People can be considered as conscious when they can perceive their thoughts and feelings,as well as their environment and can describe these perceptions to others.Thus consciousness enables people to deal in a way based on thoughts, memory,and flexibility with their environment,rather than coping in an automatic and rigid way.
Psychologist William James described consciousness as a stream which flows continuously, not as a succession of separate ideas or sensations.
Moral feelings expressions, qualities, values, standard of conduct and in concrete and practical terms, the way of life – all these aspects are common to human beings and form a vital part of our consciousness.
A complete system governing all aspects of human existance both individual and collective. Human beings have their own reality, not as a machine reacts mechanically as ‘programmed’ by their emotions and environment, but a true and unique creature possessing an obvious outwards aspect – the physical body – and a hidden, inner aspect – the mind emotion and soul.
Generally, there is nobody who is always in a normal state of consciousness all the time. The individual’s state of consciousness is altered. Sensory deprivation sleeping, meditation, hypnosis and drug induced experiences are all examples of these altered states of consciousness. They all affect perception as well as other human functions such as respiration, cognition, motor coordination and memory.
When we go to sleep we lose awareness and fail to respond to a stimulus that would produce a response in the waking state. In a trance state people seen to be blind or deaf or immune to pain. Persons under hypnosis can for example recite forgotten memories. When awakened, they probably are unable to recall anything that happened while they were hypnotized. Childeren regularly practicing techniques that produce changes in mental states, such as whirling themselves. Darvishes in some cultures also whirl in circles, Buddhists concentrate on their breathing and Yogis contemplate specific objects. All these kinds of meditation are also altered state of consciousness.
Consciousness enables us to receive, retrieve and rearrange information needed for problem solving and long-range planning. This process gives us a great capacity of coping and dealing with our environment. It also enables us to cope with conditions that require us to choose among stimuli.
We notice emphasize and decide, we ignore or suppress the stimuli which we do not like to deal with at that time. The mechanism of attention is so great and effective, that when one kind of information has been selected, the other receivers are shut off.
Every-body pays more or less attention to some events than to others. Consciousness allows us to focus on the most important parts of our environment. We do not have to respond to every stimulus around us only to those that require a response.
The human being is constantly receiving information which is in fact more than what can be noticed, absorbed and understood. Therefore, an effective way of choosing what’s important is essential.
Primarily, any thing that happens in the environment engages the senses and will catch the attention. The mind begins to take an interest in it. Seeing gives rise to thinking, then one thought becomes the cause of another.
If ink is dropped on to paper, then that paper is folded to produce a symmetrical design, many familiar objects in the ink blot will be recognized and different persons will recognize different ones. The ink-blot test of personality by Herman Rorschach shows that people unintentionally project themselves into their perception of the environment.
There are degrees or states of consciousness,and we may pass through some of them during the normal course of a day. Sometimes during the day we are aware of our environment while some other times we are not. For example, when we wake up in the morning we may still be a little bit drowsy. We may become more aware of our thoughts and feelings usually after having morning tea. Periods of drowsiness through which we become less aware, may also be repeated during the day specially when we approach sleep.
Consciousness is the mental function through which people experience things. This kind of functioning has some significant characteristics. Some states of consciousness, such as sleeping and dreaming occur naturally in the individual’s daily experience. Others, such as meditation, channelling and hypnosis, occur in a particular situation and some others can be produced by certain drugs such as alcohol or marijuana.
Therefore there are many different ways where consciousness can be present Peoples conscious experience and feelings about themselves can vary under different conditions. They can enter some different states of consciousness each of which provides its own distinctive experience. This experience also differs depending on whether the person is asleep or awake, intoxicated or hypnotized, meditating or possessed.
Our normal way of perceiving helps us to cope with our environment and survive. The sensory systems and brain pick from the stimuli that surround us that which is mainly important to us or related to our needs. Thus our consciousness is not only selective, it is also active but can be interrupted too by outside interference.
Furthermore,we can perceive immediately what is important and interesting to us and accordingly act quickly. We also have to realize that our unawareness of most of the processes which are going on in our brains are limited.
In fact human beings are not aware of most of the things to be aware of. Many episodes and events are available to consciousness, but only a few of them can be focused on at one time. Our concerns may also be many and varied, so that the mind does not concentrate on a single subject but keeps moving from one direction to another. Plenty of distractions are usually interfering.
In meditation, the individual exercises the skill of stressless and relaxed concentration and develops a barrier against inner and outer distractions as well. The meditator will not experience the ‘bad trip’ but mostly have a ‘good trip’.
During meditation, physiological responses indicating relaxation are shown in the meditator’s body. During sleep, psychological responses reflecting the unconscious wishes, coflicts and needs are shown in the individual’s dream. When the mind is occupied with daydreams or fantasies, the individual is also experiencing an altered state of consciousness.
People use meditation, alcohol, drugs etc. as tools to deliberately alter their ordinary waking consciousness. Diverse techniques in meditation are used to help people gain a sense of clarity and make them more responsive to the environment and sensitive to their daily experiences. Various types of drugs are used to produce alterations in sensory perceptions of time and space, in imagery and in mental processes.
Loss of self-control, a distorted sense of time, changes in emotional displays, perceptual distortions such as hallucinations are all characteristics by which any one altered state of consciousness can be demonstrated.
Altered state of consciousness can be easily understood by making ourselves receptive to psychic experience. The truth can be learnt not only by objective scientific method or logic,but also by subjective experience, searching for the hidden human knowledge in the depth of our unconscious.
Authors Details: Fathy Fares Contact c/o www.spiritual.com.au