The only function I attribute to consciousness is to establish a link between the Ego and the psychic nuclei tuned and processed through mental activity. Consciousness can be described as a more or less intense light beam that, when turned on, allows to perceive and recognize the well-lit psychic events and some of those fading away toward the shadow area, while when it is off the Ego sees nothing, not even himself. The very perception that the Ego has of its own existence and of its own identity (self-consciousness) depends on consciousness: in the absence of consciousness, in fact, the Ego does not even exist, although an external observer could record some active behavior of the body to which the Ego is connected, and some of these manifestations may suggest the presence of mental activity and even of psychic elements. A typical example of this condition is given by small children in preconscious age (usually before two years), who react to environmental stimuli and interact with adults, may laugh, cry, and manifest emotions, so that by their behavior a external observer would be induced to hypothesize the presence of a conscious Ego, whereas consciousness is still absent. This does not mean that activities, events and psychic contents that have taken place in the state of unconsciousness of an individual cannot subsequently be brought back into his/her consciousness and become part of the plot of experiences recorded by his memory, but any experience can be meaningful for the Ego only from the moment at which it becomes at least partly conscious, or in any case produces psychic effects of stress, desire or conflict that are recorded by consciousness and transmitted to the Ego, which confronts them. The term consciousness is never used on this site to indicate an ethical or moral evaluation function.
Ego (the I)
The Ego is the nucleus of individual and personal identity throgh which we make a conscious experience of human life. An essential prerequisite for the self-perception of the Ego's existence is that consciousness is active. In the absence of consciousness there is not even an Ego, but it may reappear with the return of consciousness after a period of blackout. The Ego and consciousness are therefore closely linked, and the Ego forms the essential reference nucleus of all inner life. Although the Ego knows about the existence of others, its direct experience is linked to its own interiority, while relationships with other human beings (and with theirs Ego) are mediated by behavior, by forms of communication mainly verbal or by empathic links. The complete identification with another Ego is usually impossible, though there are several degrees of empathy and emotional sharing that allow an Ego to perceive some of the experiences of another one.
The Ego constantly experiences the psychic nuclei that involve him through consciousness. This involvement is usually so strong that the Ego identifies itself with the psychic experiences, remaining as ensnared in them. The Ego has, however, some resources that can be used with greater or lesser effectiveness to manage these experiences and achieve certain results that correspond to what it feels and recognizes as its own purposes. First of all, it can deliberately direct its own attention, so that consciousness may focuses on certain psychic experiences rather than others. The activity of the intent also occurs in remembering – that is, in recalling to consciousness, through memory, certain events that have occurred, or information acquired in the past – or in forgetting, that is to try to inhibit the outbreak in the consciousness of painful or in any case unwanted psychic effects, or no longer desired memories.
Another faculty of the Ego's intent is to direct the thinking, in the broadest sense of the term. In fact, mental activity can be creative, even though the ways in which creativity works escape our understanding. A new idea, a new conception, is always the result of a mental process that takes place with the intentional co-operation of the Ego, but without being fully controlled. Terms like invention or discovery give well the idea of something that at some point finds its own form and becomes conscious, and of which the Ego can dispose, according to its intentions, without knowing how the creative idea has formed in the mind. However, the focused attention by which the Ego develops certain mental (and therefore cerebral) processes, gives creative results. The same applies to thoughts, that can be considered as creative forms verbally expressed, when they are aimed at conceiving a story or at the development of a reasoning. The mental state pursued by the Ego through intent is able to facilitate the emergence of thoughts as verbal forms already organized, ready to be examined and evaluated by the intellect in their argumantative logic. Other forms of thinking can be characterized by the prevalence of visionary elements, also organized in time-dynamic scenes: in this case we can attribute to the mind a creative (or mnemonic) faculty which manifests itself through imagery or fantasy.
Intent turns into will when it is sustained by the Ego's determination to achieve something, a result or a purpose, with some commitment of mental energy. Although, as we shall see later, the activity of the Ego is oriented primarily by commands and desires, whose psychic origin relegates the Ego to a subordinate role of unaware operator, the same Ego makes conscious choices and decides the activities, behaviors and strategies to be adopted. To get its own purposes in an operational and creative way, the Ego uses the processing skills of mental activity.
With the term psyche I mean everything that the Ego experiences through consciousness, and which is the essence of the inner life of every human being. Psyche manifests itself in psychic nuclei that can be classified – according to the emotional and conditioning action exercised on the Ego – in various categories, such as sensations, thoughts, feelings, desires, emotions, dreams, fantasies, etc. The psychic experience of our Ego, of course, is enriched and transformed over time, but remains always very limited when compared with the totality of the psychic experiences of all human beings. Indeed, since it is the link with the conscious Ego that gives meaning and life to the psyche, the human psyche as a whole cannot be experienced by any person. As we have already noted, the Ego is so involved in the psychic effects to identify with them, especially when interpersonal interaction dynamics occur, during which different psychic nuclei cause almost immediate reactions. The process of detachment of the Ego from the psychic experiences is instead made easier by solitude and mental activities such as reflection and meditation, which help the concentration of attention on the manifestations of the psyche.
Obviously, all those aspects of the psyche that our Ego does not experience remain unknown to us, and consequently, in this regard, we can speak of some psychic aspects of which we are not aware. However, it is preferable to refer to an unconscious mental activity present in each person to mean those processes that occur through the neural activity of our brain, which we are not aware of, but that may influence the emergence of certain psychic nuclei in our consciousness. Several aspects of the psyche remain enigmatic for the Ego, although we can presume that the psyche, whose essence remains unknown, has undergone an evolutionary path whose beginnings can be traced back to the origin of life on Earth. If we consider the psychic transformations that are produced as a result of the dynamics in which the Ego is involved, we can distinguish three phases. In the first one, the Ego is mostly passive towards its psychic experiences, and receives from the outside the stimuli, the information and the sociocultural programs that determine many of its decisions and the required behavior of its body. The second phase involves the elaboration, intentionally stimulated by the Ego through mental activity, of new psychic nuclei which may represent an evolution compared with those previously experienced. Finally, there may be a third phase in which the Ego transmits to other individuals – through forms of communication or active stimuli – the new psychic nuclei elaborated by his/her mind. In most individuals the first phase is prevalent throughout life.
The complexity of the psychic phenomenon could therefore result, at least in part, from the elaborations made by the myriads of organisms that lived in the past and are living in the present, and from the interactions between these organisms. However, the psyche has some peculiar aspects which, being totally unknown, not only escape the control from the Ego, but determine its functioning, leaving the door open to the well-founded suspicion that the Ego itself is nothing but an automatic function at the service of the psyche. The human psyche, as a whole, does not have the characteristics of a homogeneous phenomenon, but it appears divided into complex regions that have self-contradictory and conflicting aspects. When our Ego is involved in two or more of these conflicting nuclei, it feels divided, and in some cases the conflict may be so strong that may result in the emergence of secondary or multiple personalities. The conscious human experience of conflicting psychic effects has led to the elaboration of symbolic bipolar representations – they too of psychic origin – that give us an idea of the tension to which the Ego is subjected at the psyche's service: light and darkness, good and evil, angels and demons, kindness and malice, holiness and wickedness, friend and foe, peace and war, progress and involution, and so on. Though each of these antinomies can only be considered for its symbolic value, the real effects of the conflict between these psychic regions in the human life are obvious and undeniable. Those who want to relate any conflicting phenomenon to the will of humans – that is, ultimately, to the Ego – forget that the Ego is fundamentally controlled by the psyche and may have in turn some control ability only on certain psychic effects.
Mental activity - Mind - Brain
Mental activity can be considered as the inner perception of cerebral activity: while the latter can be physically observed from the outside, and described in terms of biochemical and informational activity of neurons and neural networks, mental activity can be perceived by the Ego through consciousness. For istance, if I think or dream, the brain activity that makes it possible to think or dream corresponds to a mental activity that makes me perceive my thoughts or my dreams as such. When mankind had not yet sufficient knowledge of the functioning of the brain, the prevalent psychic interpretation attributed the mental activity to an entity separate from the body, indicated by terms like soul or spirit. In our day, information derived from the scientific study of the brain and its functions induces us to believe that, at least under normal conditions, every mental activity always corresponds to a cerebral activity. I don't think however that the dichotomy can be solved in this way (and many scientists agree), at least because the brain activity seems to be similar to what in computer terms can be considered as the physical functioning of the hardware, while the mental activity seems to be due to different aspects of the software that is allocated to the brain and is executed according to the programmed modes. There are also some cases (for which reference is made to the section on NDEs) in which there is some doubt about whether there is a brain activity related to a certain mental activity, since some functions of the brain organ should be compromised by the critical conditions in which it is.
Mental activity may also be unconscious, as well as unconscious are virtually all brain processes that can be observed, in particular laboratory conditions, from the outside, but of which we have no direct inner knowledge.
As seen in the pages devoted to the unconscious, this term – used as a noun – has an ambiguous and uncertain meaning, while clearer and more comprehensible is its use as an adjective. Rather than defining the term, I think it is better to explain the following three aspects that in the specialized literature are included, in one form or another, in the concept of unconscious: subconscious, unconscious mental activity, subliminal Self.
It is an adjective that defines all the memories of events that have occurred in the past, or all acquired information or psychic experiences of which we have been conscious, that can be recalled to memory by the Ego through an intentional effort. On the other hand, what has been experienced through consciousness, but can no longer be recalled to memory, becomes unconscious material. In some cases, particular stimuli from the environment (even in the form of hypnotic techniques or psychic stresses carried out for therapeutic purposes) bring back to consciousness psychic material that was previously considered as unconscious. In these cases, however, it is appropriate to perform validation surveys of the correspondence between the emerging memories and actual events (or psychic events actually experienced) in the past, because sometimes what is recorded by consciousness are false memories of fantasies considered real.
Unconscious mental activity
Brain functioning is not directly perceived by the conscious Ego, so brain activity is mostly unconscious by its nature. Mental activity associated with brain activity is considered unconscious when it produces effects (emotional, behavioral, etc.) which, viewed from the others, may give the impression of being recorded and coordinated by a conscious Ego, while instead do not fall within the field of consciousness of the subject. A typical case of unconscious mental activity is that of young children (already mentioned), whose age is less than the one when the first forms of consciousness appear: these children may have proper reactions to stimuli and well-coordinated behaviors, so that an adult can presume that they are equipped with a conscious Ego. Another example is given by the actions, even complex, carried out by sleepwalking or hypnotized subjects who, upon awakening, have no conscious memories of what has happened, nor of the way in which their body has been able to perform certain actions. Finally, examples of unconscious mental activity are in the field of mediumship, especially in cases of incorporation (when an «entity» speaks through the body of the medium that is in an unconscious trance) or automatic writing (especially if the medium writes different texts with the two hands while its conscious Ego is engaged in a conversation with some of the present).
Subliminal Self - Unconscious Self - Collective unconscious
The fact that through the body of a human being with a conscious Ego, can be carried out actions and produced effects that are beyond the control of that Ego and are not recorded by his/her consciousness, has led some scholars to conjecture the presence of a second individuality associated with the functioning of the psychophysical instrument by which the conscious Ego lives its life. This second individuality may have its own development, its own intent and purpose, but normally none of these aspects is registered by the consciousness. In particular cases, however, the psychic effects of the presence, the activity, and the unusual powers of which this second personality would be endowed may emerge into consciousness. Some psychologists attribute to this second personality its own independent consciousness, which would make it a different individuality than the conscious Ego, but able to influence its psychic tunings and the behaviors of the person. An important theorist of this second unconscious personality was Myers (see the pages devoted to him in the section on psychic research), who called it Subliminal Self, using the term «Self» instead of «Ego» not to make this entity too similar to the conscious Ego. It should also be remembered that Myers often referred to the most advanced part of the Subliminal Self by calling it «spirit». Later, other psychologists, such as Carl Gustav Jung, introduced a similar concept – called by Jung «das Selbst» (the Self) – in order to offer an explanation that could recognize a purpose to certain psychological effects, recorded by the consciousness, of unconscious processes.
However, if Myers hypothesized for the Subliminal Self a personal dimension, somehow related to the individuality of the conscious Ego, other scholars believed that the unconscious (noun) should be considered an impersonal dimension in which all psychic experiences were contained, recorded and, in special cases, accessible by psychics. In the pages devoted to the unconscious, have been examined the cultural roots of this conception, essentially romantic, elaborated and supported by philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Carus and von Hartmann. Once again, the improper use of the substantive «unconscious» to indicate the psyche as a whole has to be emphasized. In practice, the discovery (not particularly exciting) of these philosophers consisted in the recognition that – once culturally eliminated the concept of God – the conscious Ego depends on the psyche and is at the service of the psyche, and that – by elaborating psychic material in the course of life – the human being takes part in the evolution of the psyche, a process whose purposes are not revealed to him/her. This idea of a psychic dimension independent of time and space, in which all the mental experiences of humanity are stored, was then resumed by some researchers to explain paranormal phenomena such as telepathy and the clairvoyance of past and future events (hypotheses of super-ESP or super-PSI). The fact is that these hypotheses escape from any real possibility of cognitive validation, yet admitting the reality of the psyche and the power exercised by it on the conscious Ego.
Psychic nuclei - Psychic elements - Psychic effects
The conscious Ego experiences the psyche in aggregate forms (psychic nuclei) that can be decomposed into simpler elements (psychic elements): for example, the elaboration of a thought can be associated with memories, emotions, and feelings that come together. Even the motivations associated with a desire are of a complex nature, and can be broken down in the elements of hope of obtaining emotional benefits or rewards, and the evaluation of mental and behavioral strategies to be adopted. Dreams, especially complex ones, come as psychic nuclei that include dynamic scenic representations, dialogues, reasonings, emotions, feelings, sensory impressions, and other psychic elements. The impact of psychic nuclei on the Ego, and the degree of involvement with which the Ego identifies with the experienced psychic nuclei, is defined as psychic effect. The greater the psychic effect, the more is reduced the ability of the Ego to maintain a autonomous control capability on his/her own psycho-physical body, as is evident in the case of extreme psychic nuclei such as anger, rage, passion, jealousy, and so on.
The expression «psychic tuning» is used on this site to indicate the conscious experience of psychic nuclei pertaining to distant and separate spheres of the human psyche. The term «tuning» was chosen by analogy with what happens in receiving devices such as the radio or the television, in which the tuner determines the selected frequency and consequently the transmitting station and the program received. In the case of the psyche, a person, as he/she progresses throughout his life, usually ends up tuning a single range of psychic experiences, mostly determined by the socio-cultural conditioning of the environment in which he/she lives, from his/her primary needs and contracted habits. Particular critical events, the use of psychoactive substances, or the proximity of death can lead to a sudden change in the psychic tuning of a person, which involves the activation of very different psychic nuclei, even in their effects, from those usually experienced. A striking example of change in psychic tuning is given by the NDEs (see the dedicated section). Other examples are given in the section on non-ordinary conscious states.
Intent - Determination - Will - Attention
Intent is an orientation taken by the Ego to juggle between the various and often conflicting psychic experiences in which it is involved throughout life. Generally, this tendency is not constant, but changes over time, sometimes abruptly, as a person advances in his/her path of human life. Intention in itself, as the function of the Ego to maintain the established orientation, although not changing, can be more or less efficient: if it strengthens, it can become firm or inflexible determination.
Will can be considered as synonymous with the intent, but I think it is more correct to define it as an effort to pursue a concrete objective. While intent may result into a lifestyle, precisely because it is an orientation, the will results in behaviors aimed at obtaining something, even in interpersonal relationships. However, in common use, the term will is used much more frequently than the term intent. The term «intention» is also used to indicate an attitude directed towards obtaining or doing something, but with a lower energy and commitment than those attributed to the will.
Attention can be considered as a control exercised by the Ego on consciousness to focus on some psychic nuclei or on some mental activities, so that their effects are intensified and, consequently, also their recording in memory is more intense and long-lasting. A state of intense attention is defined as «concentration»: in this case, consciousness focuses on a small number of elements, leaving in the shadow many others that could also attract the attention. A typical example of this is given by persons who, focusing on solving a problem, become distracted even in dangerous situations.
Commands - Desires
For commands, I mean those psychic effects that determine mental activities, actions and behaviors to which the Ego cannot escape. It is not, therefore, the case of exclusively unconscious automatisms which, as such, escape the control of the Ego, but of the compelling choices that the conscious Ego does without sufficient knowledge of the motives and purposes that are at the origin of the command itself . Commands are the so-called basic instincts determined by the functioning of our body, or the impulses, or those mental activities and those behaviors determined by socio-cultural conditioning that work as acquired and mandatory programs. While in the case of conscious choices the Ego is able to carry out its own evaluation and to make intentional decisions, in the case of the commands it feels obliged to decide unilaterally, even when the execution of the order involves a form of suffering: for example, performing a «duty» may be unpleasant to the conscious Ego, who is anyway subject to the command, either for an assessment based on fear of even worse consequences if it decides not to execute the command, or for a future benefit deriving from the execution of the command, or for the intent associated with executing a program based on the sense of duty. In any case, through commands, the Ego is subjected to certain psychic nuclei and their effects.
Similarr to commands can be considered desires, which differ from commands only for the intensity the Ego is involved. Normally, desires come as invitations directed to the Ego to do something and get something, and they are devoid of the compelling sense associated with commands: the Ego retains its freedom to give up without serious consequences. But in some cases, the most intense desires turn into commands that the Ego subscribes to, without knowing by what they are determined and what consequences will have for his/her life once that has been decided for their satisfaction (as in the case of ambitions of passions). Commands and desires are the most significant example of the power exercised by the psyche on the Ego and the level of involvement deriving from the psychic effects: indeed, the Ego emphasizes the command or is involved with an intense desire before even knowing and evaluating the causes that have led to the emergence of that command or desire, despite the (sometimes fatal) consequences that the execution of the command or the attempts to satisfy a desire may entail. In many cases, these causes never become conscious, and a person may be in the condition of asking to himself, for the rest of his life: «But why did I do it?».
Memory is the ability to bring to consciousness past events or information acquired and temporarily archived. Events that were lived in the past, even in the form of psychic nuclei, when recalled in consciousness in the form of memories generally lose, with the passing of time, much of the intensity and richness of details with which they had been lived. The inner process with which memories are recalled by the Ego normally involves the will to remember and the concentration of attention on what has to be remembered: after a period of time that can range from fractions of seconds to several minutes, the remembrance sought emerges in the consciousness. In some cases, however, the memory comes after a much longer time, even when the Ego has lost any interest, or does not come at all. In the time spent searching, an unconscious mental activity is at work, but – although some aspects of brain processes involved in the search for memories are known – we do not yet have a comprehensive scheme to explain how memory works. It should also be noted that there are people with remarkable intentional mnemonic skills, and among them some do not forget any particulas of their lives for years or decades. For all these reasons, memory – while being so important for the history of our lives and for our individual identity – remains yet a largely enigmatic phenomenon.
Often, certain memories emerge spontaneously to consciousness, almost always following stimuli that have an evident evocative value: they can also generate concatenations of memories that sometimes surprise because they bring back events whose trace seemed to be lost forever, elements of a life which was considered as definitively forgotten. In some cases, psychic nuclei are also activated, which – while coming to consciousness with the characteristics of memories and exerting an analogous psychic effect on the Ego – are subsequently verified as mental creations that do not correspond to any truly verified event in the past: it is the case of false memories or the so-called deja-vu. These are phenomena whose discovery and assessment dates back a few decades ago, and that may pose problems of interpretation not only in the field of psychotherapy (especially when the patient is urged by the therapist to recognize the supposed removal of memories in the unconscious ) but also in courtrooms, as a false recollection can lead to the attribution of unlawful acts to a person. Besides there is much discussion about the fact that hypnotic regression, through which a person seems to be able to remember early childhood events, intrauterine life, or even presumed prior lives, actually acts as a false memoir.
Thinking - Reasoning
Thinking is an interesting mental activity of processing psychic elements, on which the Ego may have some degree of intentional control. Here we consider thinking in terms of elaborating ideas and concepts formally expressed in linguistic communicative terms, that is through words concatenated in sentences of full meaning. Obviously, mental activity can also be carried out in other forms of inner processing, based more on images or even sounds (the creation of a musical phrase can also be considered a form of thinking elaborated through notes), but I think it is preferable to use other expressions, such as creative imagination or fantasy, to define forms of non-verbal mental activity. Through thoughts, the Ego, before communicating with others, communicates with himself, in the way in which the psyche reveals, takes shape and manifests itself. Through thinking, the conscious Ego can explore the regions of the psyche, following well-trained paths or tracks not yet beaten. In this way the psyche probably also reveals to itself: a very interesting process is that by which, through the elaboration and re-elaboration of thoughts, also in writing, one can activate a different psychic tuning, through which the world's vision can radically change.
While thinking still maintains a freedom of expression linked to the personality and intent of the thinker, reasoning is a form of thinking subject to certain rules, deriving from the need of different individuals to agree on what is communicated and on the resulting consequences. Obviously, individuals themselves must be provided with some faculties that allows them to «reason» properly, with the necessary arguments, otherwise they will be induced by their own psychic distortions to call reasoning their own individual thinking, trying to impose it on others improperly (as is the case today in so many television and parliamentary debates, where language expressions prevail that can not even be defined as thinking, but only violent manifestations of verbal abuse).
Imaginary - Fantasies - Dreams
Creative imagination, in a narrow sense, should elaborate psychic nuclei in the form of stage stories in which the visual aspect is prevalent, in conjunction with the verbal aspect, as if it were a movie. The fact that imagined story may be translated into exclusively verbal terms, such as in a novel, is mainly due to the cheapness of the verbal medium with respect to the complexity and cost of stage representation. Even before movies were invented, theatrical representation was the preferred tool for converting the creative imagination into reality in the most effective possible way. Imaginary, however, becomes much more active in the inner private sphere by elaborating more or less nuanced scenes that take place under the intentional control of the Ego. When this control fades, we call fantasies or daydreams the scenes that appear in the waking state, and dreams those that happens while the body is asleep. Both fantasies and dreams can have various degrees of intensity and detail: for dreams, refer to the pages dedicated to this topic. One can consider the so-called hallucinations as a special case of fantasies, which occurs when a dynamic scene is perceived by the mind of the subject involved as external, real and objective, although no other individual present can perceive it.
Creativity is one of the most advanced human functions that the Ego can dispose of, and is expressed through thinking and imagination through a process which is intuitive in the ideational and design phase, and organizing action in the stage of realization. Through creativity, human beings realize their works and transform the world, so it can be reasonably argued that through the use of this function humanity becomes an active part of the creative process. At the same time, one must not forget the psychic origin of the stimuli that activate the creative process (which are perceived by the Ego as desires or orientation of the intent), and the mental activity – both conscious and unconscious – required by the creative process. For these reasons, the level of creativity is very variable from person to person, and only a minority of humans have a kind of creativity that can be termed as genius.