Consciousness cannot be raised, lowered, altered, expanded or transformed; only the objects within it are subject to change.
The charlatans of philosophy, spirituality and consciousness studies continue to misrepresent their subject through a single infuriating error, which is to confuse consciousness with its objects and experiences. They mistake that which is represented with that which observes and creates the representations.
This obfuscation has been increasingly present since psychedelics became prevalent in the 1960s. Among the early users and advocates of these entheogenic substances a narrative evolved which claimed that psychedelics could raise your consciousness, or expand it. This was an ironic bit of egotistic rhetoric among a movement which otherwise promoted the sort of disassociation from ego that occurred during psychedelic experiences. Claiming that you have raised or expanded your consciousness above others is nothing less than grandiosity and bragging.
Over the next several decades the narratives regarding consciousness in other areas of interest and study began to increasingly use the modulated consciousness rhetoric, speaking of consciousness as a thing which can occupy different states. This objectification of consciousness fit so well with the underlying scientific materialism of western culture that even many proclaimed non-materialists did not recognize the perspective and bias buried in the way they spoke of consciousness as an object with quantifiable properties. We are so immersed in thinking of all things through this mental filter that even those who attempt to escape eventually get caught back up in the web of language and concepts which is constructed upon it.
Today almost all discussion on consciousness begins from the assumption that consciousness changes, which I hope to convince you is an error in logic.
Let us use the psychedelic experience as an example. When entheogen users make such claims they are generally pointing to the following experiences:
- A change in physical perception. New patterns of sense experience, such as visual or aural hallucinations; or synesthesia, in which sense experiences overlap.
- A change in existential perspective. New ideologies about the nature of self and reality emerge which are radically different than ones usual beliefs.
- Disassociation. A fracture, full or partial, from the sense of self with which we otherwise tend to identify and perceive our experiences through.
- Connectedness. A sense of one’s self, and all contents of reality, belonging to a single entity or event.
These are all very powerful and convincing experiences. It is easy to understand how one may confuse these altered contents of consciousness to be an alteration in consciousness itself. However the individual experiencing them, the conscious agent, never changes. This is how they can report and discuss those experiences which ‘happened to me’ later. If consciousness itself were altered then so would the self, and these reports would not be possible. When the altered self returned to their primary state, these experiences would have happened to some other conscious agent, who is not present to verify them. So then we must either disregard these experiences, whose only witness imploded back into void, or consider them as valid alterations in the experiences of a single conscious agency.
For the sake of illustrating why it is a mistake to confuse consciousness with its contents, I will employ some metaphors. Please note that none of them will be complete, since there is nothing else quite like consciousness, which co-creates and observes its own experiences.
- Switch to a different app on whatever device you are using right now. The content apparent on your screen will alter when you do so, but has your device fundamentally changed? Did it raise or expand? Lower or contract? Is there now more or less processing power and memory than before you switched? Did your software get rewritten? Is the device itself a new device?
- Go have yourself a drive. As the contents of your dashboard and windshield view change, has your car been altered? Does a rise in RPMs represent expanded horsepower or a rise in fuel efficiency? As you reach a rural area and the contents outside your car change, do you suppose this represents a change in the car itself?
- Does a movie projector change along with each and every frame it projects? Does the movie screen raise or expand when the projector is turned on or brightens? How about the audience, aside from perhaps being affected by the content of the movie, are they no longer themselves, but ever-changing new epiphenomena of whatever frame they are currently observing?
These represent the logical mistakes we partake in when we mistake the contents of consciousness for consciousness itself. That which is experienced may be unique to the individual conscious agent, but that is no reason to equate the experiencer with the experience. Consciousness is the medium in which all objects and experiences take place. The medium itself is a constant; all change that occurs within it is reflected in that constant, but does not alter the medium itself.
Making this distinction is not at all unimportant. It is not semantics or petty squabbling. It affects the way we view ourselves and what we are capable of. Seeing our consciousness as a reflection of its content (realism) subjugates us to roles as reality’s subservient observers, rather than the co-creators that we are. It makes us dependent on authorities, experts and those who wish to control us by defining us and our experiences in objective terms. The end result is in limiting the number and types of objects and experiences within our consciousness. It dampens our will and binds us to self-imposed restrictions on our own creativity, and the processes by which it constructs our reality.
In short, believing that consciousness, rather than its contents, is what is being altered, prevents us from freely altering those contents with more individual will and purpose.
Consciousness is unalterable, but your experiences are potentially infinite, so long as you realize that your CONSCIOUSNESS IS YOU, NOT OF YOU.