“We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself.” – Professor Brian Cox
Probably one of the biggest mysteries in our world today is the nature and explanation of consciousness. It is a fascinating field that touches upon an increasing number of disciplines like child development, psychology, biology, social psychology, neurology, philosophy, physics (quantum mechanics), spirituality and artificial intelligence. I am excited by the increasing number of initiatives globally to combine some or all of these perspectives on consciousness to find deeper truths and insights.
What is the definition of consciousness, if any? This might be presumptuous, but here goes:
Consciousness is the ability to simulate yourself in the future. Consciousness is about lucid dreaming instead of just dreaming. It is about reflexivity, self-awareness, being present and meta-cognition. In the past, we looked at consciousness from the perspective of animals. Dolphins by that definition are conscious as they recognize themselves in a mirror. Now we know the mirror test is an important test for consciousness, but not the only one. We have concluded that all animals are conscious but differ in their degree of consciousness. It is a slider, not a binary definition. See the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.
There is both a hard and soft problem related to consciousness. The hard problem looks at the nature of the subjective experience of being conscious. Scientifically, this is a tough nut to crack. The soft problem relates to more objective parts of the brain and consciousness. We have made a lot of progress there but cannot explain all the anomalies: receiving insights outside-in, connecting to other people, nature and universe as well as precognitions, remote viewings, near-death experiences, synchronicity, quantum energy readings etc.
My Consciousness Journey
Personally, I have been fascinated by this topic for the last 30 years. I consumed the classic books in this domain (list at the bottom), and started to broaden my perspective and mind towards this topic over time, connecting it to deep personal experiences. I used to be an overly rational and academic person as a youngster, up until I was 27 years old. I still use this disposition now but I am also more open to personal observations and experiences related to consciousness. I realized there is much more to it than I used to believe.
In 2001 I had a terrible car accident. I was very lucky and had no severe injuries, but I lost consciousness for 30 minutes or so. Afterwards, my brain and consciousness rebooted in slow motion and it was a strange, unique and profound experience. As I woke up, I felt total bliss and pure presence at first, but also pure anxiety and fear as I realized I did not know anything except my own name. Then, slowly, everything I knew about myself, others and the world came back to me. What is the link with consciousness? Well, my mother told my father a week before the event all the details of the event. The weather, location, and the event itself. It shattered my rational view that explained it by pure coincidence.
In 2010 I met Anita Goel, Founder & CEO of Nanobiosym, a successful healthcare startup that I advised on funding and ecosystems. Anita is an award-winning entrepreneur and scientist specialised in physics and biology at PhD and MD levels. She believes that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of the universe as a whole – like matter or energy – perhaps even beyond. She has a deep, broad academic background and it triggered me a lot.
In 2017 I joined a ten-day spiritual journey in Peru in the Amazon, using different plant medicines (Kambo, San Pedro, Ayahuasca), various guided meditations, nature walks, other organic alignment techniques and more. The deep plant medicine experiences opened my heart and soul to the extreme beauty of healing, nature and of being alive. Additionally, I witnessed ‘shamans’ reading quantum fields or energies as auras around the faces of participants like tree rings within trees, all with a high accuracy rate. We are talking about detailed personal experiences in pretty accurate timeframes. I was and still am curious how this is possible. What does it tell us about consciousness?
In 2018 I experienced my most impressive spiritual and consciousness journey so far. This was in Vadodara, India. A 200-kilometre walk around a river, in nature for seven days in the poorest parts of India. All organic and natural, no plant medicine at all. It was based on shamanic mysticism and asceticism. A traditional pilgrimage combined with long guided meditations, visiting two Ashrams daily. More details of this trip will be shared later on. It showed me consistently and convincingly that there are different, new ways to align inside and connect to other humans, nature and the universe. It taught me that synchronicities are real. That being conscious is a muscle you can train. It also changed my perspective on the nature of consciousness, even more than my Peruvian Amazon experience.
In sum, all of the above experiences triggered my curiosity and broadened my perspective on consciousness.
Recent Academic Developments in Consciousness
First, the gut or microbiome seems to be a second brain (see the academic work by Michael Gershon). Second, there are now theories about how the brain is related to the heart (see the amazing work done at the HeartMath Institute in San Francisco). Third, my personal perspective right now (which of course might evolve over time through new personal and transformative experiences as well as new scientific breakthroughs in this domain) is that consciousness is a result of a combination of:
- Whole body including our gut and heart
I could be wrong about one or more perspectives. So I am more than welcome to hear and see your comments around this post.
Thank you in advance.
Must-read Books on the Subject
- Michael Pollan (How To Change Your Mind)
- Roger Penrose (Emperors New Mind and Consciousness and the Universe).
- Marvin Minsky (Society of Mind)
- Daniel Dennett (Consciousness Explained, The Minds I)
- Joseph Jaworski (Synchronicity)
- Ken Wilber (Brief History of Everything)
- Michael Gershon (The Second Brain)
- Gregg Braden (Human by Design)
- James Lovelock (The Revenge of Gaia)
- Douglas R. Hofstadter (Godel, Escher, Bach)
- Philip Goff (Galileo’s Error)
- Ray Kurzweil (How To Create A Mind)
If you like reading Conscious Learning Tribe, you will love The Unconference, our weekly online video conference, starting on April 5 at the International Day of Conscience (from 2-5pm CET), including 3 panels on the Future of Work, Humanity & Nature and 12 amazing experts and artists incl. Sunny Bates, Loic Le Meur, Gerd Leonhard, Adah Parris, Jonathan MacDonald, Prabhavati Dwabha, Inmaculada Martinez, Bianca Rothschild and Virginia Salas Kastilio (one of Inc. top 26 Women to Change the World!) who will be sharing their visions for a post-Corona Era, along with actionable strategies we can all use to transform ourselves, our lives and our work with consciousness.
Full program at http://theunconference.com