Certain peculiarities in our personal growth and development offer an interesting opportunity for the interpretation of consciousness. It is worth noting that unlike psychedelic experiences, the spontaneous changes in the state of consciousness provide us with the key to the causes of this change! In particular, the end of our puberty leaves us in a state of enormous uncertainty and confusion. We expect change, but nothing happens. In fact, the real nature of consciousness can only be discerned by this confusion, which tells us that the final stage of our growth fails. This does not only help to understand how consciousness works, but above all how it should work. This difference is bigger and more significant than we dare to imagine.
Everyday consciousness works as scaffolding for our growing mind
Consciousness is easy to understand by a parable from the house construction world. Imagine it as scaffolding. The purpose of scaffolding is to enable safe and appropriate completion of difficult construction sites. The scaffolding is dismantled when the building is ready to be taken for its proper use. Likewise, consciousness is a structure which should serve similarly as a temporary aid, that is, as the individual grows up, consciousness should disappear. However, there is something wrong with it, and so the “scaffolding-consciousness” does not disappear. While it persists, it prevents the original and efficient use of our “building-body”.
The juvenile mind, which we know best as consciousness, can be seen as scaffolding designed to enable safe and appropriate completion of a building (i.e. an individual). Scaffolding is meant to be temporary, and the conscious mind should work the same way and disappear as soon as one is fully grown up. (Photo by bernswaelz, pixabay.com)
We do not regard scaffolding-consciousness as a support and protection mechanism, because it looks more like a rare and mythically constructed protrusion that all other living beings seem to lack. For us it is the crown jewel of our special human quality. If we understood that the purpose of consciousness is only to support growth, we would also understand that an adult person does not need consciousness to live. But if not, we will find ourselves in the middle of the most imaginative theories. From the child’s point of view, consciousness makes sense. And maybe that’s why we explain an adult as a kind of “child extension”. However, that is not the case. Childhood is the stage of construction, adulthood is the stage of life, and these should be completely separate. It is, of course, difficult to understand that adult should live without rational mind just through direct observation and instincts. However, likewise houses are not made for scaffolding but, on the contrary, scaffolding are made for houses, consciousness is a means and a tool, not the purpose of our development.
Persistent cognition means recession
The adult mind contains several mechanisms whose function is to secure the growth by directing and manipulating the interaction with the environment in a direction that is safe for the individual. Nature has provided “filters” and “restraints” for the child’s consciousness, the purpose of which is to simplify the experience of the outside world and facilitate the child’s reactions. The idea of these mechanisms is not to show the world correctly but to help cope better. Nor is the child allowed to experience the world directly, but merely to compare things with the images in his mind and memory. The comparison is a tool for learning and learning is a way for children to survive.
The function of consciousness can be seen as covering the child’s senses during the growing up period and thus preventing him or her from experiencing the true complexity of the world, which would be fatal in an early age. Consciousness is just making the world rational and causal for fast and secure predictability. I’ve depicted the unconscious mind here as a hidden and shadowed area behind the conscious. As we grow up we only experience the cover (consciousness), not what is behind. We are exploring the conscious and trying to make it even better. But the better and stronger it becomes, the more our unconscious will be hidden and the less we will understand it. That is what Zen’s paradoxes are all about: peace of mind cannot be achieved with the help of conscious mind. Only if you are lucky, you can get rid of it and see what’s behind it.
Conscious mind is for children only
In adults the consciousness prevents from acting as adults should. The protective mechanisms do not remain exactly the same, but tend to change slightly. The real problem of consciousness arises only during puberty. The early teens show a few weak signs of change: parents lose their role , the young people begin to explore themselves and their environment, and learning ability ceases as certainty of the childhood disappears.
The child’s inherent self-centeredness evolves into the ego, memory becomes identity and the comparative mechanism becomes reason. These mental changes produce the state of mind we call consciousness, or self-awareness. This is—or it should be—an intermediate stage between childhood and adulthood and is probably the result of prolonged childhood of homo species. It is possible that the change from childhood to adulthood has sometimes occurred without teen-like intermediate stages. For what it’s worth, human mental development ends at this stage. The final step should be (and once it has been) to dismantle the scaffolding and get the building/body ready for the use for which it was built, but this will never happen. There are, however, some exceptions where the change to adulthood starts, but is not completed. We call these momentary changes in the psyche mystical experiences.
The comparison mechanism produces learning. Both belong together with the existence of parents because the child learns quickly only by taking his or her environment for granted. And it’s the parents that make this happen. The child never question his parents but is mentally attached to them. Therefore, “parents” are a mere protection mechanism in the child’s mind. But as the child moves away from his parents, learning will be impaired. The certainty will be replaced by the child’s self-awareness and the accompanying search for the purpose of life. Human will remain permanently unfinished.
It’s very human for changes to be understood as development. As a matter of fact, I think that the mental changes are mixed up with loss of consciousness. Human psyche may change, but consciousness won’t. Either it exists or doesn’t exist. Some of the mind mechanisms can stop working, and if that happens, one loses the ability to manage will, reason and memory. This is usually seen not only as a liberating state but also as the disappearance of something. It is precisely the consciousness that disappears. At first sight that usually feels like “a void”. It leaves you alone with your direct observations. Then you finally understand what life is all about. As our psyche changes, our consciousness does not change or expand, but, instead, disappears and revives the millions of years old Heidelberg’s psyche. The experience nullifies all of one’s imagined human superiority, but it gives back something much more: it brings him back to life. The so-called development of consciousness is merely a human-centered fantasy and doesn’t seem to hold water. Consciousness does not change or develop: all the artifacts it brings about, from stone tools to space rockets, are the result of the same consciousness.
In the Heidelberg man’s struggle against the harsh environment , consciousness meant the postponement of extinction. And it still means the same for us. The struggle was partially successful. The rebellious child-minded individuals survived, and the adults died. The child mind rescued a few individuals which then became our human ancestors. Since man ceased to evolve, the survival should rather be called the revolution of consciousness, not evolution.
Our psyche is made up of many individual mechanisms designed to protect us in the delicate time of our growth. They appear to us, among other things, as consciousness. Their job is to protect us as we grow and then vanish. However, we know that consciousness does not disappear. It remains because our defective ancestors rebelled against their extinction for thousands of years and thus managed to escape natural selection. This is why we still exist. Our spiritual aspirations turned into a weird, irrational mysticism, otherworldly fantasies, mighty deities, and, to some extent, also a forgiving love. Civilisation cut off the connections of real adulthood with nature, and so religions became human-centered, externally shiny, and polished. Our young mind came to misunderstand all mysticism. Urbanisation as well as schooling further increased the heavily biased admiration of youth, agricultural regions being more moderate. By and by the original, natural irrational adulthood became another name for chaos, the primitive and insane. The cost of survival was high, man ceased to understand himself.