Whatever else you may be, you are, like me, a human being. Being human may come with great gifts and privileges. Nevertheless it also comes with unprecedented challenges and tribulations. Many of these tribulations and challenges arise from ignorance. We are perhaps most tellingly ignorant about human nature itself.
Our understanding of human nature, of ourselves, is deeply prejudiced. It is prejudiced by the nature of our individual and collective experience. More deeply it is prejudiced by our chemistry, biology, neurology. Yet if we do not throw off these prejudices, as far as we can, our gifts and privileges may soon come to nothing.
We have been led to believe that nature is a warzone where individuals and species fight “tooth and claw” for survival. Of course there is a food chain within nature, and it is easier for some indivduals than others to access it. Yet there is much more to nature than fighting for survival.
Likewise we have been led to believe that human nature is selfish, greedy, aggressive. We are told that human beings must learn to be kind, decent and honest. This may not actually be the case. The fact that human selfishness, greed and aggression is everywhere evident perhaps says little about our nature and speaks rather of our behaviour.
One thing we do know for sure about human nature is that we can learn. In fact we have to learn. We have to learn to walk. We have to learn to talk. We have to learn the manners agreed upon by our society. We learn very young how to play the social game played by our parents and theirs before them. In a world where dishonesty is rewarded and greed is admired of course we learn to play that way too.
This does not mean that it is our nature to play that way, only to learn.
I will not try to persuade you. Rather i would only invite you to be your own researcher, your own scientist.
Your own nature, your unique expression of human nature is here, exactly where you are: now and always. You don’t need a degree, nor even a teacher to study and understand human nature. You don’t need much. You need curiosity about human nature and its possibilities. You need a willingness to be unsure, uncertain. You need the time and space to look within: deeply and consistently enough to encounter the full depths of your nature, of human nature.
As you look within you will no doubt encounter both body and mind. Body will be generating sensations. Mind will be telling its stories. Perhaps about some of those sensations. Perhaps about other things altogether.
Collectively we know a lot about the human body. Our anatomical, phsyiological, neurological knowledge is impressive, and freely available. We don’t know so much about the human mind. We know some, but not as much as we know about the body.
Most, if not all, of what we know about how the body works we know through the work of others. We do not know it from direct experience. Even though the roots of the mind run deep there is still a lot that we can learn about it from examining our own experience.
One thing that it can really help to learn is that perception is always prejudiced: by culture, experience, neurology, biology, chemistry. The mind is not really a truth teller, though it can extend itself to that in some domains. Rather it is a story teller.
I invite you to turn the story telling genius of your own mind upon its source. What is it that allows you to know? What is is that allows you to experience? What is it that reveals both body and mind?
Conscious awareness is the ground of human experience. Without conscious awareness there are no stories, no sensations, no experience. Conscious awareness is the root of human experience. Conscious awareness is the source of human experience.
Now, conscious awareness is not the sum total of human consciousness. Far from it. It is only the tip of the iceberg. It is not even the same thing as the conscious mind. A cat is aware of your presence, even if it can not identify your profession.
Your conscious mind is where you think. Conscious awareness is where you experience, where you feel, look, listen, smell and taste. What you taste, smell, hear, see and feel is determined by your mind. While most of this determination is subconscious, its significance becomes part of your conscious experience, even when you don’t think about it.
When you think about it you experience your conscious mind. When you don’t need to think about it you experience conscious awareness.
Have you ever been woken from deep sleep by a loud bang, a violent vibration? On waking perhaps you were afraid, uncertain about what was happening. Your conscious mind will have tried to establish reassurance by determining what it was that created that sound, that vibration.
Yet, when the sound or vibration took place you were asleep. You were unconscious. Yet awareness was present. You woke up because vibrations of one kind or another came into your sleeping body. Then they woke you up. You were asleep, but subconscious awareness was present. Otherwise you would not, could not have awoken.
A cat, a dog, a rabbit or a chicken would have awoken also. In fact they might have been awakened by more subtle vibrations than you can detect. The fact that other species can not talk might well mean that they do not think like we do. It does not mean that they do not have consciousness.
Of course they do. They know when they are hungry. They know that you are dangerous. They may not tell fascinating stories about that hunger and danger, but they know of it nonetheless. They even communicate it to each other. Not with words and sentences perhaps, but with their own more simple languages. All mamallian species can signal danger, and much more.
Consciousness is a spectrum of intelligence, of the ability to distinguish, to know. That spectrum includes the conscious mind of human story telling. It includes conscious and subconscious awareness that we share with other species. Yet that sharing goes deeper than nervous systems and sexual reproduction.
Ask yourself what consciousness is. What characterises it? It is not the ability to differentiate and respond, a thermometer does that
One more characteristic is required: the ability to learn, to remember.
It is not just human beings that can learn, remarkable though we may be at it. It is not just mammals that can learn. Learning is the very heart of life. Actually it is the engine of life, the ability to learn.
Your DNA, which is very similar to mine, and not so different to that of a mouse, is a record of millions, billions of years of learning. A learning that began billions of years ago when life was unicellular. A learning that has been so prodigious, so remarkable that it has generated you. That took a lot of learning, a lot of intelligence.
That took the presence of consciousness.
The story telling genius of the human mind may well be the rich fruit of evolution encoded in our remarkable neurology. Consciousness is not. Consciousness, in itself, is not only the deep root, the source of the conscious mind. It is also, clearly, the driver, the source of evolution, of nature.
At the heart of both Human Nature and Mother Nature is Consciousness.