What is consciousness? The truth is no one really knows. The world’s best minds still debate and conduct experiments to try to pin it down. That doesn’t mean we can’t try some deductive reasoning to at least get closer to an understanding.
The Webster-Merriam dictionary gives the task of defining consciousness a good college try with the following definitions:
1a : the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself
b : the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact
c : AWARENESS; especially : concern for some social or political cause
2: the state of being characterized by sensation, emotion, volition, and thought : MIND
3: the totality of conscious states of an individual
4: the normal state of conscious life
5: the upper level of mental life of which the person is aware as contrasted with unconscious processes
The problem with the above definitions is, for the most part, they just describe ways in which we use the word to describe states of being, but they don’t come close to telling us what it is, how it is possible or where it comes from. For instance, awareness is part of being conscious, yes. However, at night, when we are asleep, we are not aware of our normal surroundings and we lose awareness of the ‘I’ (the self), but there is still awareness on some level – a certain level of consciousness. When we are asleep we are in fact not unconscious but subconscious. Otherwise, how would your body know how to continue to keep breathing? How would your blood continue to circulate and heart keep beating? How would you remember to wake up in the morning? How would you be able to remember your dreams or parts of them the next day if you were not conscious on some level? So, we can immediately deduce that while we are alive, we are never completely unconscious. Even some coma patients have been known to squeeze fingers and tap out yes and no answers to communicate understanding or awareness. So we can deduce so far that we are always consciousness to some degree as alive sentient beings.
There are in fact four states of consciousness. These are: waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep, and the transcendent. The transcendent is not that awareness of the inner (subjective) world or the outer (objective) world. It is not an awareness of both or neither or the collective mass consciousness. It is not simple or perceived. It is incomprehensible and best described as a blanket or background on which our dream states and waking consciousness rests. It is pure awareness.
Sometimes when consciousness comes up people will begin to talk of phenomenology of the brain. For instance science can explain what happens with the brain when we really check out and go into deep sleep. To understand we first need a brief description on how the brain generates awareness and cognition. The brain stem and cerebellum (lower brain) are responsible for taking in input, information collected from our senses. But, they just take in the information and record it, like a camera would. Those two parts of the brain don’t try to make sense of the information, instead the data is interpreted by the more outer parts of the brain that are linked to the lower parts by the thalamus (mid-brain). So, by passing the information up through the connection of the thalamus, a scene taken in by your eyes can be passed from the lower brain up to the cerebrum and interpreted to be the tree, the lake, the landscape you may see before you. The cerebrum has more complex interlinking which is good for forming higher thought. At night when we go into sleep, our brain waves slow down so that less information is passed up through the thalamus. Thus, many have interpreted this to be a state of unconscious, but as alive sentient beings, in sleep, we are just subconscious.
Okay, we have narrowed it down a bit, but we still don’t know what causes consciousness and where it comes from. Well, we actually do now know from many scientists that consciousness is not contained within our brains. Experiments have proven that consciousness is not contained within the confines of our skull — that consciousness is in fact non-localized. So we can say consciousness is not coming from the brain. We might argue, yes, but a brain is needed for consciousness. But, can we even say that? The single cell amoeba can sense and identify plankton and diatoms, its food sources. Hmmm?
Last year I saw an interview with nuclear physicist Amit Goswami in which he recounted the details of the above-mentioned experiment that he had witnessed, which has been replicated by several other researchers. The experiment most definitely seems to prove that consciousness is non-local, meaning it could be anywhere or everywhere. Although many scientists before this experiment would tell you that at the Planck Scale (a tiny scale of measurement of our subatomic world), we are all connected, many people have taken this experiment as further proof that the unified field is that which connects us all. In the experiment, two people were asked to meditate together to entrain their thoughts on the intention of being able to communicate non-locally. Then, they were separated and both hooked up to EEG machines in separate electromagnetically sealed chambers and asked to maintain their intention. No electrical information could be exchanged between these sealed rooms. One of the participants was shown a series of light flashes and the other one was not shown anything. As the brain activity of both were recorded and the one participant received the light flashes, the participant that was not shown the light flashes consistently showed the very unique brain patterns similar and with the same timing as those reflected in the brain of the participant that was actually seeing the series of light flashes.
The experiment showed that electrical activity was transferred from one brain to another without any electromagnetic connection – thus proving that consciousness is not confined to the brains inside our little boney skulls or even to the same room, and no electrical current is needed.
We’ve covered many aspects of what consciousness is and where it is, still without coming to any conclusion of where it comes from and how. Could consciousness be God or an aspect of the creator? Although I like to work this puzzle through my own noodle, I’m not one to try to define the highest power for others. It could be that consciousness is part of the highest power, and is in every wave of the blanket that underpins life, intelligence, form and our consciousness. Then again, maybe that non-localized consciousness is everywhere indeed, but being beamed to everywhere from one localized place or entity. Who knows? How can we ever know the infinite and unknowable? It’s still fun to think about though, isn’t it?