Before I dive into my own and I would, argue slightly new, definition of consciousness, I'd like to highlight what humans have traditionally defined it as.
Throughout history, consciousness has been a topic of great debate among philosophers, with each philosopher bringing their own unique perspective to the discussion. Among those 'thinkers of thought' who had quiet the impact on our understanding of consciousness was the Frenchman René Descartes, who famously wrote, "I think, therefore I am." Descartes argued that consciousness is the defining characteristic of human existence, and that it is what separates us from inanimate objects.
Although a simplistic statement, its implications led to a deeper explanation and criticism by many across the globe into our own existence.
Another philosopher who explored the nature of consciousness was Immanuel Kant, who argued that consciousness is a priori, meaning that it is an innate feature of the human mind. Kant believed that the mind is capable of organizing sensory input into a coherent experience, and that consciousness is what makes this possible. He wrote, “All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.”
Focusing only on philosophers would however discount many a great minds.
Psychology has also played a significant role in our understanding of consciousness. The critical, and some would argue pervy, Sigmund Freud, proposed the idea of the unconscious mind, which he believed was the primary driver of human behavior.
Freud wrote that the unconscious is the true psychical reality; in its innermost nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is as incompletely presented by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the communications of our sense organs.
This concept of forms of consciousness or in Freud's case, unconsciousness, began to broaden the horizons of how we look at our mind and our own perception of it.
Another psychologist who explored the nature of consciousness was the distinctly divergent thinking man known as Carl Jung. He developed the concept of the collective unconscious and believed that the collective unconscious is a repository of shared experiences and memories that are passed down from generation to generation. He outlined that the collective unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind's evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual.
With this ever expanding idea of definitions and even further connections of concepts, we find that no one person or field has made the best answer but rather better answers.
Interestingly enough, mathematics, has also played a role in our understanding of consciousness. Chaos theory, as developed by mathematician Edward Lorenz, highlights the unpredictability of complex systems, including the human mind. Lorenz spoke on chaos explaining it is an attempt to make sense of complex systems that are not necessarily complicated.
This complexity of consciousness is often simplified by allowing chaos, or relativity, into the equation.
In recent years, the field of quantum mechanics has shed light on the nature of consciousness, with some physicists proposing the idea that consciousness is an inherent feature of the universe. Physicist John Hagelin has written, "Consciousness is the unified field of all the laws of nature - a field of infinite creativity, infinite dynamism, infinite organizing power, and infinite intelligence."
All of these perspectives point to the idea that consciousness is much more complex and multi-faceted than we may have originally thought. By embracing a non-binary view of consciousness, we can move beyond the limitations of traditional thinking and embrace the complexity and diversity of human experience.
The Shift from Binary to Non-Binary Thinking
So what do I mean by "non-binary" and "binary.
Ignoring the politicization and buzz-wordy-ness of "non-binary" it becomes the perfect word to explain my definition.
Binary consciousness is the idea that you only have two options, you either are conscious or you aren't.
Non-binary consciousness gives you essentially an infinite level of choices, or at the very least more than two.
One way to think about consciousness from this perspective is as a spectrum of possibilities or manifestations. This idea is similar to the concept of a "multiverse" in quantum mechanics, which suggests that there are multiple possible realities or universes that exist simultaneously. By recognizing the full range of possibilities in the world around us, we can cultivate a deeper understanding of how it works.
Consciousness is a complex phenomenon that occurs throughout the natural world, not just in humans.
At its most basic level, consciousness can be defined as the transfer of information, which occurs through various channels such as energy transfer, sensory input, internal physiological processes, and cognitive and emotional states.
Even inanimate objects like rocks and plants can show level conscious states within this definition, but on a lower level of this spectrum or frequency of information transfer.
This may sound upsurd or impossible when first hearing but allow me to share some allegory to better conceptualize this.
When a rock is hit with a hammer, the transfer of energy is a form of information that contributes to a basic level of conscious movement. The rock responds to the force of the hammer by moving or vibrating the strike of the hammer through the structure of the rock, leading it to crack and split. This is not only true in concept but completely verifiable through simple mathematics and testing, its proven in the laws of motion and the basic understanding of the transfer of energy.
This behavior of reaction and movement is seen throughout the natural world, the difference of it being "conscious" or not is unrelated to the physical reality and completely based on our perception these behaviors.
One such behavior is phototropism, which is the tendency of plants to grow or move towards sources of light. This behavior is thought to be guided by a basic form of consciousness that allows plants to sense and respond to changes in their environment(again this focus on changes in information).
When the sun's energy is transferred through plants, it provides the energy that powers photosynthesis, which then leads to the process that powers chemical energy. This transfer of energy can be seen as a form of information transfer, as the energy provides plants with the information they need to carry out photosynthesis and grow towards sources of light.
We can argue all day on if the plant "chose" to do this, but this is missing the point. The plant did in fact do it separately from any human interaction.
Recent research has suggested that this process is guided by a system of proteins and hormones that allow plants to sense and respond to changes in their environment. These proteins and hormones are thought to act as a kind of sensory system, allowing plants to perceive changes in light levels and adjust their growth accordingly. To argue this is not a conscious choice can be critiqued by the simple observation of the plant.
While the level of consciousness in plants may be very different from that of humans or other animals, this behavior suggests that they possess a level of conscious experience that allows them to sense and respond to changes in their environment.
This understanding of consciousness as a spectrum of levels that occurs throughout the natural world can help us appreciate the complexity and interconnections of all living and non-living things, and the ways in which they are all part of a larger ecosystem.
This connection is the very fundamental of our reality and allows us to understand consciousness as a layering of information and the subsequent transfer of it.
This accumulation in the layers of information transfer continues to build with each "level", leading to more complex conscious experiences. This is why empathy and understanding can be seen as higher levels of consciousness, and why some people or organisms have a greater capacity for these qualities than others.
Even further this gives us reason for levels of consciousness within humans, or why some humans truly can be "less conscious".
It can be thought of as a hierarchy of levels, with each level representing a different degree of information transfer. At the highest levels of consciousness, we find qualities like empathy, love, and compassion, this stems from the fact that through experience or "more information" we find our selves applying this knowledge not only in the moment but towards the future, and eventually not just to our selves but others.
Experiences of trauma can increase our sensitivity to the world around us, and can lead us to higher levels of consciousness by helping us develop a greater capacity for understanding or(and this is not a pun) being conscious of others experiences. Again highlight that through more interactions or transfers of information, we garner greater levels of conscious attention. (this may also lead to a level of lower conscious thought by creating a jaded or shut off view of the world, a double edged sword so to speak explaining why humans can flow up or down this imaginary river of consciousness).
Our level of consciousness is influenced by many factors, including biology, environment, and culture. By understanding consciousness as a hierarchy of levels, we can appreciate the complexity of our experiences and those of others, and work to promote growth, healing, and understanding.
This is Not a New Concept
This idea of non-binary consciousness is not new, and has been proposed by philosophers and scientists throughout history.
For example, the philosopher and psychologist William James proposed that consciousness was a continuous stream of experience, with different levels of attention and awareness. Similarly, the psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested that consciousness was organized into a hierarchy of needs, with more basic needs giving rise to higher levels of conscious experience. The only difference within history is we applied this logic only to humans rather than to the entire natural world that humans are just as much a part of.
In conclusion, the concept of non-binary views of consciousness provides a more nuanced understanding of the complex nature of conscious experience. It acknowledges that consciousness occurs throughout the natural world and is not limited to humans.
By recognizing the various layers and complexities of consciousness that build up slowly through the transfer of information, we can appreciate the subtle details of our conscious experience and create a better map of the reality we live in
Furthermore, with this perception of consciousnesses, more questions arise rather than answers. From these questions we shall find progress, not only in our own individual existence but as society.
Many of these questions that arise may be frightening, perhaps even upsetting to some. Regardless I believe in order to move forward and create a better future, it is only through questioning our fundamentals and molding our perceptions to the ever expanding base of human knowledge, that progress is possible.
Stay curious my friends.