CONSCIOUSNESS
© C.O. Evans & J. Fudjack

Introduction[table of contents]  [previous]  [next]

We wish to put before the reader a model of consciousness which we consider a very important alternative to some of the models gaining prominence. These latter models have a common form which we shall characterize by calling them "spotlight" models of consciousness.

The reader cannot pass from such models of consciousness to the alternative which we lay out in this work without making a paradigm switch in respect of his or her thinking about consciousness and consciousness-related matters. What we are proposing, then, is a new paradigm. At the same time it is a very old paradigm, but one that was discarded by behaviorist psychology and phenomenological philosophy. The current spotlight models are a forced marriage of the thinking of these two disciplines.

We shall try to demonstrate that the alternative model, which we are naming an attentive model for reasons which become apparent in the Addendum, has a greater integrative power than do versions of the spotlight model.

To give the reader some idea of what we mean by integrative power we should bear in mind the knowledge explosion that is now taking place and the resulting fragmentation of knowledge into seemingly mutually unrelated parts. This state of affairs has prompted a search for forms of knowledge synthesis and we see ourselves as continuing the task of

-page 2-

which the following passage heralds the beginning...

In order to be able to construct truly interdisciplinary models of systems, then, it will be necessary to relate conceptually the variables dealt with in each of the disciplines which should be involved in systems research. This is a formidable task, but a beginning has been made. 1

Obviously the systems for which the concept of consciousness would be relevant would be living systems. A successful model of consciousness would be one which would enable us to relate variables employed in disciplines the subject matter of which is living systems. And the integrative power of a model of consciousness will ultimately be measured by its success in synthesizing such currently discipline-specific knowledge.

We believe that the attentive model promises an integration of disciplinary knowledge by providing a new paradigm perspective on a number of disciplines. We have attempted, in this study, to introduce the model accordingly. We shall frequently quote passages written by authors in the old spotlight paradigm and suggest that they be read in the terms of the new paradigm. Sometimes this is done by suggesting subtle terminological transformations of key terms in the author's text. By this means an original new comprehension of the meaning of that text and its significance in a wider textual whole is enjoyed.

However, in doing this we do make demands upon the reader. We ask of the reader that she or he exercise an ability to read a text written from within the perspective of one paradigm (the old paradigm) in the light of the perspective of a different paradigm (the new paradigm). It is impossible for a reader to understand a new paradigm without

-page 3-

changing his or her pattern of thinking. It may consequently appear, upon rapid perusal of our text, that we have taken passages from other people's texts out of context, doing the author's intentions an injustice. We feel however that the understanding we give to the isolated passage taken from an author's text will invite the reading of the remainder of the text with the same understanding, and insofar as this understanding differs from the author's the difference is the product of a critique of the author's position rather than a misrepresentation of it. We have, of course, attempted to make explicit such differences in view and argue for the respective position we adopt, but insofar as our task demands dealing with a wide range of disciplines and points of view we have limited our discussion to essential points.

A model of consciousness as we conceive it is something like a conceptual matrix through which every acceptable theory passes as a transform compatible with any other theory made accessible by the matrix. That is to say, a model of consciousness enables a knower to pass from the perspective of one theory to the perspective of any other theory permitted by the matrix without loss of intellectual contact or production of intellectual contradiction.

The disciplinary perspectives within the purview of our model include Western Psychology, Eastern Meditation, Psychotherapy, Neurophysiology, and, more encompassingly, the Noetic Sciences. All these disciplines have a common object of study, namely, attention and operations of attention. The attentive model provides us with a theory of attention which allows for translation of the knowledge of attention acquired through one of

-page 4-

these disciplines into terms employed in the explication of knowledge about it acquired in any of the others.

We would orient the attentive model in respect of other models, two of which we are immediately turning to consider, by making a distinction between models of conscious systems (systems in which consciousness or awareness figures as a component and systems-models of consciousness itself. From this point of view the attentive model is a systems-model of consciousness itself. Being a model of consciousness itself, the attentive model does not treat consciousness as an undefined term as is often the case in models in which consciousness or awareness figures as a component of a living system. The model is an explication of certain states of consciousness, and by means of it we arrive at a definition of consciousness as it occurs in such states. But besides being a model of consciousness itself the attentive model makes a significant though novel use of systems theory and hence exemplifies an approach to modelling consciousness which can be described as a systems approach despite the fact that it does not model consciousness as a system. Indeed, we shall show that attempts to model consciousness itself as a system sometimes result in models of conscious systems.

We shall in the course of the work argue that the attentive model provides us with an explanation of the nature of altered states of consciousness and a vocabulary for talking about such states. Some such altered states are given locations within the new paradigm of consciousness being offered here, and their connections and relationships are shown.

The model of consciousness that we are introducing attempts to take

-page 5-

into account what is left out of the description of consciousness by the spotlight models. We believe that it reflects more accurately than do the spotlight models the experience of being conscious; we believe our use of terms to be consistent with common usage and thus do not consider the model to be introducing a technical vocabulary or jargon. Indeed we believe that in reflecting more accurately the experience of being conscious it offers, among other things, the possibility of bridging the gap between Western and Eastern psychological insights such as is called for in the following passage from Consciousness East and West by Pelletier and Garfield.

There is very little theoretical or research literature that has attempted to interpret the implications of these [meditative] systems for Western psychology. One major obstacle to such a dialogue between Eastern and Western systems of psychological insight has been the obscure, esoteric metaphors of the East on one extreme and the rationalistic, mechanistic, and reductionistic jargon of the West on the other. 2
The pages that follow constitute our contribution to this theoretical literature.

[table of contents]  [previous]  [next]


Footnotes

1. R.L. Ackoff, "Systems, organizations and interdisciplinary research." In F.E. Emery (ed.), Systems thinking (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969), p.343.
back to text

2. K.R. Pelletier and C. Garfield, Consciousness east and west (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1978), p.119.
back to text