What awareness is

Awareness is the crucial concept for a proper understanding of reality, because the only certainty is that one is aware (it does not matter of what: sensations, thoughts, external reality, feelings, or anything else). The usual translation of Descartes' famous dictum ‘Cogito ergo sum', as ‘I think, therefore I am' is somewhat off the mark. Being aware (of my mental processes among other things) rather than thinking, is the evidence that I exist. It seems that Descartes' himself recognised the importance of awareness, given his definition in the Principles of Philosophy: ‘By the term "thought" I understand everything which we are aware of as happening within us, in so far as we have awareness of it' (in Güzeldere, 1995, p.45). So, the claim ‘I am aware, therefore I am' may be more appropriate[2]. This puts awareness in its proper place, as being one of the two fundamental properties (the other being intent) of the focused energy. As the gravitational field is a property of matter, awareness can be considered a property of life. Being a fundamental property, awareness cannot be defined by using other, more basic terms. For all practical purposes, however, awareness can be described as an ability to illuminate to the self some of the materials that comprise consciousness[3].

 

The purpose of awareness

Awareness is necessary for life. The soul feeds on information and experience, which is what we are aware of, and the function of awareness is to enable this process of subjectivisation (or appropriation). In other words, the energy is assimilated through the process of transforming it into information and experience. Moreover, agency, or voluntary action, would not be possible without awareness, every action would only be a reflex re-action (which would make human beings and other life forms automata). The self can affect only what it is (or has been) aware of. So, as awareness grows, the amount of energy that is under the influence and control of the self grows too.

 

The functioning of awareness

Direct awareness of reality may be possible, but it is impractical (for the reasons described below) and short lived. Normally, the materials of awareness are first mediated by the senses, nervous system and the brain, and then by mental constructs. Electro-chemical processes in the brain create waves or oscillations on a particular frequency. These carrier waves provide most of the content of awareness. There are strong indications that synchronisation of neuronal activity at the frequency range of 35-70 Hz can be associated with awareness[4]. When in a deep sleep, for example, these waves are not present. The body can react to changes in the surroundings (e.g. temperature variations), without any awareness. However, when the brain starts producing these waves the self becomes aware - with a sensory input (when awake) or without (in dreams[5]). So, awareness depends, first of all, on the frequency, although, of course, other factors, such as the recurrence of a particular neural activity, also play a role.

Even the awareness of processes in one's own soul is normally linked to the same band of frequencies that are produced in the brain. Hence, such awareness is usually limited to phenomena that are associated with experiences in physical life, rather than to the rest of the soul or non-material reality. The focus is maintained within a certain range by the intensity of physical stimuli and habituation (in other words, it is largely biologically and to some extent socially conditioned). This is not to say that awareness can function only within the above range, but that the perception of reality is fixed because the range of frequencies within which awareness operates is fixed by these factors. Therefore, transpersonal experiences that require expanding awareness beyond usual perception, can be facilitated by reducing the input from the senses and the brain (without losing awareness). So, sensory deprivation, the hypnagogic state (between being awake and falling asleep), or meditation, can all be conducive in this respect.

  • [2]. The state of deep sleep or unconsciousness does not count in this case, because one cannot make any judgements when in these states. True, they can be confirmed by somebody else, but the person involved can legitimately doubt that the other person really exists (‘perhaps I am only dreaming shim'), while s/he cannot reasonably doubt that s/he is aware, when s/he is aware.
  • [3]. The above refers to the usual use of this ability. It is possible in some instances to become aware of reality directly rather then mediated by mental constructs (such as images and thoughts), but these can be considered as exceptional cases.
  • [4]. Relating these synchronous oscillations in the brain to conscious experience (the temporal binding of various sensory features) is attributed to Koch and Crick. More than a hundred years earlier though, Payton Spence came to the same conclusion based on purely theoretical work. A neurophysiologist from that period, M. M. Graver, followed it up experimentally and found that mental activity is sub-served by a cerebral oscillatory mechanism with the frequency of 36-60Hz. Their work passed almost unnoticed. It seems typical that Crick is accredited for the work already initiated by somebody else (the other case is the largely unacknowledged contribution of Rosalind Franklin to the discovery of the DNA structure).
  • [5]. It is interesting that these episodes of awareness occur, as a rule, several times during sleep, as if it is not desirable to suspend awareness for prolonged periods. Why they seem to happen in regular time intervals is not clear.