In order to comprehend the workings of human consciousness, we need to understand the function of consciousness itself, its Darwinian evolution, as well as its specific development in each of our brains.
Human consciousness is the vehicle of our evolutionary adaptation, for our thriving, surviving, and propagation. It has adapted to serve our actual lives. We are social beings and we live it out with family, friends and community. All people and tribes inhabit a culture with art, music, theater, morality, and language. We form intimate relationships, we propagate; raise our children; teach them the values and mores of our culture; and give them the tools for survival. The whole human story is encompassed and created by our consciousness.
Consciousness is biologically created by the limbic cortex as it maps experience. Unfortunately, biological psychiatry, neurology, and neuroscience in general have preempted a claim on what is biological. They have defined biology as the domain of physical brain structure; brain organization; brain anatomy; and functional brain centers; neurotransmitters; hormones; information learned from studying brain lesions; and activated patterns of neurons that can be seen in brain scans associated with certain localized functions. There is a great deal of knowledge to be appreciated from these approaches. Unfortunately, their orientation has mistaken the parts for the whole.
Science has ignored the most important biological function of the brain, the organization of activated mappings that create the play of consciousness in the limbic-cortex. These mappings of experience are established early in life and are the key to consciousness. Consciousness is organized as a play in the theater of the brain. The ‘play’ is a synthetic representational world that consists of a cast of characters who relate together by feeling, as well as plots, set designs, and landscape. Once established, the play operates as top-down cortical process which permits regular functioning in the world. Top-down 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.” Cortical top-down functioning establishes a way to do all of this, with as little an expenditure of time, effort, and attention as possible.
The ‘play’ is a unified field theory which includes dreams, myths, religion, and art—all elements of the same thing. It derives from and is consonant with our child rearing and culture. It 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.
Humans are sentient beings, feeling beings. Because of our Descartian confusion, people assume that in a foundational way, we are thinking beings. However, this is not true. We are, in a foundational way, feeling beings. The development of the brain and its organization dispels this myth. Human consciousness is grounded in feeling. The formative first three years of life operate almost entirely in the realm of feeling. The amygdala and limbic system which map the survival interactions with the intrauterine and post birth maternal environment reach a high enough level of order at six weeks old to create the ‘feeling of a being’ with no representational form. I call this synthetic limbic-cortical creation - the “Authentic Being”. The brain is too immature as yet to create representational images and symbolic form. This won’t take place until the child is approximately three years old. The limbic cortex is mapped, as experience is digested by one’s temperament. As the brain matures, the linkages of circuits of brain maps with circuits of brain maps expands exponentially until it reaches a high enough level of order to create symbolic form – representational consciousness with language and thinking. The foundational play is formed in the realm of feeling, and it develops in relation principally to child’s mother and father, their salient emotional environment. The mapping of our characterological play is how consciousness is organized and operates.
During these three years, consciousness is organized as a play with six formless personas who reflect the child’s pertinent experience – “The Authentic Being”, “The Loving Other”, “The Abuser”, “The Abused”, “The Protector” and “The Protected”. The actual experience of responsiveness, deprivation, and abuse is mapped in the limbic cortex as the foundational play of consciousness gets written. It is these mappings which write a unique and specific play in each of us. In the presence of significant deprivation and abuse, an activated play of sado-masochism gets written. The mechanism for connecting the limbic-cortical circuits are the neurotransmitters. They simply reflect a damaged play, but in no way are they causal. As adults, our character is the manifestation of our internal plays. A sado-masochistic play is an ongoing state of internal war which in the long run consumes serotonin. Psychiatric symptoms reflect the fault lines of our internal plays, created by the actual maternal and paternal emotional environment. Treatment involves relinquishing a problematic play and writing a new one based on responsiveness. When a problematic play is de-activated in psychotherapy. The neurotransmitters follow suit and then reflect the new play of authenticity and love. The ongoing internal war is de-activated and no longer operational, and psychiatric symptoms disappear all on their own. The corrupted pseudo science of Big Pharma and the APA have promoted that the source of psychiatric problems lies in the neurotransmitters. This has been addressed in “No, It’s not the Neurotransmitters”. In fact, neurotransmitters are but mechanistic messengers and play no causal role in the emotional states of consciousness.
Yes, as we continue to grow and mature, our plays are colored by future experience. But the essential play remains in force, unless significant trauma occurs which can rewrite the play. The sentience of the Authentic Being and the early play underlie all the rest of our representational consciousness. They invisibly orient our judgment and our thinking. Love, conscience, and our creativity flow from the invisible Authentic Being, which is our enduring sense of authenticity that underlies our ordinary sense of self. This is what makes us human. The key to consciousness is the play.
Robert A. Berezin, MD is the author of “Psychotherapy of Character, the Play of Consciousness in the Theater of the Brain”