After hours of research I’ve come to understand that defining consciousness is like explaining what shape water is. Ask 100 experts, read 100 articles, and you’ll get 200 different answers.
I think most people agree that humans are conscious, but are dogs conscious ? Are trees conscious ? How about fungi mushrooms ?
Are there different levels to consciousness? Is a 6th grade student more conscious than a PDH graduate?
Defining consciousness isn’t black and white, its a spectrum.
In this article we’ll cover the definition of consciousness from a wide variety of perspectives in an attempt to widen our own understanding.
Let’s dive in.
What is Consciousness ?
Consciousness is defined as “the state of being aware”
While awareness is defined as “the state of understanding that something is happening”.
Same thing right ? Well not quite….One is actually a measurement of the other
The subtle differences between the meaning of Awareness and the meaning of Consciousness are often debated.
Most agree that in order to have a ‘baseline level of consciousness’ one must be able to think, act, and react.
Self-awareness is the level in which you realize that you are thinking and acting. And your ‘level of awareness’ is based on your level and ability to analyze & understand your thoughts, actions, and effects of your actions.
How Would You Describe Consciousness?
According to the team of physicians and psychologists at Very-Well-Mind,
“Consciousness can be described as your individual-awareness, and ability to act on your unique thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, and environments.”
What about when you dream? How about if you’re in a coma? Or drunk? Or High? Is your consciousness different?
What Are The Different Types of Consciousness ?
Subconscious vs. Unconscious vs. Conscious
I know when I’m consciously aware of something. But what’s the difference between your sub-conscious and unconscious mind?
Conscious Mind – Your conscious mind is everything you are aware of and thinking about right now. It is your awareness of the world around you in the present moment.
Sub-Conscious Mind – Your sub-conscious mind (also known as pre-conscious) is like a huge storage bank. The subconscious mind contains information that you’re not currently thinking about, but that you can draw into your awareness with a conscious effort.
For example breathing is a sub-conscious behavior. You don’t actively think about your breathing, but when you pull breathing into your active awareness you can control it.
Unconscious Mind – The unconscious mind is made up from automatic process that the conscious mind cannot access because they happen underneath conscious awareness.
For example, the unconscious mind contains suppressed thoughts, feelings, and emotions which may effect everyday behavior with-out us being aware of it.
Another example would be childhood trauma.
What Are The Different States of Consciousness ?
Humans constantly cycle through 5 different baseline states of consciousness every single day. The chart below shows 5 of the most common brainwave frequencies that match-up to the different states of consciousness which we experience on a day to day basis.
5 States of Consciousness:
- Gamma – Considered the “optimal state for functioning”, Gamma waves contribute towards information processing, peak concentration, and learning. The gamma state also improves memory and perception.
- Beta – The Beta state of consciousness is the baseline state of the alert and waking mind. This state is common for being task-oriented, out in public, writing, and having conversations.
Beta consciousness is also associated with being goal oriented and getting things done. However, staying in this state too long is commonly associated with higher levels of stress, muscle tension, anxiety, insomnia and addiction.
- Alpha – The Alpha state of consciousness is known to be a state of balanced emotions. This state of consciousness is usually a meditative and relaxed state.
Because of the relaxation that comes with the Alpha state, tension, anxiety and stress are reduced which leads to mental coordination, alert calmness and the release of serotonin.
Alpha brainwaves are commonly associated with creativity, problem-solving, and the “flow state” (getting in the Zone).
- Theta – Theta brainwaves occur when you’re sleeping or sometimes if you’re awake but in deep meditation. Most people don’t stay awake long in the Theta state of consciousness.
The Theta state is most commonly consciously-experienced when your either ‘just waking up’ or ‘just falling asleep’. Typically your eyes are closed, and you are aware of yoru surroundings, but just barely.
If you’ve ever tried a sensory deprivation tank, the goal is to reach the Theta State of Consciousness.
Theta is commonly associated with intuition, healing and creativity and is also great for improved awareness.
- Delta – The Delta state of consciousness is a slow, deep, drum-like frequency experienced in the deepest of meditations and in dreamless sleep.
Delta waves promote feelings of empathy, extreme bliss, and allows for a connection beyond your subconscious mind and into your unconscious mind.
What Are The Different Levels of Consciousness ?
According to the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, a person’s state of consciousness is interconnected with their level of awareness.
For example, if someone is drunk, generally they’ll experience a lowered level of conscious awareness.
Lower Level “Contracted” Awareness
On an emotional level, their are certain emotions that can block your self-awareness and prevent you from accessing higher levels of conscious awareness.
The chart above as designed by David R. Hawkins provides great insight into the relationship between emotions and levels of consciousness.
Although you probably aren’t aware of every single detail of life happening around you, even in a state of consciousness where with a ‘low level’ of self-awareness, your brain is still sub-consciously processing all the details around you.
(even if you’re not consciously aware of it)
A good example of this would be someone who is dead-asleep and instinctively grabs a blanket when they feel cold. Although they are not actively consciously-thinking about being cold, their brain is still self-aware to a degree.
Higher Level “Expanded” Awareness
Experiencing a high level of awareness puts you in greater control of your thoughts.
High levels of awareness give you the ability to be consciously-aware of minute details at the same time aware of the bigger picture context.
Achieving higher levels of consciousness takes time, patience, and can only be achieved by practicing during certain states of consciousness mentioned above.
Practicing mindfulness & meditation are two examples of exercises that people practice to master their mind and reach a heightened awareness of their thoughts.
How Can You Measure Your Level of Awareness ?
No matter what your current level of awareness is, you can always reach higher levels. But you can also become stagnant, or blinded by ego, and fall backwards into lower levels of conscious-awareness.
Since, defining exactly what consciousness is, is difficult, measuring levels consciousness is quite difficult as well. And certainly not an ‘exact science’.
Much like a beautiful blended sunset, when measuring consciousness it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where one color ends and another starts.
Same with levels of consciousness.
Having said that, Dr. David Hawkins dedicated his life and career to trying to solve this exact problem of measuring consciousness.
Dr Hawkins performed over 250,000 experiments over his career and as a result developed the widely praised “Hawkins Scale”. (see above)
This Hawkins scale is not an exact science, but it helps link emotions to levels of consciousness.
For example, Love is a ‘higher level’ emotion and jealousy (or anger) are ‘lower level’ emotions.
Lots of these emotions are sub-conscious and may be controlling your ‘vibe‘ or blocking your level of awareness with-out you even knowing.
There are many tools to help raise your emotional awareness. Without sounding like a “”basic white girl””, the most popular tools are yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and even psychoactive substances like psilocybin for mental wellness.
I personally practice all of these, and all have benefited my overall level of awareness and happiness.
What’s the Difference Between Awareness vs Self-Awareness ?
After researching consciousness I found that many experts seem to be confusing “”awareness”” with “”self-awareness”” when defining what consciousness means.
Can you be aware with-out being self aware ?
or visa versa ?
Yes, you can be hyper-aware of your surroundings, but still mostly-unaware of your internal ego and your effect on other people in your environment.
General awareness is defined as being alert and conscious of your environment and fully understanding what is happening all around you.
Expanded ‘higher level’ awareness is the idea of being observant and allowing your eyes to pay attention.
The more aware you become, the more capable you become in understanding new environments quickly.
Self-Awareness is defined as your ability to, not only be conscious of your environment, but also conscious of your purpose and effect on others within your environment.
When you’re more self-aware, you become more capable of effecting your environment.
Does Your Ego Block Self-Awareness ?
Both new age psychology, lead by the legendary Dr. Freud, and the ancient way of life, Buiddhism agree that the human ego is necessary, but often is the cause of unhappiness due to blocked self-awareness.
If we want a more satisfying existence, we have to teach our ego to loosen its grip.
It doesn’t help that our western culture (especially pop culture) is all about EGO.
Our western culture is centered more on ‘how can I have more’ instead of ‘how can I give more’.
Hollywood stars driving Lambos to fundraisers – Rappers literally throwing money away on jewelry – Kardashina’s promoting the environment while flying on their private jet.
All examples of Ego blocking self-awareness.
Our ego’s serve a purpose for survival and ego is necessary for self confidence. But often we’re unaware that our ego is blocking our view of ‘higher level’ self-awareness.
Both Western psychotherapy and Buddhism seek to rebalance the ego by reducing self-centeredness and by encouraging self-reflection.
While success in today’s culture is measured by wealth, Instagram followers, and how many Ferrari’s are in your driveway.
Defining, measuring, and explaining consciousness, awareness, and self-awareness falls between the cracks of our scientific understanding and our philosophical understanding of the world today.
As technology, science, physics, and our understanding of our universe (and our place in it ), continues to expand, so will our collective understanding for consciousness and how to best define it.
What we know now is that humans, animals, and plants all meet the current definition of being conscious. With-in consciousness there are different states, different levels, and many other nuances.
While plants may be in a constant state of consciousness, humans have the ability to change states of consciousness and to achieve higher levels of consciousness with practice.
Humans also have the ability to be blinded by ego when it comes to their ability to judging their own level of consciousness.
What do you think?
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