UNDERSTANDING HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS: THEORY & APPLICATION
~Maretha Prinsloo, PhD (2018)
“Consciousness implies awareness: subjective, phenomenal experience of internal and external worlds… Our views of reality, of the universe, of ourselves depend on consciousness. Consciousness defines our existence.”
(Hameroff & Penrose, 2014, p. 39)
Consciousness is a complex phenomenon, a pearl in the crown of evolution. It is man’s most powerful defence against meaninglessness, chaos and decline. No wonder then that the topic has become the focus of scholars across the physical-metaphysical divide. Humans have always been intrigued by the mystery of consciousness and the quest to understand it is as old as known human history itself. The structures of consciousness henceforth find their expression through various forms of economic development, namely foraging, horticultural, agrarian, industrial and informational modes.
Humans respond to life conditions by developing certain adaptive views and capacities which may be referred to as levels of human existence. These adaptive responses can be grouped into specific levels of consciousness, valuing systems or cultural memes which permeate individual and collective minds and cultures. Each level of awareness forms the basis for the emergence of a greater and more encompassing level of consciousness. The levels are organised as a soft hierarchy and are not to be seen as fixed, but represent flowing waves that are continuously overlapping and interweaving with one another.
The progression to higher levels of consciousness involves moving from a state of self-preservation or survival; to one of in-group belonging; to an egocentrically driven state of discovering one’s own free will and power; to a moralistic orientation in holding the space for others; to one of self-empowerment in creating the future; to one characterised by embracing complexity; to an understanding of the dynamic whole; to a state of transcendence.
Further states at increasingly higher level, can also emerge. The process may also be arrested along the way due to a variety of factors. Both progression and regression are, therefore, possible.
The whole course of human development may be viewed as a continuing decline in ego-centrism. This means that a person or group can be more or less aware. The more conscious we are, the less we are held ransom by the ego and immediate circumstances, and the larger our world becomes. As our awareness expands, so do our spheres of influence and concern. Human awareness is not merely contained within the cerebral cortex of the individual, it is in constant interaction with its world. The subsequent collective consciousness is a life force in society, rooted also in the quantum physics principles of entanglement and non-locality.
According to the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, “We are facing a tremendous crisis, a crisis of consciousness. The turning point, the perceptive decision, the challenge, is not in politics, in religion, in the scientific world; it is in our consciousness. One has to understand the consciousness of mankind, which has brought us to this point.”
Krishnamurti’s famous statement, “we have a crisis of consciousness”, refers to the lack of human awareness which lies at the root of many worsening societal dilemmas including the corrosive power of the current monetary system; the widely criticised greed and short-term vision of business leaders and shareholders; climate change; the impacts of the industrial complex; increasing political antagonism and military activity globally; the devastating effects of global income disparity and growing environmental destruction.
While science and technology can well relieve the symptoms of this crisis, a more fundamental solution related to the transformation of the culture and values of societies, organisations and individuals, are required. Given the interconnectedness of human awareness and therefore values and culture, this is not an impossible task. Collective consciousness and leadership may well offer the leverage required.
Exploring the way in which human beings increasingly become aware and interconnected touches on the fundamental issue of our existential purpose. It seems that consciousness is more than sensory awareness, feeling and thinking. It involves a sense of self which is inextricably embedded in a delicate awareness of transcendent consciousness. It manifests as a psychological ambience or mental configuration which guides our decisions, often in counter-intuitive ways towards achieving our emerging personal purpose. It also takes on a prominent role in directly determining our own perceptions, preferences and decisions as well as those of others.
Although there may be fluctuations of our levels of consciousness at certain periods of life or under certain circumstances, an overall tendency or state of awareness mostly tends to prevail. It affects those around us and can be leveraged to transform organisations and societies. Within the contexts of individual and collective life, however, consciousness is ever emerging.
The subject of consciousness thus remains deeply mysterious but of profound importance for the proliferation of life and our continued existence and growth.
__Hameroff, S. & Penrose, R. (2014). Consciousness in the universe: A review of the ‘Orch OR’ theory. ‘Physics of Life Reviews,’ 11, 1, 39-78.