Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think is an essay by Bernardo Kastrup posted in Scientific American. It’s based on a paper published in Europe’s Journal of Psychology.
In the article, he makes an excellent point that scientific research is leaning on our subjective experiences of reflection on consciousness to define what consciousness is. In other words, they’re using content to define the container. Where we’re putting our attention does not define what is having the experience.
Can you define a glass from the juice that’s in it? Does replacing the juice with beer change the glass? Certainly there are things the juice or the attention suggest about the container. But they don’t define it.
As a result, he observes that childhood development research is defining the rise of metacognition (recognizing we are conscious) as the rise of consciousness. It’s a basic flaw in thinking our brain physiology produces consciousness so there must be a point when it’s mature enough to show up.
Our physiology does affect our experience of consciousness but that doesn’t make it the source any more than sunglasses are the source of sunlight.
Bernardo suggests that what arises in youth is “a metacognitive configuration of preexisting consciousness” rather than consciousness itself. Noticing we’re aware is not the origin of awareness, just a recognition of it.
There is a similar issue in research on enlightenment. Scientists often focus on subjective experiences – the content – rather than what is shifting behind that. Effects rather than cause. That orientation can lead people to chase experiences rather than what will support real shifts in being. For example, I’ve been told by a scientist that drugs and biofeedback can cause enlightenment, guaranteed. What they’re actually causing is categories of experience. Enlightenment is not an experience. It is a change in what is experiencing.
Bernardo also makes an interesting observation about how we “reverberate” between experiencing and recognizing we’re experiencing. The second he defines as a meta-conscious process that uses re-representation to reflect on actual experience.
Buckminster Fuller spoke of how we are “special case,” meaning we experience a sequence of one-thing-at-a-time experiences. We don’t see all of it at once, just a series of points-of-view. But again that’s in the mechanism of experience not what is experiencing. It is the focus of attention rather than consciousness itself.
When witnessing (the observer mode) comes on-line, we can then notice both the conscious observer and the sequential content of experience. Then the dynamic becomes much more obvious. But only in Unity are the full dynamics of consciousness revealed. And only in Brahman can we know the source of consciousness.
And yet, whatever the stage, when we’re focused on a task, it absorbs our attention. We’re in one-thing-at-a-time experiencing. What awakening changes is our relationship with that. Shifting into the experiencer means we cease being caught or lost in that focus. But consciousness itself doesn’t change, and the process continues to work the same way. (although our attention becomes more potent)
I’m pleased to see an article like this in a popular science magazine. Bravo Bernardo!