A long time ago, a graphic offered by Steven Rose in his 1976 book, The Conscious Brain, inspired one of my professors to suggest that Rose’s pyramid for explaining consciousness (page 30) could be modified to label the perspectives from which we describe our personal experiences.
Ever since, I have pondered this schema, asked myself what language I or someone else is using to reflect upon their own reactions to internal or external happenings, and modified his visual to fit the data I saw in my clinical office and research literature. My diagram below shows that we can talk about — or study — the same human phenomenon using at least seven different languages, giving rise to at least seven separate perspectives.
I illustrated the value of this approach in Benefits of Sex After 50 and reflected on its utility in a follow-up, Yes, Older Adults Do Enjoy Sex. I revisited the model most recently in Six Ways the Wisdom of Your Body Can Enhance Intimacy. In my recent post about the benefits of breathing and yoga, I realized how much I appreciate the discipline of yoga from all seven perspectives. As these essays show, a journey through the languages and the kind of research they inspire can make the language pyramid come to life and demonstrate its usefulness.
After a long day of concentration and effort, you might say “the neurons in my brain feel fried” (chemistry and physics) as well as “my brain won’t work anymore” (organ) or “my nervous system refuses to keep processing” (biological system) or “I can’t think any additional thoughts” (psychological) or “Sorry, but I’m not taking in what you are saying” (social-psychological) or “I know this ad is telling me something but I can no longer process what it is saying” (cultural) or even cry out, “Help me, Universe! I am not grasping the meaning of the messages you are sending me!” (spiritual). Today, let’s dive into a bit more detail:
7 Different Perspectives To Describe Your Personal Experiences
1. Physics And Chemistry.
At the most basic level, we are an ever-changing, ever-evolving collection of cells and the processes that affect them. The plumbing and wiring in the human body are the elementary parameters of our experience. The exploding areas of neuroscience and the technologies that can measure our cellular structures and movements capture this level of experience eloquently.
They can document invisible stamps on the essential matters and demonstrate that we respond to stimuli of which we may or may not be aware, as shown by John Bargh and his colleagues.
People’s reactions manifest in various organs of their body, sometimes in an idiosyncratic fashion. Nonetheless, research has shown the heart is associated with arousal, loss, and compassion, the stomach with hunger or overindulgence in consumption, clammy skin with anxiety, muscle tension with goal pursuit. When I feel fear, my lungs tighten and my breathing shifts, foreshadowing the next level of discourse.
3. Biological Systems.
Whole systems in our body come into play as we respond to internal or external stimuli. The threat of an invasive organism (viral or bacterial, for example, or even air or noise pollution), can activate a whole response system: the digestive system can become disrupted, our skin can break out, respiration can increase or decrease, bringing shifts in blood pressure along with it.
How do we describe what is happening to us at a psychological level? What are we perceiving, thinking, feeling? What impulses for action (that is, motivation to respond) are we aware of? How are we behaving and how do we understand our behavior? Do we see it as intentional, crafted through conscious choices, or unconscious, taking place without the engagement of our awareness? Do we perceive the triggers as coming from inside or outside of our own bodies? (See the work of Princeton’s Diana Tamir, whose research takes us across the bridge to the next level.)