Human Consciousness in Five Basic Steps

Human Consciousness Five Steps

The primary referent for consciousness in the UTOK language system is subjective conscious experience. On the Map of Mind1,2,3, it is identified as the domain of “Mind2.” In contrast, Mind1 refers to neurocognitive processes associated with functional awareness and response, whereas the domain of Mind3 refers to self-conscious justification and narration. The domain of Mind2 is what Nagel referenced in talking about the difficulty in explaining subjectivity, and it is what Chalmers references with the hard problem.  

The UTOK maps the evolution of human consciousness into five steps.

The first step is referred as “base of sentience.” 

This refers to the emergence of feeling states, such as pleasure or pain. In “Untangling the World Knot of Consciousness,” John Vervaeke and I called these “valence qualia.” These states broadcast signals of what the animal cares about and mark what is “good” and thus should be approached, and what is “bad” and thus should be avoided.

Consistent with Feinberg and Mallatt’s review of The Ancient Origins of Consciousness, these valence qualia may be present in insects and likely are present in fish. In their excellent recent work on The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul, Ginsburg and Jablonka argue that the key function of such states is “unlimited associative learning.” These authors argue that these “minimally conscious states” appeared in the wake of the Cambrian explosion, approximately 550,000,000 million years ago, and allow for an animal to “ascribe motivational value to a novel, compound, nonreflex inducing stimulus or action and use it as the basis for future learning.”

Read – Layers of The Empath Gift: 10 Levels of Empath Evolution

The second step – an experiencing self that can plan and deliberate and operates with a more extended working memory.

The second evolutionary step on the path to human consciousness likely happened when animals left the water and shifted onto land.

There are reasonable arguments to be made that living on land requires more advanced abilities for planning, although one must acknowledge the rich mental lives of octopuses in making this assertion (see, e.g., here). Consider that a land animal needs to know where water is and remember where they are in relation.

Whatever the evolutionary adaptive history, there was a significant shift and growth of the cortical areas in birds and mammals that are associated with planning, mental stimulation, and deliberation. This affords the development of what we might call an “experiencing self” that operates in a “global neuronal workspace.” This is consistent with Damasio’s model of the evolution of consciousness and the self. Empirically, there is now strong evidence that crows have a subjective experiencing self.

Read Age Of Accelerated Evolution

In Untangling the World Knot of Consciousness, John Vervaeke offered a compelling argument that the experiencing self should be divided into adverbial and adjectival qualia. Adverbial qualia function to focus, frame, and index with a hereness-nowness-togetherness function, whereas adjectival qualia refer to the properties that are experienced, such as the odor of a predator. He argued that the pure consciousness event experienced by advanced meditators makes clear the difference between adverbial and adjectival qualia. In these states, only the adverbial qualia remain. 

The third step is referred as the self-other relational world

Returning to the evolutionary lineage, the third step in the trail can be framed as the social-relational step, which expands the experiential self into social relations. This likely gets its foothold in evolution with mothers taking care of their offspring and is seen in things like attachment processes in mammals. Complicated social relations create the need for a self-other matrix and very likely deepen the ways the experiencing self functions to map the world in relation to others.

For example, connecting with others requires complicating ways of representing the interests and mental states of others but also requires ways of differentiating and separating one’s own interests. It then grows with the social mammals. As Carl Safina’s work suggests, such mental capacities seem well-developed in creatures like wolves, whales, and elephants.

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Gregg Henriques, Ph.D

Dr. Gregg Henriques is a Professor of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University in the Combined-Integrated Doctoral Program in Clinical and School Psychology. He received Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Vermont and did his post-doctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania, working with Dr. Aaron T. Beck. His primary area of scholarly interest is in developing a “unified metapsychology framework” for both the science and practice of psychology. Toward that end, he has authored the book, A New Unified Theory of Psychology and developed a popular blog on Psychology Today, Theory of Knowledge, where he has authored over 350 essays on psychology, philosophy, politics, and mental health. He is the founder of the Theory of Knowledge Society, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, and has won numerous awards for teaching, scholarship, and service, and published dozens of articles in leading academic journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association, American Psychologist, and Review of General Psychology. A licensed clinical psychologist, he has expertise in theoretical psychology, unified approaches to psychotherapy, psychological well-being, personality functioning, depression, and suicidal behavior. See his home page at Author posts