Consciousness is a loosely defined concept that addresses the human awareness of both internal and external stimuli. This can refer to spiritual recognition, psychological understanding, medically altered states, or more modern-day concepts of life purpose, satisfaction, and self-actualization.
Most proposals map consciousness in a series of levels, some stages of which are more continuous or complex than others. Movement between stages is often bidirectional depending on internal and external conditions, with each mental ascension precipitating a change in reactivity. In the most basic sense, this alteration might lead to a reduced responsiveness as seen in anesthesiology; more abstract facets of tiered consciousness describe characteristics of profoundness, insight, perception, or understanding.
First appearing in the historical records of the ancient Mayan and Incan civilizations, proposals of multiple levels of consciousness have pervaded spiritual, psychological, medical, and moral speculations in both Eastern and Western cultures. Because of occasional and sometimes substantial overlap between hypotheses, there have recently been attempts to combine perspectives to form new models that integrate components of separate viewpoints.
Which if any of these proposals, models or viewpoints can be verified or falsified is open to question.
Although many cultures have incorporated theories of the layered consciousness into their belief structure, particularly for spiritual means before the separation of church and state within any given civilization, the Ancient Mayans were among the first to propose an organized sense of each level, its purpose, and its temporal connection to humankind.
The pyramid of consciousness has defined Mayan thought since the dawn of its civilization around 2000 BCE. Shamans and priests defined consciousness as an awareness of being aware, commonly referred to as a branch of metacognition. Because consciousness incorporates stimuli from the environment as well as internally, the Mayans believed it to be the most basic form of existence.
This existence, which they referred to as a loose translation of Cosmos, was made up of nine underworlds, depicted concretely through the nine-storied Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent in Chichen Itza, the Temple of the Jaguar in Tikal, and the Temple of the Inscriptions in Palenque. Within these nine underworlds are a specified "day" and "night", symbolizing periods of enlightenment, increased consciousness, and a heightened ability to interact with the universe.
|Cycle||First Year||Consciousness Developed||Description|
|Cellular||16.4 billion years ago||Action/Reaction||Developed all physical laws, chemical compounds, star fields, solar systems, and planets|
|Mammalian||820 million years ago||Stimulus/Response||Individual cells from the Cellular cycle began to develop a survival mechanism with increased consciousness toward stimuli and responses|
|Familial||41 million years ago||Stimulus/Individual Response||Recognition of individuals and establishment of the family relationship as opposed to herd, school, or flock mentalities|
|Tribal||2 million years ago||Similarities/Differences||Development of "the mind" to detect similarities and differences in our experience|
|Cultural||102,000 years ago||(Shared) Reasons||Search for reasons for everything, as a basis of all cultural understanding|
|National||3115 BCE||Law||Concept of right and wrong|
|Planetary||1755 CE||Power||Understanding and derivation of power from natural laws|
|Galactic||January 5, 1999||Ethics||Understanding of ethical matters|
|Universal||February 10, 2011||Conscious Co-Creation||Achievement of godlike status of all-knowing consciousness|
A common cause for debate is the exponentially accelerating dates separating each level of consciousness, where each stage occurs roughly 20 times faster than the previous one.
Whereas the Ancient Mayans defined consciousness in almost evolutionary terms, the Inca civilization considered it a progression of awareness and concern for others, similar to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.
|Level ("Attention")||External Change||Internal Change||Notes|
|First||Perception of space and time||Awareness of physical body; focus on individual survival|
|Second||Separate good from evil||Distinguish the self from others|
|Third||Capable of discrimination||Choice to align with goodness rather than evil||Level of most people|
|Fourth||Reverence toward nature; oneness; against harming others||Decreased attachment to material possessions|
|Fifth||Ability to heal others in certain circumstances||Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual restoration||Signals the taripay pacha (Incan Day of Judgment)|
|Sixth||Ability to heal others in any condition||No value in individuality; importance of community contribution|
|Seventh||Teachers of all others||Exemplify four principles of honesty, faithfulness, service, and truthfulness||Revered examples: Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Buddha|
Although historical views of the separation of consciousness into various layers do not exactly mirror modern-day perspectives, many parallels can be gathered from the overarching themes found in Eastern and Western cultures.
Many specific similarities have been drawn between Ancient Incan and historical Eastern views of tiered consciousness. Within most Eastern belief structures is the principle of the Cosmos as a joint entity with human awareness. Many branches stress the importance of AUM, also written Om, as the first sound produced after the world was created. Within Christianity this concept can be likened to the first words of Genesis regarding the holiness of the Word.
The majority of Eastern perspectives assert that while consciousness originates from the sound of AUM, it has incorporated itself into flesh, which therefore gives humankind the goal of attaining oneness with the universe once more. Unlike Incan tradition, this oneness eliminates the separation of external and internal changes into one general indication of movement from stage to stage, commonly known as the Seven Shamanic Levels of Consciousness.
|Personal||Knowledge of the self and of personality|
|Mankind||Knowledge of human evolution and its experiences|
|Amphibious||Sense of separate identity between water and land||"Water" and "land" are symbolic of man and earth|
|Spherical||Perceive using the five bodily senses|
|Crystal||Perceive using emotions, thoughts, and purity||First inorganic level undistorted by bodily senses|
|Light||Attained only by near-death experiences; "tunnel effect"||First level above the human world|
|Sound||Only heard when the mind attunes itself to the world||From the primeval vibration AUM|
Like the Seven Shamanic Levels of Consciousness, yoga meditation practices as well as the teachings of Vedanta and Tantra emphasize the importance of self-realization, a concept that has become increasingly popular in Western philosophy after Abraham Maslow's and Carl Rogers's research in Humanistic Psychology.
In particular, the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy has been a topic of extensive study in both Eastern and Western cultures for its tiered depiction of the steps toward attaining self-realization. Unlike the unidirectional nature of Mayan, Inca, and ancient shamanic perspectives, however, this particular belief structure arranges the attainment of oneness with OM through rows and domains, each of which constitutes a fragment of this vibratory sound.
|1: "A"||Waking||Conscious||External, active conscious|
|2: "U"||Dreaming||Unconscious||Subtle images and impressions|
|3: "M"||Deep Sleep||Subconscious||Focus on latent or inactive thought patterns|
|4: "AUM"||Absolute||Consciousness||Transcending of all three levels|
Similarly, the seven levels of consciousness defined by modern-day OM mantras strive to reach Absolute Reality through the same four realms described in the Advaita Vedanta, with three transitional tiers in between each.
The ancient Indian Vedas texts have lent a comparable view of unified consciousness, with a key difference in the purpose of human ascension from stage to stage. Instead of oneness with the universe, the Vedic vision of consciousness emphasizes the importance of attaining knowledge and pure intelligence.
The Ananda Sangha movement has evolved following the teachings of the late yogi and guru Paramhansa Yogananda. Compared to the multi-dimensional theories of consciousness in shamanic and OM mantra perspectives, this particular ideological faction stresses simplicity rather than detail.
Fluctuations in consciousness theories are not particular to Eastern cultures. A surprising degree of overlap can be found within the field of health and social sciences with regard to dulled, standard, and heightened intensities of awareness, both naturally and as a result of injury or disorder.
Like many psychological theories within the particular field of psychoanalysis, one of the most popular theories of consciousness was proposed by Sigmund Freud, who described three facets of the psychic apparatus: the unconscious (id) or instinctual facet, the preconscious (ego) or rational facet, and the conscious (superego) or moral facet.
Although not unlike the Vedic vision of consciousness as a form of intelligence, Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development is not commonly considered a form of knowledge awareness but instead as the evolution of the brain's capacity for thought throughout the human lifespan.
Similar to previously mentioned psychological views, medical and pathological perspectives often hypothesize tiered consciousness as a result of disease or disorders. The Altered Levels of Consciousness (ALC) theory is one such measure, in which a person's arousability and responsiveness to environmental stimuli are classified by their behavioral response.
Although many such ALC tests take place in hospital settings, the primary evaluation of patient alertness is the Glasgow Coma Scale, which separates levels of consciousness from standard conscious awareness to a comatose state.
Recent hypotheses have incorporated these ALC theories into the psychopathological study of schizophrenia, suggesting that each altered level of awareness is connected to a degree of suffering or shock experienced by the patient, arguably traversing the Qliphoth in the process. As the situation increases in seriousness, patients will descend to lower levels of consciousness and consequentially lose the capacity to cry, to smile, or to exhibit a wide range of emotions when reacting to the environment.
In more physiologically based studies, scientists have found that while the reticular formation controls alertness, wakefulness, and arousal in the brain, many mental responses to internal and external stimuli are dictated through signals relayed to and from the thalamus. Propofol and other consciousness-altering drugs are therefore antagonists of thalamus activity, possibly leading to a drug-induced comatose state.
Although many of the previously mentioned theories are still widely held today in various groups, beliefs, and areas of study, a majority of commonly accepted perspectives stem from just the past decade. These hypothesized structures of awareness draw from many historical and early eighteenth- or nineteenth-century theories to form an integrated and overarching generalization of consciousness as a means of determining inner and outer recognition of stimuli.
|Spontaneous||The mind can react to the progression of life and does not account for future or past events; therefore, the mind develops an optimistic outlook|
|Calculated||This state reacts to events based on the perception of right and wrong and attempts to direct others accordingly; the mind is focused on achieving what it thinks should happen|
|Imposed||The mind is short sighted and clashes with the opposition; lack of awareness for surroundings amounts to failure in the long term|
Similarly, Richard Barrett proposes seven stages of consciousness that progress in a logical order. The progression focuses on “existential” needs directly connected to and dependent on the human condition, all of which are motivating factors for daily interactions.
|Survival||Feel protected or unprotected|
|Relationship||Feel in or out of a group|
|Self-esteem||Feel positive or negative about yourself|
|Transformation||Act out of your true self|
|Internal Cohesion||Find similarities between your views and goals|
|Making a Difference||Align your views with others to make a greater impact|
|Service||Live through voluntary service to meet your personal goals|
Dr. Bob Günius Gibson, left-handed author of Notes on Personal Integration and Health and often recognized as a psychic healer, hypothesized the existence of four tiers of extrasensory awareness. Beyond being more applicable to internal states rather than reactions to the external environment, these stages contrast markedly with the previously mentioned modern theories through their emphasis on humankind's immediate interactions. Gibson does not focus on life progression or individual power to move between levels, but rather on momentary instances of personal experience.
|Sleep||Unaware of all surroundings; dreams may or may not occur|
|Waking Sleep||Sleepwalking; normal tasks can be performed but the individual is not receptive to what is taking place|
|Self-awareness||Able to identify surroundings and observe what is taking place|
|Objective awareness||Identify surrounding events without opinions or input|
Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson proposed the Eight-Circuit Model of Consciousness, a psychologically based theory that unifies various interpretations of main altered states of awareness into a single mega-theory, or a hypothesis' about an already existing hypothesis. In this case, Leary and Wilson state that the altered levels of consciousness defined in medical fields are products of eight differing brain structures within the human nervous system.
This concept not only connects psychology and the more medically focused studies of neurology and biology, but also incorporates elements of sociology, anthropology, physics, chemistry, and advanced mathematical formulas. Furthermore, critics argue that the inspiration for his theory stems at least indirectly from the Hindu chakra system.
|Biosurvival||The Breath of Consciousness||Infancy||Suckling, nourishment, cuddling, trust versus suspicion|
|Emotional-Territorial||Freud's Ego||Toddling||Emotions, domination, submission strategies, territory|
|Symbolic (Neuro-Semantic-Dexterity)||The Rational Mind||From human artifacts and symbol systems||Handling the environment, invention, calculation, prediction|
|Domestic (Socio-Sexual)||The "Adult" Personality||First mating experiences||Pleasure, reproduction, nurture|
|Neurosomatic||Zen-Yoga Mind-Body Connection||Neurological-somatic feedback and reprogramming||Consciousness of the body|
|Neuroelectric (Metaprogramming)||Psionic Electronic-Interface Mind||Re-imprinting and reprogramming earlier circuits||Perceived "realities", cybernetic consciousness|
|Neurogenetic (Morphogenetic)||Buddha-Monad "Mind"||Consciousness maturation||Evolutionary consciousness, DNA-RNA brain feedbacks|
|Psychoatomic (Quantum Non-Local)||Overmind||Consciousness maturity||Out-of-body experiences involving information beyond normal space-time awareness|
Similar to Dr. Rondell Gibson's view of a simplified hierarchy of conscious states, Alain Morin describes a four-tiered integration of nine past awareness models, focusing explicitly on the two common aspects underlying each belief structure: the perception of the self in time and the complexity of those self-representations.
|Level||Description||Alternative titles in past theories|
|Unconsciousness||Non-responsive to self and environment||Consciousness, non-consciousness, arousal, limbic stage, sensorimotor cognition|
|Consciousness||Focusing attention on environment; processing incoming external stimuli||Non-conscious mind, ecological and interpersonal self, neocortical level, consciousness, sensorimotor awareness; core, peripheral, primary and minimal consciousness|
|Self-awareness||Focusing attention on self; processing private and public self-information||Consciousness, extended and private self, symbolic level, meta-representational self-consciousness, conceptual self-consciousness, self-concept; reflective, recursive, self and meta-consciousness|
|Meta-self-awareness||Aware that one is self-aware||Consciousness, extended self|
In summary, Morin concludes that from the many concepts discussed above it is near impossible to settle for only one theory without accepting at least a fraction of another. Although each hypothesis has been debated either in scientific or more spiritually focused literature, he states that consciousness is related most directly to the subjective perception of self-recognition and language, both of which are determined by culture and our external environment as a whole.
Robert Allan Monroe became known for his research into altered consciousness and "out-of-body experience". His book 1985 "Far Journeys" showed numerous levels of consciousness and infinite expansion of consciousness.
“The plants exist on levels of consciousness from one through seven. They are on a vibrational rate on the levels one through seven. It is the same pattern.
Animals exist on the levels of consciousness from eight through fourteen, and when a person attains, when a consciousness attains level fourteen, it can no longer go any higher unless it is willing to change its form of consciousness.
Levels of consciousness from fifteen through twenty-one are what you call human life on this earth.
When a person progresses to level of consciousness twenty one, he then has the choice of going higher or staying within the realm of human form, but he cannot go higher unless he is willing to give up human form.” 
Some analytical psychological methods have presented methodology to engage deeper levels of consciousness other than expansive transcendence, depth that may lead to a reconciliation process. Propositions such as "active imagination," engaging in a conversation with the "Ego" and "Shadow" for instance. "Invocation," calling upon an archetypal imago to dialogue with, perhaps an image of saint or God, "Admiring Mature Paragon Examples," having conversations with wise old men and women; those who have accessed wisdom, for example, and "Acting 'As If,'" getting into character, acting like the character archetype one wishes to emulate.