Human consciousness and psyche




Consciousness as the foundation of inner life

The point of view from which we have examined the origin and evolution of life on our planet, up to the appearance of human beings and the development of social cultures, is the descriptive and interpretative process of the phenomena and events observed – or hypothesized – in their temporal dynamics. There is, however, another aspect which at least we humans constantly experience: the one deriving from our mental activity, which is often called inner life. By extension, on the basis of the observations we make and of the interpretations we give, we may feel that more or less complex forms of conscious mental activity are present in all organisms equipped with a nervous system, and particularly in higher animals. This section is devoted mainly to the experiences of human mental activity, and in particular to the phenomenon, certainly extraordinary and fascinating, of the human psyche in its entirety.

Subjectivity of the psyche's experiences

If every person with a well functioning brain and nervous system can directly experience all the psyche's events they becomes conscious of through the activity of their mind, it is by no means easy to transfer this experience to the consciousness of other people. Attempts aimed at this are constantly carried out through forms of behavior and communication, especially through language, but psyche's experiences remain overall subjective, and at most we can communicate to another person a more or less accurate description of our experiences, which is interpreted in the light of the psyche's attunements of the recipient of the communication. For this reason too, it is very difficult to reliably interpret the conscious experiences of animals, with which we do not share any language. It may be added that some people are endowed with an empathic faculty, through which it is as if they could tune in a more or less profound way with the psyche of another person to whom they may feel emotionally connected or with whom they have established a relationship. However, it is equally difficult to determine in what form and with what precision the psyche's experiences of a person are transferred into the empathic subject. Most humans have a certain level of participation and involvement in the psyche's experiences of their fellow men, and emotional bonds and most of the forms of socialization are founded on this, but the essentially subjective nature of such experiences – especially emotionally and sentimentally – remains predominant.

To give an example of these difficulties, I can have a dream and then I can tell it to others, also trying to describe the emotions I experienced during my dream. Among the people to whom I tell it, some will believe me and will be able to empathize with my emotions, but others may even doubt the truth of my report, suspecting that I'm inventing all the story. This difficulty of understanding a subjective reality is all the more accentuated the more the experience of the person communicating is distant from the psyche's tunings of the recipient of the communication, as we will see dealing with the experiences of non-ordinary states of consciousness. The subjectivity of experiences originating from the psyche implies a very wide range of variations: within the psyche's phenomenon, taken as a whole, there happens something similar to what occurs in the natural evolutionary process. Just as very different organisms evolved from a common ancestor, there can also be drastic differences in the psyche's dynamics of two human beings, and in the same way in which ecosystems are formed in nature within which different organisms coexist, even conflictually, within human social groups people with very different orientations of the psyche can interact, in a more or less conflictual way.

Ego, consciousness and psyche

In this section Ego, consciousness and psyche are considered as well distinct phenomena. Although every person is inclined to identify with the psyche's contents determined by their own mental activity, which are often considered evident and trustworthy, psychologists know that the experiences arising from a person's mental activity can be very different from those of another. For this reason, it is important to distinguish between the faculty of consciousness, which characterizes all human beings as long as they are not in an unconscious state, and the particular psyche's tunings that enter the field of consciousness. The condition of being conscious is different and opposed with that of being unconscious. An unconscious being can also function and have some forms of behavior: a condition that we usually attribute to certain machines, such as robots, but also to plants and to various animal species. However, even a human being in certain particular conditions can function and behave without being conscious, as will be better highlighted in the section on psychical research.

Psyche's contents tuned by mental activity enter the field of consciousness and interact with the Ego. I think it is preferable to refer to the mind as a tuning tool, rather than a producer, of the psyche's contents we experience, because we currently do not have enough knowledge about how the human brain determines mental activity. It is evident that the brain is the determinant and indispensable instrument of such activity, but it must be distinguished between a producer device and a tuner or computing one. If I do not have a TV receiver I cannot tune any of the available channels, so I will not have access to any program, and the same can happen if my television is damaged: this does not mean that I can claim that my TV device produces what it allows me to see and hear. Even the computer is an indispensable tool for processing information, but it would not work without the programs that make it work. It also allows me to interact with all the resources available on the network, but only if it is connected via cable or via ether, otherwise it would be useless. In the pages of this section, and in particular in the one on the human psyche, is explained the reason why the psyche in its entirety should be considered as an autonomous phenomenon with respect to the natural evolution that has led to the complexity of the human brain, so it seems correct to refer to the psyche's tunings as to those particular channels by which certain elements and nuclei (and not others) become part of our conscious experience.

How this section is organized

The page on consciousness deals with the fundamental characteristics of human consciousness, while the page on consciousness and science presents a summary of the current state of brain research, which confirms how our conscious activity is determined by the functioning of certain areas of the brain. An interesting interview with neurobiologist Gerhard Roth in 2014 is also reported, which takes into account important aspects of the meaning of life, arising from the fact that  the brain studies begin to define a new understanding of human existence. The page on intelligence and deceit highlights the differences in functioning between human brains with regard to the elaboration and solution of the difficulties and enigmas that human life presents, and the one on science and human life considers the advantages and limits represented by the results of scientific research with regard to individual existence and the meaning of life. Two pages follow, one on unconscious mental processes and the historical and cultural development of the concept of unconscious, and the other on unconscious activities and assumptions about the existence of unconscious faculties with particular and unusual powers. Another important aspect that characterizes human mind is the creative function. The important aspects of the human psyche and their impact on the conscious Ego are then considered. A page is dedicated to the importance of memory for human identity and the possibility that all events in our conscious life can be recorded in a kind of general archive of human experiences. Finally, after a page devoted to relations between the conscious Ego and the psyche, this section ends with the definitions of the main terms used in the site.

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Conscious. & science
Interview with Roth
Intelligence & deceit
Science & human life
The unconscious
Unconscious faculties
The creative function
The human psyche
Psyche & Nature
The recorded life
The ego & the psyche