Consciousness, Awareness and the Unconscious

August 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

What do we mean by the terms “consciousness”, “unconsciousness”, and “awareness”?  The answer to this question would fill volumes so it becomes necessary to consider these in everyday terms.  For this I refer to the understanding given them by Franklin Merrell-Wolff in his book “Pathways Through to Space”.

In its immediate sense consciousness is the state of being aware.  In the general everyday sense it is the state we’re in when not asleep.  However, a close examination of these descriptions shows that they do not tell us much.

To say we are conscious when aware would make sense if “to be aware” were not defined as “to be conscious”.  And to say when we are awake we are conscious would make sense except that we’re comparing it to the sleep state that we’re calling “unconsciousness”.  This means we’re defining the everyday sense of consciousness as the state of not being unconsciousness and that is equivalent to saying a fish is not a not fish.

In truth, we all know what we mean when we speak of consciousness, awareness and the unconscious, but this understanding is not readily put into words without resorting to tautologies.  So let’s refer back to Merrell-Wolff’s definition of the conscious and unconscious state as I think you’ll find it interesting.

Simple put, Merrell-Wolff states that the difference between the conscious and the unconscious is one of awareness only.  That is, unconsciousness is a state of consciousness that is not aware it is conscious.  While the conscious state is a state of consciousness that is aware it is conscious.

To give an example of Merrell-Wolff’s meaning, while you are reading this turn you attention to your feet.  Note if they are sore, warm, cold, the feel of the skin.  Now ask yourself, “Were you unconscious of these sensations before you turned your attention to them?”  Chances are you’ll answer that you were aware of these sensations in some part of your mind.  Likewise, there are other sensations, sounds, sights in your peripheral vision, thoughts going through your mind, etc., that you can assert you were conscious of prior to turning your attention to them.

We can apply Merrell-Wolff’s description of the conscious and unconscious state to every part of our experience but that would be quite time consuming.  My intent here was only to give his view that you are never “unconscious” but always conscious, just not necessarily aware of the fact.  And to ask you consider that the power of awareness is, itself, consciousness that is focused.


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