Introduction to the Forms of Consciousness
Consciousness is the experience of being alive in this present moment.
For a long time it has been thought that consciousness is a monolithic experience. That is, we have one single consciousness at all times and in all situations. But recent discoveries by science have changed all this. Scientific research into brain activity and its relationship to consciousness has revealed 3 distinct forms of consciousness.
Sentiency is the standard form of consciousness that was once considered the sum total of all consciousness.
Self-Awareness, the sense that I am a separate, autonomous being living at the center of my own world, governs our experience in the personal realm;
Universal Consciousness governs our experience of the Transcendent. The Transcendent is always present and available to be experienced when we open ourselves to experiencing it
In addition to these, we believe that there is at least one more form of consciousness, and perhaps there could be others.
This fourth form of consciousness, which we call feeling, enables us to experience our life in the inner world. Science pays little attention to the inner world so it is not surprising that they should not have found any evidence of an inner consciousness.
But many of us have had rich inner experiences and there has to be some consciousness which enables us to experience this. We deduce that there has to be at least one more form of consciousness.
Scientists call this the default mode network or dmn for short. They learned about this mode of consciousness accidentally. The standard tool of brain research is the electronic probe which allows them to see brain activity on a screen. After being hooked up to the machine but before beginning their session, subjects are asked to sit quietly for a few moments as the equipment warms up. Researchers noted that while some people were able to do this, other people’s brains became very active. The pattern of brain activity was unlike any they had seen before. They asked the subjects what they were thinking about. People told them they really weren’t thinking but their mind wandered and they were recalling old memories.
This was a new kind of consciousness. It was not focused on the outer world around it, it was not focused on problem-solving or what needed to be done. It was more a kind of reverie about one’s own life. It was thinking about “me”.
Self-awareness has a different kind of brain activity pattern than sentiency. Once scientists knew what the pattern was, they could start to look for it in other places. What they discovered is that when consciousness ceases to be focused on the outer world (sentiency) the dmn or self-awareness automatically took over. When not focused on the outer world, we go into our own private thoughts about our own life. This is our personal world. This is the realm of our mindset matrix. This is where we become self-absorbed. The dmn is me-centered consciousness or the personal realm of our life.
The dmn gives rise to the concept of the “self”. As we spend time in the dmn we are thinking of ourself. TRhis strengthens our sense of being an autonomous self that directs our own life.
The self distinguishes itself from all else around it. It has its own identity. The body of course gives us a unique appearance to others. But the dmn gives us an internal feeling that we are distinct and different.
And more often then not, this difference makes us special or unique in some way that we embrace. Our uniques makes us a “somebody” in the social sense of the term. The body does this with awareness. The self does this with self awareness. Thoughts are my thoughts, feelings are my feelings, memories are my history. Even when contemplating the future we differentiate ourselves from others.
The “self” has become the dominant aspect of our consciousness. When we are not focused on the outer world we spend our time fixated on the experience of being an autonomous being who is the conductor of one’s life.
This experience of being a self lead Sigmund Freud to develop the concept of the ego. One Neuroscientist has declared that the invention of the “self”, —an autonomous being with its own identity—is the high point of human consciousness.
Whether it is the high point is debatable, but it is clear that it has become, for most people, the dominant element in our daily consciousness. As the expression goes: “what’s in it for me?” What does life have to offer me.