Consciousness in humans is awareness. Seems right, does it not? Can I say anything comparable about animals and plants? Kirlian photography suggests a level of sensitivity in plants to being cut or burnt; some plants have reportedly shown such sensitivity even when a neighbouring plant is adversely treated. This is not good news for us, especially vegetarians. Is sensitivity equal to awareness? (Semantics can be a nuisance, can’t it?)
As for animals, judging by family pets, do they not display both awareness and sensitivity (as human do)?
Examining consciousness further: Are we conscious in deep sleep? Or, is there something we refer to as the subconscious which alerts us to possibly-threatening sounds? What about warning smells? Or, a dream which effectively warns about safety or security?
One night, in deep sleep in a strange room, I had what felt like a dream. My ‘dream’ was that my bed was collapsing while also tilting sideways? I jumped out of the bed, not quite awake, and switched on the light. What I saw was a big-framed picture, which had been hanging on the wall adjacent to the bed, had now slid to the ground with a crash, in the small space between the bed and the wall.
Was this the sequence of events? Sound of sliding, falling picture. I hear this in my sleep. My mind generates a warning in dream form. This led to my flight out of the bed. Was that evidence of consciousness during deep sleep?
Curiously, Eknath Easwaran, in his book ‘The Upanishads’, refers to the ‘states of mind’ of waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep as representing “layers of awareness, concurrent strata lying at different depths in the conscious and unconscious mind”. Awareness existing in layers? Awareness in the unconscious mind?
He also refers to ‘states of consciousness’: and challengingly asks – ”In the constantly changing flow of thought, is there an observer who remains the same?” The idea of an uninvolved observer within us represents the core of Upanishadic Hinduism. However, I can cite an experience which is suggestive of an internal observer.
As a young man, I once lost my temper (never before, never again). It was a highly-charged emotional reaction. Then followed a physical development: I was about to cause terrible harm to a fellow human. Suddenly, from somewhere in my mind came a thought: “What are doing, stupid?” (It was a very clear thought.) As a consequence, no harm occurred. On reflection – I seem to have been operating at 3 levels of consciousness.
Consciousness at a normal, operational, human level is certainly confusing. The following extract from Easwaran then takes consciousness from the Earthly level to the cosmic level. Relying on one of the Upanishads, he states “… the powers of the mind have no life of their own. The mind is not consciousness; it is only an instrument of consciousness …”
So, what is Consciousness at the cosmic level? In a recent post, I asked “Does Consciousness explain Reality?” What a wonderful mystery.