Life’s great purpose, as I see it, is to become wiser, more loving, and more attuned to truth and beauty. This process involves a merger with growing consciousness.
Consciousness is an extraordinarily precious asset that we tend to take for granted. Of course, our consciousness can be broadened, which would enable us—among other benefits—to register and appreciate just how precious it is.
Enhancing our consciousness involves the process of seeing ourselves more objectively. Yet the human race is having trouble seeing what is vitally important to know about our nature. Even the brightest scientists among us have difficulty doing so.
This problem is evident in a recent book, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind (Anchor Book, New York. 2014). Michio Kaku, the book’s brilliant author, stands in the vanguard of human understanding, yet still he fails to grasp human nature by the tail.
Kaku is a professor of physics at the City University of New York and a host of numerous television specials on scientific topics. He writes in his new book that consciousness, as experienced by Homo sapiens, can be summarized as a process that “creates a model of the world and then simulates it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future. This requires mediating and evaluating many feedback loops in order to make a decision to achieve a goal.”
He positions human consciousness at level III and differentiates it from levels of consciousness with fewer feedback loops, namely level 0 (plant consciousness), level I (reptile consciousness), and level II (mammal consciousness). At level III consciousness, Kaku writes, the number of feedback loops has exploded exponentially so that we now need “a CEO,” an inner authority, to evaluate the competing messages. Instinct, as he says, is no longer enough.
Kaku describes consciousness in terms of matter, energy, and physics, but not in terms of psychological insight, self-knowledge, and self-reflection. In his book’s chapter on consciousness, he takes readers only as far as level III consciousness. Since he’s writing about the future of the mind, he ought to have discussed a higher level of consciousness—let’s call it level IV. This level of consciousness introduces us to the extent of our ignorance and denial concerning our own psychology, even as it foretells a bright and necessary future for our mind.
We can’t fully describe or understand consciousness until we begin to grasp vital content that remains hidden in our unconscious mind. We’re often quite resistant to acknowledging and assimilating this knowledge. We instinctively deny inner truth in order to protect our self-image.
Level IV consciousness recognizes, for instance, the psychological reasons people often fail to actualize an inner “CEO.” In this realm of consciousness, we uncover the primary reason why people founder in mediocrity, failure, and insufficient self-regulation. Level IV represents a breakthrough in self-awareness whereby a great variety of negative emotions, psychological symptoms, behavioral self-defeat, and even physical ailments are understood to arise from a common source. This source in the human psyche lies at the intersection of inner conflict, emotional attachments, and psychological defenses.
When we become more conscious, we begin to recognize how our inner life is cluttered or contaminated by conflict and negative emotions. We see into the nature of self-doubt, chronic indecision, procrastination, guilt, fear, depression, and shame. We acquire an understanding of how we’re compelled to act out whatever is unresolved from childhood, and this self-knowledge enables us to identify and overcome our lingering affinity to certain negative emotions.
At level IV consciousness, we recognize our emotional attachments to forms of negativity such as feeling deprived, refused, controlled, criticized, rejected, and abandoned. These attachments are psychological leftovers from our early years when, in childish irrationality and self-centeredness, we took personally the slights, insensitivities, or malice (real or imagined) that we perceived was directed our way by parents, siblings, and peers. These attachments can be understood as unconscious compulsions to recycle and replay old sensitivities and hurts.
We are able at level IV to overcome emotional difficulties because the dynamics that create and maintain our unhappiness and distress have become so clear to us. This self-knowledge, along with our intelligence and innate goodness, enable us to overcome the compulsion to experience ourselves and life through unresolved negative emotions.
At this level, we can also see our identifications more clearly and thereby moderate their possible negative influences. We might recognize, for instance, that we have been living through psychological archetypes such as the orphan, the beggar, and the slave. These archetypes are identifications we have assumed based on the particular emotional attachments that remain unresolved within us.
We are able to shift away from feelings of weakness or victimhood once we see clearly enough how we have been holding on to limiting or painful identifications and attachments. The insight empowers our will and intelligence, enabling us to establish inner freedom from this negativity. This self-knowledge enables us to establish a unified, authentic self—the inner “CEO” referenced by Kaku—that in the face of “many feedback loops” is able to make wise choices.
Level IV consciousness exposes inner conflict, particularly the conflict between inner aggression (emanating from the inner critic or superego) and inner passivity (represented by the defensive, subordinate ego). All of us, in varying degrees, identify with the passive and aggressive expressions of human nature. These identifications are experienced in ways that limit us and that are often painful and self-defeating.
At level IV consciousness, we understand three basic dynamics of mental-emotional functioning—transference, projection, and identification—as they apply to us personally. These dynamics (described in some detail here) greatly influence how we experience and understand ourselves and the world around us. Many millions of people suffer unnecessarily because they are ignorant of these inner processes. At level IV, we would, for instance, clearly see how we have, by projecting our inner fears and other negative emotions onto the world around us, been distorting what is ultimately true and real. This new consciousness would put a stop to such projections and the disharmony and conflict that result from them.
Kaku fails to present a comprehensive portrayal of the future of the mind because he relies too much on neuroscience—along with technologies involving gene therapy, drugs, and magnetic devices—for his deliberations. He tends to overlook human knowledge that over centuries and millennia has explored the mystery of human essence and the core self at the heart of our existence. His failure to write comprehensively is symptomatic of a growing trend that columnist David Brooks noted last week in The New York Times: “Intellectual prestige has drifted away from theologians, poets and philosophers and toward neuroscientists, economists, evolutionary biologists and big data analysts. These scholars have of lot of knowledge to bring, but they’re not in the business of offering wisdom on the ultimate questions.”
At one point, Kaku does briefly reference the humanities. He mentions a movie based on The Tempest by William Shakespeare, in which a destructive monster is unintentionally created out of the power of telekinesis (the alleged psychic ability to control matter through the mind). In a warning concerning the hazards of being ignorant of unconscious dynamics, Kaku writes what might be the most significant statement in his book: “Within the mind, you find the noblest achievements and thoughts of humanity. But you will also find monsters from the id.” Here, unfortunately, he terminates an area of investigation that might well have constituted half his book.
In his Appendix, Kaku provides an interesting commentary on “quantum consciousness” and free will. He discusses quantum consciousness mainly in terms of what might be true from the vantage of physics about the nature of the cosmos. He appears to be open to the idea that consciousness is the defining element in existence, though he opposes the idea that consciousness controls existence. As for free will, he believes, as do I, that we are ultimately masters of a personal destiny.
Kaku says nothing about personal and collective resistance to our mental and emotional development. Many of us are afraid of the inner reaches of our being because we feel so little and alone in the wilderness of our psyche. When we haven’t discovered and established an authentic self, we cling to beliefs, dogma, identities, possessions, and a hope born of fear that we are more than just a lonely consciousness. When we fail to expose inner conflict, our consciousness tends to be associated, in varying degrees, with distress, anxiety, fear, regret, sorrow, and grief. We now want to numb ourselves (to deaden consciousness instead of awaken it) through distractions, obsessions, and addictions.
In overlooking inner conflict, Kaku also fails to see how such conflict impedes our intelligence. For instance, a person’s identification with (or emotional attachment to) inner passivity can cause that person to avoid feelings of strength and power associated with intellectual acumen, effective problem-solving, and wise decisiveness. Often our inner purpose is to experience ourselves through emotional default positions that include mental weakness (as is often the case with people who are failing academically or are illiterate). Because of inner conflict, we all produce unconscious psychological defenses that are instruments of self-deception, unwitting stupidity, and self-sabotage.
The effort to establish our authentic, highly intelligent self involves a heroic journey that many are reluctant to embark upon. Like children afraid of the dark, we shade the light of our mind so we don’t have to face the death of our old mentality.
Level IV means we’re not neurotic. Here we can enjoy quietude free of inner conflict. Because our dark side is subdued (though certainly not necessarily vanquished), we’re able to appreciate more fully the essentials of life: the quality of our consciousness and the miracle of our existence.