The universe as a whole is unconscious, or so it would seem. Of course, we could propose conscious states of existence that we know nothing of – but we could also propose that the soup-dragon created the universe by breathing fire. We will work with the facts as we see them. Pretty much everything in the universe is unconscious, and by unconscious, I mean no reflective consciousness. A dog is part of existence, but it doesn’t seem to reflect on the fact it exists, and so by our definition, we would say that the dog and all other non-human life is unconscious.
Various writers have commented that mankind is overburdened with consciousness, and not least because individuals are aware of the fact they will die. Human beings not only suffer, as all other sentient things do, but they can anticipate suffering and reflect upon it. Such is the burden put on man by his consciousness that many mainstream writers (Freud, Rank, Adler) see man as an animal that is incapable of bearing an awareness of reality, and so he hides in symbols – words, images, systems, and anything else that might take him away from the awful reality of being something very tiny is a very large universe. Animals are spared this torture. They are conditioned by their instincts and habits and do not contemplate the vast spaces between planets, suns and galaxies for example. The world of an animal is a very small thing. The world of man is too large to bear. And so consciousness really doesn’t seem to have helped us here very much, creating a neurosis in man that cannot be avoided.
It might be that consciousness in man is nothing more than an overdeveloped mechanism for dealing with the outside world. As such, consciousness is a terminus – an endpoint for the subconscious processing that takes place within the body. The body is quite happy sleeping at night, but if it needs to visit the bathroom it has to invoke consciousness of the outside world, otherwise, it would just continue with sleep. So our waking activities can be seen as nothing more than the body calling us to action to earn money, procreate, eat, defecate and carry out any other actions that are required for life of the body. It is clear that the body operates subconsciously whenever it can – digestion, gland function, heart rhythm, liver function and so on. This sense we have of being a self, of being someone, seems likely to be wholly erroneous. Memory and a map of the body created by the brain in the brain stem give us a sense of continuity, but there is no ‘self’. Without a reflective consciousness, we wouldn’t even be able to posit a self.
Somewhat ironically there are many religious and spiritual schools that glorify our consciousness when it is our subconscious that represents what we truly are. Trying to become more and more conscious, because we believe or have been taught that a pot of gold lies at the end of the consciousness rainbow, is folly. Consciousness is a dead end and we need to move the opposite way – toward the subconscious. There is a very obvious point to be made here. Every night we experience several hours of deep dreamless sleep. During that time there is no sorrow, worry, pain or other kinds of affliction. Our waking hours, however, are typically plagued with pain – physical and emotional. Our body is exactly the same body in both states, but one is essentially blissful and the other purgatory. One is unconscious and the other conscious – take your pick.
It seems that our over-developed waking consciousness has served the purpose of making us the dominant species – but at such a high price. Our everyday waking consciousness is just an appendage, and Schopenhauer even called it a parasite. Gurdjieff said our real consciousness is our subconscious, and our normal waking consciousness a phantom. We as personalities and persons are phantoms.
So don’t go searching for heightened states of consciousness – go the other way and sink into your subconscious. And don’t underestimate deep dreamless sleep – Socrates said it didn’t get any better than that.