The Dimensions of Experience

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Elon Musk's vision for Tesla is clear: Brand A "brand" is ultimately about what people think when they hear a company or product's name. Since the 's, Nike has built a brand that commands incredibly loyalty. From its globally-recognizable logo to a long history of relevant and creative advertising, Nike has turned into an iconic company that inspires people and resonates with them at an emotional level. Instead of focusing on itself, the Nike brand has turned athletes into heroes - and, in turn, making its customers feel like heroes - fighting against whatever may be holding them back from greatness.

Distribution Distribution is all about how a product makes its way to the consumer. Convenience, availability and consistency are key. Amazon has built one of the most remarkable companies in history through incredible logistics. Amazon can get a book or treadmill to delivered to your home within a day, and it can have a digital book delivered to your Kindle device or app within seconds. It can also power your cloud services and database storage needs with great reliability.

Community has been a human need throughout our history, and the internet has facilitated new ways of connecting us with others. Facebook in is a company that is venturing into virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and laser-beamed WiFi; but it all started and it all revolves around its 1. And Facebook has inspired a whole new generation of communities of all kinds - from AngelList to Houzz. Personality Consumers have been talked down to for tens if not hundreds of years. And we're done with it. These days, a company needs to have a unique personality; a recognizable voice and tone that we can appreciate and trust.

MailChimp is a great example of a company with a clear and unique personality. In fact, they're proud to publicly share their approach for voice and tone , and content , with the world. Price Of course, we can't talk about the customer experience without talking about price. A company's business model and strategy are essential to its price. For Swedish-born Ikea, price is a differentiator that goes hand in hand with its unique brand and product.

It may take you a whole day to put together an Ikea product, but you know the quality you can expect for the price you pay for. Can it remember past events? Can it recognize, or distinguish among, different members of its own species? Can it recognize itself in a mirror? Does it carry around images of objects, or other organisms, even when the latter are not in its immediate presence? Can it communicate such information to other members of its own species? While the problem of not being able to experience what another organism experiences remains apparently insuperable to science, these studies have made it clear that many fairly complex mental phenomena or capabilities exist in a wide variety of species.

Many organisms are capable of performing tasks which, in our own human experience, require or are greatly facilitated by some conscious experience of the world. At the very least, these studies justify the conclusion that a great many forms of life could be conscious. It seems conceivable, then, that consciousness did not emerge with our species, but has been around in some form for a very long time. Arguably, it goes back to at least some invertebrates, perhaps to single cells, possibly even to inanimate matter.

If we accept this view as a reasonable premise, one worth exploring further, we have a somewhat new or modified view of evolution on earth. Evolution becomes a story of how matter and life on earth have become increasingly more conscious. The purpose of this book is to tell this story.

While the evolutionary history of life on earth is well known, at least in its general outlines, this history has almost always been described purely in terms of the exteriors--including both anatomical structures and empirically observable behavior--of lifeforms. A complete history of interiority, of consciousness, to my knowledge, has never been written. Several evolutionary accounts have been written by authors somewhat sympathetic to a panpsychist view Aurobindo ; Teilhard de Chardin ; Wilber , but their discussions of consciousness have been largely limited to that of our species.

This book attempts to go much further back in time, to as close to the beginning of consciousness as possible. The book asks, and attempts to answer, two fundamental questions.

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First, if all forms of existence are to some extent conscious, what is this consciousness like in each case? For example, what does a molecule or a cell or a plant or an insect--as well as a bird or a dog or a chimpanzee--experience? And second, if our human consciousness is the result of a long evolutionary history of consciousness, how did each stage or level of consciousness make the transition to the next? What are the processes by which lower forms of consciousness evolved to higher forms? To many readers, this might appear to be a quixotic venture.

We can never put ourselves in the position of another form of life, so how can we pretend to know what, if anything, it experiences? Even granting the premise that lower forms of life are conscious, how can we even be certain that we are capable of understanding what their experiences, presumably so very different from our own, are like? One answer to this objection is to remind ourselves that we can never put ourselves in the position of another person, either. We assume not only that other people are conscious, but that their consciousness is very much like our own, because they are so like us in other ways--in the manner in which they move, speak, express themselves and communicate to us.

In somewhat the same way, students of animal intelligence look within the behavior of their subjects for clues to what these other species might be experiencing. As we will see later, for example, scientists have ways of asking animals such questions as whether they can form internal maps of the areas in which they live; whether they continue to believe in the reality of objects or other animals in the absence of direct experience of them; and whether they have some understanding of both their similarity to and differences from members of their own species.

From the answers to such questions, we can begin to build an understanding of what an animal could--and just as important could not--experience in a conscious manner. Another very important, and I believe almost completely overlooked, tool in this endeavor is our own ability to experience multiple states of consciousness. When we describe outselves as conscious, we generally are referring to the state we exist in during our waking hours. But in addition to this state, we are able to access several others, such as when we sleep or dream, are under the influence of certain kinds of drugs, or follow special meditative techniques Tart ; Masters and Johnson ; Austin A major theme that this book will explore is that some of these alternative states of consciousness may have important features in common with those experienced by other organisms, and thus provide us with a more direct path to understanding the consciousness of these creatures.

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While this is certainly a novel way of studying animal consciousness, its underlying rationale should not really come as a surprise. Scientists recognize that the human brain evolved not by discarding the evolutionary adaptations of earlier organisms, but rather by adding to them. Our brain is in fact often referred to as triune in its organization, meaning that in addition to the cognitive or thinking portion represented by the cerebral cortex, we also possess a limbic or emotional brain, much like that of other vertebrates, and a more primitive set of structures controlling posture and gross bodily movements, commonly called the reptilian brain MacLean In fact, the triune model can, and should be, expanded in its concept to still earlier evolutionary forms, such as the autonomic nervous system and the spinal cord.

Each one of these portions of our complete human nervous system functions, in certain types of organisms, as an entire brain. So we clearly carry around within us literally hundreds of millions of years of evolution of the nervous system. It would seem that in principle we have the ability to experience ourselves and our world through each of these different levels, and in this manner commune very profoundly with the worldview of other organisms. Of course, there are limits to what we can directly experience, while still maintaining our uniquely human capacity to describe it in a manner capable of communication to others.

After all, we are ultimately composed of atoms and molecules, so in principle we might have access to the experience of these forms of life, too, but could we really expect to be able to access this experience in a meaningful way? Could we descend to the level of a molecule, experience its world, then regain our more usual state of consciousness and report our findings to others? To probe consciousness at depths so far from our ordinary existence, we surely need some other approach, one that will have to be based not on experimentation, but on theory.

We need, it seems to me, a way of evaluating consciousness based on other aspects of the lifeform that are accessible to us. In other words, we need a theory that describes, for any form of existence, the relationship between its observable, so-called surface or exterior features, and its interior experience. The assumption underlying such a theory is that if we know what any form of existence looks like we can immediately know something about what it experiences.

If this sounds like a considerable stretch--if such a theory appears to have the magical property of revealing what is invisible from what is visible--consider that this has in fact been the goal of the field of neuroscience for the past half century. Most scientists believe that human consciousness emerges in some manner from the organization of the human brain--the way in which its neurons are connected to each other--and are trying to define just how this comes about.

Furthermore, according to the school of thought called functionalism-- a view held by many, though by no means all, modern philosophers-- organization is the critical word here. In the functionalist view, any form of existence--artificial as well as natural--will manifest consciousness if it has the proper organization among its components Dennett and Hofstadter No need to use neurons. If we compare the brains of humans and other organisms, vertebrate and invertebrate, we see immediately that evolutionary development closely correlates with what we can call complexity.

These relationships in fact follow directly from the triune or extended triune model of the brain that I mentioned earlier. If we accept the premise that consciousness follows the same pattern--that humans are more conscious than dogs, which are followed by fish and then insects--we see evidence for a close relationship between consciousness and complexity. I believe almost all scientists would accept this conclusion as a general rule, though many might quibble over some specific comparisons. Can we extend this relationship further?

Can we claim that for living things that have no brains--plants, for example, or single-celled organisms--there is also a relationship between consciousness and complexity of organization? Can we even make this argument for non-living things such as molecules or atoms?

If we adopt the panpsychist premise, it seems to me that we not only can, but must. If consciousness of some sort is a fundamental property of matter, we would expect that as matter becomes more complex, so would consciousness.


The key question then becomes, what exactly is the relationship of consciousness to matter? How does complexity in one manifest itself as complexity in the other? Dimensionality and Consciousness A central claim underlying the discussion in this book is that this relationship can be understood most simply in terms of the dimensionality of existence. I contend that every form of life exists in a certain number of dimensions, and that these dimensions are directly manifested in both its exterior features and its interior experiences.

Thus an organism that lives and functions in three dimensional space will not only have a three dimensional body, but will also experience the world in three dimensions. Lifeforms that function in fewer or more dimensions will likewise have an exterior describable in these number of dimensions, as well as direct experience of these dimensions. Before discussing this model further, including a careful explanation of what I mean by dimensions, I want to point out that this approach to consciousness is not entirely new. In his pioneering history of human experience, The Ever-present Origin, Jean Gebser used insightful interpretations of the artifacts of earlier civilizations to make intelligent guesses about the worldviews of the people who lived at these times.

Gebser proposed that these worldviews evolved in several fairly discrete stages, which he referred to as the archaic, magical, mythic and rational. He described the main features of each in some detail, but what concerns us here is his use of dimensions in these descriptions. According to Gebser, evolution of human consciousness has been accompanied by an increase in the dimensionality of our perceptions. Our earliest ancestors had a one-dimensional view of the world, followed by subsequent civilizations of a two-dimensional view, then the three-dimensional view of modern peoples.

Gebser further believed that a new stage of consciousness, characterized by a four-dimensional view, is now emerging. Though I have great respect for Gebser as an innovator in the study of human consciousness, I find two major problems in his approach. First, his concept of dimensionality is not consistently defined. Sometimes he appears to mean it the strict mathematical sense, in which one-dimension corresponds to a line, two dimensions to a plane, three to space, and four to space plus time.

Thus his description of contemporary human consciousness as three-dimensional obviously fits with our awareness of three-dimensional space, and his view of a proposed emerging four dimensional perception appears to involve a similar understanding of three-dimensional space related with a fourth dimension of time. On the other hand, his description of the one-dimensional and two-dimensional consciousness of our early ancestors clearly is clearly not meant to be understood in mathematical terms.

The archaic worldview, according to him, was a state corresponding to deep sleep, while those in the magical stage spent their entire lives in the state we call dreaming. If this was the state of our ancestors, who were even then evolved well beyond all other organisms on earth, the latter must have been in a still deeper state of sleep.

This conclusion seems to ignore the reality that our ancestors, like all organisms, had to contend with an environment which was constantly challenging them: Could a human being in the state we call deep sleep, or even dreaming, avoid predators, find sources of food and shelter, and successfully create and raise a family?

Could such an individual have any chance at all of survival? Imagine how long any one of us today would survive even in the midst of civilization, let alone in the wilderness, if we were constantly in deep sleep. How could we function at all?

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  • The problem, fundamentally, is that there is no way to determine if anyone other than ourself is conscious, except through observing their behavior--what she does in certain situations, how she responds to certain questions, and so on. All of us engage in this kind of assessment all the time, of course. Lacking any knowledge of just how consciousness is related to activity in the brain, it appears quite conceivable that whatever activity is required for any particular human function--moving, speaking, seeing, learning, remembering, and so on--might be completely irrelevant to the manifestation of consciousness.

    In other words, our ordinary consciousness may simply accompany our behavior, without actually in any way being dependent on or integrated into it. Our ancestors could have been sleepwalkers, moving about their world as oblivious to it and to themselves as we are every night. They were nonetheless able to find food, avoid predators, mate and raise families, and so on, because their brains were able to process sensory stimulation from the environment, and execute the most appropriate responses, all at an unconscious level. However, if one wants to take this position, one must, as I noted before, come to the same conclusion about all other organisms.

    Since even apes, let alone dogs, horses, mice and so on, surely have less consciousness than even the earliest of our ancestors, we must assume that modern human beings are the only organisms on earth who have emerged beyond the realm of deep sleep. If this is the case, there is not much point in trying to study animal consciousness, because there basically is none.

    We are, therefore, back to the orginal problem of trying to explain how consciousness emerged relatively suddenly in our evolutionary history, which leads in turn to the dualist vs. Only this time the suddenness of the arrival of consciousness is not a matter of a few million years, but only a few thousand--a truly astonishingly short period of time in the evolutionary scale.

    To put it bluntly, why would such simple creatures need any consciousness? What purpose would it satisfy? We could argue that what is selected for in evolution is not consciousness, but certain forms of behavior which are associated with certain kinds of nervous system organization or in the case of existence below that of the organism, certain kinds of non-nervous organization. This view, taken seriously, leads to the conclusion that even human beings do not really make conscious choices.

    Choices are made, and the individual is aware that they are made, but the experience of being the chooser is an illusion. The illusion is manufactured by the invariable association of some form of behavior with a consciousness of that behavior. In addition to this argument in support of why consciousness should be associated with simpler forms of life, however, there is another that I will suggest a little later, which does treat consciousness as an evolutionary adaptation.

    In any case, however, the notion of a zombie, though mostly just a theoretical tool used by philosophers to explore the relationship of human consciousness to our brains, casts a strong shadow over all purely experimental evidence of animal consciousness. Strong, perhaps, but never compelling. This is in fact a major reason why the theoretical or genetic argument for panpsychism is so important to this debate.

    The reality of three-dimensional space is obviously a critical feature of our consciousness, and it would seem very likely to be critical to the consciousness of many other organisms as well. Awareness of time, which is usually considered a fourth dimension of existence, is an equally key aspect of human consciousness. What I want to argue now is that the evolutionary path of life, which we have seen earlier has moved from the less complex to the more complex, can be described as an unfolding of a series of dimensions, of which our common understanding of a three- or four-dimensional world is only one stage.

    That is to say, lifeforms like ourselves that are conscious of three dimensions of space did not evolve from those with no consciousness of space; rather, evolution has moved through creatures conscious of one dimension, then those conscious of two dimensions, then finally to awareness of three dimensions. To a mathematician, dimensions exist in a relationship of infinity to each other.

    A one-dimensional line contains an infinite number of zero-dimensional points; a two-dimensional plane contains an infinite number of one-dimensional lines; a three-dimensional cube contains an infinite number of two-dimensional planes. Dimensions as I use them, in contrast, may have a relationship to one another which is indeed very large, but which is not infinite.

    In the scientific view, an atom is a three-dimensional form of existence. However, it is so very small, compared to the world with which we are ordinarily familiar, that we might regard it as approximating a point, a zero-dimensional body. From this vantage, certain kinds of molecules, which are composed of a large number of atoms, are one-dimensional bodies. Examples would be amino acids and sugars, both of which are found in all living cells see Table 1A.

    More complex molecules, which consist of large number of one-dimensional molecules, are two-dimensional bodies. They exist in one dimension more than their component molecules, and in two dimensions more than their component atoms. Examples are certain biological polymers, such as peptides, which are composed of many amino acids, and cellulose, which is composed of many sugar molecules. Still more complex molecules are composed of many two-dimensional molecules, and are thus three-dimensional with respect to their component atoms.

    I have discussed some of these properties elsewhere Smith , and will add to this discussion in later chapters in this book. These relationships illustrate two essential points. First, as I said earlier, in each of these dimensional stages, the relationship is not of infinity, but of many to one. There are many atoms in what I call a one-dimensional molecule, but not an infinite number. There are many, but not an infinite number of, one-dimensional molecules in a two-dimensional molecule; there are many two-dimensional molecules in a three-dimensional molecule. Second, the relationship is not necessarily one of point to line to plane to cube or sphere.

    I mean that the atom, the zero-dimensional body, is the fundamental unit that composes the molecule. There is ordinarily no stable stage or state between the one and the other. In nature, we generally go from atoms to molecules of a certain minimum size 9.

    Likewise, what I call a two-dimensional molecule does not necessarily have a planar appearance. And similarly with the third dimension.

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    • Thus each new dimension is created by joining together a large number of similar units representing the preceding dimension. Notice that at every dimension, the units are both wholes, containing many units of the lower dimension, and parts, acting as units which compose a still higher dimension. Units that are simultaneously both wholes and parts are called holons Koestler ; Wilber , and their overall organization is known as holarchy. Holarchical organization is found throughout nature, and several models of existence based on this kind of organization have been proposed Ouspensky ; Land ; Young ; Jantsch ; Wilber ; Smith I will have much more to say about holarchy in this book, but for now I want to emphasize the dimensional nature of the relationship that holons bear to their component holons.

      We could say that mathematical dimensions are an abstract ideal of what is approximated by relationships between holons as we find them in nature. So far I have considered only dimensions of space, but we can also deal with those of time. Consider a complex protein, which I have provided as an example of a three-dimensional molecule. The protein exists not only in space, but may also exist in time.

      That is to say, in order to understand its behavior, we not only have to take into account its spatial dimensions--its particular shape or conformation--but also that these dimensions can change during time. For example, an enzyme molecule catalyzes the conversion of some substance, called a substrate usually a smaller, one-dimensional molecule to another substance called the product by changing its shape in a certain way.

      To understand the enzyme molecule, or to perceive its complete existence, we must therefore see it not only in space, but also over a certain period of time. An enzyme molecule seen over this entire period of time is therefore a four-dimensional body with respect to its atoms. It has three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension which the atoms do not exist in. As with space, we may imagine several dimensions of time. A four-dimensional enzyme molecule, for example, may undergo another kind of cycle over a much longer period of time, one in which many catalytic cycles take place.

      Or it may be part of a much larger structure composed of many similar enzyme molecules, each of which undergoes a catalytic cycle. The principle is basically the same as with the spatial dimensions. A new unit or holon is created by the organized interaction of many holons of a lower dimension. To summarize the discussion so far, nature creates new forms of life by joining units, called holons, into more complex holons. Atoms form amino acids; amino acids form proteins; proteins form larger structures.

      We might imagine that new dimensions could be created endlessly in this manner, by simply organizing holons at one dimension into ever larger groups. In nature, however, this process does not, and cannot, go on forever. It reaches a definite limit. Why should this happen? The organization of holons as I have described them so far is relatively simple.

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      Each is composed of a great number of similar holons of a lower dimension. Because all of these lower-order holons are similar, and because they are organized in a relatively simple manner, there are limits to what they can accomplish. For reproduction to occur, a somewhat different kind of organization must emerge, one in which many different kind of holons are put together. In the evolution of molecules, this occurred with the emergence of the cell. Unlike an amino acid, which contains only atoms, or a protein, which contains only amino acids, a cell contains many different kinds of holons.

      In fact, it contains all the different kinds of molecular holons that are found in nature. In any cell, we find individual atoms; small molecules such as amino acids and sugars; simple polymers such as proteins and complex sugars; and still more complex groupings of these holons. The difference between the organization of a cell, on the one hand, and that of any molecule, however complex, on the other, is reflected in two related but different terms, hierarchy and holarchy.

      Holarchy is a special case of hierarchy in which the higher levels include the lower.

      Thus proteins include amino acids, and amino acids include atoms. Holarchy is exemplified by a series of Chinese boxes, each of which is nested within the next Fig. In addition to nested hierarchy or holarchy, however, hierarchy can also take a non-nested form, and this is characteristic of the cell. We might have an anxiety disorder which included some distorted and unrealistic thinking patterns, but it also can affect our physiological makeup.

      Shallow breathing, heart palpitations etc. The same anxiety disorder rooted in the personal also can affect the social sphere. It might make our work duties harder to manage, or it may affect our relationships with our loved ones. In turn, we might start to ask God for assistance. Or we might practice mindfulness or a deep acceptance.

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      When we look at ourselves with these four dimensions of experience in mind, we often obtain a fuller and richer picture of where we are at in life. Each dimension could be viewed as a continuum which overlaps with other dimensions. If someone is functioning at one extreme in a dimension, then that may indicate some difficult achieving their life goals. For instance, if someone is overly focussed on the physical then a person may be overly dependent upon hedonistic pleasures. Our society is particularly prone to working on extremes in this dimensions.

      Being overweight with high incidents of obesity are prominent. As is the increase in diabetes 2. Society even defends unhealthy behaviour by using safe spaces and fat shaming. Our materialism is a culture built on more and more, where very few people are content or know how to relax. Comfort eating, problem drinking, compulsive shopping, over medicating are things our society is becoming all too familiar with. But it is a continuum where we might fall on the other extreme. We might become physically inert, or not paying enough attention to our bodies which can lead to sickness and disease.

      A person also might take excessive physical risks which endangers their lives. A key then is to attempt to get as much balance as we can in each dimension. Someone who is a spiritual ascetic and is overly focussed on the spiritual neglects the physical. So much so that they often must rely on others to survive. We know from an abundance of research that our social spheres are key indicators of happiness.