). Is it the brain? Is it mind? If so what is the mind? The brain is a part of the physical body, receiving information from the senses through the nervous system. The accumulation of this information and what we do with it is usually held to be the realm of the mind.
Much has been written on the subject of the mind and human individuality. Rene Descartes argued that the human ability to think is what makes us unique and that indeed we are the mind, rather than the physical body. The separation of mind and body is thought by some to actually be a separation of soul, or spirit, and body, or one of the various possible combinations of these other than physical aspects of being human and the body. For those who choose to believe any of these ‘dualist’ ideas there is no problem, especially if they bring in ‘God’ as the solution to any unexplainable aspects of their belief. For anyone who does not accept dualism of any sort an acceptable explanation for the apparent dichotomy of mind and body is needed. The mind, whatever it is, must operate within consciousness; we have to be conscious to have a mind. Which brings us back to ‘what is consciousness?’ One possibility is that human consciousness is the world looking back at itself.

The World Realises Itself?
Observing how we exist tells us a couple of things about ourselves.
a) We live by eating, drinking and breathing. We breathe the air, the Earth’s atmosphere. We drink water, (and a host of other liquids containing water, but it’s water we have to have). We eat various foods, all of which arise from the Earth. In this sense, physically, we are the world. We arise from the earth, we are part of it.

b) We are aware of the world in a seemingly unique way as explained above.
Given these facts can we say that human consciousness is the world looking back at itself?

Krishnamurti and Torey
For Krishnamurti, ‘we are the world’. (Does he mean psychologically as well as physically? Actually physically will do, since, for Krishnamurti, we do not exist psychologically, except as a self-perpetuating illusion). ‘We are the world’, as a statement, suggests that any separation that is felt between ‘me’ and the rest of the world is incorrect or an illusion. The fact is though that many, perhaps most, people feel this separation to be the case. (See above, Descartes, etc.)
In ‘The Crucible of Consciousness’ by Zoltan Torey (1999, Oxford University Press), one explanation for the apparent mind and body dichotomy is put forward. Torey suggests that as well as our awareness of the external world, through sensory information; we also have awareness of this information internally as the content of our consciousness. This does not mean we have two distinct types of awareness; rather we have developed a way of using our awareness other than for simply observing incoming sensory data.

The Psychological 'I'
Memories, ideas and experience as it happens can be combined within our awareness, or consciousness, to produce ‘thinking’. (Many, probably correctly, hold this ability to be responsible for Man’s dominance of his world).
This different, inward looking, way of being aware causes the apparent mind/body dichotomy. It gives us a sense of something within, other than our physical being, which ‘has’ this awareness. This ‘something’ becomes the ‘me’. This appears to us to be an entity of itself, and one that is separate from everything else it is aware of. It takes on self-interest, puts itself first, and becomes the human ego, as we know it. From this initial split fragmentation occurs, the ‘me’ appears to be the ‘thinker’ separate from the thought, the ‘observer’ separate from the observed. (As Krishnamurti has often stated in his teaching).
In actuality however, there is only awareness, looking both inwardly and outwardly. That which is aware is our physical self, through the senses, the nervous system and the brain, which are part of it. Therefore if we are the world physically, and we obviously are, then it follows that we are the world psychologically, since what we think of as our psyche, or mind, or soul, is simply an aspect of our awareness. (In other words we are, as Krishnamurti has said, psychologically nothing, there is no psychological self). Human awareness arises from the physical body, which in turn arises from the world.
Consciousness is the world looking back at itself.

We are the world. If we want to see why the world, especially in the sense of human society, is as it is, we need look no further than ourselves. (Krishnamurti’s statement ‘the observer is the observed’ is meant literally. There is no observer there is only observation. It is simply the case that observation includes the awareness that it is observing).
There is still of course a purpose for the processes we conceive of as the mind. It is the central position, and continuous nature of, these processes, and the sense that we are these processes, that changes when and if these facts concerning our true nature are actualised within us.
Hence Krishnamurti’s statement that to change the world we need first and last to change ourselves is seen to be a fact.

© Dave Haynes 2001


Prince & Magician/Index
Patterning and Consciousness
Epimestology of Science
Practical Choiceless Awareness