Awareness vs. Consciousness
Why “awareness” training fails and the role of consciousness in our lives.
By Uri Biber
Why care about consciousness?
For many years companies have been struggling with what is perceived as lack of awareness when it comes to information security, as people all across the organisation seems to act as if the risks that evolve from the extended use of technology do not concern them. Computer-based training, targeted training, awareness campaigns – none of them seems to be able to truly mitigate the “lack of awareness” risk.
In order to understand why there is such a huge discrepancy between the desired level of awareness and the actual level it is essential to understand a thing or two about consciousness and awareness, and the difference between them.
Why do we even care about consciousness? We care because awareness to details does not provide a guarantee to a subjective reaction of an individual. If you don’t believe me, go outside, find a smoker and ask him if he is aware to the fact smoking is bad for his health. He might deny it, and in that case bring along a medical journal that has a research about it, or show him the ugly photo on the pack of his cigarette box. Of course people are “aware” of specific fact – but they still do things which might have direct negative reaction to them, for example sending an SMS while driving.
It is one thing to make a person be “aware” of what he is suppose or not supposed to do at a specific point of time. It is something completely different to make a person be conscious of how he acts in the present, and be able to respond in accordance to a set that set of values he is supposed to be aware of. Constant awareness requires constant consciousness.
Society, our culture, our legal system – all of them make the assumption that an adult who is not suffering from a mental disease is aware of thus responsible for his or her own actions. While it is true that all of us are responsible for our own actions, the assumption that we are truly conscious is false. Yes, we all experience some sort of a conscious state, one which escorts us from the moment we open our eyes in the morning, until you fall asleep. Yet there is nothing further from the truth than describing that state of consciousness is an aware of state of consciousness.
The hard problem of consciousness
Let me introduce you to what is known as “the hard problem of consciousness” that was raised by David Chalmers, a philosopher from the Australian National University. Here he is summarizing the problem:
“So the $64,000 question in the study of consciousness is how can you get some kind of explanation of consciousness, wholly in term of processes in the brain? In so many other fields physical explanation has been successful: we explain chemistry in terms of physics, biology in terms of chemistry and even quite a few bits of psychology in terms of biology and so. So it’s natural to hope for consciousness too, but there seems to be this big gap in the case of consciousness. No matter how complicated the system of neurons you’re looking at and how complex is their interaction, it is just very hard to see how this kind of interaction is going to give you subjective experience. I actually think that this is for systematic reason: the kinds of explanations you get from looking at the physical system from a third person point of view is great for certain sort of problems, explaining you what is a systems do, how they behave, (for example) how I walk, how I talk, how I use language. (These) are questions of what I do (and) to solve those questions you just need to find the right mechanism, the mechanism in the brain that brings them out, that kind of behaviour. So some of the problems of consciousness are of that form – how is it that I can point at you, how is it that I can say something in response to a stimulus. These are what I think of as the “easy problems of consciousness”. The question that really gets us going in the philosophy of consciousness is the hard problem – how is it that all these physical processes in the brain gives us subjective experience, why does it feels like something from the first person point of you. And the problem that all of these third person explanations of brain and behaviour and so on, no matter how objectively satisfying always seems to leaves further question open: why is all that accompanied with subjective experience? My own view is, at least, is for systematic reasons any purely neurobiological explanation is never going to answer that question, the hard problem, so we need something else in the explanation. “
We all have subjective experience of “reality” and that experience defines how we see the world. It is something that science in its current set of tools is unable to define nor to measure, and it means that any “awareness” training not only needs to bypass the obstacle of learning new paradigms but also to be able and withstand the subjective conscious experience we all have.
There is obviously a big academic debate on the subject, while some like Christof Koch supports David view and others like Susan Greenfield think it can be explained via a brain module. You can find a summary of the debate transcribed here.
The challenge facing those who support the brain module approach to consciousness is that it cannot explain some events. One of the most known events is a near death experience of an American neurosurgeon called Dr. Eben Alexander, who’s brain was attacked in 2008 with an e-coli infection that shut down his neo-cortex, and for one week he was in a vegetative state with no brain activities. When he miraculously came back to life after a week he gained conscious instantly, recovered against all odds and claimed he never lost his consciousness during that period. He claimed many claims, and before you discharge these claims as an hallucinations please read this. The fact is – we do not understand consciousness and cannot measure it via our scientific instruments.
What we call ordinary reality; ordinary consciousness even “consensus reality” is essentially a hallucination… our brain is creating this reality which we know does not resemble “the real world” whatever that is. The instruments of our physics tell us is the world is a quantum world that’s full of vibrations, that it doesn’t look anything like “this”. So a lot of what our brain does is synthesize hallucination, create a module of the world that we perceive to live it. The world you and I share – this is a module of the world, a module reality, not the real reality. The real reality is completely unknowable and will always remain so. …you’re…working with a module…experienced through the lens of “sober conscious perception”. It’s…(a)…a bio-chemical artifact in a sense – our brain creates this, we live inside of it. …it’s not like there is some kind of an “objective reality” which we (experience) … our brain is an organ that happens to turn out to drugs which we call neurotransmitters and hormones and that what is our brain runs on. …There is no “ordinary reality” or we don’t know what it is – it’s forever unknowable in terms of our subjective experience.
“ (Dennis McKenna, 2013).
To make thing even more complex, it seems that many of the scientist we have today are following a “science dogma” that violates the essence of scientific thinking. The researcher Rupert Sheldrake wrote in his book “The Science Delusion” that science today is working under the belief we already understands the nature of reality, in principle. The belief is that the fundamental questions are answered, leaving only the details to be filled in, and impressive achievements of science seemed to support this confident attitude. However, recent research has revealed unexpected problems at the heart of physics, cosmology, biology, medicine and psychology. Sciences are being constricted by assumptions that have hardened into dogmas, turning it into a belief-system, instead of a realm of inquiry.
I am aware that this is hard for many people to accept, after all – we been promised that science could save us from having to deal with this annoying thing called “god”, isn’t it?
The problem is that while trying to escape one dogma we ended up stuck in another dogma. If the mysteries of existence cannot be answered by science today, what does it mean about the fact we been assuming that science can solve our issues, and how come we led to believe in science?
Life is but a dream…
As mentioned before, the ability of people to change due to relevant information is a myth, and it does not withstand reality test (see the cigarettes example way above). Here is what Mark Cunningham, a known hypnotist has to say about our “conscious mind”:
“The conscious mind is tremendously valuable to solve everyday problems. It is a world best pattern matching engine; it is that part of you that pay attention to things, make decisions. However, it doesn’t have direct access to your memory; it cannot control your emotions, and as it is not that useful in terms of conducting a personal change within you”
Each and every animal on this planet experience reality in a way which is very different from other animals. Dogs would see the world be at their sense of smell, cats can listen to sounds that we don’t even aware of, and birds can sense the magnetic field of this planet. It is easy for people to understand that other species sense the world differently, but it is for some reason very hard for one human being to look at another human being and understand that his or her perception of the world is not the same they as theirs. Our consciousness is a unique experience; no other person or living being on this planet will have the same consciousness experience like you are having right now. No other person or living being on this planet ever had similar consciousness experience like you experienced so far. Yet, when we try to understand other people, to influence other people, to “change” other people, most of us did not even scratch the surface of what consciousness is, thus fail miserably. Consciousness is a subjective, current experience and your consciousness right now is very different from your consciousness when you were a child, a teenager, and it will be very different from the consciousness you will experience as you grow older.
As Alan Watts once said, “there is no past, there is no future, only a constant stream of now” and if I may add – your now is where your consciousness is. We live a life of an illusion, and we choose to do so.
Love for a child
To see why this illusion is so different from one person to another – and it all goes back to our childhood.
Each and every one of us experienced reality in a different way when he or she was a child. The perception of the world a small child has is very different from the perception of the world an adult will experience and this is because small children do not have an ego. Up until the moment of the emergence of what we call “an ego”, the child is in an open state, and when the ego becomes active in a child’s life it creates the feeling of uniqueness in the child. The ego defines the “I am” state, but it is blind to the fact that the “I am” state that it constructs is based upon previous experiences, and these experiences are locked within us as biases. Feelings of lack, abundance or uncertainty of all sort including pain, security, and love will rewire the brain and will define our future perception of the world. Exposure to specific ethnic group that are parents belonged to, exposure to specific faith, exposure to climate area – all of these elements will become engraved into what we call “I am”. With an ego emerging during childhood, the consciousness of the human is encapsulating all previous events as part of one’s own definition of reality – and it is represented in the neurological structure of the brain of the child, thus the adult.
There is a reason why we are so impacted of a young age, and that reason has to do with the fact that children are love creatures. Small children radiate love, this love allows them to learn, grow, to experience. When the child feels an experience of life which is not an experience of love the child creates an internal reference, a bias. The brain generates protection mechanisms every time we get hurt (physically or psychologically), and this protection mechanisms shield our consciousness. As we experience more and more into this world, the experiences slowly define our illusion, one that we call reality, and unless that reality is love oriented suffering becomes part of our lives as the biases hide away from us the ability to explore and experience the true nature of this universe we are all part of. The result is distorted reality, avoidance, and this discrepancy between reality and how our consciousness is experiencing is the root of our inability to change.
To learn more about the subject of childhood trauma and their impact I highly recommend to read the books of Dr. Gabor Mate, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction” and “Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It”.
Where can we go now?
Let’s take a look at what I covered till now:
1) Our conscious mind is not really effective in allowing us to change
2) Whatever the conscious mind is aware of is just a synthesized information
3) Whatever you consider to be a reality is a result of the conscious mind, and in any case that mind is a result of your previous experience, hence non-objective by definition.
So how can we change?
My own personal journey into understanding consciousness started after the diagnosis of my youngest son with autism. Because he cannot speak and because he has a very limited ability of expressing what he is experiencing I studied NLP, hypnosis, neurology, biochemistry, brainwaves and everything that can expand my understanding on how he sees the world. I always knew he was full of love (everyone who ever met him felt it) and I realized that when “I am” trying to understand him, “I am” doing it with you the prism of my ego, and that my ego is my prison that prevents me from truly understanding him. This is why I went on the road to find answers, and while it has been a long journey it transformed my life and it still does, every day. It is only via my ability to observe who I really am, not the prism of my ego but by experiencing life from the prism of a child that allowed me to finally understand my son and other people. In order to change you must connect to the inner child within you, as this is the only way to conduct a life-long effective change. Connecting to our inner unconditional love is what opens our eyes to learn to experience life differently than we do right now, and we can do it best via the unconditional love of others towards us.
Last year on December 4 was attacked by 3 individuals in the streets of London. I was severely beaten, my hand has been broken, and I even got stabbed. However when I stood up and looked at the three men who were running away from me the only thing I had in my heart was love and compassion to them. Life is a personal choice, we all chosen to be, we all choose to be where we are right now. I could have taken part of anger, frustration, demand for justice, but I didn’t. I refuse to live a life which is full of anger and frustration; I refuse to live a life which is not full of love and compassion, and by doing so, by making that choice I am becoming more and more conscious, hence free, hence aware.
The way you leave every second of your life is the way you will live and now that will follow it. There is only now, May your now be filled with love and compassion.
© All rights reserved 2013
Just discovered this… go to 5:27 and enjoy :)