FMBR Editorial: Nov, 2005
William C. Gough
Consciousness! So you want to raise your "consciousness." Just what does this mean? Although conscious experience is very familiar to all of us, it is extremely mysterious. The International Dictionary of Psychology really hedges the issue. They say: "Consciousness: The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means. Many fall into the trap of confusing consciousness with self-consciousness - to be conscious is only necessary to be aware of the external world. Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written about it."
Now lets go to a reference edited by a professor of neuropsychology: The Oxford Companion to the Mind. The entries on consciousness cover five pages but start out as follows: "CONSCIOUSNESS is both the most obvious and the most mysterious feature of our minds. On the one hand, what could be more certain or manifest to each of us than that he or she is a subject of experience, an enjoyer of perceptions and sensations, a sufferer of pain, an entertainer of ideas, and a conscious deliberator? On the other hand what in the world can consciousness be? How can physical bodies in the physical world contain such a phenomenon? --- Not only have we so far no good theory of consciousness, we lack even a clear and uncontroversial pre-theoretical description of the presumed phenomenon. Some have gone so far as to deny that there is anything for the term to name. The mere fact that such a familiar feature of our lives has resisted for so long all attempts to characterize it suggests that our conception of it is at fault."
So how are some theoretical physicists addressing the issue of consciousness? Dr. Amit Goswami in his book The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World gives the following definition -- "Consciousness: The ground of being (original, self-contained, and constitutive of all things) that manifest as the subject that chooses, and experiences what it chooses, as it self-referentially collapses the quantum wave function in the presence of brain-mind awareness". Dr. David Bohm in Wholeness and the Implicate Order discusses consciousness in considerable detail. Yet in his more recent physics oriented book, The Undivided Universe with Dr. B.J. Hiley, they take the "position that quantum theory itself can be understood without bringing in consciousness." However they state: "The intuition that consciousness and quantum theory are in some sense related seems to be a good one. -- The basic relationship of quantum theory and consciousness is that they have the implicate order in common." To accomplish this Bohm extends quantum theory by postulating an incoming "pilot wave" carrying "active information" which can actively put form into something or can imbue something with form.
So let's do a little research. In the unabridged edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language the first two definitions of consciousness are: 1. Awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc., and 2. The thoughts and feelings, collectively, of an individual or of an aggregate of people. I believe that these two definitions highlight the source of the confusion -- the difference between consciousness and awareness. Today we tend to use these terms interchangeably. The Latin root of consciousness is "what everybody knows all together." It refers to something that is essentially social and cultural. Whereas awareness is based on the word wary or aware, meaning "watchfulness" or "heedfulness."
I believe the underlying fault in our general understanding of consciousness arises because of a paradigm difference. A great many scientists and psychologists hold a worldview that the basic stuff in the universe is matter-energy and that everything is initially random. Hence, mind emerges out of physical matter and creates consciousness (thus, awareness and consciousness appear to be one). My personal worldview holds that the physical world and the apparent separateness between matter-energy stuff and mind-spirit stuff both arise from (and are an integral part of) an all encompassing and intelligent unity. The definition of consciousness can therefore be broken into two parts. The first is the acceptance that an intelligent energy originates from a Source (the Absolute) beyond space and time and permeates the entire universe. Various cultures have called this energy chi, ki, prana, or life force. The second definition focuses upon awareness. The degree to which a human (or any other physical or non-physical form) is "consciously aware" of this universal energy/intelligence. As this conscious awareness is raised, a person, organization or society becomes "more enlightened."
William C. Gough, FMBR Chairman of the Board; November, 2005
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Bohm, David, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London/Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980, pp. 196-207.
Bohm D. & F.D. Peat, Science, Order, and Creativity, NY: Bantam Books, 1987, pp. 212-216.
Bohm D. & B.J. Hiley, The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory, NY: Routledge, 1993, pp.381-382.
Chalmers, David J., The Conscious Mind, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp.1-11.
Goswami, Amit, The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1993, pp.276-277.
Gough, W.C., "Three Little Words: Belief, Intention, and Sincerity," Proceedings of the Seventeenth International Conference on the Study of Shamanism and Alternate Modes of Healing, Santa Sabina Center, San Rafael, CA, Sept. 2-4, 2000.
Gough, William C. & Dean Brown, "Domain of Unbounded Potential: The Science of the Absolute," Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on the Study of Shamanism and Alternative Modes of Healing, Santa Sabina Center, San Rafael, CA, Aug 31 - Sept. 2, 2002.
Gregory, Richard L., ed., The Oxford Companion to the Mind, NY: Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 160-166.
Stein, Jess, ed., The Random House Dictionary of the English Language: The Unabridged Edition, NY: Random House, 1967, p.311.
Suterland, N.S., ed. The International Dictionary of Psychology, NY: Continuum,