A STRUCTURE FOR EMBODIED HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS S. D. Stoney, Dept. of Physiology and Endocrinology, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, GA 30912-3000

Embodied human consciousness (C) can be modeled as awareness (A) cubed, C = A3. This qualitative model focuses on receptive aspects of consciousness, and does not explicitly address such important features as intentionality, language, learning, and memory. Awareness is cubed to acknowledge the progressively higher levels of abstraction and creativity to which the term refers, the fact that each new level of consciousness includes its subordinate levels (i.e., "awareness of awareness"), and the reality of multiple levels of organization in the human brain, which cannot be accounted for on the basis of a simple morphological seriation of brain structures. A1, organismic consciousness, is shared by all living things and includes the ability to respond to stimuli and to react to environmental changes, however intentionality is nil. A2, animal consciousness, includes the ability to form a concept of self and, by implication, to recognize others, albeit in restricted ways. The ego, body, and the cusp catastrophe dominate this level, which includes some "awareness of awareness," some capacity for foresight, but no apparent appreciation of the fact of approaching death. Embodied human consciousness, the A3 level, includes the ability to appreciate the spiritual aspect of the universe, i.e., the ability to experience a numinous spiritual union with logos. This level of consciousness is necessary for "joyful participation in the sorrows of the world" and to know that "understanding is the recognition of the I in the thou." In A3 consciousness one becomes aware of a single, immortal (un-embodied) consciousness in which we all participate. Living with A3 consciousness is topologically congruent with existence on a butterfly catastrophe, where exposition in the scientific mode complements exposition in the spiritual mode and the "neutral zone" is a space of meditation/prayer. This model of consciousness provides broad scope and a pleasing bearing on its subject matter. It could be useful for the human adaptation to the next ice age (see http://www.williamcalvin.com/climate/).

Stoney, S. David, Jr., A structure for embodied human consciouness, Soc. Neurosci. Abst. 24:1419, 1998

[The following is a slightly revised version of the poster presentation at the 24th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Los Angeles, CA, November, 1998. A revised version, effective 08/99, of Fig. 8 is appended]

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"If we could first know where we are, and wither we are trending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it." Abraham Lincoln, cited in (1).

I. Everything has changed. Our world has changed and we need "new eyes" to see with. Dealing with our current crisis (2) requires a robust, flexible consciousness and a post-critical mind (3).

Fig. 1 - The Current Crisis

Figure 1. The current crisis. The historical record suggests that we are on the brink of another abrupt cooling event. If so, then to ignore it will probably prove fatal for science, culture, civilization, and the contemporary mind as we are swept backwards toward organismic consciousness, original participation, and the ancestral mind.

II. Embodied Human Consciousness. Human consciousness is too rich to be encompassed by any single account. Instead we must create a family of models that address specific aspects of consciousness and which are compatible with specific human behaviors. Note that the features of consciousness described here can be verified by anyone who is willing to make the effort through introspection (4).

A. "Consciousness" is notoriously hard to define. I postulate that a human being who claims to be consciousness will display some or all the following characteristics, which are referred to as mindfulness.

Fig. 2 - Mindfulness

Figure 2. A representation of a mindful person and his or her attributes.

Fig. 3 - Features of Mindfulness

Figure 3. Brief descriptions of twelve attributes of consciousness.

B. Many authors agree that consciousness is closely related to phenomenal awareness (5). Embodied human consciousness (C) may be succinctly modeled as including at least three levels of awareness (A), C = A3. Awareness is raised to the third power to reflect the following facts:

A1 consciousness is shared by all living things. Irritability is present, but not agency or self-awareness.

A2 consciousness is associated with ego-dominated self-awareness, some capacity for foresight, but little appreciation of the fact of approaching death.

A3 consciousness is associated with an experience of intimate connection with the universe that is ego-dissolving and either numinous or awe inspiring. It is accompanied by the intuition of another level of consciousness that enfolds all other levels and the experience of an unconditional, unlimited compassion. These features, along with reports of non-body centered awareness (e.g., in out-of-the-body and near death experiences, see (6)), require that ordinary human consciousness be considered as "embodied."

Fig. 4

C. Two dynamic topological forms (structures, see (7)) appear to account for the animal (A2) and human (A3) levels of consciousness. The cusp catastrophe dominates A2 consciousness where "either-or-not" (dualistic) thinking about "opposites" reigns supreme. This is the realm of ego consciousness, logic, and war; knowledge is its highest intellectual achievement. Life is dominated by being-like or becoming-like modes.

The butterfly catastrophe dominates A3 consciousness where "both-and-neither" thinking about "complements" reigns supreme. The neutral space of the butterfly catastrophe allows for meditation and prayer, unitive connection with the ultimate ground of being, and self-transcendence. Understanding and consilience are the highest intellectual achievements of this realm, where one is able to see that "understanding is the recognition of the I in the thou." From the perspective of A3 consciousness one is also able to "joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world" (8).

Fig. 5 -The Cusp Catastrophe

Fig. 5. Cusp catastrophe. Only two, mutually exclusive states, corresponding to a position on one or the other of the two "wings," are possible. Near the fold curve, a small change in the controlling variables may lead to a sudden change in state, i.e., a flip to the other wing.

Fig. 6 -The Butterfly Catastrophe

Fig. 6. Butterfly catastrophe. Three non-mutually exclusive states are possible. From the position of the neutral space, where one strives to be free of desires, discursive thought, and resentments, certain apparent opposites are recognized as complements.

III. A natural history of consciousness. Figs. 7 & 8 show two versions of the natural history of consciousness as it is currently known.

By "participation" (Fig. 8), I mean to point to the nature of one's involvement with and awareness of Logos, the eternal unfolding pattern of the universe. Original participation is a form of almost total involvement, as in the Garden of Eden, with little or no self-identity. Contemporary participation is like now, where fear, written language, and the "transcendentalization of God" have obscured our ability to appreciate our participation in the ultimate ground of being. Final participation is the state that can be attained with the more widespread adoption of A3 consciousness (9).

Dealing with an abrupt climate flip-flop will no doubt require use of all levels of awareness.

Fig. 7

Fig. 7. Natural History of Human Consciousness. A representation with explicit temporality.

Fig. 8

Fig. 8. Natural History of Human Consciousness. A representation with implicit temporality. [Note a revised version is attached below.] Cyclic time is represented by the loop comprised of embodied and unembodied consciousness. Linear time can be imagined as a straight line connecting original participation (the ancestral mind) with final participation (the post-critical mind). See (10) for a consideration of the notion of "temporality." One of the cardinal features of A3 consciousness is that linear and cyclic time are seen as complementary. Utilizing the A3 level of embodied human consciousness, a person can appreciate both "Narada's Story" and "The Tribe," copies of which are available as Appendices.


(Some utilities and disutilities of a richer view of human consciousness.)

A. Common ground. The numinous experience of one's interconnectedness with the unconditional compassion of the universe is surely one of the historical bases for the development of religions. Recognition of this fact could provide a common ground for scientific and religious leaders to work together in meeting the common challenge of the impending climate flip-flop.

B. Excuse for exploitation. As is always the case, fear-filled, conservative elites with a vested interest in the status quo will hijack any 'new' conception of consciousness and use it to justify their positions of power and prestige.

C. Ethics and happiness. Experience of the compassion at the "ultimate ground of being" provides a natural basis for ethical behavior, leads to the development of loving-kindness, and allows for "joyful participation in the sorrows of the world." Understanding is appreciated as a recognition of the "I in the thou." (Slightly edited, 08/99)

D. More accurate neuroscience. From the perspective of the A3 level of embodied human consciousness, it is clear that nature (the world and universe) is seamless and continuous. It is by virtue of this that we are able to know a real world (albeit from a body centered perspective) and to form and perceive mental images of that world.

E. More humane path. The notion of embodied human consciousness presented here seems more suitable for developing a proactive attitude toward climate flip-flop than many of the contemporary schemes. Failure to plan for climate flip-flop in a mindful way could lead to un-imaginable human suffering and a disastrous reversion to an ancestral state of mind enmeshed in original participation.

References and Notes

1. Cited in Davies, T.C. Medical education today, S.C. Med. Assoc. J. 73:421-4.

2. Broecker, W.S. (1996) Thermohaline circulation, the Achilles heel of our climate system: Will man-made CO2 upset the current balance? Science 278:1582-8; Broecker, W.S.(1997) Will our ride into the greenhouse future be a smooth one, GSA Today 7:1-7; Severinghaus et al (1998) Timing of abrupt climate change at the end of the Younger Dryas interval from thermally fractionated gases in polar ice, Nature 391:141-6. Stanley, S.M. (1996) Children of the Ice Age: How a Global Catastrophe Allowed Humans to Evolve, New York: W.H. Freeman. See http://www.williamcalvin.com/climate for an extensive bibliography on the reality of climate flip-flop and abrupt cooling events.

3. Modern science seems currently to be caught up in an idolatrous worship of matter. See Polanyi, M. (1962) Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. See also: Barfield, O. (1988) Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. By "post-critical mind" I mean a mind that grants to the human knower the same ontological status as the contemporary mind grants to matter.

4. E.g., see Huxley, A. (1945) The Perennial Philosophy, New York: Harper & Row; Varela, F.J., Thompson, E. and Rosch, E. (1991) The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Knowledge, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press; Austin, J.H. (1998) Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

5. E.g., see Chalmers (1996), The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, New York: Oxford University Press; Velums, M. (1996) The Science of Consciousness: Psychological, Neuropsychological and Clinical Reviews, London: Routledge.

6. E.g., see Moody, R.A., Jr. (1975) Life After Life, Covington, GA: Mockingbird Press; Greyson, B. (1997) The near-death experience as a focus for clinical attention, J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 185: 327-34; Dossey, L. (1989) Recovering the Soul: A Scientific and Spiritual Search, New York: Bantam Books; Almeder, R. (1992) Death and Personal Survival: The Evidence for Life After Death, Lannham, MD:Littlefield Adams.

7. See Thom, R. (1975) Structural Stability and Morphogenesis, Reading: MA: W.A. Benjamin, Inc.; Zeeman, E.C. (1977) Catastrophe Theory, Reading, MA: Addison-Welsey Publishing; Abraham et al (1992) Dynamical Systems: A Visual Introduction, Aerial Press; Abraham, R. (1994) Chaos, Gaia, and Eros, HarperSanFrancisco.

8. I believe I ran into the phrase "understanding is the recognition of the I in the thou" in one of Wilhelm Dilthey's books, but it may have been from Martin Buber. The phrase "joyful participation in the sorrows of the world" is from a tape of one of Joseph Campbell's lectures. E.O. Wilson has recently written about consilience. Wilson, E.O. (1998) Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf. In my experience, consilience can only be achieved if one is able to move beyond dualism into the realm of A3 consciousness.

9. I am indebted to Barfield, O. (1988) Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, 2nd Ed., Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, for the notion of "participation." One does not, I believe, have to adopt a theistic perspective, as Barfield did, regarding final participation. However, whatever alternative perspective one does adopt with regard to the sense of awe that accompanies the "apparent" perception of a universal pattern (what I have referred to as a numinous experience of Logos), it will be complementary to a spiritual perspective. Barfield presumably adapted his notion of participation from LJ vy-Bruhl. See Shore, B. (1996) Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning, New York:Oxford University Press, pgs 26-9, for a contemporary anthropological consideration of participation. I am indebted to Paul Tillich (The Courage to Be, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1952) for the phrase "ultimate ground of being." For an example of the some differences between a spiritual and a religious perspective see Kurtze, E. and Ketcham, K. (1992) The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Journey to Wholeness, New York: Bantam Books. See also Huxley, A. in (4).

10. Faser, J.T. (1975 ) Of Time, Passion and Knowledge: Reflections on the Strategy of Existence, New York: George Braziller.

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Figure 8 and text modified 05/04/03. [Note: I have abandoned the Barfield terminology of "final" participation in favor of the term "postcritical" participation. I am grateful to Michael Polanyi (Personal Knowledge) for enriching the term for me. In addition, I now appreciate that it is not our participation with the universe that varies with different modes of consciousness. On the contrary, what varies is our degree of awareness of participation. For this reason, I have replaced "Participation" with "Awareness of Participation."]      Various life trajectories are possible through the space of embodied consciousness. Heterosexual males tend to arc upwards (of course!), experiencing greater alienation before moving downwards towards postcritical participation. Heterosexual females tend to arc closer to the awareness of participation axis (of course!), experiencing less alienation, but, initially, less individuation and self-awareness, especially if they choose or are forced to choose a maternal role. The space in the foreground of the tallest arc of embodied consciousness, where one experiences more original participation in conjunction with a high level of ego consciousness and alienation is, I believe, for males at least, a space of madness. If there is no conscious increase in awareness of participation and no self-naughting, then ego consciousness must depend entirely on the cultural milieu for its support. Under these conditions, life trajectories maintain an upward motion that must lead, I believe, to a "posthuman" condition of solipsistic indifference. See Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman, Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, The University of Chicago Press, 1999.)




A Brief Description of the Transition Between the Ancestral and the Contemporary Mind

Long, long ago we belonged to the tribe. The men hunted, ranging far, and the women, the children, and the uninitiated young men remained close to our settlements, seldom venturing very far unless circumstances required. Our numbers were few.

Times were hard. It was cold most of the time. Hunger and death were nearby, but life was good because we knew the Air connected us to All.

Stories were told of times past when our numbers exceeded anyone’s ability to count. It was said that living then was like living in a paradise. But, when the cold came so quickly, without warning, there was great suffering and widespread starvation. Battles for space, for food, for fuel, for women, were fought for many, many moons. The land changed then, and the great waters fell away. Our numbers became very small and sickness was everywhere.

Gradually, things got better.

Many times people said, "Look how warm it is getting, we must move from the seashore before the water rises." Many times the cold came back again and the water did not rise.

Finally, the warmth persisted and the waters rose. As our coastal lands were flooded, our tribe had to move inland. We had to fight for space when an inland clan claimed that all the land was theirs, but we survived. It was fun to fight so hard again. Many went to rejoin their ancestors.

The tribal elders said, "Remember, it WILL get cold again! Times will be very hard when the cold comes back and our tribe shall perish unless we are able to work together. For cooperative action we must remember that the Air connects all of us with the Great Spirit."

Rituals were established to help us remember. Shamans were trained to remain attentive to the history of the tribe, which was repeated in song, in story, and in dance. Some shamans promised to try to return from the spirit world to warn of the return of the cold.

Many moons passed and the warmth remained. New tools appeared. The people flourished in numbers. The tribal stories were written down and fewer shamans were trained. Some clans began to say that the stories, the songs, and the dances were not true any more, that the world had changed. Some claimed that the Great Spirit, who they now called God, belonged only to their clan.

Finally, the days came when the shamans, whenever they spoke, were reviled. One very powerful shaman, who taught a message of love, cooperation, connection, and remembering, was able to remind many people of the old days and how the Air connected everyone with God. Although he was killed, many chose to follow his teachings. Among his followers, there were arguments about whether or not a person could contact God directly or only through the mediation of certain men who claimed a special relationship with God.

And the rest is History….

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Note added (10/12/99) - Any such story must be, of course, an example of what Owen Barfield called a "logomorphism," a projection of the contemporary mind onto human beings of the past, beings for whom, for the greater part of the duration of the story, the terms, 'future', 'nature,' 'history,' 'subject,' or 'object,' neither existed nor had any meaning. So far as we are aware, ice age beings, for whom every inspiration was an inspiration - a self-less, mimetic emotional resonance with every event, situation or process - were hardly aware of a self as we understand the term. I have chosen to place the story in the levant in the belief that the "leap into being" (Voeglin) amongst the Israelites was an event critical to the development of the individuated Western psyche. I believe that the leaps into being that occurred all around the world shortly before 500 BCE were all caused by the same unknown factor. The exact mode of embodied human consciousness that such a leap would produce in any given individual would be strongly influenced by the particular culture in which the participent was embedded. This goes without saying. In any case, given that the leaps into being have been so important in the history of embodied human consciousness, I thought it would be interesting to imagine one from the other side, so to speak, and from a non-theistic point of view. The story's value is meant to be heuristic rather than factual. In constructing it, I have attempted, in a very general way, to be consistent with information from the following sources.

Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, New York: Vintage Books, 1996, 326 pgs.

Abraham, Ralph. Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers the Three Great Streams of History, San Francisco: Harper, 1994, 263 pgs.

Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1967, 229 pgs.

Broecker, Wallace. Will our ride into the greenhouse future be a smooth one? GSA Today 7: 1 – 7, 1997.

Calvin, William H. http://www.williamcalvin.com/climate/

Eliade, Mircea. The Myth of the Eternal Return or, Cosmos and History, trans. By W.R. Trask, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954, 195 pgs.

Margolis, Joseph. Historied Thought, Constructed World: A Conceptual Primer for the Turn of the Millennium, Berkley: University of California Press, 1995, 377 pgs.

Voegelin, Eric. Order and History. Vol. I. Israel and Revelation, Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1956/1994, 533 pgs.

Appendix II


Narada’s Story

[Note: According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the term maya originally referred to the power of a god to make human beings believe in illusion. Another way of describing it is as the cosmic power by which infinite Brahman comes to be manifest as the finite phenomenal world. At the individual level, maya is manifested by one's ignorance of the real nature of self, where the empirical ego is mistaken for that aspect of oneself that is identical with Brahman (Brahman = atman, "That art Thou.")]

Once upon a time, a serious devotee of Yoga named Narada, who had proved himself worthy through prodigious acts of selflessness and austerity, was granted a wish by Vishnu. "Show me the magic power of your Maya," Narada had prayed, and the God replied, "I will. Come with me;" with an ambiguous smile on his beautiful curved lips.

From the pleasant shadow of the sheltering hermit grove, Vishnu conducted Narada across a bare stretch of land which blazed like metal under the merciless glow of a scorching sun. The two were soon very thirsty. At some distance, in the glaring light, they perceived the thatched roofs of a tiny hamlet. Vishnu asked: "Will you go over there and fetch me some water?"

"Certainly, O Lord," the saint replied, and he made off to the distant group of huts. The god relaxed under the shade of a cliff, to await his return.

When Narada reached the hamlet, he knocked at the first door. A beautiful maiden opened it to him and the holy man experienced something of which he had never up to that time dreamed: the enchantment of her eyes. They resembled those of his divine Lord and friend. He stood and gazed. He simply forgot what he had come for. The girl, gentle and candid, bade him welcome. Her voice was a golden noose about his neck. As moving in a vision, he entered the door.

The occupants of the house were full of respect for him, yet not the least bit shy. He was honorably received, as a holy man, yet somehow not as a stranger; rather, as an old and venerable acquaintance who had been a long time away. Narada remained with them impressed by the cheerful and noble bearing, and feeling entirely at home. Nobody asked him what he had come for; he seemed to have belonged to the family from time immemorial. And after a certain period, he asked the father for permission to marry the girl, which was no more than everyone in the house had been expecting. He became a member of the family and shared with them the age-old burdens and simple delights of a peasant household.

Twelve years passed; he had three children. When his father-in-law died he became head of the household, inheriting the estate and managing it, tending the cattle and cultivating the fields. The twelfth year, the rainy season was extraordinarily violent; the streams swelled, torrents poured down the hills, and the little village was inundated by a sudden flood. In the night, the straw huts and cattle were carried away and everybody fled.

With one hand supporting his wife, with the other leading two of his children, and bearing the smallest on his shoulder, Narada set forth hastily. Forging a head through the pitch darkness and lashed by the rain, he waded through slippery mud, staggered through whirling waters. The burden was more than he could manage with the current heavily dragging at his legs. Once, when he stumbled, the child slipped from his shoulder and disappeared in the roaring night. With a desperate cry,   Narada let go the older children to catch at the smallest, but was too late. Meanwhile the flood swiftly carried off the other two, and even before he could realize the disaster, ripped from his side his wife, swept his own feet from under him and flung him headlong in the torrent like a log. Unconscious, Narada was stranded eventually on a little cliff. When he returned to consciousness, he opened his eyes upon a vast sheet of muddy water. He could only weep.

"Child!" He heard a familiar voice, which nearly stopped his heart. "Where is the water you went to fetch for me? I have been waiting more than half an hour."

Narada turned around. Instead of water he beheld the brilliant desert in the midday sun. He found the god standing at his shoulder. The cruel curves of the fascinating mouth, still smiling, part with the gentle question: "Do you comprehend now the secret of my Maya ?"

(Zimmer, H. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, Joseph Campbell (Ed.), Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1946, pgs 32-4)