Dissertation: Excerpt on Consciousness

by Sep 8, 2020Consciousness

Consciousness, in all of its mysterious enigmatic force, has risen as a primary and fundamental force within the cosmos in the last decade, where it has taken center stage as the central illuminating source of subjectivity

(Chopra & Kafatos, 2017; A. Harris, 2019; E. Harris, 2000; Lanza & Berman, 2009).

The issues with the absence of discourse on such a personally subjective and universal mystery in mental health treatment hopefully become evident through the scope of this paper. Here, I discuss the more recent importance given to subjectivity since interest in consciousness has begun rising again. This is happening through the conundrum that quantum mechanics has introduced on the essential nature of the observer during experiments that track what starts out as a quantum wave that then emerges as a quantum particle. These quantum particles make up the atoms, molecules and structures of our ontological reality, and somehow we, as conscious beings are a key aspect of this transformation of the wave form of the quantum world, into the particle form within which we live (Rosenblum & Kuttner, 2006; Schild, 2011; Sabbadini, 2017). It is interesting to keep in mind that the physical body is also part of this outside world, considering our subjectivity resides in way that feels inside of our perception of it.

Many authors, including myself, celebrate the much needed revitalization of felt meaning and a unifying sense of purpose that comes through valuing consciousness as a generative source of brilliant awareness and creativity within every human being, such as Pylkkanen, (2007), Swimme and Berry, (1992), and Shaefer (2013). The experience of consciousness through our human subjectivity, is one inarguable fact. We know we are experiencing beings, with a phenomenological, moment by moment awareness and capacity for multiple options of attention and focus (Heidegger, 2010; Husserl, 1970; Ouspensky, 1931/2013). This simple fact, that we are the center of our experience, is the single most important element and consideration in the field of psychology (James, 1977). This idea is self-evident if psychology is about treating the human psyche, mind, emotions, and behaviors. Hence, I posit consciousness, as a newly reborn topic at the center of subjectivity, needs to become a central theme within the mental health field, where it appears to me to be relatively shunned. The reasons for this are likely due to a poor understanding of what consciousness is, especially within solid science. In the arguments about the nature of consciousness, it is easy to confuse the contents of consciousness with consciousness itself (Chalmers, 1995, 1996), and important to understand consciousness as a vast capacity, a light of awareness, without associating the subject of ones’ attention at any given moment, as equaling the capacity for attention. The Emergence Courses bring the many facets of consciousness to the table, bringing this incredible faculty of awareness to life through many teachings and processes, beginning with disordered eating.

As materialist classical science raged forward in the early 20th century, interest in consciousness appeared to set, like a large sun disappearing in the horizon (Needleman, 1982, 2003; Neumann, 1954; Russell, 2002; Tarnas, 2006). I need to honor and acknowledge a few of the original, infamous physicists who did wade directly into their own philosophical wonder about consciousness, even as reductionist science grew in ferocity, moving consciousness as a phenomenal mystery of life toward a correlate in the brain. One example of such a scientist with a philosophical soul is Erwin Schrodinger (1964, 1967) who can be paraphrased as saying that consciousness is fundamental, and that we cannot account for it, based on anything but itself. Levy (2018), in this book, The Quantum Revelation: A radical synthesis of science and spirituality summarizes the many physicists over the last century and a half that have dared to marvel at the nature of consciousness. Brilliant physicists worked to understand the implications of the mathematics they had contributed theories toward, such as David Bohm (1980), who proposed a holistic system through which consciousness and reality fuse, in Wholeness and the Implicate Order, and Heisenberg (1958) who wrote, Physics and Philosophy. Contemporary physicists are sounding the bell that consciousness is primary throughout the cosmos, creating a radical new sense of the universe and our place in it. These authors include Chopra, (2017) a neuroscience physician, who collaborated with Kafatos (2017), to write You are Universe: Discovering Your Cosmic Self and Why It Matters. Lanza and Berman, (2009) also theorize in Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe, that it is our inner life that projects this outer world into seeming existence. Russell, (2002), Stapp, (2009, 2011) and Walker, (2000) are a few more examples of more recent physicists and theorists that take advantage of the latest science, with their perspective about the nature of consciousness and reality. These type of theorist philosophers of science are creating a new fundamental cosmology, one which informs the entire field of psychology about who and what we are as human beings, where we can now reimagine our role as cocreators in a universe that can be seen as enchanted in its aliveness, albeit its mystery (Swimme, 1996, 2005).

Consciousness is currently continuing to rise in the horizon of science and the psyche, even if much of the lay culture cannot see it yet, just as those with integral vision of our human potential predicted (e.g., Gebser, 1949; Combs, 1995, 2009; Wilber, 1983, 2000, 2001). I am optimistic that consciousness theories will help resurrect this world as they find a home within the field of psychology. It all started from William James (1977) first bringing consciousness into psychology, where consciousness comes back again, through my Emergence Courses landing as a part of standard mental health treatment.

Whatever the essence of consciousness is, many have noted that there needs to be a better language for it. There are views that use a more verb based or process based language to reveal the holistic mystery of consciousness and the nature of reality, such as as the Tao te Ching, thought to be written by Laozi in the sixth century B.C. (Ritsema & Sabbadini, 2005). The writing itself, the use of language, unlocks the type of linear, rational thinking that can limit our imagination. Zen koans do the same thing, holding within them an underlying code or message that may communicate more directly with our unconscious than our materialist mind set (Shukman, 2019). Physicist David Bohm (1980) proposed a verb based language form, the rheomode, as a better means of also expressing the wholeness and flow of reality in his book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order; he says, “thus, the way could be opened for a world view in which consciousness and reality would not be fragmented from each other” (p. xiv). The idea that language for consciousness might be better verb based versus noun based, as a phenomenological process source of all that is, as the philosopher, Whitehead frames the nature of subjectivity (Whitehead, 1933). David Peat (1995) followed his mentor, Bohm’s, interest in process based linguists, which he described through his encounters with Native American culture in Blackfoot Physics: A Journey Into the Native American Worldview.

According to A. Harris (2019) in his recent book, Consciousness: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of Mind, there is a spectrum of perspectives about who or what aspects of the universe are conscious at all. Through my Emergence Course, I offer many views. Many recent science philosophers believe that consciousness exists as a proto intelligence enlivening every aspect of the quantum world (Peat, 1987, 2002). These and others describe consciousness as spanning across all realms outside of time and space (Alexander, 2012; Aurobindo 1993; Schwartz, 2019;). This seems obvious to me, since some things of the mathematical world and the extended quantum wave form, or superposition, exist outside of space and time, as described by Friedman in his book on the subject, The Hidden Domain: Home of the Quantum Wave Function, Nature’s Creative Source (Friedman, 1997) and also by Shaefer in Infinite Potential: What Quantum Physics Reveals About How We Should Live (Shaefer, 2013). In other words, if there is consciousness as a proto intelligence throughout the quantum world, then when it is in its wave function, it would be transitioning from our experience of quantum particles within our world to their disappearance to wherever it is the wave form exists, certainly outside of space and time (Levy, 2018). These mind boggling aspects of quantum mechanics are discussed further in the next few sections on the revolutions in science paradigms, where I argue that the seeming active intelligence within quantum behavior, as described by Peat (Peat, 2002), has astounding implications for humans psychologically by breaking through the limits and boundaries of how humankind thinks about reality. For this reason, I am bringing the new physics and consciousness discourse toward reimagining our own psychology in deeply expansive ways.

Consciousness has also been described as existing at a variety of levels and states in human beings, and those levels can be viewed across lifetimes of reincarnation (Aurobindo, 1993; Chaudhuri, 1998; Khema, 1987; Wilber, 2001, 2006a) or within one lifetime of personal evolution. The latter is described by Martin in his book, The Finders, which explores how ordinary people having awakenings (Martin, 2019), and Joye in her book, Developing Supersensible Perception: Knowledge of the Higher Worlds Through Entheogens, Prayer , and Nondual Awareness (Joye, 2019). Another book, Loch Kelly’s (2019) The Way of Effortless Mindfulness: A Revolutionary Guide for Living an Awakened Life, takes theories from Dzogchen Tibetan Buddhism alongside an understanding of neuroscience and internal family systems psychology by R. Schwartz & Sweezy, (2020) to create theories on higher states of being;. E. F. Kelly, E. W. Kelly, Crabtree, Gauld, Grosso, and Greyson (2007) are a team within the many new authors creating modernized psychological theories based on many parapsychological phenomenon. In my own satori like experience, described in the chapter Personal and Professional History, I was driving over the Golden Gate bridge to challenge my phobia of bridges. The luminous explosion of penetrating love that suddenly occurred on the bridge has remained the single most significant and miraculous experience in my life. This brief but powerful altered state of consciousness provided a glimpse into what seemed like a realm of intelligent, searing love and oneness that surrounds everyone, but one does not experience it in normal states of consciousness due to, in my thinking, some type of boundary blocking reception of it.

Hawkins (2014), in Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior, another book on levels of consciousness, offers an attempt at a systemized explanation for the wide variance of levels from deep goodness to seeming evil, paralleling acts of violence with miracles throughout humanity. Speaking of altered states of consciousness, the use of psychedelics in psychologically controlled doses and environments has taken on more recent popularity as a means of altering the limits and boundaries of the waking state in order to expand consciousness in the treatment of depression, addiction, terminal illness, and other painful states of being. This is according to Pollan’s report on the subject, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (Pollan, 2018). Haridy (2019) describes the launching of a psilocybin trial for anorexia nervosa at the John Hopkins Psychedelic Research Unit in an article in New Atlas.

The levels and states of consciousness conceptualized by the wide variety of teachers, bring new, as well as perennial ideas about deeply accessed states of awareness that can be accessed through spiritual practices (Aurobindo, 1993; Khema, 1987), a deep focus through the arts, and nature (Bateson, 2002; Needleman, 2003), or through simply having a full emotional and mental breakdown, such as I experienced and described in the personal story aspect of this paper. One beautiful example of an individual who described such emotional breakdown toward an eventual higher level of consciousness is the astrophysicist student, Jeffry Foster (2012). Other authors describing levels and states of consciousness, use different systems of thinking about this topic, offering different models or perspectives (e.g., Hawkins, 2014; E. F. Kelly et al., 2007; Martin, 2019; Wilber, 2000). In describing how different levels and states consciousness may exist, there is an attempt to explain the vast differences in our humanity, beyond differences in intelligence, creativity, or emotional development (Kegan, 1982). Varying levels of consciousness within humanity, may be something we are born with, or evolve toward, using a variety focused meditation techniques or creativity practices (Aurobindo, 1993; Chaudhuri, 1998; Khema, 1987, Singer, 2007; Spira, 2008). The idea of spectrums of consciousness form a new genre of theoretical perspectives which can be useful to identify and navigate, (A. Harris; Wilber, 1983, 2000, 2001, 2006a), and may contribute greatly to psychological well being. Altering states of consciousness through the careful use of psychedelic drugs, in carefully controlled settings, with trained assistants is showing promise in helping with fear of death, depression, anxiety and addiction (Pollan, 2018). The idea of levels and states of consciousness, once a part of perennial wisdom practices, including mysticism, are mostly lost to much of our current reductionist culture, yet have promise toward what Gebser (1949) describes as the new, incoming integral structure of consciousness. Since the Emergence Courses are designed to introduce consciousness theories directly into the field of psychology, it is exciting to consider the areas that we have choices to explore and utilize techniques that might greatly enhance the level or state we exist within. Quality of life, creativity, sense of meaning and wonder, all have great potential to be enhanced (Ferrer, 2002), which can inspire recovery and would help prevent relapse from disordered eating and other mental health diagnosis.

The topics listed below are some of the key topics, discourse and inquiry offered within the Emergence Courses. In addition to discussions of consciousness, as described above, I also emphasize the evolution of consciousness, especially theories of Jean Gebser (1949), because of the way his theories help explain our lost sense of meaning, as described by Kegan, (1995), in In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Gebser’s evolution of consciousness theories directly interface with meaning in life, through the lens of perception of reality, key to my work. I venture heavily into his theories about the structures of consciousness (Feuerstein, 1987; Kavolis, 1974) described in the sections below. Included in the coursework is also epistemology of science, and its role in construction of meaning, and topics on consciousness as it relates to cosmology and physics. All of these topics, including depth psychology and somatic experience are ultimately woven toward direct application for transformative psychological efforts.

About the Author

Francie White


Francie White is a theorist and practitioner in the science and art of nutritional psychology as well as a creative force investigating and teaching about philosophies of consciousness. She has a 35 year history at the forefront of treatment for all types of disordered eating, which parallels her abounding interest in the deeper questions about the nature of reality, and the importance of resurrecting wonder within the journey of human life.



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