Sunday, July 19, 2009

Consciousness Itself

by Jeremy K. Finkeldey


This blog post is a re-worked excerpt from my senior paper entitled Spiritual practice and consciousness. When you see a reference here to "this paper" it is to the larger paper that I am referring. The thesis of Spiritual practice and consciousness is that the spiritual practices of introspection, prayer, and meditation facilitate an enhanced connection with the Divine effecting a greater consciousness in the human mind. As you will see in this excerpt (among other sources) I draw heavily on the works of the 18th century mystic and revelator Emanuel Swedenborg as well as certain select Buddhist sources to support my thesis.

Consciousness Itself

Before delving into the subject of enhancing personal human consciousness through the spiritual practices of introspection, prayer, and meditation it is necessary to ask the question “What is consciousness itself?” This topic is, of course, too large and involved to do it thorough justice in a paper of this scope. However, the thesis of this paper stands on several basic assumptions. The first of these is that, as Swedenborg has revealed, “God is one, in whom is the Divine Trinity, and He is the Lord Jesus Christ” (Swedenborg, 1996, CL 82). A second basic assumption, also from Swedenborg’s Writings, is that all real created things have in fact been created by and from the one true God of the universe. The following, from Swedenborg’s work entitled Divine Providence, expresses it well:

"Every created thing, and especially man, and the love and wisdom in him, have reality and are not merely ideas of being. For unless God were Infinite there would be no finite; and unless the Infinite were the All there would be no reality; and unless God had created all things from Himself there would be nothing. In a word, we are because God is." (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 46, emphasis added)

This passage is clearly stating that all things have been created, not from nothing, but from the Lord. Because the Lord is infinite, and all created things are finite, this necessarily implies that there is a process by which the Lord makes finite that which is infinite - a "finition" process (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 1-167). Logically then everything that exists from first things to last, with the exception of evil and its falsity (since that cannot be attributed to the Lord), is from the Lord. This is why Swedenborg, when discussing some quality human beings are capable of, will often do so with reference to the Lord. For example, in his work on the Divine Providence in a discussion with angels on the subject of human wisdom, he can be seen referring to the Lord as “Wisdom itself” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 36). Therefore the Lord is the source of all human wisdom. For its metaphorical beauty, and its abundance of truth relevant to the thesis of this paper, I will cite this passage here in full:

"I have sometimes conversed with angels about wisdom; and they said that wisdom is conjunction with the Lord, because the Lord is Wisdom itself; and that a man attains that conjunction who casts hell out from himself, and that he attains it so far as he casts out hell. They said also that they picture to themselves wisdom as a palace, magnificent and highly adorned, the ascent to which is by twelve steps, and that no one reaches the first step unless from the Lord through conjunction with Him. Further, they said that everyone ascends according to the measure of the conjunction; and as he ascends he perceives that no one is wise from himself, but only from the Lord, and that the things in which he is wise, compared with those in which he is not wise, are as a few drops of water to a great lake. By the twelve steps leading to the palace of wisdom are signified principles of good conjoined to those of truth, and principles of truth conjoined to those of good." (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 36, emphasis added)

Similar “Itself” statements can be found throughout the Writings of Swedenborg in reference to the Lord. To point to a few, the Lord is said to be:
* Wisdom itself (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 36)
* Love itself (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 4)
* Life itself (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 4)
* Peace itself (Swedenborg, 1983, AC 1726)
* Mercy itself (Swedenborg, 1904, Lord 18:1)
* Justice itself (Swedenborg, 1904, Lord 18:1)
* Good itself (Swedenborg, 1997, De Verbo 12)
* Truth itself (Swedenborg, 1997, De Verbo 12)

If the Lord is all these things “themselves” – indeed, if the Lord (as stated above in DP 46) is the “All” – then it seems reasonable to say that the Lord is also Consciousness Itself. In the same way that the Lord is Life Itself – He is also Consciousness Itself. Or, as Swedenborg wrote:

"… nothing whatever in the created universe is substance and form in itself, nor love and wisdom in itself, indeed neither is man a man in himself, but all is from God, Who is Man, Wisdom and Love, and Form and Substance in Himself. That which is in itself is uncreate and infinite. But whatever is from itself… is created and finite, and this represents an image of Him from Whom it is and from Whom it exists." (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 52, emphasis added)

Therefore human consciousness is, or should be, an image of the Divine consciousness from which it exists. Indeed, the same number from Divine Love and Wisdom tells us something of the quality of human consciousness very deserving of reflection:

"Each and every thing which exists in the created universe has such a correspondence with each and every thing of man, that it may be said that man also is a kind of universe. There is a correspondence of his affections and hence of his thoughts with all things of the animal kingdom; of his will and hence of his understanding with all things of the vegetable kingdom; and of his ultimate life with all things of the mineral kingdom." (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 52)

The third, and final, basic assumption on which the thesis of this paper stands is that there are two foundations of truth provided to the human mind by the Lord. Swedenborg writes:

"The foundations of truth… are two, one from the Word, the other from nature or from the truths of nature… still, they [i.e., these two foundations of truth] agree the one with the other… Since sciences have shut up the understanding, therefore, sciences may also open it; and it is opened so far as men are in good… all things of heaven constantly have their foundation in the laws of the order of nature, in the world and in man, so that the foundation remains permanently fixed." (Swedenborg, 1902, SE 5709, emphasis added)

These two foundations of truth are, according to Swedenborg, the two avenues by which humans can gain knowledge of God. Ultimate reality involves a finite universe created from the Divine substance of an infinite God as described in Swedenborg’s work on the Divine Love and Wisdom (Swedenborg,1969; DLW 154). The universe, or nature, created by this infinite God is compared in Swedenborg’s work True Christianity to “a stage on which proofs are constantly being demonstrated that God exists and that there is one God” (Swedenborg, 2006; TCR 12:1). The study of nature, also known as ‘science’, is the study of one of the foundations of truth upon which confirmations of genuine truth can rest. And so, psychology, neuroscience, and even Buddhist philosophy and practice (or any disciplined consideration of natural reality) can legitimately augment and support the study of genuine Divine truth. It must be kept in mind however, that: “nothing can be founded upon scientifics except it be previously founded upon the Word. This must be first: the other is only a confirmation from man's scientifics” (Swedenborg, 1902, SE 5710). Therefore the thesis of this paper rests on three basic assumptions as follows:

* “God is one, in whom is the Divine Trinity, and He is the Lord Jesus Christ” (Swedenborg, 1996, CL 82).
* All real created things have been created by and from the one true God of the universe. The Lord is Consciousness itself and “we are because God is” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 46).
* There are two foundations of truth by which genuine truth can be known and confirmed: i) The Word, and ii) Nature (Swedenborg, 1902, SE 5709-5710).

Human Consciousness

Let us begin with a discussion of what a working definition of “human consciousness” might look like. Human beings, and everything that has been created, are “so formed that the Divine can be in them” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 4). Elsewhere in the Writings, this idea is stated even more clearly: “Every created thing is in itself inanimate and dead, but it is animated and given life by this: the Divine is in it, and it is in the Divine” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 53). In addition:

“In things first and last, and in things greatest and least, He is the same… the [Lord's] Human is the inmost in every created thing, though apart from space.” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 285, emphasis added)

Our personal experience of life is made possible by Life itself and, as Swedenborg wrote, “love is the life of man” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 1). Divine Love flows continuously into human beings (and other created things) and animates them giving them life such as their particular created form is capable of receiving. This is one of the main points of DLW 1 in Swedenborg’s description of human beings’ relationship with the Lord. The other equally important point of the same passage is that human beings DO NOT KNOW what love actually is or that love flowing in from the Lord is their “very life”. The truth that human beings do not know this is acknowledged by one of the most contemplative and penetrating minds of our time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In his book The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, he writes: “the conceptual and philosophical question of what life is remains open” (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2005, p. 160). To repeat, in the mid-18th century Swedenborg answered this question of what life is, “love is the life of man” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 1, emphasis added).
Knowledge of the true nature of the substance of life is a revelation from the Lord put to paper by means of Swedenborg’s quill. There is no other way to know it because of the strong appearance to the contrary – the appearance that life is from ourselves. This truth that love from the Lord is our very life cannot be shown using the objective scientific method.
Not only is life given to us moment to moment by the Lord, but our very ability to experience life is similarly provided by the Lord. One aspect of human consciousness, the ability to gather sensory impressions, is an example of this. That this ability is also from the Lord is explained by Swedenborg. He states:

"… it is [man’s] spirit that sees, not his eye: the spirit sees through the eye… The case is the very same in regard to this interior sight, or that of the spirit; this again does not see from itself, but from a still more interior sight, or that of man’s rational… neither does this see of itself, but does so from a still more internal sight, which is that of the internal man… And even this does not see of itself, for it is the Lord who sees through the internal man, and He is the Only One who sees because He is the Only One who lives, and He it is who gives man the ability to see, and this in such a manner that it appears to [the man] as if he saw of himself. Such is the case with influx." (Swedenborg, 1965, AC 1954)

The ‘appearance’ we have that our life and our consciousness is from ourselves, rather than from the Lord (which is the actual truth), is an essential aspect in our ability to change and grow through spiritual practice. Our spiritual freedom depends on the appearance of self-life - without it we could not learn to love.
No wonder modern science (in spite of its ever-increasing levels of advancement) has such difficulty discovering the true nature of human consciousness which, in its origin, is spiritual. And yet the sciences, especially psychology, neurology and modern physics, appear to have a growing interest in exploring the nature of this mystery.
For example, in a recent issue of Time magazine about 46% of its pages were devoted to articles on the brain and its relationship to consciousness and consciousness-related topics (Time, January 29, 2007). This growing interest together with major technological advances in neuroscience will doubtless go a long way in describing and defining human consciousness. In one of the Time magazine articles, a Harvard psychology professor (and dedicated atheist) discusses the two “problems” in consciousness studies known as the “Easy Problem” and the “Hard Problem” (Pinker, 2007). The Easy Problem, he says: “is to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it evolved” (Pinker, 2007, p. 61). The Hard Problem is how to explain: “how subjective experience arises from neural computation” and “why it feels like something to have a conscious experience going on in one’s head – why there is first-person, subjective experience” (Pinker, 2007, p. 61).
This is an especially hard problem since most of the neuroscientists studying human consciousness are doing so with a view to confirm what they already believe philosophically – that, as Pinker says: “Consciousness does not reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain like a PDA; consciousness is the activity of the brain” (Pinker, 2007, p. 62). While acknowledging the experience we all have that there really is a subjectively distinguishable “I” or a separate self that chooses and thinks and decides, Pinker concludes his description of human consciousness with the unsatisfying, and simultaneously intriguing, idea that the self is an illusion created by the brain. He writes:

"Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along." (Pinker, 2007, p. 62)

In Pinker’s view, human beings are merely a collection of fleshy structures walking around concocting an illusion of a self that does not really exist. The idea that neural events are competing for attention implies the existence of a self for whose attention they are competing rather than an after-the-fact concocted self. The self as a brain-concocted illusion also flies in the face of Swedenborg’s teaching cited above that: “Every created thing, and especially man, and the love and wisdom in him, have reality and are not merely ideas of being” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 46).
I propose that we think of human consciousness as having, in general, three levels. The first is Basic Consciousness. This would be simple awareness of one’s own personal existence as contrasted with ‘unconsciousness’ or the lack of awareness of one’s own personal existence. If Basic Consciousness could speak (which it can’t), it would only be able to say, “I am”. The formation of Basic Consciousness, or of the anatomical structures associated with Basic Consciousness, begins at conception and is made functional by the infant’s first breath. One study concludes (tentatively) that: “a fetus becomes conscious at about 30 to 35 weeks after conception” (Burgess, 1996). However, this finding appears to be inconsistent with Swedenborg’s teachings regarding embryonic development and consciousness. He writes:

"In the embryo before birth there is life, but the embryo has no consciousness of it… the life from which the embryo lives in the womb is not life of its own, but of the Lord only, Who alone is life." (Swedenborg, 1942, DW 3:e, emphasis added)

Swedenborg clarifies that: “sense-life and… motor-life… cannot exist from the beating of the heart alone; it exists from the conjunction of this with the respiration of the lungs” (Swedenborg, 1942, DW 3:82). Basic Consciousness could therefore be called “the Observer” only after the first breath is taken - it has no conscious observational power prior to the first breath. Basic Consciousness contains both natural and spiritual consciousness “in potentia” and is necessary to the development of the other levels of human consciousness.
I propose that the next level of human consciousness is Natural Consciousness. This level of consciousness includes literally everything that can possibly be observed in nature and/or talked about in natural language. It is at once the product of learning and the realm of illusion. It could be called “the Observed”. The formation of Natural Consciousness begins with the infant’s first breath, ends with the natural heart’s last beat, and contains spiritual consciousness within it – either realized or unrealized.
Finally, I call the third level Spiritual Consciousness. While only fully actuated after the death of the body, it begins to be formed, and more or less realized, during the life of the body. The development of Spiritual Consciousness is a life-time process that includes the formation of natural consciousness (as its containant) as well as the development of Spiritual Consciousness itself. The development of Spiritual Consciousness is referred to in the Writings of Swedenborg as “reformation and regeneration” (Swedenborg, 1988, TCR 572-620). Reformation is analogous to spiritual conception and regeneration to spiritual gestation.
So I will posit that all levels of human consciousness are derived from conjunction with Consciousness Itself (i.e. the Lord). Human consciousness is developed and enhanced through reciprocal conjunction from love in personal freedom. Since the Lord is infinite and humans are gifted with the ability to reciprocate spiritually, human consciousness is eternally enhanceable. If, as I assert, the Lord is Consciousness Itself and all created things are from the Lord, the idea that non-human forms in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms are possessed of some form of non-human consciousness does not seem too far-fetched. This seems especially possible since, as I noted above, Swedenborg wrote that, “the [Lord's] Human is the inmost in every created thing, though apart from space” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 285). I do not intend to pursue this line of thinking in this paper since it seems to be more of a topic for the science of physics than psychology. I only offer it as food for thought and possible further research in the light of Swedenborg’s revelation.
For the purpose of this paper, human consciousness is more than mere awareness, sensory/motor function, and cognition. It is an evolutionary product of cooperative interaction between the Lord and an individual human being effecting a mutual, love-based conjunction between the two. The purpose of this paper is to explore the enhancement of personal consciousness through conjunction with the Lord by means of the spiritual practices of introspection, meditation, and prayer.


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