What is Consciousness?
Consciousness is the essence of being aware and to realise the world around us. It is the window through which we understand our environment emotionally, artistically, scientifically, and spiritually. It is the state of awareness of an external object or something within the self. It is the ability to feel, to experience and a sense of selfhood at any given period.
What we know so far about consciousness
Philosophers have studied the mind for centuries but have not been able to fully grasp the phenomenon of consciousness. Neuroscience in the recent years has made strides into understanding how the mind works. Here are some theories:
Cogito ergo sum
The 17th-century philosopher Rene Descartes proposed this theory that translates to “I think therefore I am.” It goes on to say that the mere act of doubting your own existence is enough proof of the reality of your own mind — there must be a thinking entity for there to be this though in the first place. It is not an easy concept to grasp, though.
Correlates of Consciousness
Researchers have been investigating for the last two decades to discover the specific neurones responsible for conscious experience. They have discovered an area of the brain that acts as an on/off switch. This area called claustrum can be electrically activated to instantly turn on the individual to consciousness and back to unconsciousness.
This theory was developed by the Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi. He theorises that consciousness starts with the integrated information, working backwards from here can help understand the physical processes giving rise to the phenomenon. It says that consciousness is an integration of a wide variety of information and the experience cannot be reduced. What you experience happens fully. The brain weaves a lot of complex information from many sensory systems and cognitive processes.
This theory suggests that consciousness operates more like a computer memory which can bring up retained memory even after the experience has passed. The stored memory can be sent to other parts of the brain, and this act of broadcasting information is what represents consciousness.
Even though science has not been able to explain how consciousness originates, we all know it originates from the brain. The how is what no one knows till today, how a subjective consciousness can come from an objective matter.
I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.
— Mahatma Gandhi
Why do we have consciousness?
It is an evolutionary advantage to help distinguish between self and non-self so as to increase survival chances. To anticipate the actions and expectations of others
The Theory of Mind
This is the assumption that others have a mind since man can only assess the existence of their mind by introspection since no one has access to another’s mind. It is base on reciprocal social interaction observed in others and the understanding the emotions and actions of the other. Through this theory, one can attribute mental states of the other person and understand them.
It is an innate potential in primates like humans that needs social experience over many years to develop fully. Different people develop different levels of theory of the mind hence the varying levels of empathy.
In simple terms, it means putting yourself in another person’s shoes, seeing the world from their perspective and acknowledging that they have a viewpoint different from your own.
The development of theory of mind
As identified by Simon Baron-Cohen, infants understand attention in others as early as seven months. This is a critical precursor to developing theory if mind. They already know that seeing is a form of attention when directed at them taking into account the other person’s mental state.
Daniel Dennett defined the intentional stance as an understanding that the other person’s actions are goal-oriented arising from specific beliefs or desires. At the age of 2 to 3, the toddler can discriminate intention and accidental actions. The ability of the infant to imitate another person lies in the theory of mind and some other social-cognitive abilities like empathy.
Around age 2-5 when children are learning a language, they also develop the theory of mind hence it being closely intertwined with language according to a meta-analysis by Milligan, Astington, & Dack, (2007). Children must learn the meaning of words while denoting the mental states of the speaker, therefore, facilitating the development of the theory of mind.
Individuals with a theory of mind impairment can have difficulties seeing phenomena from other perspectives other than their own. They, therefore, have difficulty determining the intentions of others and lack the understanding of the effects of their actions on others. This deficit has been observed in people with disorders like autism, schizophrenia, nonverbal learning disorder and attention deficit disorder.
Neurotoxicity effects of alcohol on the prefrontal cortex part of the brain cause theory of mind impairment and other social-cognitive deficits. Those suffering from major depressive episodes may show deficits in theory of mind decoding, the ability to make use the available information like facial expression, body posture and tone of voice to label mental states of the other person.
Being Conscious vs. Being Aware
Being aware and being conscious are two different concepts even though the words may seem to mean the same thing.
Being aware is a sense of our physical perception; it is a physical-related expression, being aware of reality due to the five sensations, knowledge and cognitive abilities.
Being conscious, on the other hand, is a state of awareness where the physical world obstructs no more. It has a lot to do with spiritual interactions. One has to be aware before being conscious.
Knowledge makes one aware of the world realities which in turn make you conscious. Humans make good decisions when aware but make better decisions when conscious.
We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself.
— Brian Cox
How our Culture influences Consciousness
Collective consciousness refers to a social phenomenon or characteristics made by individuals acting as a group. It can then be referred to as collective decisions, collective efforts and so on. It is the values, attitudes, and beliefs of a group defining how things are to be done. It transcends individuals but bids the group socially. Collective consciousness originated when man began to live in groups. According to the philosopher of science, John Locke, in the beginning, the behaviour of man was governed by rationality and reason and not by the courts, police, and other legal institutions. No individual had power over the other. The offended party had right over the offender and could either kill the offender or keep him as a slave.
With the growth of groups, there was the need to form institutions like family, property, money, and slavery, therefore, eliminating the laws of nature.
Other than these early groups, today people form groups for various reasons including:
- Favouritism — members of one group tends to collectively be prejudicial towards other non-group members and show discrimination.
How collective consciousness influences decision-making processes of individuals
With the formation of groups so does group behaviour emerge. This influences the behaviour of one individual member of the group. There are both positive and negative influences of groups on individual decision-making. The individual lets go of self-consciousness and control and follow the actions and thinking of the group. These are as follows:
It is a model of thinking that individuals engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive group. The desire for harmony in the given group results in deviant or incorrect decision-making.
It goes on to suggest that when in groups the views of individuals are more likely to shift to the extremes. The risk tends to be less while in groups that how they look when the decisions are made individually. Since the view is held by many like-minded people, it tends to look less dangerous than when an individual thinks of it alone.
It simply means the loss of one’s individuality and becomes lost in the group. The individual will go along with whatever the group decides whether it is rioting, cyber bullying or even lynching. Individuals experience a sense of anonymity while in the group.
These three illustrations go to show that even though our consciousness was designed by evolution, the culture we find ourselves in keeps redesigning it.
The 7 Levels of Consciousness
The first three levels focus on an individual’s personal interest, the satisfaction of physiological needs including security, safety, emotional needs for love and belonging and the need to feel good about themselves through developing self-pride and a positive self-esteem.
The fourth level focuses on transformation, the learning how to manage, master, and release the subconscious fear-based beliefs that keep us anchored at the lower levels of consciousness. In this stage, we develop a sense of personal authority and a voice. We have learned how to master deficiency needs and can let go of the need to identify with a social environment.
The upper three levels focus on the need to find meaning and purpose to life. These are actualisation through making a difference in the world, self-less living, and learning how to become our own self-witness. In these stages, we develop an inner compass and become trusting of other since most of the fears are gone.
Barrett Values Centre 7 Levels of Consciousness
Consciousness is the state of being aware of an external object or something within. It is the ability to feel, to experience and having a sense of selfhood.
Higher consciousness, on the other hand, is the consciousness of a higher self or God, something bigger than our ego-self. It is the part of humans that can transcend animal instincts.
How it influences our culture and how to evolve within the seven levels of consciousness model
Each human evolves and grows in consciousness in clearly defined stages, each stage focusing on a particular existential need. The seven stages conform to the human ability of the individual to satisfy their needs at a given stage in growth and development.
Consciousness is only possible through change; change is only possible through movement.
— Aldous Huxley, The Art of Seeing