What Consciousness Really Is
Considering that we have been to the moon and back, and more recently surveyed important moons of Saturn, science is still a very long way from understanding how the human brain works – and even further away from having a clear, agreed-upon interpretation of human consciousness. Consciousness is the “stuff” of knowing, the “stuff” of being aware of a specific experience inside and outside of mind-body. In some ways mind consciousness is the priority of all neuroscience research. From a Buddhist perspective, we could not know joy, suffering or neutrality without consciousness. Harvard Psychologist, Steven Pinker, has noted that human perceptual abilities are quite weak (we cannot see ultraviolet light, we cannot rotate an object in the fourth dimension, and we still are far from knowing the true nature of free will and sentience). In fact, the human brain perceived only about 5-10% of the energies at work in the universe. Thus, a full understanding of human consciousness is still considerably beyond our reach.
In his new book, The Future of the Mind, M. Kaku presents some fresh perspectives about the nature of consciousness. It is clear that consciousness has both evolutionary and genetic values. It has psychological, physical and emotional components. It posses bio-psycho-social-spiritual implications. It is our personal awareness (mindfulness observation) of person-space-time experiences; it supports our understanding of the world, and provides rich feedback for navigating it. Most of the time, consciousness includes some goal-directed behavior or an inner emotional reactions to things in our mindful awareness. Consciousness processes involve our senses, our cognitions, our behaviors, and most importantly our emotions. We know it and we feel it!
In my own clinical work, I view consciousness as being intimately integrated with what I refer to as CABs-VAKGO-IS-Rels system. Humans think, feel, act; human utilize their sensory systems (seeing, hearing, feeling/sensation, tasting, smelling) as well as powerful intuitive and spiritual aspects of being human. We do most of these “being” functions in relationships with our private selves, other people, animals and nature. Consciousness helps us to both survive and thrive; consciousness may help us become more skilled in radically accepting suffering and being fully intimate with joy and happiness. When suffering dominates, people tend to use consciousness to intensify suffering then reduce the duration of suffering, and perhaps experience short-term relief- at least in their mood preferences. When neutrality is boredom, and when suffering dominates, people tend to self-medicate for short-term relief. We do learn from consequences, especially consequences holding potent emotional rewards and punishers. Ultimately, consciousness helps us to recognize that “this is ME in this specific time-space experience.” Our experience may be painful, boring, or joyous. Consciousness also helps us to decide HOW TO respond to whatever the experience is.
From a recovery perspective (recovery from substance misuse, anxiety, depression, trauma, anger and eating disorders), consciousness may be the doorway into deep trouble was well as the doorway out of the same. The consciousness doorway into recovery is a potent one. It allows us to project our thoughts, emotions, and sensory information into the future. On a good day, consciousness may open up our inner awareness to future vision with specific and helpful CABs-VAKGO-IS-Rels involved. Working together, the prefrontal, sensory-motor, and parietal brain regions AND the body may help us figure out WHO we were in the past, WHO we are in the present, and WHO we might become in the future. If/when we enter recovery, consciousness will help us to understand our CABs-VAKGO-IS-Rels realities and engage them mindfully (for the good) in the present moment – the ONLY moment you have personal power to change everything. Use your personal consciousness to function well.
For more information refer to Kaku, M. (2014). The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind. New York: Doubleday, pp.1-10 and 41-60.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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