The Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness Is An Egotistical Abstraction

The eight circuit model of consciousness proposed by Timothy Leary and championed by Robert Anton Wilson is fraught with issues, even as an analogy.

One of the first things to consider when somebody presents to you their model of reality is where that individual places their own self in that model. If it is at the top, absolutely or relative to everyone else, you should immediately be suspicious. All individuals and tribes make such models which support their unique superiority.

I had been a fan of that model for many, many years. I tried to get everyone I ever met to read Prometheus Rising, as I was certain that if everyone understood it as well as I did, the whole being a human problem would work itself out. So for the sake of reason, let us not begin with the assumption that I have just failed to understand it, and take this critique on its own merits, and not as a reaction to any perceived attacks against your reality tunnel.

When I first realized that the Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness (8CM) suffered from a massive dose of confirmation bias and ego validation, I almost immediately realized that many of my own models suffered from the same issue. That they tended to always support the idea that I, as opposed to everyone else, was doing life correctly, made me suspicious of my own motives. As well as the motives of anyone who involves themselves in the creation of such an egocentric abstraction.

A prime example of this is my Game Metaphor model, in which I break humans down into three categories of awareness and free will, and then place myself in the upper category and almost everyone else in the lowest. I was so damn self-assured by the whole thing that I was able to fool myself into intellectually converting my own abstraction into an objective certainty. And while I still appreciate the idea of awareness and free will being on a scale, rather than binary; using that concept to create labels that come with judgments was small-minded and petty of me.

There is no doubt that Leary and Wilson saw themselves as high achievers in the context of the 8CM. The fact that they proselytized it so much indicates how invested in and attached they were to their self-validating model. And while it does remain a useful metaphor for thinking about reality from a certain angle, even beyond its suspicious motivations it has ideological issues.

While Wilson had good enough sense to at least call his scientific materialism a strong suspicion, Leary was never in doubt. Although raised a good Catholic boy, Leary never faltered from the scientific materialism that has risen from the Protestant world view. And all of his theories and models were predicated on the literal truth of physicalism, dualism, objectivism and positivism. The 8CM makes it immediately clear right in the title, where he suggests that consciousness is some emergent property of our circuitry.

I will not belabor this piece with arguments against scientific materialism, as I have already done so thoroughly in the past

If it is not clear to you that the 8CM suffers from scientific materialism as its basic premise, I suggest you reread it carefully. While there are areas which seem to suggest otherwise, taken as a whole, it is hard to imagine this aspect of it being denied. Even the language used comes directly from the lexicon of the faulty underlying metaphysical assumptions.

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One of the main characteristics of the 8CM which indicates this are the deterministic functions in which human minds are supposed to act like logical functions. Not only is it simple enough to observe that human minds do not work according to logic, to assert that they do is to reduce those minds to little clockworks enacting the will of some maker. You cannot claim that a thing has a direct single cause without also suggesting some agency of causation. Merely switching ‘God’ and ‘Nature’ around does not resolve the problem.

By the time we get to the eighth circuit of the model, we have traveled from scientific materialism into new age goobledy-glop about higher consciousness. Consciousness, or awareness, never itself changes. It is not raised or lowered. It merely takes on new kinds of experiences. But experience is not hierarchical. No experience is more or less valid or true than any other experience. The value of experience comes not from graduating to the final level, but the ability to have lots of different kinds of experiences.

The 8CM contains a teleology in which a certain kind of experience is considered more valuable, and those who have reached it more advanced, suggesting that all should work towards this singular goal. And as I stated at the beginning, those prized experiences are those which the proponents of the 8CM clearly value above the others.

I see this in practice all of the time. Those who follow the 8CM script use “2nd circuit” as an insult. These terms are constantly used to indicate that someone outside of their reality tribe is in a lower intellectual position than them, and should submit to reconditioning in order to reach the prized higher levels.

To be fair, there is nothing exceptionally bullshitty about the 8CM. Pretty much any map of reality is going to be full of the ego-reinforcing abstractions of its author.

It is not enough to say that the map is not the territory. The assumption that a territory exists outside the experience of modeling it is based on the same faulty scientific materialism I talked about before. It is based on the Protestant habit of literal interpretation of ideas and experiences. It requires a leap of faith that the contents of our awareness lie outside of the awareness itself, which is much like saying that a seven legged raccoon monster that you have recurring dreams about must exist outside of your dreams in order to also be in them.

Perhaps the greatest gap in the imagination of modern humans is imagination itself. Our minds are the looms of creation, constantly weaving reality into new forms so that we may experience them. We are not ever observing or discovering reality, but creating it by a process of interaction and mutation.

Mutation comes in the form of new ideas and beliefs. The ideas and beliefs which underlie the 8CM are no longer radical enough to induce meaningful change. The next adaptation for humanity lies outside the scientific materialism and other Protestant ideologies which nurtured us through the industrial age.

If we are to reap the rewards of those centuries of slavery to the time clock and our bank accounts, and to escape the existential malaise and nihilism it has resulted in, then its not just time to think outside the box. Its time to stop believing in boxes altogether, for such is the first step in both creating and getting trapped in them.

Whether it has eight corners, or eight circuits, look out for the traps. The more dazzling the bullshit, the more enticing the bait.

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18 thoughts on “The Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness Is An Egotistical Abstraction

  1. “[The] individual places their own self in [their] model [of reality].”

    Excellent thought. I just finished reading “Prometheus Rising”. The author seeks to sell a product. A sense of superiority is an inexpensive commodity to manufacture.

    My only addition: People seem like NPCs because they are restrained socially within their role. More people want to burn their social security card and live off the grid than do, but that would make feeding their kids difficult. A reality tunnel/experience of hunger is not conducive to ascending circuits.

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    1. The circumstances of our environment appear to place people in their ideological and self-actualization positions, to be sure.

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  2. “Consciousness, or awareness, never itself changes. It is not raised or lowered. It merely takes on new kinds of experiences. But experience is not hierarchical. No experience is more or less valid or true than any other experience.”

    It’s not that the hierarchy makes one level more valid or true than the other, it’s just that the qualities change. Experiences which revolve around the brute facts of animal survival are qualitatively different than experiences which have to do with compassion or wisdom or understanding. The ‘higher’ levels are higher in the sense of pitch or frequency, not in the sense of being more or less valid.

    While consciousness-in-general can be thought of as unchanging, or perhaps as the inexhaustible source of novel experiences and qualities, our personal consciousness or scope of awareness does seem to be able to expand and contract, both by amplitude of intensity and ‘frequency’. There is a sense of higher ‘frequency’ qualities being more complete and timeless than the ‘lower’ qualities…more inclusive and evolved.

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      1. There’s no need to measure them, just as there’s no need to nail down an exact frequency at which red begins to seem orange. It’s not a periodic table, it’s a rough survey of themes and scopes.

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      2. But we can measure the the gradients of the yellow/red spectrum. There are observable properties regardless whether there is a clear demarcation point. No such thing exists in consciousness/awareness. Any perceived spectrum is merely an abstraction based on some judgment value of what we think consciousness should be applying itself to.

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      3. Some people are naturally more aware of the different qualities of consciousness, but many people have learned to amplify their sensitivity to them with meditation practices. Just as the visible spectrum can be meaningfully divided into 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, or 8 colors, so too can the spectrum of consciousness be divided into many different schemas, each of which reveal different nuances and understandings. Ken Wilber has made extensive studies comparing how many different models overlap. The difference between taking acid and having a cup of coffee or drinking a case of beer isn’t an abstraction. The 8CM does an amazing job of opening the door to a view of consciousness which maps psychoactive substances with other models from Eastern and Western mysticism, psychology, physics, and more.

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      4. How can we measure those schema? What are their quantifiable attributes? If they do not have quantifiable attributes that can be observed and measured, they do not qualify as quantifiable. If there are levels of consciousness, we shouldn’t need esoteric work arounds to describe them.

        The 8CM is itself an esoteric work around. None of the levels are quantifiably measurable.

        I am not saying I think measurability is important. I am saying that it is necessary if one is to discuss something which allegedly exists in gradients. One cannot apply the concept of gradients and then just throw out the necessary attributes that must accompany them.

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  3. They are semi-quantifiable. Which makes sense if consciousness is the absolute context of all phenomena. Existence, gradients, quantities, necessity…these are all the fetishes of the third and fourth circuits. If we look at the visible spectrum, we can set our expectations more appropriately about the spectrum of consciousness. It’s not rigid, but neither is it arbitrary. It has to be blurry to accommodate novelty and multivalence. Consciousness is creative as well as reflective. It can’t be locked into rigid expectations.

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  4. While our consciousness seems separate from its contents, I think that may be purely because our experience is as an animal. What we experience as consciousness is appropriate as a container for our experience, but because consciousness-in-general is absolute, there is nothing else to contain it from. In the absolute sense, consciousness is identical to the totality of all qualia. There need not be an external subject, as subjectivity is just another character in the drama or pigment on the palette. I talk about this issue frequently on my site.

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  5. I can see your point, but on the other hand, how do you create a roadmap without, well, a map of some sort? For those who do want to arrive somewhere?

    I’m not the biggest fan of the 8-circuit model, but it seems to be a fact of life that some people want to achieve some things, and also want the kudos associated with having achieved it. So I don’t see how you can escape people creating systems with different levels, and giving brownie points to those that get to the higher levels.

    When it comes to this sort of thing, I keep coming back to the story of the bull-roarer. You may know it: In Australia, some tribes have an initiation system with several levels, and the elders claim that the system is in order to appease the spirits. Everybody in this tribe absolutely believes in spirits, because they can hear them: they make really otherworldly noises. In actual fact, the noises are made by the elders of the highest level, using bull-roarers. When somebody reaches the highest level, usually past their middle age, they learn about the bull-roarers. And the punchline is: Are we any different from this tribe? Don’t we also have all sorts of levels that people are meant to try to achieve, and isn’t it true that the “prize” at the top level usually turns out to be purely symbolic, even when it’s sold otherwise? And is there really any other way for a society to function? And if there is, can you show me a society that works in that other way?

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    1. I am not really one to advocate that we do things the same way we always have. A thing is not untrue because it has never been seriously tried.

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  6. I’m skeptical of the 8 circuit model as well, I think it is a useful tool but it is easy to limit the range of potential thought by narrowing all possible interpretations of an experience through the 8 circuit lens. But I don’t really see Leary and Wilson putting themselves on the top of some spiritual/psychic hierarchy. Imo it is practically impossible to fully experience the 6th 7th and 8th circuits without the use of exogenous neurotransmitters. If the method of accessing 8th circuit consciousness is plant based and is available to anyone instantly, elitism is defused because there is nothing to attain or work for.

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  7. Change, transformation, mutation are all part of the actualization stage of the 6th circuit. This is the higher correspondence to the actualization stage of the 2nd circuit, which is holding and maintaining space, territory. Wilson had a weak imprint on the 2nd circuit, as he describes in an interview about an incident when he was an emt and didn’t notice an immediate physical threat but the cop there did. Due to Wilson’s physical illness, he clearly has weaker imprints on 1 and 2 and a heavy 3rd circuit imprint. The 8 circuit model works well with an emotional tone scale that is basicly the life force, the energy that runs through the input and output of each circuit. To advance through each stage one must have enough high emotional tone, enthusiasm and cheerfulness, as aggression and apathy will not advance beyond the 1st circuit or stabilize the 2nd.
    Here is my input to output list of each circuit, up to the 6th. I’ll hold back on 7 and 8 because it seems too far out for any real apprehension.
    6.3 Interconnection, pratityasamutpada
    6.2 Change
    6.1 Intuition
    5.3 Inquiry
    5.2 Balance, Union
    5.1 Bliss, Rapture, High
    4.3 Civil
    4.2 Domestic
    4.1 Social
    3.3 Trasmission
    3.2 Invention
    3.1 Imitation
    2.3 Cooperation
    2.2 Hold Space, Maintain
    2.1 Survey, Scout, Scanner
    1.3 Exploration
    1.2 Effort
    1.1 Consumption, Waste

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