Awakening to the Intersections of Asian Philosophy, Modern Technology and Consciousness Studies
Artwork by Antonio Roybal and John Vega
Table of Contents
The Rise of Complex Consciousness
The Rise of Complex Consciousness
"goddess ii" by Vega
Our planet seems to be shrinking before our very eyes and the pace of change is accelerating at unprecedented speeds. Many of us in the modern world are running about furiously with our minds virtually on fire as we attempt to fit everything into our busy lives. We seem to be entering an era of hyper-dimensionality. Our modes of travel, communication with one another, workspaces, and home lives are all being transformed. Why is this now occurring and what for? Who or what is pushing us forward so fast?
Some may suggest that our technical prowess and mastery of computer networks is intensifying our situation. Others may say that greed is getting out of control as more people enter the folds of competition in a global marketplace. Still others may suggest that these are localized phenomena primarily centered in industrialized or information based economies. Yet, the more we attempt to find make-shift solutions or easy answers to our current challenges, the further the issues begin to perplex us.
I don't believe our current milieu is based upon or a result of any of these factors individually, but perhaps collectively. We are getting literally bombarded with information in the modern world. The content of our consciousness and minds is directly influenced by the nature of our attention. What we decide to focus our minds upon at any given time enters the field of our awareness and perception. More and more however, we are realizing that we are linked and interconnected with other species of plants and animals, diverse cultures, and various natural forces. Our discrimination of particulars inevitably returns to conceptions of the Whole. The web of life is a vast matrix integrating the multiple facets of a pluralistic existence. As our knowledge increases as a species, the more we realize the plenitudes of cosmic being.
A typical day's newscast will recast just about anyone's perception of reality. The newswire rattles off, "Children starving in India. The US under attack by terrorists…. Scientists considering cloning humans… Oil reserves at all time low… Local man shot outside drugstore… IBM develops faster chip… World market update…and on and on and on" Our minds are receptacles of all of this incoming data taking it in like sponges and yet attempting to integrate these factors into daily life is becoming increasingly difficult.
We attempt to escape the chaos by taking 'vacations,' going on 'retreats,' engaging in 'quiet time,' and every other sort of mental and physical slowdown. Yet, often these 'relaxing' environments are permeated by the outside world with newspapers arriving upon our doorsteps, televisions and Internet connections awaiting in our hotel rooms, phones ringing off the hook, and family members needing our attention. Can we ever just get away and is such a move responsible to our callings?
Our attention spans seem to be disintegrating in proportion to the number of external stimuli cascading upon us. We seem to feel 'bored' faster and faster because we hardly know how to quiet ourselves. A brief taste of peace throws us relentlessly back into mental anarchy. I find myself flipping through TV channels and websites at neck-breaking speeds searching for something 'entertaining' or worth the time of day. The need to filter and discriminate the 'worthwhile' has become a necessity in the midst of so many choices.
The pressures exerted manifest themselves both internally and externally. Our minds are adapting to our changing environments. On the neurophysiological level, our brains are in the process of developing neural circuitry able to cope and process massive amounts of information that continues to infuse our daily lives. Although neuroscience is a relatively new form of scientific inquiry, significant research has illuminated the idea that our brains are adaptive, globally interconnected, complex processing systems capable of striking potentialities.
Our minds and bodies are orienting themselves not merely to our changing 'informational' environments, but to a wider 'atmospheric,' and 'cosmic' milieu. Constantly we interact with these diverse fields of being and meaning. Estimating the total 'effect' of any contingent factor remains quite elusive despite all of our branches of insight and reflection. Contemporary chaos theory suggests that relatively 'minor' fluctuations in a particular region of an interconnected environment can have quite significant or 'major' ramifications on the totality of the system. Can we possibly imagine the immense dimensions of our fields of experience?
A word that will be used throughout our investigations will be 'consciousness.' I would like to now take a few moments and reflect on some of the meanings to keep in mind as we explore the topics addressed. The term has come to be used throughout considerable recent literature in the cognitive sciences, neurobiology, philosophy, and religion. I am immediately reminded however of the connection made in Vedic literature in the concept of Sat-Chit-Ananda. Here, 'Sat' represents 'Being,' 'Chit' stands for 'Consciousness,' and 'Ananda' stands for Bliss or Joy. The Upanishadic understanding of Satchitananda is a unified vision of these three metaphysical properties of Reality. I would like for us to keep this vision close by as we proceed further.
'Consciousness' has also come to represent an intricate neurological process allowing us to be aware of our surroundings, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and relations between both internal and external environments. Often, we might say a person is dead if they have lost 'consciousness.' A state of some level of 'consciousness' appears necessary for human life. Some may argue that 'consciousness' is an absolute component of all forms of life extending into matter. If we accept the Vedic understanding of the term, even the 'dumbest' matter is infused with consciousness because Being and Consciousness exist in tandem and coincide with one another.
There continues to be considerable debate on where we should ultimately draw the line on the word 'consciousness.' For the term to be useful it must refer to something specifically and yet it seems to cover a wide spectrum of phenomena. Everything from the ability to perceive a butterfly in the air to complex thinking seems to fall within the domain of 'consciousness'. Further, philosophers and scientists are perplexed by the origin of consciousness. From whence does consciousness ultimately come? A neuroscientist might suggest that consciousness is a result of neurological processes that can be examined chemically, biologically, and on a level concomitant with physics. A philosopher may say that consciousness is a metaphysical ground of existence. Who is finally right?
To have thought, one must have consciousness. If we go back to the greek
roots of the word, we find 'con' and 'scire.' In Greek, 'con' means 'with'
and 'scire' is often translated as 'to know,' 'have knowledge of,' or
'to be related in thought.' In this case, consciousness is a function
of thought itself. Typically, when we say that we 'know,' we are referring
to something pertaining to a relationship. For example, in the sentence
"Jack knows Jill," there is a series of perceptions taking place
between two objects or perceiving subjects. Or we may say, "I know
that I am sad today." In this case, we are aware of an internal feeling
or state. Again, there is reference to a relationship. It is largely an
internal dynamic that one is aware of.
Our relationships both internally and externally determine the contents of our consciousness. Such relationships are essential components to what we think, know and feel. When we begin to break down the components of our individual consciousness, we begin to see a vast 'network' ultimately at work extending throughout the entirety of what we consider to be our 'self.' Everything is brought into the fold of our consciousness- the neurons of our brains, the physiological processes of our bodies, and the nature of our relationship to the external environment. Awareness is a confluence of such factors in a singling out and focus of attention. For 'consciousness' to exist, the universe must exhibit a particular character conducive to such inner unfolding. While it is difficult for us to determine what is absolutely necessary for the proliferation of consciousness, it seems quite obvious that a complex structure of some kind must be in place.
Yet, despite the overwhelming complexity of the human brain that gives rise to forms of human consciousness and knowing, there may be other forms of consciousness in simpler forms of life. If 'consciousness' is an integral constituent of all being and existence, then there must be a variety of shades of consciousness or waves. For example, the ability of a plant to survey its immediate environment in an attempt to live and grow reflects a level of understanding. The plant is in a certain kind of relationship to the soil, sun, moon, stars, nearby foliage, local animal and insect species. In an incredibly real sense, the plant has 'consciousness.' The plant has 'knowledge of x.' While we may limit the degree to which a plant has consciousness, we must admit that a level of definite awareness is in fact present. Presumably, plants would die without this inner sense or ability to communicate and learn from the external environment in which they are embedded.
As we survey the vast landscapes of consciousness throughout our investigations, I hope we can begin to see certain patterns emerging. First and perhaps foremost, we may more and more begin to see our intricate webs of connection with all forms of life, matter, and being. We are nodes of conscious awareness within a larger totality. While we possess a self-consciousness capable of forming personal thoughts, feelings, and actions; a complete understanding of the 'human' must also incorporate the larger matrix of interconnected relationships. Our sense of 'self' can never be separated from our larger field of possible awareness. And as I hope to show throughout our journey together, the quality and nature of our relationships directly determines the content of our consciousness.
An Evolutionary Perspective
While considerable resistance to ideas associated with evolution are still extant in certain religious and academic circles, I will be referring again and again to ideas associated with our potentialities as a species, planet, and galactic life-force. The starting point is the universe itself- expanding beyond our wildest imaginations. I am going to assume that there is meaning in our universe and that we are not just freaks of some cosmic accident. Furthermore, I would like to explore the future possibilities of our individual and collective lives. Perhaps a word describing this process is 'telostic' (pronounced like the words 'tea'-'low'-'stick' strung together) from the Greek word 'telos.' Aristotle used the word 'telos' to suggest purpose or 'ends.' I believe the universe is moving towards greater levels of fulfillment and manifestation with a purpose beyond our wildest imaginations. In this sense, the universe and cosmos is 'telostic.'
Given this underlying assumption in purpose for our lives, I am going to let my imagination fly in these pages to conjur up what I feel to be incredible possibilities open to us. I think this is a thought experiment we can all try. Einstein said, "imagination is more important than knowledge." What are your visions of Utopia? What do you hope to see in the years to come? How might you help to bring these events about? What visions of your imagination fly to the surface of your mind?
In concert with the idea that our life has purpose and is telostic, I will advocate the idea that our cosmos has a heart or 'agapic.' The word 'agape' also emanates from our Greek ancestors and signifies a kind of love. The love of agape is unconditional in nature and expresses the greatest love we can possibly imagine. Virtually all of the world's wisdom traditions emphasize the primacy of love in Ultimate Reality. I would like to connect our ideas of 'love' with those of 'purpose' and 'consciousness.' With these three key ideas in mind, we may begin to catch glimpses of our evolutionary future and potentials as beings capable of infinite growth.
About the Author
psi (y) is a mystical philosopher for the 21st century. He is the founder of GodConsciousness.com and founding editor of JOY: The Journal of Yoga. He earned a BA in philosophy of religion from Pepperdine University and an MTS in theological studies from Emory University where he graduated with honors. He currently teaches philosophy at Indian River Community College in Stuart, Florida and pursuing a PhD at The California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA.
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