The Enigma of Consciousness 11a - The Five Layers of Consciousness

Curriculum Focus

What is the Inner Journey


Marshall, Gene, The Enigma of Consciousness, Realistic Living Press, Bonham, TX, 2012. Chapter 11

Five Layers of Consciousness (excerpts from Chapter 11 please read the original material for complete context)

The consciousness that characterizes human beings contains at least these five layers of evolutionary development: (1) the cell-based consciousness that humans share with single-celled creatures, (2) the image-using consciousness that humans share with animal life, (3) the emotion-based consciousness that humans share with the other mammals, (4) the symbol-using consciousness that is unique to humans among existing species, and (5) the consciousness of consciousness that is foundational for human religious practices. This fifth layer of consciousness is variously referred to with terms like aware presence, awakenment, enlightenment, true nature, essence, holiness, the numinous, awe, wonder or simply the nonconceptual.

Cellular Consciousness. Billions of genetic functions go on without my being conscious of them. Nevertheless, we can define these amazing bodily functions as conscious. We can define consciousness in a wide enough way to take in these cellular functions. In defining consciousness in this manner, we make clear that consciousness is aliveness, and that aliveness is consciousness. What distinguishes a tree from a rock is cellular consciousness. A tree is alive because a cosmic force field called consciousness is functioning in the tree. Being alive and being conscious are corresponding concepts. The implications of this perspective are vast.

Image-using based Consciousness. Image-using intelligence uses this and other such memory reruns to create projections of possible future outcomes that inform the dog to construct a next response to porcupines that is less painful than the last one. This process does not require what humans call thinking; it only requires a form of image-using consciousness that need not be conscious of being conscious. This image-using process is a type of consciousness, however. Evaluations are made, projections are made, decisions are made. Image-using consciousness is not a billiard-ball bouncing process nor a probabilistic process. Image-using consciousness is creative, experimental, trial and error learning.This mental process of using images (multi-sensory reruns of past experiences) is also an important process within human functioning. ..But in the act of bating itself, as Yogi Berra once remarked, You dont think; you just bat. Image-using intelligence is operating in a vast portion of our lives. We would not be able to function as we do without this type of consciousness.

Emotion-based Consciousness. In mammalian life, sensory inputs have been augmented with the input of highly sensitive emotional feelings. Emotional feelings are a mode of sensitivity that allows for deep bondings and charged responses not yet fully developed in a snake or frog. Emotions require a new layer of brain very minimally developed in reptiles. Emotional life is pre-human. Emotion-using intelligence is one of the developments that distinguishes the mammals from the reptiles and birds. In mammalian life, these complex emotional inputs to consciousness are added to the sensory inputs and the image-making capacities. The remembering and anticipating process in mammals is enriched by the memory and anticipation of emotions. Mammals remember emotionally, anticipate emotionally, and choose their responses emotionally. Like humans, they apparently feel affection, loneliness, sadness, joy, fear, anger, and many other feelings. This highly developed emotional form of consciousness exists in those mammalian life forms that have not yet made the leap in consciousness that was taken by the human species a leap that I am calling symbol-using based consciousness.

Symbol-using based Consciousness. Symbols are abstractions that join together sets of these image-formed memories. For example, the number four groups together four cats, four dogs, four tables, four days, four years, four miles, etc. A cat or dog does not require such abstractions to live its life. We often overuse our symbol-using based consciousness. We get lost in it. We find ourselves living in delusory worlds of our own creation rather than using our symbol-using based consciousness to live more consciously and usefully in the real world. This mode of consciousness is our gift and our nemesis. Because of this endowment we are the most powerful and creative species, but we are also the most destructive and dangerous species on the planet. Our potential to be a powerful form of destructiveness is rooted in this symbol-using-based consciousness.

Symbols stand for sets of experiences. Images are multi-sensory recordings of the direct experiences of our lives. Symbols are used in the type of mental process we customarily point to with the term thinking. Thinking uses both the symbol-using and image-using processes. When our thinking is only symbol-using without being rooted in our imaginal reruns of actual experiences, then our thinking has become excessively abstract and potentially delusional. Our very best thinking is thinking that remains conscious of its abstractness and remains attentive to the grounding of our symbols in our imaginal reruns. .Mathematics is the most abstract of all our abstract thinking. We might define mathematics as the abstract exploration of the human minds capacities for abstraction..Though mathematics is abstract, it need not be delusional if we are aware that we are dealing with abstractions. We become delusional when we assume that our mathematics has a reality other than the capacities of the human mind for abstraction. The actual cosmos is not mathematical; it is mysterious to our mathematics-ordered mind. Wonder-based Consciousness. Human consciousness has the capacity to reach beyond both images and symbols, beyond emotional and sensory inputs, into the enigma of consciousness itself and into an awareness of that impenetrable Mystery out of which our consciousness comes and to which it returns.

Reflection Questions

Read one of the lines from this reading that caught your attention.

Who can provide a grounding example from your own life of:
1) Cellular Consciousness
2) Image-based Consciousness
3) Emotion-based Consciousness
4) Symbol-based Consciousness

How would you talk about the role that any of these forms of consciousness play in your life and which form seems to be dominant What does this insight reveal

From this brief introduction, what is wonder-based consciousness and what example can you share from your own life of this awareness

What other line or concept would you like to have the group explore with grounding experiences

Which of these levels do you find yourself most intentionally practicing in your life How does this question and this conversation give us guidance in managing our own solitary interior life

How might I live my life differently because of the awareness provoked in this material

What personal practices might be indicted from the encounter with this material

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