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 nature of phenomena and events observed – or hypothesized – in their temporal dynamics. There is, however, another aspect which at least we human beings 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 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 the mental activity of humans, and in particular to the phenomenon, certainly extraordinary and fascinating, of the human psyche in its entirety.

Subjectivity of psychic experience

If every person with a well functioning brain and nervous system can directly experience all the psychic events he becomes conscious of through the activity of his 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 psychic experience remains predominantly subjective, and at the most we can communicate to another person a description of our experience, which is interpreted in the light of the psychic tuning of the recipient of the communication. For this reason too, it is difficult to reliably interpret the psychic 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 which they may be linked or with whom they have established a relationship. However, it is equally difficult to determine in what form and with what precision the psychic experience of a person transfers into the empathic subject. Most humans have a certain level of participation and involvement in the psychic experiencse of their likes, and on this emotional bonds and most of the forms of socialization are founded, but the essentially subjective nature of the psychic experience – especially emotionally and sentimentally – remains predominant.

To give an example, 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 comprehension a subjective reality is all the more accentuated as the experience of the communicator is far from the tunings of the listener's psyche, as we will see dealing with the experiences of non-ordinary states of consciousness. The subjectivity of psychic experience implies a very wide range of variations: in the psychological phenomenon, taken as a whole, there is something similar to what occurs in the natural evolutionary process. As well as from a common ancestor have evolved many very different organisms, even between two human beings there may be drastic psychic differences, and in the same way that ecosystems form in nature, in which conflicting organisms live together, within the human social groups persons with very different psychic orientations can interact, in a more or less conflicting 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 him/herself with the psychic contents of his/her mental activity, which are often considered evident and trustworthy, every psychologist knows 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 psychic tunings determined by the mental dynamics that enter the field of consciousness itself. 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.

Psychic experiences tuned through mental activity enter the field of consciousness and interact with the Ego. It is preferable to refer to the mind as a tuner, rather than a producer, of the psychic nuclei 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 mental activity, but it must be distinguished between a producer device and a tuner or computing one. If I do not have a TV receiver unit I cannot tune any of the available stations, so I will not have access to any program, and the same can happen if my television is damaged. Nevertheless, I am not authorized to believe that the television receiver produces what it shows. 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 is 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 psychic tunings as to those particular channels by which certain psychic 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 of 2014 is also reported, which takes into account important aspects of the meaning of life, arising from the fact that  the study of the brain begins to define a new understanding of human existence. The page on intelligence and deceit highlights the differences in functioning between the human brains with regard to the elaboration and solution of the enigmas of this life, and in the one on science and human life, consider 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 the 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. At last, after a page devoted to relations between the conscious Ego and the psyche, a page with the definitions of the main concepts used concludes this section.

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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