By the time we are three years old the mappings in the limbic-cortex are sufficiently established to create a three dimensional representational play. This is how human consciousness is organized. It is composed of personas, feeling relationships between them, scenarios, plots, set designs and landscape. We can easily see this in dreaming. A dream is a synthetic illusion of a world, created in the theater of the brain. We go into REM sleep five times a night where a play is enacted on the dream stage. Since REM is a complete trance state, the dream hallucination feels real, and there is no awareness outside the dream. Sleep is a trance state. Actually, it is five different trance states. Each has specific wave patterns in the brain and particular functions. When we go to bed each night we begin to allow alpha waves as we shift trance states into stage 1 sleep with its theta waves. Then we go into to stage 2, where sleep spindles and K complexes appear. Then we move into stage 3 with its delta waves and gradually into stage 4 with increased delta waves. Then we go back to stage 3, back to stage 2, and then on to REM sleep. This cycle—1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, REM—is repeated every ninety minutes all night long (REM sleep substituted for stage 1). When we wake up, we return to the beta brain waves of the waking trance state. And on and on we go, through the daily cycle.
When we shift to the waking trance, also a complete trance with its Beta waves, we are oriented by our senses. The ongoing play is projected onto the world in waking consciousness but it is not visible. The internal play is the cortical top down processing for the living of a life in consciousness. It invisibly guides one’s emotional life and determines our relatedness to others and ourself. In general, top-down processing is the cortical brain function that simplifies and makes possible our ability to perform the complexities of moment-to-moment living. It would be too unwieldy for the brain to analyze the whole host of information from the senses and body nerves anew and connect it with our motor abilities, along with our intention, every moment. You wouldn’t be able to lift a spoon to your mouth, never mind balance a strawberry on it, or encompass your intention, or have a cohered sense of “you.” The cortex establishes a way to do all of this, with as little an expenditure of time, effort, and attention as possible. It does so by top-down processing, which creates symbolic form out of huge amounts of information.
At six weeks old the rudimentary limbic-cortical mappings laid down in the fetus and the newborn have matured sufficiently to create the beginning of consciousness. The coalescence of the first sense of ourselves is purely a formless feeling of our being. It does not have three-dimensional representational form. It is purely the feeling of our being and can only be felt. It is too early in brain development for the baby to have an image of itself or others. I call this the Authentic Being. The Authentic Being is itself a purely synthetic creation of limbic-cortical consciousness. This rudimentary theater of consciousness in the baby also creates a formless feeling of his mother, without image. This is the time when a mother, who has previously been predisposed to love her baby, actually feels him and is emotionally touched by him, as he feels her. This is when she falls in love with him, the emotional resonance between mother and baby.
Over the next three years the brain matures to create high enough levels of symbolic order to create symbolic representational form. Consciousness now establishes three dimensional representational images. However, the mappings of the Authentic Being remain. This formless feeling of ourselves underlies our regular conscious experience of ourselves.
Each of us has a resonance that our deepest self is not encompassed by our ordinary sense of self. This dissonance generates a built-in and understandable confusion about our nature. Every person feels the presence of his hidden Authentic-Being, one way or another. It is generated by established circuits of cortical limbic mappings, an artifact of the morphogenesis of consciousness. These circuits remain throughout life as the agency that generates the feeling of our being. It is the anchor of our loving. It is the quiet voice inside of us. It is our innocence. It is the source of our creativity. It is the source of our conscience. It is the fountain of our aliveness. None of this is mystical or magical. It is just the way the plays of consciousness are organized in the brain.
Once we consolidate our adult selves, we all have a restlessness that something is fraudulent and missing inside. This follows from our built-in estrangement from our Authentic-Beings, and it haunts us. Deep down inside, we all sense the hollowness of the characterological self. Likewise, we all have an intimation of something deeper and more authentic.
We walk around all day long, each of us, in this brain-body synthetic bubble of consciousness, our Darwinian endowment. In psychotherapy, we grapple with the patient’s invisible play, a play that had been forged from the formative actualities of responsiveness, deprivation, and abuse, as digested by his particular temperament.
Robert A. Berezin, MD is the author of “Psychotherapy of Character, the Play of Consciousness in the Theater of the Brain”