from ExperienceFestival Website


Related Reports









The Conscious Universe, part Ia - Introduction
By Dean Radin


“The reality of psychic phenomena is now no longer based solely upon faith, or wishful thinking, or absorbing anecdotes. It is not even based upon the results of a few scientific experiments. Instead, we know that these phenomena exist because of new ways of evaluating massive amounts of scientific evidence collected over a century by scores of researchers.”

This is part 1 of the first chapter from Dean Radins book The Conscious Universe

“Radin makes the most powerful case for the reality of parapsychological phenomena that I have yet encountered. He shows how recent research gives overwhelming evidence for the existence of forms of influence and communication at present unexplained. He writes clearly, powerfully and persuasively, and this book shows that we are at a turning point in our scientific understanding of our minds and of nature.”

Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D., biologist, author of A New Science of Life and Seven Experiments That Could Change the World.

“The psyche’s attachment to the brain, i.e., its space-time limitation, is no longer as self-evident and incontrovertible as we have hitherto been led to believe.… It is not only permissible to doubt the absolute validity of space-time perception; it is, in view of the available facts, even imperative to do so.”

Carl Jung, Psychology and the Occult

In science, the acceptance of new ideas follows a predictable, four-stage sequence.

  • In Stage 1, skeptics confidently proclaim that the idea is impossible because it violates the Laws of Science. This stage can last from years to centuries, depending on how much the idea challenges conventional wisdom.

  • In Stage 2, skeptics reluctantly concede that the idea is possible, but it is not very interesting and the claimed effects are extremely weak.

  • Stage 3 begins when the mainstream realizes that the idea is not only important, but its effects are much stronger and more pervasive than previously imagined.

  • Stage 4 is achieved when the same critics who used to disavow any interest in the idea begin to proclaim that they thought of it first.

Eventually, no one remembers that the idea was once considered a dangerous heresy.

The idea discussed in this book is in the midst of the most important and the most difficult of the four transitions – from Stage 1 into Stage 2. While the idea itself is ancient, it has taken more than a century to conclusively demonstrate it in accordance with rigorous, scientific standards. This demonstration has accelerated Stage 2 acceptance, and Stage 3 can already be glimpsed on the horizon.

The idea

The idea is that those compelling, perplexing and sometimes profound human experiences known as "psychic phenomena" are real. This will come as no surprise to most of the world’s population, because the majority already believes in psychic phenomena. But over the past few years, something new has propelled us beyond old debates over personal beliefs. The reality of psychic phenomena is now no longer based solely upon faith, or wishful thinking, or absorbing anecdotes. It is not even based upon the results of a few scientific experiments. Instead, we know that these phenomena exist because of new ways of evaluating massive amounts of scientific evidence collected over a century by scores of researchers.

Psychic, or "psi" phenomena fall into two general categories.

  • The first is perception of objects or events beyond the range of the ordinary senses.

  • The second is mentally causing action at a distance.

In both categories, it seems that intention, the mind’s will, can do things that – according to prevailing scientific theories – it isn’t supposed to be able to do. We wish to know what is happening to loved ones, and somehow, sometimes, that information is available even over large distances. We wish to speed the recovery of a loved one’s illness, and somehow they get better quicker, even at a distance. Mind willing, many interesting things appear to be possible.

Understanding such experiences requires an expanded view of human consciousness. Is the mind merely a mechanistic, information-processing bundle of neurons? Is it a "computer made of meat" as some cognitive scientists and neuroscientists believe? Or is it something more? The evidence suggests that while many aspects of mental functioning are undoubtedly related to brain structure and electrochemical activity, there is also something else happening, something very interesting.

This is for real?

When discussing the reality of psi phenomena, especially from the scientific perspective, one question always hovers in the background: You mean this is for real? In the midst of all the nonsense and excessive silliness proclaimed in the name of psychic phenomena, the misinformed use of the term parapsychology by self-proclaimed "paranormal investigators," the perennial laughing stock of magicians and conjurers … this is for real?

The short answer is, Yes.

A more elaborate answer is, psi has been shown to exist in thousands of experiments. There are disagreements over to how to interpret the evidence, but the fact is that virtually all scientists who have studied the evidence, including the hard-nosed skeptics, now agree that there is something interesting going on that merits serious scientific attention. Later we’ll discuss the reasons why very few scientists and science journalists are aware of this dramatic shift in informed opinion.

Back to Top



The Universe, Part Ib – The Universe As a Teaching
by Jacob Needleman


Western science has operated for centuries on the assumption that we can understand the universe without understanding ourselves. Jacob Needleman observes it as a philosopher and metaphysician, from within. In this first chapter from his book, “A Sense of the Cosmos; The Encounter of Modern Science and Ancient Truth” he presents us with the possibility that the Universe is a living teaching. It is not another "New Age" criticism of science.


Needleman has the greatest respect for science and for the search for truth that is the heart and soul of science. In part IV, What Is Consciousness? Needleman's challenging reflections imply that there are states, levels or qualities of consciousness that can be developed within us. What is more, the implication is that this development is the purpose of both the Cosmos and Great Teachings.

This is part I from the first chapter of Jacob Needlemans book A Sense of The Cosmos

Several years ago when I first started to write about the Eastern religions, which are now taking root in America, I could not understand why it was that every word I put down on paper seemed false, why every beginning ended in a lie. To write about our young people and their search, their experiences and struggles, that was more or less within my grasp. But when I turned to the towering spiritual systems of the Sufis or the Tibetans, for example, I very easily lost my way. Standing before these ancient teachings, which far surpass my understanding, I would often fall back on praising or comparing them

Gradually, I began to see that great teachings enter the world according to an order and sequence that we are bound to find incomprehensible. But men are impatient to have a handle of what they do not understand. And so we fasten on one or another aspect of a system --an idea here, a method there-- which satisfies our impatience. The result is that all we have before us is, so to say, a "cross-section" of the entire system. But obviously no number of static cross-sections can add up to the flowing structure of a living teaching.

Now I wish to write about the universe; and I wonder if the difficulties will be greater or less. Is the order of the universe any less organic than the order in the teaching of the Buddha or Jesus?

It may sound strange to compare the universe to a teaching, but we should realize that this is an absolutely fundamental question for us if we are to move toward a deeper understanding of our place in the cosmic order. It is not merely one authors personal brand of metaphor; quite the contrary. The order by which a teaching is introduced to mankind may be the most essential thing about it, more so even than the conceptual content of the teaching itself. For the apparent content varies, depending on interpretations, circumstances and on individuals; but the sequence of experiences which a great teaching brings to humanity at large is fixed and invariable. A teaching is true to the extent that this sequence is a particular incarnation of fundamental cosmic laws.

Let us, therefore, entertain the possibility that we understand very little about what a teaching or a universe really is.

Every great spiritual teaching speaks of itself in its own way as a mirror of cosmic reality. In the traditions of China the Tao is both the way to truth and the way things are. In Christianity the Word is both the teaching of Jesus Christ and the fundamental manifestation of God. In the Hindu tradition (including Buddhism) Dharma means both duty and the sustaining order of the universe. And in the Hebrew tradition Torah includes not only law in the sense of the teaching, but also law in the sense of the foundations of God's creation. A well-known passage in the book of Proverbs expresses this idea without ambiguity. Wisdom is speaking:

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water...
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth... when he gave the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him...
Now therefore harken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.
Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.

(Proverbs 8:22-33)

Wisdom thus speaks not only as the teaching (the instruction) but as the divine pattern of the cosmos.

How to think about this equation of the universe and a great teaching? It is tempting, for example, to see a teacher such as Mohammed or Bodhidharma, who brought Buddhism to China in the sixth century A. D., as the bearer of an extraordinary energy which is distributed to the world in the form of ideas, actions, events, schools, factions and the organized efforts of the community of followers. To compare this sort of pattern to a universe would require that we think of reality not in terms of things but as a ladder of processes, a great movement and exchange of energies. A teaching would then be a copy of this cosmic process on the scale of human time on earth. To receive such a teaching in ourselves, one's own life would have to become yet another copy of this process.

Thus, taking Christianity for a model, one must ask: What was the teaching of Jesus? Was it only what he said? Or does it not also include what he did and suffered? But does the teaching stop even there? A critic may claim that Jesus failed because Christian life has become what it has become. But is not the distortion, the crucifixion of the teaching, also, in a larger sense, part of the teaching itself? And if a man is to become a Christian, perhaps it is absolutely necessary that he witness the same process of distortion within himself. How else will he understand that it is in one's own thought and emotion that the "crucifixion," the distortion of the truth, really takes place?

Yet another line of speculation--again purely by way of opening this issue: Spiritual teaching is often spoken of as indirect. What is meant by this, I think, is that such a teaching does not act by persuasion, which is a form of compulsion and seduction, but rather by providing certain kinds of experiences. For a man who is searching for truth, these experiences are such that they cannot be assimilated only by a part of himself, the isolated intellect, for example. They require that a person receive them with the whole of himself.

Writing in the nineteenth century in a massive onslaught against the theologians and philosophers who wanted to make the Christian teachings accessible solely to the intellect, Sören Kierkegaard put the point as follows:

The communication of results is an unnatural form of intercourse between man and man, in so far as every man is a spiritual being, for whom the truth consists in nothing else than the self-activity of personal appropriation, which the communication of a result tends to prevent.

And then, comparing God to a teacher, he writes:

For no anonymous author can more cunningly conceal himself, no practitioner of the maieutic art [the art of the midwife] can more carefully withdraw himself from direct relationship than God. He is in the creation, and present everywhere in it, but directly He is not there; and only when the individual turns to his inner self, and hence only in the inwardness of self activity, does he have his attention aroused, and is enabled to see God.

The prophets and spiritual innovators who have written of the universe as bearing the "signature of God" must surely have included something like the above in their thinking. Certainly, reality is as "silent" as any Zen master. And perhaps the only way for us to understand reality is through a more complete assimilation of the experiences which it presents us, both joyful and painful. Yet the universe is so vast, our planet so small and our lives on it so inconsequential that a teaching is necessary in order for men to be exposed to the full range of events which take place in a cosmos.

Back to Top



The Conscious Universe, part II - Shifting opinions
by Dean Radin

In 1985, a report prepared for the Army Research Institute concluded that,

"The bottom line is that the data reviewed in this report constitute genuine scientific anomalies for which no one has an adequate explanation or set of explanations.... If they are what they appear to be, their theoretical (and, eventually, their practical) implications are enormous."

This is part 2 of the first chapter from Dean Radins book The Conscious Universe

The most important indication of a shift from Stage 1 to Stage 2 can be seen in the gradually changing attitudes of prominent skeptics. In a 1995 book saturated with piercing skepticism, the late Carl Sagan of Cornell University maintained his life-long mission of educating the public about science, in this case by debunking popular hysteria over alien abductions, channelers, faith-healers, the "face" on Mars, and practically everything else found in the New Age section of most bookstores. Then, in one paragraph amongst 450 pages, we find an astonishing admission:

At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study:

(1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers

(2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images "projected" at them

(3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation

Other signs of shifting opinions are cropping up with increasing frequency in the scientific literature. Starting in the 1980s, well-known scientific journals like Foundations of Physics, American Psychologist, and Statistical Science published articles favorably reviewing the scientific evidence for psychic phenomena. The Proceedings of the IEEE, the flagship journal of the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers, has published major debates on psi research. Invited articles have appeared in the prestigious journal, Brain and Behavioral Sciences. A favorable article on telepathy research appeared in 1994 in Psychological Bulletin, one of the top-ranked journals in academic psychology. And an article presenting a theoretical model for precognition appeared in 1994 in Physical Review, a prominent physics journal.

In the 1990s alone, seminars on psi research were part of the regular programs at the annual conferences of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, and the American Statistical Association. Invited lectures on the status of psi research were presented for diplomats at the United Nations, for academics at Harvard University, and for scientists at Bell Laboratories.

NEW (not in the book):

The first US patent for a psi effect was granted to Princeton University researchers on November 3, 1998. Patent "US 5830064" is entitled: Apparatus and method for distinguishing events which collectively exceed chance expectations and thereby controlling an output. This patent specifically covers distant mental control of electronic random number generator outputs. (click below image)

The Pentagon has not overlooked these activities.

From 1981 to 1995, five different US government-sponsored scientific review committees were given the task of reviewing the evidence for psi effects. The reviews were prompted by concerns that if psi was genuine, it might be important for national security reasons. We would have to assume that foreign governments would exploit psi if they could.

Reports were prepared by the Congressional Research Service, the Army Research Institute, the National Research Council, the Office of Technology Assessment, and the American Institutes for Research (the latter commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency - CIA). While disagreeing over fine points of interpretation, all five of the reviews concluded that the experimental evidence for certain forms of psychic phenomena merited serious scientific study.

For example, in 1981, the Congressional Research Service concluded that,

"Recent experiments in remote viewing and other studies in parapsychology suggest that there exists an "interconnectiveness" of the human mind with other minds and with matter. This interconnectiveness would appear to be functional in nature and amplified by intent and emotion."

The report concluded with suggestions of possible applications for health care, investigative work, and,

"the ability of the human mind to obtain information as an important factor in successful decision making by executives."

In 1985, a report prepared for the Army Research Institute concluded that,

"The bottom line is that the data reviewed in [this] report constitute genuine scientific anomalies for which no one has an adequate explanation or set of explanations.... If they are what they appear to be, their theoretical (and, eventually, their practical) implications are enormous."

In 1987, the National Research Council reviewed parapsychology (the scientific discipline that studies of psi) at the request of the US Army. The committee recommended that the Army monitor parapsychological research being conducted in the former Soviet Union and in the United States, they recommended that the Army consider funding specific experiments, and most significantly, they admitted that they could not propose plausible alternatives to the "psi hypothesis" for some classes of psi experiments.


Dr. Ray Hyman, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon and long-term skeptic of psi phenomena, was chairman of the National Research Council’s review committee on parapsychology. He stated in a 1988 interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, that

"Parapsychologists should be rejoicing. This was the first government committee that said their work should be taken seriously."

In early 1989, the Office of Technology Assessment issued a report of a workshop on the status of parapsychology. The end of the report stated that,

"It is clear that parapsychology continues to face strong resistance from the scientific establishment. The question is – how can the field improve its chances of obtaining a fair hearing across a broader spectrum of the scientific community, so that emotionality does not impede objective assessment of the experimental results? Whether the final result of such an assessment is positive, negative, or something in between, the field appears to merit such consideration."

In 1995, the American Institutes for Research reviewed formerly classified government-sponsored psi research for the CIA at the request of the U. S. Congress. Statistician Jessica Utts of the University of California, Davis, one of the two principal reviewers, concluded that,

"The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government-sponsored research … have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud…. It is recommended that future experiments focus on understanding how this phenomenon works, and on how to make it as useful as possible. There is little benefit to continuing experiments designed to offer proof….."

Surprisingly, the other principal reviewer, skeptic Ray Hyman, agreed:

"The statistical departures from chance appear to be too large and consistent to attribute to statistical flukes of any sort…. I tend to agree with Professor Utts that real effects are occurring in these experiments. Something other than chance departures from the null hypothesis has occurred in these experiments."

These opinions are even being reflected in the staid realm of college textbooks. One of the most popular books in the history of college publishing is Introduction to Psychology by Richard L. Atkinson and three co-authors. A portion of the preface in the 1990 edition of this textbook reads:

"Readers should take note of a new section in Chapter 6 entitled ‘Psi Phenomena.’ We have discussed parapsychology in previous editions but have been very critical of the research and skeptical of the claims made in the field. And although we still have strong reservations about most of the research in parapsychology, we find the recent work on telepathy worthy of careful consideration."

The popular "serious" media haven’t overlooked this opinion shift. The May, 1993, issue of New Scientist, a popular British science magazine, carried a five-page cover story on telepathy research. It opened with the line,

"Psychic research has long been written off as the stuff of cranks and frauds. But there’s now one telepathy experiment that leaves even the skeptics scratching their heads."

And in the last few years, Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, Psychology Today, ABC TV’s Nightline, national news programs, and television and print media around the world have begun to moderate previously held Stage 1 opinions. They’re now beginning to publish and broadcast Stage 2-type stories taking scientific psi research seriously.

If all this is true, then a thousand other questions immediately bubble up. Why hasn’t everyone heard about this on the nightly news? Why is this topic so controversial? Who has psi? How does it work? What are its implications and applications? These are all good questions, and this book will attempt to answer them through four general themes: Motivation, Evidence, Understanding and Implications.

Back to Top


The Conscious Universe, part III - Four general themes
Dean Radin


”If all this is true, then a thousand other questions immediately bubble up. Why hasn’t everyone heard about this on the nightly news? Why is this topic so controversial? Who has psi? How does it work? What are its implications and applications? These are all good questions, and this book will attempt to answer them through four general themes: Motivation, Evidence, Understanding and Implications.”

This is part 3 of the first chapter from Dean Radins book The Conscious Universe

Theme 1: Motivation

Why should anyone take psychic phenomena seriously? The answer rests on the strength of the scientific evidence, which stands on its own merits. But to fully appreciate why the scientific case is so persuasive, and why has there been any scientific controversy at all, we have to take a bit of a circuitous route.

That route will first consider the language used to discuss psi to show how many confusions over this topic are due to misunderstood and misapplied words (Chapter 2). This is followed by examples of common human experiences that provide hints about the existence and nature of psi phenomena (Chapter 3). We will then consider the topic of replication, where we will learn what counts as valid scientific evidence (Chapter 4). And we’ll end with meta-analysis, where we will see how replication is measured and why it is so important (Chapter 5).

In sum, the motivations underlying this scientific exploration can be found in mythology, folk tales, religious doctrines, and innumerable personal anecdotes. While sufficient to catch everyone’s attention, stories and personal experiences do not provide the hard, trustworthy evidence that causes scientists to confidently accept that a claimed effect is what it appears to be. Stories, after all, invariably reflect subjective beliefs and faith, which may or may not be true.

Beginning in the 1880s and accumulating ever since, a new form of scientifically valid evidence appeared – empirical data produced in controlled, experimental studies. While not as exciting as folklore and anecdotes, from the scientific perspective these data were more meaningful because they were produced according to well-accepted scientific procedures. Scores of scientists from around the world had quietly contributed these studies.

Today, with more than a hundred years of research on this topic, an immense amount of scientific evidence has been accumulated. Contrary to the assertions of some skeptics, the question is not whether there is any scientific evidence, but

"What does a proper evaluation of the evidence reveal," and "Has positive evidence been independently replicated?"

As we’ll see, the question of replicability – can independent, competent investigators obtain approximately the same results in repeated experiments – is fundamental to making the scientific case for psi.

Theme 2: Evidence

Theme 2 discusses the main categories of psi experiments and the evidence that the effects seen in these experiments are genuinely replicable. The evidence is based on analysis of over a thousand experiments investigating various forms of,

  • telepathy

  • clairvoyance

  • precognition

  • psychic healing

  • psychokinesis

The evidence for these basic phenomena is so well-established that most psi researchers today no longer conduct "proof-oriented" experiments. Instead, they focus largely on "process-oriented" questions like, What influences psi performance, and How does it work?

Also presented are experiments exploring how psi interacts with more mundane aspects of human experience like unusual physical effects associated with the "mass mind" of groups of people (Chapter 11), psi effects in casino gambling and lottery games (Chapter 12), and applications of psi (Chapter 13).

Theme 3: Understanding

The wealth of scientific evidence discussed in Theme 2 will show that some psi phenomena exist, and that they are probably expressed in more ways than anyone had previously thought. The vast majority of the information used to make this case has been publicly available for years. One might expect then that the growing scientific evidence for genuine psi would have raised great curiosity. Funding would flow, and researchers around the world would be attempting to replicate these effects. After all, the implications of genuine psi are profoundly important for both theoretical and practical reasons. But this has not yet been the case. Few scientists are aware that any scientifically valid case can be made for psi, and fewer still realize that the cumulative evidence is highly persuasive.

In Theme 3 we consider why this is so. One reason is that the information discussed here has been suppressed and ridiculed by a relatively small group of highly skeptical philosophers and scientists (Chapter 14). Are the skeptics right, and all of the scientists reporting successful psi experiments over the past century simply delusional or incompetent? Or there is another explanation for the skepticism?

We will see that because scientists are also human, the process of evaluating scientific claims is not as pristinely rational or logical as the general public believes (Chapter 15). The tendency to adopt a fixed set of beliefs and defend them to the death is incompatible with science, which is essentially a loose confederation of evolving theories in many domains. Unfortunately, this tendency has driven some scientists to continue to defending outmoded, inaccurate world-views. The tendency is also seen in the behavior of belligerent skeptics who loudly proclaim that widespread belief in psi is due to a decline in the public’s critical thinking ability. One hopes that such skeptics would occasionally apply a little skepticism to their own positions, but history amply demonstrates that science progresses mainly by funerals, not by reason and logic alone.

Understanding why the public has generally accepted the existence of psi and why science has generally rejected it requires an examination of the origins of science (Chapter 16). In exploring this clash of beliefs, we will discover that the scientific controversy has had very little to do with the evidence itself, and very much to do with the psychology, sociology and history of science.

Discussions about underlying assumptions in science rarely surface in skeptical debates over psi, because this topic involves deeply held, often unexamined beliefs about the nature of the world. It is much easier to imagine a potential flaw in one experiment, and use that flaw to cast doubt on an entire class of experiments, than it is to consider the overall results of a thousand similar studies. A related issue is how science deals with anomalies, those extraordinary "damn facts" that challenge mainstream theories. Along with an understanding of the nature and value of anomalies, and how scientists react to them, we will explore the role that prejudice, in the literal sense of "pre-judging," has played in controlling what is presumed to be scientifically valid. Other issues, like how scientific disciplines rarely talk to each other, and the historical abyss between science and religion, make it abundantly clear that if psychic experiences were any other form of curious natural phenomena, they would have been adopted long ago by the scientific mainstream on the basis of the evidence alone.

Beyond the themes of motivation, evidence, and understanding, resides the question, So what? Why should anyone care if psi is real or not?

Theme 4: Implications

The eventual scientific acceptance of psychic phenomena is inevitable. The origins of acceptance are already brewing through the persuasive weight of the laboratory evidence. There are converging theoretical developments from many disciplines offering glimpses at ways of understanding how psi works (Chapter 17). There are explorations of psi effects by major industrial labs, evaluation of claims of psychic healing by the Office of Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, and articles about psi research appearing in the "serious" media.

As acceptance grows, the implications of psi will become more apparent. But we already know that these phenomena present profound challenges to many aspects of science, philosophy and religion (Chapter 18). These challenges will nudge scientists to reconsider basic assumptions about space, time, mind, and matter. Philosophers will rekindle the perennial debates over the role of consciousness in the physical world. Theologians will reconsider the concept of divine intervention, as some phenomena previously considered to be miracles will probably become subject to scientific understanding.

These reconsiderations are long overdue. An exclusive focus on what might be called "the outer world" has led to a grievous split between the private world of human experience and the public world as described by science. In particular, science has provided little understanding of profoundly important human concepts like hope and meaning. The split between the objective and the subjective has in the past been dismissed as a non-problem, or as a problem belonging to religion and not to science.

But this split has also led to major technological blunders, and a rising popular antagonism toward science. This is a pity, because scientific methods are exceptionally powerful tools for overcoming personal biases and building workable models of the "truth." There is every reason to expect that the same methods that gave us a better understanding of galaxies and genes will also shed light on experiences described by mystics throughout history.

Now let’s explore a little more closely what we’re talking about. What is psi?

Back to Top


What is Consciousness?
Bharati Sarkar


What raises us above other known sentient beings is our ability to be conscious of our own consciousness. But what does this mean, scientifically?

“It is now widely accepted that all knowledge, from the beginning of time, is available to each of us, an intelligence that is carried at the cellular, subatomic level. Highly evolved individuals who have touched the hem of the eternal and communed with the infinite through their higher consciousness, made that quantum leap but have been unable to transfer their understanding due to limitations imposed by language. Because language is incomplete and fragmentary, merely registering a stage in the average advance beyond the ape mentality. But all of us do have flashes of insight beyond meanings already stabilized in etymology and grammar.”

We are largely unaware of the traffic of 'thoughts' within our heads including those that guide most of our living actions. The primary actions that keep us alive, such as breathing, seeing, hearing, touching and even tasting, take place without our conscious participation or stopping to think about them.

It is interesting to note that most of our purposeful behavior happens without the aid of consciousness. We even solve most of our routine problems unconsciously. It is when a purpose or result can be achieved by alternative means that consciousness is called upon. In other words, at the routine level of existence, we do not employ consciousness except when we are altering our actions or thoughts from the routine, for a purpose.

Rudolf Steiner believed animal consciousness to be the experience of desires, hopes and fears without self-awareness and the ability to view the body and those emotions from the point of view of an inner observer. He thought plants too have a form of consciousness, perhaps resembling human sleep. The German philosopher Friedrich von Schelling (1775-1854) wrote:

"Mind sleeps in stone, dreams in the plant, awakes in the animal and becomes conscious in man."

What is Consciousness?

What raises us above other known sentient beings is our ability to be conscious of our own consciousness. But what does this mean, scientifically?

Consciousness, according to western science, has its roots in the mind, which in turn is seated in the brain. The human brain, with its highly developed frontal cortex, is divided into three distinct parts and includes the cerebrum, cerebellum and the medulla oblongata or stem. The latter is a remnant of our reptilian ancestry with the ocean as its original habitat.

"Much of today's public anxiety about science is the apprehension that we may be overlooking the whole by an endless, obsessive preoccupation with the parts," says physician Lewis Thomas.

The following view is an attempt to avoid the above pitfall.

Editor's Choice

"To learn is to eliminate," says neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux. From the embryonic stage itself, there is a furious amount of editing at work to fine-tune our brain content. It startled scientists to discover that our growing up and learning process is not of adding new material so much as editing existing ones. Nerve cells in the brain die without being replaced in our infancy (or in degenerative brain disease as adults), although they appear to remain fairly stable later through a lifetime of healthy individuals. The fact remains that the brain is the only organ that does not grow new cells to replace those that are lost.

Human consciousness is a cerebral ability with inputs from the approximately 50,000 million cells that constitute an adult body. There is a growing understanding of the intelligence in individual cells in living matter. The human body is incredibly complex and each of its cells is in constant communication not only with cells that perform similar functions but also with every other cell in the body. Our consciousness probably results from assimilating all this data and arriving at choices or solutions. Our present state of consciousness may be likened to the tip of the iceberg of potential human awareness, of itself and of the universe.

To arrive at consciousness, we have to enter the areas of the brain that contain memory, information and emotion. Human memories go back, to the primal soup and perhaps beyond, to the void before material creation. Scientists of various disciplines are involved in a worldwide research project that is trying to map all of the genes in the human DNA sequence. Another project, not so widely publicized, known as the Human Consciousness Project is already well under way to map the gamut of human consciousness including the unconscious. The latter project is also multidisciplinary and researchers around the world are piecing together what they call a spectrum of human consciousness. This includes: instinct, ego and spirit; pre-personal, personal and transpersonal; subconscious, self-conscious and super-conscious; thus, no state of consciousness is dismissed from its embrace. Undisputed evidence is already in hand that such a spectrum does exist.

The first concept associated with consciousness is 'awareness'. We are conscious when we are aware. This is immediately seen to be not quite true. We may be aware, for instance, without really being conscious of being aware. Awareness is, therefore, only a part of consciousness. Other known aspects of consciousness are:

  • free will

  • reasoning

  • visual imagery

  • recalling

  • making choices

How Much Do We Know?

It is now widely accepted that all knowledge (heavily edited to include only that which is useful to human life), from the beginning of time, is available to each of us, an intelligence that is carried at the cellular, subatomic level. Highly evolved individuals who have touched the hem of the eternal and communed with the infinite through their higher consciousness, made that quantum leap but have been unable to transfer their understanding due to limitations imposed by language. Because language is incomplete and fragmentary, merely registering a stage in the average advance beyond the ape mentality. But all of us do have flashes of insight beyond meanings already stabilized in etymology and grammar.

What is Reality?

Our brain is domineering when it comes to coping with reality. We sometimes see things not as they really are, sometimes invent categories that do not exist and sometimes fail to see things that are really there. There are people who have never seen or heard of an aircraft and will not be able to imagine it and a real airplane overhead will be distorted in their minds, creating alternative realities.

To recognize that what we call reality is only a consensus reality (only what we have agreed to call reality) is to recognize that we can perceive only what we can conceive. Captain Cook's ship was invisible to the Tahitians because they could not conceive of such a vessel. Joseph Pearce explains this best: "Man's mind mirrors a universe that mirrors man's mind." On the other hand, if a seed of imagination is sowed, a germ of an idea can be planted contrary to existing evidence. The seed will grow and sooner or later produce data to confirm or deny the idea.

A Complex Issue

According to neurobiologist William Calvin, the human mind (in all likelihood, the seat of consciousness), located in the brain, is so complex that we have only just begun to understand bits and pieces of it. It is remarkable that despite the advancements of ancient civilizations in India, China, Mesopotamia and Greece, the discovery of the crucial importance of the brain as the seat of thought and action did not feature in human knowledge until barely two centuries ago. The navel, the liver and the heart were revered instead by different cultures, at various times.

Consciousness is the most advanced event in the history of evolution. But we cannot separate it from the spirit, mind or brain. In western science, to put it simply, consciousness is the output of the mind, which is an aspect of the brain. Consciousness depends heavily on memory, which is very tricky and can be full of holes, patched up, more often than not, by fantasy. Memory is also selective and, often, faulty. We paint rosy pictures of incidents, events and people when it suits us and we also do the exact opposite. The fact that some of our memories (true ones, because no imagination is involved) go back several billion years to the procrustean age while others belong to just a few moments ago, only adds to its mysteriousness.

Muddying the waters even further is our emotions. Our feelings color our consciousness as much as our memories do. Emotions are really reactions to external stimuli. You cannot feel an emotion in a vacuum. Even loneliness presumes that you have known togetherness. So, it appears that our consciousness needs the 'other' even if the other is your own mirror image or parts of your body/bodily functions. It needs an external environment; it needs language, an interaction with something outside itself. Consciousness therefore presumes an entity that is aware of 'something' (including itself).

Understanding Our Own Minds

What does this mean? To understand something, first of all we need evidence of its existence. Here, therefore, we are trying to use something (the mind) to understand itself and produce evidence of its own existence, somewhat similar to the Drawing Hands of Escher that depicts a self-drawn drawing. An inherent paradox where something in the system jumps out and acts on the system as if it existed outside it. And when we examine our own minds, this is exactly what happens. According to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, understanding our own minds is impossible, yet we have persisted in seeking this knowledge through the ages!

Your Thoughts Count

The framework of consciousness is thought. Its shuttle is random selection and its warp and woof are memories and emotions. Human consciousness, unlike awareness, includes a series of choices. American psychologist E.L. Thorndyke called this the method of trial, error, and accidental success. Modern AI (artificial intelligence) calls it 'generate and test'. Applied to our thought process, the chance creation concept goes back to Xenophanes in ancient Greece.

Our thoughts begin at random, our mind taking the first opening before it. Perceiving a false route, it retraces its steps, taking another direction. By a kind of artificial selection we perfect our thought substantially, making it more logical as we go along. With enough experience, the brain comes to contain a model of the world; an idea suggested by Kenneth Craik in his book The Nature of Explanation.

In an average day, we are conscious of several million things. Further, the conscious mind at a higher level is able to free itself from order and predictability to explore every possibility with its rich variety of choices and opportunities. This leads us to levels of consciousness.

Levels of Consciousness

From the conscious awareness of an infant to its immediate environment, recognizing its mother as apart from others, for instance, levels of consciousness rise as we grow.

Colin Wilson suggests at least eight degrees of consciousness, from Level 0 to 7. They are:

  • Level 0—deep sleep

  • Level 1—dreaming or hypnagogic

  • Level 2—mere awareness or unresponsive waking state

  • Level 3—self awareness that is dull and meaningless

  • Level 4—passive and reactive, normal consciousness that regards life 'as a grim battle'

  • Level 5—an active, spontaneous, happy consciousness in which life is exciting and interesting

  • Level 6—a transcendent level where time ceases to exist. Wilson does take note of further levels of consciousness as experienced by mystics but gives no details

Cosmic Consciousness

Canadian psychologist Richard M. Bucke, in his book Cosmic Consciousness, coined this term. It is a transpersonal mode of consciousness, an awareness of the universal mind and one's unity with it. Its prime characteristic is a consciousness of the life and order in the universe. An individual who at attains this state is often described as 'Enlightened' and such a person is also said to have a sense of immortality, not of attaining it but of already having it. Burke saw this state of consciousness as the next stage in human evolution, very much as spiritualists have always seen it.

Indian yogis and mystics classify the seven states of consciousness differently.

  • They point out that human beings normally experience only three states: sleeping, dreaming and waking.

  • In meditation, fleetingly you experience turya, literally the fourth state, or transcendental consciousness, commonly known as samadhi.

  • When this state coexists and stabilizes with the other three, that is the fifth state, where I-consciousness expands to become cosmic consciousness.

  • The sixth state is God consciousness whereby you see God everywhere, in everything.

  • The last is unity consciousness: what is within is also outside—pure consciousness, and nothing else is.

Spiritually, consciousness is as vast as the universe, both known and unknown. The potential power of this level of consciousness has been merely touched upon and that too by a few mystics. Consciousness at this level becomes capable of:

  • magical powers

  • defying accepted scientific physical laws

  • giving us a glimpse of probable future developments in, among other things, quantum physics

Collective Consciousness

Historically, great movements in any area emerge from a collective consciousness. It is not surprising that in any given field of activity, great ideas do not occur in isolation. Despite an idea germinating in an individual mind, it is interesting to note that the same idea strikes two or more thinkers, geographically far apart, around the same time. Collective consciousness results from consensus.


At any given time, collective consciousness is actively operational in a group as small as the family and as large as half the global population. The power of collective consciousness has not been fully explored or appreciated, except perhaps in times of great distress when 'prayers' are offered by a group of individuals for a particular reason and the prayers are answered.

The Paradox of Consciousness

The conscious human mind is capable of great good and equally extraordinary evil. It is only for the sake of simplicity that we talk of levels in the form of tiers with an upward hierarchy. In fact, consciousness, while rooted in causal linearity (within the Darwinian evolutionary framework) is dynamic, free moving and nonlinear. The greatest discoveries and inventions were arrived at intuitively. The genius sees what we all see except that s/he thinks about it differently. The evil genius does exactly the same.

Kierkegaard says:

"The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think."

A conscious human knows something and he knows that he knows it (ad infinitum). The paradox of consciousness is not that we are aware of ourselves but of other things as well, including those that do not constitute the 'real world'. Of course, when we 'conceive' or imagine something 'unreal' even our farthest imagination cannot transcend 'known' symbolism, which is why there are some things that defy definition. One of these is 'consciousness' itself.

Consciousness is a fresh fruit of evolution and our most prized possession. It is consciousness that sets us apart from the opulent variety of earth-life and puts upon us an onus of responsibility. It takes us on incredible journeys and has given us the gifts of insight and transcendence. The same kind of process that gives the earth abundant life allows us to have a sense of self, to contemplate the world, to forecast the future and make ethical choices. Each of us has under our control a miniature world, continuously evolving, making constructs unique to our own minds. In the same way that life itself unfolded, our mental life is progressively enriched, enabling each of us to create our own world.

The universe was born from chaos billions of light years ago and evolved through random selection, and is doing so even today. Stars (and people) are born and die for no better reason than that they simply do. Some stars live longer than others do; some support a host of satellites. Our sun is one of the latter and our fragile planet is just a rock that accidentally came from the sun and eventually became home to an abundance of life forms. As life forms evolved through random selection, humans emerged on the top of the food chain and from there, in the blink of an eye, here we are, seriously and consciously looking for answers and meanings in the universe around us.

Back to Top