A New Consciousness?

Posted: June 26, 2013 in Consciousness, Culture

I have the impression a growing number of people (still small) sense sweeping changes are nearly upon us and are in a hurry to get on with things. I have that same sense, but because I expect those changes are going to be miserable, not to be hoped for exactly, I don’t wish for them despite knowing they are both necessary and inevitable. We will eventually have to stand and face the music, but by then the musical chairs will all have been burned for warmth and no one will get to sit. Of course, everything has its proper time, whether we anticipate and prepare or are simply swept into the maelstrom. Some seek and find intimations of progress and enlightenment to provide hope, as opposed to doomer expectations of inescapable horrific suffering and loss. (I prefer not to use the terms hopium or collapsitarian as others do. Guess I just refuse to be hep.)

One fellow believes we are entering into a new consciousness. If there is an underlying theme to this blog, it’s probably that, so I want to examine this fellow’s beliefs. However, his views are haphazard at best. My commentary follows the quoted passage, which is a comment found at Nature Bats Last. (I’ve revised the paragraph organization a bit but none of the text.)

The new consciousness is creeping up on us. Intelligent, honest and thoughtful questions are being asked by an increasing number of people — people from all walks of life. These new questions/thoughts are highly infectious. Once thought, they cannot be unthought. Even for the vested-interest amongst us, who like things just the way are, it can be pushed to the back of the mind and glossed over by daily life — but’s it’s still there, nibbling away at the truths you know to be lies. They are often uncomfortable thoughts, at odds with the way we reassure ourselves that things are supposed to be.

Western culture has not taken it’s foot off the gas, pedal to metal, for at least the last 400 years. We have created an abomination. For the moment, we are stuck in the bleak midst of it — some aware, some in denial and some blissfully unaware. However, (acknowledged or not), every facet of every single human beings daily life is being tainted by what we have increasingly unenthusiastically created.

There is good news. A vanguard of people ARE thinking differently. Faced with an array of terrifying prospects awaiting us all at the end of this horrific experiment gone awry, they are compelled to do so. The right questions are beginning to be asked — everywhere, about everything. The very nature of our existence. I have no idea when this new consciousness will universally take hold, but it has started. I have no idea where it will take us, but it’s inexorable. We need it too much for it to fail to take hold.

Our commentator says it’s already begun: the searching, questioning, and reflecting on the world we have created. Those are important steps to take, which have robust historical antecedents, but let me make one very firm correction at the outset: this is not a new or restyled consciousness. Rather, this is merely a newfound awareness, dawning across the barren landscape of darkened minds, that maybe all the things we’ve been told and accepted as simply the way things are (and perhaps should be), maybe those things are egregiously wrong.

Awareness and thinking by themselves are not consciousness, nor even is self-awareness, though the latter is among the primary attributes of what we understand as consciousness. So bumbling awareness that as a global civilization we’ve adopted a trajectory that leads into an abyss — most likely to oblivion — is not a new consciousness. And even if it were, the abyss and oblivion beckon long before the awareness becomes universal. Indeed, I judge that for most, death is stalking us unawares. Some may pause to wonder prior to their final dispatch “what’s in hell happening?” even though reports of catabolic collapse are really quite ubiquitous. If a balancing anabolic phase ever commences — most likely millennia from now — we will undoubtedly be long gone, unable to witness it.

Our commentator also offers three videos, which I won’t embed:

Some presentations I found helpful:

Graham Hancock — The war on consciousness

Geoffrey West — Complexity

Rupert Sheldrake — The Science Delusion

I watched the Hancock and Sheldrake presentations, which are considerably shorter than West’s presentations. Three things stuck out. Both Hancock and Sheldrake are bent on removing science from its hegemonic position as final arbiter of truth. That’s a welcome recommendation, which could be the seed for a new consciousness, but it’s certainly not yet clear that that’s occurring. In fact, the materialist perspective underlying the scientific paradigm is still in place even though the lay public and our political leaders are too stoopid scientifically ignorant to form a cohesive, realistic worldview. Nor are we reverting to a phenomenological understanding of the interrelatedness of all things, positioning ourselves within Nature and recognizing the truth and beauty behind human emotion, which unbeknownst to many is shared within and across social groups as though part of a neural network or collective mind. It was only a little over 100 years ago that the bulk of human population lived in rural agrarian settings, which provided intimate, day-to-day knowledge of the cycles of life, death, decay, and rebirth. In contrast, today we monetize our time and use that wealth to drive SUVs to the grocery to obtain sustenance (if we don’t instead have food constantly delivered). Quite a sea change representing our loss of familiarity with the natural world.

The second thing that struck me is that Hancock mistakes altered states of consciousness (typically drug induced, but other mechanisms exist) as alternatives without recognizing that an altered state is by definition not normative. He admits to being a pothead for 24 years until he found ayahuasca, another mind-altering substance that is a presumed gateway to creative visions he seems to believe is some sort of a universal substrate of reality. He sounds like a hyperactive true believer, having glimpsed the eternal light as he traipsed from one altered state to another. It may well be the stuff of revelation, if you go in for that, but it is about consciousness. It might be about some of the farther-flung, wildly distorted versions of consciousness, but again, that very exceptionalism puts altered states out of scope for however consciousness, new, old, or prospective, might best be understood.

The third thing is that Sheldrake apparently believes that mind/consciousness exists independent of its specific human embodiment, or put more conventionally, that we have souls and all manner of other cosmic stuff also have souls. It’s worth exploring this belief, but it reminds me of the difficulty of pinning down what exactly constitutes life vs. mere lifeless matter. Such questions are simple on their face but grow complicated once confounded by humorous doubletalk, which is Sheldrake’s special skill. Perhaps there are intermediate stages between conscious vs. nonconscious and living vs. lifeless. A tree has none of the physiology to support human-style consciousness, but rats (and other mammals) do. Yet rats haven’t (yet) risen to anything even remotely similar to human consciousness. Maybe there is something else there in rats, dogs, cats, porpoises, whales, etc., a different kind of awareness, but then we would need to call it something else. The same could be said of the “soul” of a tree or of rocks and the wind. Sheldrake also suggests that the eye (concentrating on our visual faculty) is not merely a receptive antenna-like structure that receives light impulses but is a broadcasting mechanism that somehow also, though nonmaterial channels one might presume, projects into surrounding space as when one stares at someone else and even across galactic distance as one contemplates the stars. Well, that’s a nice bit of poetry, but it’s unsupported despite his saying that new scientific studies demonstrate we can sense being stared at. Nice cherry-picking of science to support something inherently unscientific.

There might be a reason both of these presentations are tagged as Banned TEDx Talks.

  1. xraymike79 says:

    I don’t see a “new consciousness” emerging, but rather mass intuition, “perception via the unconscious”, that something catastrophic and civilization-ending is starting to happen that will leave billions dead.

    Our food system is dependent on a stable climate which provides reliable rainfall and is relatively free of drought and floods. If you look at what is happening with increasing frequency, it’s the extreme weather we are having — heat domes forming over large regions, mangled and deformed Jet Streams which behave strangley, mega-fires, torrential floods, record-shattering heat, etc. Mass famine is how the human population will crash.

    A comment left at my blog:

    “I take a doomier view. 95degF in Alaska and fires, and frost in midsummer in Holland, killing the vegetables. Climate chaos. Worse each year from now on.
    Rich countries can still use strong currency to import food from wherever, but if/when the financial system implodes, that stops, transport stops, cities begin to starve. Three weeks to die from hunger. How far away are we from something like that ? I think it is inevitable, just not sure when.”


    • Brutus says:

      Yours is as good a way of stating the issue as mine. Better, perhaps, considering I got too bogged down in the details. Either way, it’s endlessly fascinating.

  2. ulvfugl says:

    Hi Brutus, xray,

    I missed this, I’m late, but it’s the mine field where I like to skip and dance in the moonlight…
    I’ll make up by a long comment :-)

    Nobody knows what consciousness is, nobody can even agree on how to define the word…

    The brilliance, whether intended or not, of Guy’s NTE, as a strategy, is that it forces all issues.
    It’s like the hangman’s noose, swinging in the breeze, there, in front of your nose. Unavoidable.

    Whose fault is this ? What can we do ? Who are we ? How did we get here ? Is there any way out ? How much time is left ? What will it be like ?

    For me, it’s a tremendous place to be, philosophically, because everything must be re-evaluated, so that’s sometimes exhilarating, because all the old stories get broken. Simultaneously, it’s the ultimate horror. Everything that I have loved, that made my life worthwhile, that is, the beauty of the natural world, the trees and plants and wild creatures, the wonders of the oceans and the exotic jungles, is all being wiped off the planet forever, before my very eyes, and I’m powerless…

    Not a day goes past, really, not even an hour, when this does not cross my mind. This appalling drama and its paradoxes.

    I have dropped right out of the soceity that surrounds me, as much and as far as I possibly can, because I do not want to be associated with what is happening. Because I see it as a crime. Like the Holocaust, perhaps. I can’t stop my neighbours from participating but I do still have the option of withdrawal. I have to compromise, to a small extent, so that I stay alive.

    My analysis is that we are primates with developed brains that permitted us to tell ourselves stories, This allowed us to pass on culture, from generation to generation, and thus jump ahead of genetic evolution.

    There’s no limit to the stories… someone else on NBL…

    Just like the morons that thought the Earth was flat and the Sun revolved around the Earth (mostly just because they were told, not because they really knew, and it was socially acceptable to think so, and, if you disagreed or wondered aloud, you weren’t invited to the Autumnal Equinox pig roast), I can fall in line with the popular opinions of the day (hippie freakdom, environmentalist activism, touchy feely new ageism, woo woo Hindu and Buddhist meditation, self love, EST, Christianity, Islam, Witchcraft, etc). Yet I cannot shake the overwhelming sense that these things are no better than anything else as they are all Faith based, and Faith is believing in something you cannot know (IMO). I have no Faith. I say that I believe in the Second Law of Thermodynamics – but I cannot KNOW it to be true, so I recant my previous statement. I simply observe that a burning match ends up as a small pile of ash – and the Sun looks like a big match.

    So my analysis goes something like this, we have minds which are conscious, or partially so, which tell stories, almost constantly. Internal chatter.
    We can divide the stories into two classes. Science stories have to be linked to empirical testable evidence, as per the classical methodology. Then there are all the rest, where anything goes.

    This ties in to what I’ve often rambled on about, re mythos and logos and right brain / left brain, which I will not repeat now.

    But re what this fellow above says, re Faith. That’s believing in something which you take on trust, without evidence. Like the Virgin Birth, perhaps. But much of science is like that too. We believe there are electrons but we’ve never seen the effing things, we just have to trust the text books and the guys who wrote them and that that stuff works because we saw the video of Hiroshima.

    The world is full of Pied Pipers, like Hancock, Sheldrake, David Icke…. I could add Guy McPherson, the Archdruid, Richard Dawkins, etc, for the sake of the argument. Who do you trust or believe ?

    It’s ALL stories. But there’s a whole different approach to this. If you do the meditation, I mean formal zen meditation, although there are other variations, then you switch off the story-telling machine.

    This is something radically different. It’s got nothing to do with faith or belief. It’s strictly empirical.

    It changes what you are. This is shown scientifically by brain scans, for example


    It’s a bit like an acid trip, in the sense that you can’t explain what it’s like to someone who has not had the experience, because it’s nothing like what they’d expect it to be, it doesn’t fit any preconceptions. It’s a different KIND of consciousness, a different way of being in the world.

    There’s an outline here, which is somewhat stilted, translated from the french. Incidentally, the usage of ‘logos’, is not the same as when I juxtapose it with ‘mythos’. This usage is that of Heraclitus, and that of St John’s Gospel, and that of the Neoplatonists, which is fascinating and well worth pondering. (The logos v. mythos, as used by Aristotle, is easier to grasp, as logic, reason, analytical thought, the conveyance of rational argument, literal meaning rather than poetic, etc.)


    • Brutus says:

      I’ve dealt with quite a lot of this over the time I’ve been writing my blog. Allow me a couple brief comments.

      ulvfugl sez: My analysis is that we are primates with developed brains that permitted us to tell ourselves stories, This allowed us to pass on culture, from generation to generation, and thus jump ahead of genetic evolution.

      The scientific community refers to this as gene-culture coevolution or dual inheritance theory. Goes a long way in showing how things — including consciousness — move and shift and change far faster than an evolutionary timescale would seem to permit.

      … we have minds which are conscious, or partially so, which tell stories, almost constantly. Internal chatter.

      I’ve referred to this repeatedly as narrating our own lives as we live them. It is a normative behavior within Western-style consciousness.

      If you do the meditation, I mean formal zen meditation, although there are other variations, then you switch off the story-telling machine.

      Alternatives interest me, and I think we experience them all the time. Further, there are numerous traditions that seek mindlessness, or a state of no mind. Unwittingly, normal people do with all the time with alcohol, drugs, sex, sports, music, TV, sleep, etc. I find it both appealing and horrifying, like seeking oblivion.

      • ulvfugl says:

        Hi Brutus,

        I’ve referred to this repeatedly as narrating our own lives as we live them. It is a normative behavior within Western-style consciousness.

        I think, oversimplified, it is orientating ourselves in time and space, orientating ourselves socially, checking our social identity, aspirations, a whole lot of functions, checking the dials, maintaining the story of who ‘I’ am, in the sense that ‘I’ is a construct. Not sure about the Western-style bit, nit having experienced being any other style :-) but I gather from reading, that there’s evidence that this sort of identity is historically fairly recent, and probably emerged in the West.

        Alternatives interest me, and I think we experience them all the time. Further, there are numerous traditions that seek mindlessness, or a state of no mind. Unwittingly, normal people do with all the time with alcohol, drugs, sex, sports, music, TV, sleep, etc. I find it both appealing and horrifying, like seeking oblivion.

        Not clear what you mean by some of this language. I’d say that the standard common condition is a sort of semi-conscious chattering mind that has very little introspective or self-reflective ability. That’s regardless of education or intelligence or intellectual attainment. Such people distinguish the gross differences, they notice emotions, anger, depression, grief, etc, and whether they are awake or asleep, but not much else.

        Then there’s the multitude of spiritual paths, if that’s what you mean by ‘traditions’.

        Then, yes, all the techniques to try and change the way you feel via tv, booze, whatever, which I’d mostly lump together as a waste of precious time.

  3. Mythodrome says:

    Hey Brutus, just curious how you would define ‘consciousness’ as opposed to ‘awareness’?

    Personally, I like to think of these things in terms of ‘cognition,’ which to me implies the possibility of a new neural pathway configuration and as a result, a new way of knowing. ‘Consciousness’ is really nebulous and if you delve down that rabbit hole, there’s really nothing to distinguish human consciousness from that of dogs or trees or bacteria or galaxies…. not because these things necessarily have consciousness but rather because the term is so hard to define.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment and question.

      Mythodrome sez: … just curious how you would define ‘consciousness’ as opposed to ‘awareness’?

      Both you and ulvfugl have questions about the definition or nature of consciousness, and we all undoubtedly agree that there is no definitive explanation despite everyone’s intimate knowledge of oneself. I don’t know that I can offer anything more convincing than what’s already out there in so many religions, philosophies, and neurobiological models. That caveat in place, let me say that I come to this particular question as a dilettante, although it has been a preoccupation of mine since adolescence. So I’m not expert, but I’ve examined a lot of possible explanations.

      My sense is that Western-style consciousness, which changes over time and has many flavors, arose in roughly the third century BCE (Classical Greece) and slowly displaced an older style of consciousness. The biggest discontinuity is that the new style asserts an individual self or identity (sometimes called the psyche or soul) as opposed to the much more embedded, contextualized, participating, and shared sense of self (some might say no self at all) that had previously been dominant. It’s more than mere cognition or narrative, though those aspects are present, because the new style of thinking separates self from other (subject from object) giving rise to entirely new tools of thought, not unlike how the discovery of zero and negative numbers or the invention of the medieval clock expanded our intellectual scope by orders of magnitude.

      In addition, what we in the West recognize as normative (inevitable) is actually the result of carefully crafted (albeit paradoxically passive) socialization, like the learning of language, which takes place in early life and remains generative, recursive, and self-correcting throughout life. If the foundation isn’t set early on, the window of opportunity passes. Human consciousness is also easily distinguishable from the more rudimentary consciousness(es) of other animals. Trees, bacteria, and galaxies don’t possess nervous systems capable of supporting anything resembling human consciousness, nor do computers, even though they are engineered (especially AI) to model human cognition. Assertions that consciousness is present in all things is either figurative or the result of a poor understanding of the subject at hand (IMO).

      Admittedly, this stab at a definition is wanting. Not only is the target moving, it’s also like trying to distinguish between the many varieties of vanilla. Everyone knows what vanilla tastes like, but our olfactory sensation is insufficient to discern those varieties reliably or to describe them with much accuracy.

  4. ulvfugl says:

    Hi Brutus, and hi Paula/mythodrome, I think we may have communicated before, not certain, in the earlier days of Ran Prieur perhaps ? I don’t follow him anymore.


    Starting at the ending…

    Human consciousness is also easily distinguishable from the more rudimentary consciousness(es) of other animals. Trees, bacteria, and galaxies don’t possess nervous systems capable of supporting anything resembling human consciousness, nor do computers, even though they are engineered (especially AI) to model human cognition. Assertions that consciousness is present in all things is either figurative or the result of a poor understanding of the subject at hand (IMO).

    I don’t think any of that has been established. Imo, the whole paradigm needs to be completely revised. There are so many fundamental anomalies and inconsistencies around the margins that it simply cannot be sustained. However, the task is so difficult and demanding that it will take a mega-genius (and given NTE will probably never be achieved.) But to give a very simple indication, all that we know about nervous systems and consciousness is some sort of correlation. That could be – not saying it is – analogous to radio or tv picking up signals. You break or switch off the equipment, doesn’t mean the signal isn’t still being transmitted.

    Anyway, leaving that aside because it’s not a fruitful area to pursue, the main trouble is the terrible difficulty over precision over terms, you seem to use ‘consciousness’ almost like ‘zeitgeist’, some sort of cultural feeling of the time, whereas I’d see it as specific to an individual, much more of a biological, physiological function. I think my dog has it, exactly like my own, as do many other animals and birds I have known, purely by observation of their behaviour, just as if I observe a child or another human, I can infer that they have what I have.

    With other creatures, invertebrates, plants, fungi, bacteria, I can’t know in that same sense, but it’s been demonstrated that they all have sophisticated communication, so they are ‘aware’ in some sense.

    I’m quite willing to go along with your story that a Western-style consciousness emerged out of some earlier less defined form, although I don’t think this can be proven, can it ?

    Again there’s so much difficulty with the terms. Self, identity, psyche, soul, etc, are all so difficult to pin down.

    I had the pleasure of reading some of Paula’s blog, and the tarot meditations. My take on that would be that divination is a means to tap into the mythos, the right brain hemisphere, the subconscious or unconscious parts.

    I would see those aspects of what we are, as part of our animal heritage, containing the deeper wisdom that got life through all the millions and millions of years before we even became primates, and then before we became domesticated and civilised.

    So, I’d follow the psychoanalytical, Freud, Jung, etc, notion, that dreams are that deeper Unconscious speaking to the conscious ego, using symbolic language. And one uses that same route, more precisely, via divination, with tarot or I Ching, or other related methods.

    Prior to Freud, there were some other earlier thinkers who had interesting variations on the concept of an Unconscious, I forget their names, but they were fascinating and got eclipsed by the Freudian view.
    And of course, prior to that, what we call the Unconscious, was the domain of the gods and all things weird and wonderful…

    Going back to Paula’s difference between consciousness and awareness. I think the important word, in english, is attention. It’s the bit that we can gain conscious control over, in that we can use it like a torch beam, we can focus it and direct it. It is consciousness, it is awareness, and it is ours, or ‘mine’, in the sense of being in the service of a self.

    • Brutus says:

      Curious. Plenty of pullquotes from notable scientists all saying what amounts to “we don’t know.” I’ve no problem with that, except that punting like that leaves us in a position of being able to assert nothing. I’m not sure subscribers to the materialist explanation (like me) are far beyond that, but I’d rather have a provisional explanation than simply punt. I’m willing to be proven wrong, though proof might be hard to gather despite a few atypical anecdotes of telesomatic events.

      • ulvfugl says:

        Ha. But we don’t know, and we can’t EVER know, can we. The whole thing, ultimately, will always be unfathomable mystery. Instead of absolute nothingness, non-existence, we have THIS, the Universe, or whatever you want to call it.

        And without consciousness we would not know this.

        So, then we set out to try and describe it. Which is fine. Which I’d call mapping the territory, which relates to what you mentioned, metonymy, which I was not familiar with and wanted to think more about and have not yet done…


        But a description, a map, a metaphor, is not an explanation.

        My position is that, the prevailing paradigm of reality, whilst it works well enough for our everyday requirements, has so many anomalies around the edges, that it’s obviously flawed and needs revision.

        It really only needs one case of something like a telesomatic event to be conclusively demonstrated, to prove that materialism is wrong. But there’s thousands of similar anomalies from all sorts of sources, the case is overwhelming, the objections are ideological not scientific. The problem is that nobody has as yet got any clue how to offer any reasonable hypothesis to explain these anomalies that any self-respecting materialist scientist could entertain.

        I’ts probably, some curled up extra dimension, or something, that has a weak interaction with the standard familiar dimensions, via quantum entanglement or something.

        Anyway, I’m quite happy to go along with Newtonian physics and materialism as a practical working formula for dealing with the human-scale world where we have to operate, and certainly regarding the physics and biology of this planet and it’s climate. You know, proximate truths and ultimate truths. The ultimate truth is that we are vibrating energy formed inside stars. The proximate truth is that we eat lentils, get toothache, and shiver when we are cold.

  5. Brutus says:

    We could go back and forth for a long time about this. I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I think there’s really no argument to win. Considering the topic, neither point of view can prevail. The possibility of an extra dimension (or two, or a few, or many) beyond our perception is a nice escape hatch, which I like and don’t really mean to disparage. It’s just a little too magical and unknowable to rely on IMO.

    The idea that the prevailing paradigm is flawed and needs revision earns my complete agreement. However, it’s not something we get to choose or do. The plasticity of the brain/mind is surprisingly great, but I suspect once its principal attributes are set, we’re stuck with what we got. Maybe some sort of psychic trauma could jar structures loose, but who would sign up for that?

    • ulvfugl says:

      I think we are both aware of the fault line, the veritable crevasse, in culture, and in individuals, concerning this topic, and it’s refreshing not to get the typical knee-jerk responses, so thanks for the chat.

      Yes, the extra-dimension idea may be worthless, but it’s easy to get one’s head around, following the flatland idea, and the possibility that other dimensions might be, in some sense, fragile or intermittent or have rules which limit accessibility, and I linked that to Penrose’s quantum microtubules in the brain, which I also like, but which also might be a dead end… yes, all magical and hand waving :-)

      Two examples cross my path today, one, the renowned Prof Wadhams, to my surprise, has a side interest in dreams and psi


      and my personal pursuit of improving my health via cultivating chi / qi / ki lead me to reading about reiki, and the wiki page says there is no scientific evidence of any therapeutic effect, although it would appear that all the experiments have been open to criticism.


      So here I am gazing into the rift, the gap between the paradigms, because the science says there is no evidence, it does not work, it does not even exist, blahblah, but here I am, feeling it, knowing it, using it, all day, for weeks, and I have to take my direct subjective experience as a superior authority on the matter :-)

      I can’t wait around for Western science to catch up. People in the East have been using this stuff for centuries. They know a lot about it. They use it in life or death situations. If it was useless they’d be the first to say so. They don’t understand what it is or how it works either.


  6. ulvfugl says:

    Update on the Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose theory which is suddenly looking more promising.


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