What do Tinker Bell, phantom limbs, Scrooge, Genesis, Willie Loman, a schizophrenic delusion, Zeus, Grumpy (and his brothers), an incubus, Mozart’s Requiem, Eleanor Rigby, your personality, Oz, A Starry, Starry Night, and flying in your dream last night have in common? They are the stuff of human consciousness. They have all emerged from the human imagination into our lives. They are fanciful, uplifting, sad, raunchy, dark, fun, scary, mysterious, and tragic. They embody different aspects of the human struggle, mystery, and wonder that have been present in all cultures throughout history. They encompass the richness and depth of the human story and, as such, the whole reach of human nature. And they represent what is inside of each and every one of us. Most important, they introduce the central theme of “The Play of Consciousness,” the organization of human consciousness as a living drama in the theater of the brain.
The “play” is an entire representational world that consists of a cast of characters who relate together by feeling, as well as plots, set designs, and landscape. It is a unified field theory of human consciousness, which includes psychiatry, neuroscience, dreams, myths, religion, and art—all elements of the same thing. It derives from and is consonant with our child rearing and culture. The “play” encompasses the ineffable human mysteries—birth, death, and the disparity between our ordinary sense of self and our intimation of a deeper authenticity. It includes as well the dark side of our nature. And finally, it holds the key to the nature of beliefs in general. Human consciousness and human nature are one and the same. The creation of our inner play by the brain is the consummation of our Darwinian human evolution.
When we consider the evolution of the human species, what makes us human is not defined by the unique human functions, such as opposable thumbs, abstract thinking, reasoning, or computational abilities—those are good. The defining feature of our species is the synthetic “play” of human consciousness. The evolution of the structure and function of the limbic-cortical brain is at one with the creation of the play. The morphology, organized structures, and pathways of complex neuronal webs throughout its architecture create the patterns of patterns of patterns that enable the characterological drama. This is the cortical processing that allows for the meaning and coherence of our moment-to-moment functioning in life. The creation of images of personas, their emotional relatedness, and life plots—the full range of tragedy and comedy—is the drama. It constitutes the top-down processing of our individual selves and our emotional and relationship life. The coherence of human consciousness is the highest level of order of the human genome. We walk around all day long, each of us, in this brain-body synthetic bubble of consciousness, our genetic endowment.
The characterological drama of human consciousness is our adaptation to and is consonant with living the human life—the life of the individual and relatedness to others. It encompasses our surviving, our child rearing, our imagination, and our culture. It allows us to function as the individual and social animals we are. It creates the meaning landscape of human experience. This landscape encompasses the symbolic representations of human experience—self, others, relationship, and drama—in myths, narratives, literature, art, nursery rhymes, songs, movies, hieroglyphics, plays, belief systems, dance, journalism, cave paintings, fashion, religious incantations, and theologies. The Play encompasses the contemporary science of the brain and consciousness, while honoring the wisdom of the past and its grasp of the depth and complexity of the human condition.
Also posted in my Psychology Today Blog