Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think

Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think

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.

I met Bernardo at SAND15 2 years ago. I’ve posted related articles like his talk on panpsychism and a discussion on BATGAP. He approaches the nature of consciousness from logic.

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!

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  1. jane mullins

    Hi David
    Currently reading your new book which i am really enjoying btw.

    Bernardo has also written a paper arguing that there could be no such thing as being “unconscious” and that unconsciousness, as we commonly use the term, could just mean the lack of “self reflective consciousness” (and also the lack of accesible memory formation). There is also a discussion on Bernardo’s ‘Metaphysical Speculations’ forum about anaesthesia and how this is often experienced as the feeling of time almost stopping (not like waking up in the morning when we generally have a sense of a long time passing since going to sleep, although we may not remember our dreams).

    Bernardo, i think, may argue that during anaesthesia, we continue to experience, but just dont have any memories of this upon awakening (similar to how we all dream, but many of us do not recall our dreams). Somehow, whilst this may be the case, i dont find this very reassuring!

    I must say the question of general anaesthesia (or indeed coma) does concern me as the materialist implication of this is that being put under general anaesthesia is similar to death, with the exception that one doesnt wake up!! Ofcourse i have read the NDE accounts of people dying under anaesthesia and having OBE’s etc., although somehow i dont find these accounts particularly compelling.

    In your book and on your blog you discuss in detail the ‘awakening process’ and describe how, one can be aware during deep sleep. I wondered what your thoughts were about general anaesthesia – if you were anaesthetised (or, indeed, someone further along than you on the path of awakening) do you think you (or they) would maintain the witnessing state? Are there any accounts of this (i couldn’t find any by googling)?
    Many thanks David

    1. Thanks, Jane

      Well – there’s layers too it. Lack of awareness can be pre-conscious in that it becomes conscious as soon as we notice it. Or it may be sub-conscious like blood flow. Or it may reside in shadow where it can’t easily be seen, what we might call unconscious.

      And yet simultaneously, from another level, it’s all contained in consciousness so is inherently conscious. But is it conscious to itself? This is what makes one thing awake and another not.

      This is something of a limitation of logic when it’s driven only by reference to states of experience.

    2. On the question of anesthesia. I’ve seen examples of people experiencing awakeness when under. But as above, there’s layers to it.

      For example, someone witnessing deep sleep unexpectedly can be disturbed they can’t move the body. There can be a similar example with being put under. Or there can be an awakeness that doesn’t include the drugged body, so time would seem to fly by. It depends what values or layers are awake.

      You can’t discount the effect the drugs have on the physiology. Does it put just the body but not the mind or awareness asleep? Or both body and mind? Without mind, there is no sensory input. There are various ways of looking at it.

      Time is an effect of the process of experience so our experience of time changes as we change our relationship to how we’re experiencing. The watched pot vs absorbed in doing, for example.

      I wrote an article awhile back about what is similar and different between waking up and death.

      A friends of mines mother died in a coma and didn’t realize she’d died. But once it was pointed out to her, she transitioned.

      So yeah – some do have awareness during anesthesia but it can vary what is aware. Similarly, some do have a conscious death and some less so.

      I’ve not been put under so can’t speak directly to this but I have talked to a couple of people who have who were witnessing. Both maintained awareness but it varied some and the circumstances were quite different.

      The real question with witnessing is continuity. The sense of Self never ends, whatever the state. Clear awakeness during sleep generally needs a very rested physiology. It’s much more likely on long retreats, for example.

      Make sense?

      1. Celeste

        And from a medical point of view, Doctors know what to give the patient in anesthesia to make them forget the experience. Midazolam or Versed is a drug that can be given in small amounts and it is considered to act like “truth serum,” in larger amounts, it is an amnesiac and makes you forget everything. And then there is a drug, Ketamine that is called a “dissociative” where you leave the body. Other drugs given in anesthesia can make the muscles totally relax yet the mind is awake. This is a terrifying experience if other drugs aren’t given for pain or amnesia. I feel it is really hard to talk about consciousness with anesthesia because of the drugs used. Frances Bennett talked about it and I feel she probably has more awareness than the doctors about it.

        1. Thanks for the feedback, Celeste. I saw some debate about the reality of awakeness during anesthesia prior. Clearly, understanding has come a long ways since.

          I’d agree though. When consciousness isn’t understood and is assumed to be an effect of the physiology, errors can be made.

          It is possible to witness anesthesia much like deep sleep but the latter is a normal state whereas anesthesia is an altered state. As you note, it depends how it is altered and how we’re responding to that as to what the experience will be.

  2. Davji

    As “you” know,
    Seeking with mind reveals finer and finer layers of mind, of concepts, frameworks, ideas.

    The beautiful mind cannot fathom its true Nature and in turn, those brilliant minds in pursuit of the Infinite will continue to slice the finite in smaller and smaller pieces. They cannot conceptualize something that is neither object concept, or experience.

    Separation cannot “understand”
    or experience Unity; Reality beyond words.
    The True Nature of words and concepts is not a strategy or finer point of view.

    It is so beautiful to see this article dropped into the very heart of Mind. Logic as mantra.
    Maybe at some point, because of this, a beautiful mind will stop, for one split second and
    Be gone…

    Thanks for sharing this supreme Dji.

  3. Baz

    Your average scientist has several fixed ideas in place as givens before they start their conclusions. From our point of view this puts them barking up the wrong tree from the outset!
    I think these are:
    People are separate individuals that perceive with eyes etc and brain
    The world is solid and in 3D and out there.

    Thus the article states that when something is perceived we feel also that one is perceiving and we flip flop with this.
    What is missed is that “I am perceiving”/”someone is percieving”/”one is perceiving ” is just a thought: when what is actually seen is *perception* and *there is perception* …there is no author of the perception…there’s actually no “one” there to be seen that’s percieving – as we know!

    ..whether or not “there is perception” is a thought proper or a concurrent recognition – I am not sure..?! But certainly there’s no one percieving ! Right? Kind

    It is however very encouraging that The Consciousness Problem is creeping into mainstream science more and more. But we will still find the best alignment with Quantum Physicists while Psychiatry remains rooted in the 19th Century!

    1. Hi Baz
      Scientists are trained in the modes of thinking expected of them. The scientific method itself is recommended by some spiritual teachers for sharp discrimination.

      Most scientists experience the world as solid and real and hence subscribe to a materialist perspective. Where it falls down is in not recognizing they have that bias and that there are other ways of seeing.

      I’ll disagree there is no author to the thought or perception. The issue is mis-attributing authorship. The ego maintains its sense of control by claiming authorship for experiences that arise.

      From the perspective here, consciousness has a 3-fold dynamic – the perceiver, the process of perception (what is actually doing), and the perceived. Ego gets confused which it is. (it’s none)

      With first awakening, we wake up to ourselves as the perceiver. With Unity, we wake up to being the percieved. And in Refined Unity, the process. But still, they’re not “mine”, it’s about being not possessing.

      Articles like this explore it more:

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