The different aspects of our consciousness—our conscious thoughts, feelings, sensations, intuitions, etc.—provide us with our experience of ourselves and of the world around us. In fact our conscious experiences are our only awareness of ourselves and the world. This means that the universe has to be the kind of place where this type of consciousness exists.
Since any explanation of the Universe has to begin with the use of our consciousness, shouldn’t our explanations of the Universe be grounded in what we know best about the Universe—our conscious participation in it?
Since we are conscious beings, we have to accept that the Universe is a Universe that allows for our consciousness. Therefore, it is quite clear that at least a part of the Universe is conscious—the part that is the consciousness in each of us.
A Conscious Universe: Since each human being is a conscious living organism, the most basic thing we know about the Universe is that it has to be a place that allows for conscious living organisms to exist. Therefore, it is much more likely that the Universe is also a kind of conscious living organism rather than the traditional scientific view that the Universe is a non-living, non-conscious machine that somehow randomly makes itself and then somehow, again randomly, makes conscious humans that are inherently alien to it.
But, you may reply, we don’t experience the larger consciousness of the Universe. Well, the most realistic hypothesis may be that the Universe has many levels of consciousness, a consciousness spectrum like the energy/light spectrum if you will. (In fact, the energy/light spectrum can be viewed as the external perspective on the consciousness spectrum.) However, like the energy spectrum, we humans ordinarily only experience a relatively narrow band of the consciousness spectrum.
At the most basic level, our ordinary human consciousness is an interior experience of the world outside and the world inside through a succession of instants of awareness in a stream of presents that remember their pasts and anticipate their futures. However, there also has to be an over-arching unity, the most intimate example of a field of consciousness if you will, that enables us to connect our immediate past with our immediate future and make some sense of what’s happening in the immediate present.
Expanded Consciousness: Let’s take this a step further. Since each of us is an aspect of the Universe and each of us is conscious, it follows that becoming conscious of our own consciousness would seem to teach us about the consciousness that is at the heart of the Universe—at least the Universe as we experience it.
What happens, then, if we hypothesize that inner experience can provide knowledge that is valid? Is it possible to attain heightened states of consciousness that participate more deeply in the (conscious) Universe? Doesn’t it make sense to train our consciousness, as the key vehicle we have for experiencing and exploring the Universe, to experience what may be a wider range of the spectrum of consciousness in this conscious Universe?
And, doesn’t it make sense to compare our inner experience with the inner experience of other people in a way that produces potentially verifiable inner knowledge? Let’s accept that we humans exist as nodes in a field of consciousness that extends out as a spectrum of consciousness throughout the human species, the solar system, and the whole Universe. Our human nodes of consciousness only receive and process a small portion of the larger spectrum of consciousness, which is unconscious for us.
At the lower (slower) end of the spectrum of consciousness, we encounter the realm of physical matter. At the higher (faster) end of this spectrum we touch the realm of the spiritual. In the mid-range we inhabit the mental realm—the realm that most of us operate within.
As several of humanity’s esoteric traditions put it, the Universe is essentially mental, with a sub-conscious dimension (the realm of physical reality), a self-conscious dimension (where our minds operate), and a super-conscious dimension (the spiritual). This implies that the physical is a particularly dense sub-conscious form of what is essentially a mental reality in a mind or a set of minds that are much more powerful than our minds are. The typical Western mind is pretty much cut off from the experience of the realm of the sub-conscious and the realm of the super-conscious, but it was not always thus.
Spiritual Participation: Judging from the traditional societies that survive and/or have been documented, when we started our journey as the species Homo Sapiens some 200,000 or so years ago, we lived in a state of natural and spiritual participation. We engaged with the world around us along an expanded portion of the spectrum of consciousness, experiencing directly the natural and the spiritual dimensions of places and of animals and of other people.
During those early times, nature pretty much called the shots. Humans adapted to the natural world we encountered and the natural world that controlled us was also a spiritual world. Then, sometime around 12,000 years ago we began to get aspects of the natural world to adapt to us through agriculture and villages. And, at the same time, we began to live along a narrower band in the spectrum of consciousness.
As the millennia passed, the balance progressively shifted until now we have the ability to transform the entire ecology of the Earth pretty completely. And we are transforming it pell-mell. A large number of the adaptations we are forcing on the Earth are turning out not to be so good.
At the same time many of us have narrowed our natural/spiritual participation to the extent that we don’t really experience and empathize with the life of the natural world, let alone its spiritual dimension. This narrowing of consciousness shuts out much of (most of) (maybe all of) our empathy with the suffering we are causing with our highly inadequate economic, social, cultural, and military systems.
In the end, of course, the natural world is still much more powerful than we are. If we try to make it adapt to us in the wrong ways, these actions will just backfire and extreme weather— blizzards and droughts and hurricanes—and/or extreme pollution, and/or pandemics, and/or all the other types of extremes will just take us out and we will become one of the little also-ran species that failed our challenge to find a way to create a magnificent planetary/species ecology as an end in itself and as a foundation for continued joint evolution and exploration.
Expanding our participation in the spectrum of consciousness—giving us the ability to empathize with other people and the natural world as well as the capability to learn from the world of the spirit—may very well be essential for us to find a way to live at peace with ourselves, each other, and the Earth.