The Phenomenon of Consciousness

Viale dei Bastioni di Michelangelo, Borgo, Roma, Vatican

Relief sculpture of battle scene in the Vatican Museum, Rome, Italy.

“In these confused and restless zones, in which present blends with future in a world of upheaval, we stand face-to-face with all the grandeur—the unprecedented grandeur—of the phenomenon of man. What has made us so different from our forbearers, so ambitious too, and so worried, is not merely that we have discovered and mastered other forces of nature, it is that we have become conscious of the movement which is carrying us along.”

– excerpt from “The Phenomenon of Man,” by Teilhard de Chardin

There are many different views of what exactly qualifies one as being “conscious” but I still think that most of the time, we end up confusing “being conscious” with “consciousness.” The functioning of the brain facilitates a kind of unified condition which results in what we often describe as “the mind,” which is a consequence of the functionality and architecture of the brain itself. When all of our brain regions and physiological processes function nominally, we are “conscious,” and can think, remember, walk, talk, act, and understand others. We are generally considered “conscious” when we are “awake,” and “unconscious” when we are asleep or sedated or otherwise mentally incapacitated. The term, “consciousness,” is much broader in scope and refers to a foundational, ubiquitous, and transcendent concept, which according to Teilhard de Chardin, encompasses and provides the foundation for all existence. It supports our existence, and our lives, and our subjective experiential awareness–the “what it’s like” experience of being.”

I have spent the past two years blogging here, mostly about the phenomenon of consciousness, supported by a number of years of research and study prior to beginning this adventure. As 2012 slowly recedes into our collective memories, as it often happens when the new year approaches, I generally become reflective and try to evaluate my progress and contemplate the journey itself. It has been an amazing journey, and I am looking very much forward to the months to come as I continue to investigate and contemplate the important questions which have driven me for so many years now.


Some time ago, I wrote about my experiences overseas in Europe, and posted an image of myself from those days. It’s hard to believe that the image was created more than thirty years ago, but a recent visit with my son at his apartment produced an image that makes the previous one even more striking. Setting the two images side-by-side is startling in one way, but it also provides a small window into the journey of the mind which currently labors here at The real work of investigating and writing about human consciousness began long ago for me, but the spirit which resides within me and sustains me to this day is visible in both images.

Last year, I had about the same number of postings, roughly one per week, give or take a posting here or there, and received less than 5,000 visits. In 2012, the same number of postings were offered, but I received over 20,000 visits! It also seems impossible that people in 141 different countries stopped by for a look. It has been an especially difficult year for me personally, but through it all, I have found solace and hope as I struggled to express the hills and valleys of my “inner evolution.”

I decided to finally change the gravatar image which I’ve had for two years, and replaced it with a more recent one. A few of the visitors mentioned that I seemed a bit stoic in the previous image, and in the interest of positivity, I decided to use one of me actually smiling, which I try to do occasionally when I can. I also decided to try a new theme, in preparation for the New Year, and with the hope for a fresh outlook as I move forward into the coming year. It’s probably mostly smoke and mirrors anyway, but I figured….what the heck!

heads at vatican

In a recent article by Robert Lanza in “American Scholar,” called “A New Theory of the Universe,” he expresses what is at the very heart of my work currently, and his thoughts will be included in a future posting in January. Here is what he wrote:

“We need a revolution in our understanding of science and of the world. Living in an age dominated by science, we have come more and more to believe in an objective, empirical reality and in the goal of reaching a complete understanding of that reality…These theories reflect some of the important work that is occurring in the fields of neuroscience and psychology, but they are theories of structure and function. They tell us nothing about how the performance of these functions is accompanied by a conscious experience; and yet the difficulty in understanding consciousness lies precisely here, in this gap in our understanding…”

In January, I hope to begin to broaden my investigations of consciousness, and to delve even deeper into the world of consciousness in a way that moves us forward in our understanding. I am certain that when we continuously press our energies to the work of discernment, in consideration of the broad range of thoughts and ideas in the world today, we cannot help but progress. I am greatly encouraged by the support and friendship I share here with my fellow bloggers, some of whom have now become cherished friends, and all of you who have accompanied me along the way.

With hope for peace and beauty and greater understanding in the years to come, everywhere in the world…….John H.