A theory of consciousness has to correspond to the actualities of human nature. It has to be consonant with the living of a human life. Its design has to reflect the productions it creates. My view through the looking glass came from many years of psychiatric practice, the long term, intensive psychotherapy of character. This provided me an unusual circumstance where I had a considerable sampling of the vast array of human character. I saw the whole range of symptoms and human suffering. Since I was allowed into the inner sanctum of my patients’ stories, I was privy to how each one evolved, the story behind the story. I was let into the truth of each formative family life. And I became familiar with the discreet array of my patients’ different temperaments. This uncommon experience gave me a working and in-depth knowledge of character, psychiatric symptoms, human suffering, and recovery. As a therapist I have also had the unusual experience of hearing thousands of dreams. The trance state of REM sleep creates dreams composed of characters, feelings, scenarios, set designs, and landscape. Each and every one of them had comprehensible meaning through which a patient digested an issue of the day in the context of a characteristic and discernible inner play. Consciousness creates these dreams as well. In addition to character and dreams, a theory of consciousness has to be a unified field theory that encompasses myths, the imagination, art, culture, and religion.
None of the prevailing theories of consciousness seem to account for the full scope of human nature. Psychiatric theories don’t correspond to human actuality, never mind the English language. Child development theories also seem to miss the boat as they squeeze reality into their boxes, rather than the other way around. Medical neurology is fascinating and illuminating, but it evolved as a kind of piecemeal understanding of the brain from diseases and pathology and doesn’t lend itself to an overall grasp of consciousness or how that relates to personality and the living of a life. Modular centers, genetic unfolding, epigenetic influences do not account for the productions in the brain of consciousness. Neuroscience has been taking off as a discipline and is intriguing. But it too seems to be prone to ungrounded theories which get established as dogma. And finally the pharmaceutical-psychiatric complex promoted the bogus idea that neurotransmitters and brain chemistry are the key to consciousness and psychiatry. They have gained ascendancy through financial and scientific corruption. They have invented so called evidence-based psychiatry which is neither scientific nor evidence based, which has pre-empted real scientific inquiry. See “No, It’s not the Neurotransmitters, Depression is not a biological disease caused by an imbalance of serotonin”.
A theory of consciousness must not only account for human nature, but its organization in the brain-body must reflect the actual brain-body in its development and organization, as well as evolution. The key to consciousness is that it is created by the limbic-cortical mappings of experience. These high end maps are grounded in the limbic system and generate the organization of consciousness as a play, with a cast of characters, feeling relatedness between them, scenarios, plots, landscape and set designs. This play is written from the actuality of one’s formative life experience - responsiveness, abuse, and deprivation - as it is digested by one’s specific, genetic temperament. Each and every person has a unique play which is manifest as his character.
I have traced the function of the limbic system which begins in utero in “Ray Kurzweil’s presentation of hybrid thinking does not grasp the biological operations of the brain”. Consciousness coalesces at six weeks old when the limbic-cortex is sufficiently mapped to create a non-representational formless feeling of our self. This results from the history of limbic-cortical mappings of the fetus and infant of his ‘self’ relating to its maternal environment. I call this the Authentic Being, the brain’s creation of sentience which is grounded in limbic feeling. Over the next three years, the child’s extensive mapping of experience of self and other and their relatedness matures to achieve a high enough state of order that it creates symbolic form. At this point we have representational consciousness. Representational consciousness creates images and the image-ination. The Authentic Being gets supplanted, but its mappings remain and it is the source of authenticity, loving, consciousness and creativity for the rest of our lives. Both the Authentic Being and our conventional sense of self are synthetic illusions created by the brain. See “How did Captain Hook Get Into Eddie’s Closet?”
Once established, these high end limbic-cortical brain maps operate via cortical top down processing, the brain’s short cut for the living of a life. These high end brain maps utilize the various brain centers all throughout the architecture of the cortex. But consciousness is not located in any one center. None of the various brain centers exist for their own sake, but only to serve the overall organization of limbic-cortical brain mappings.
The presence of developmental abuse and neglect writes a limbic-cortical play of sado-masochism. As such the serotonin in the synapses of its mappings gets consumed by the ongoing attacks of the established internal drama. Eventually, later in life, the ongoing play of sado-masochism will over consume its neurotransmitter supplies and generate psychiatric symptoms.
Typically, one can change learned cortical mappings by disuse of the activated circuit. Then one can establish a new set of circuits through new experience that isn’t controlled by old de-activated top down processed maps. When the cortical circuits are limbic, then the process of disuse is called mourning. This is precisely the way psychotherapy changes the internal character play. Mourning the play itself allows us to deactivate old top down limbic circuits and write new ones through new experience. I proceeded as a therapist by paying attention to the feeling communications of my patient, within the boundaries and emotional holding of psychotherapy. This led to a patient mourning his pain in the context of his internal story. When he relinquishes his original play, he writes a new one grounded in love and responsiveness. The old pathways of circuits cease to be activated and new ones get established. As the sado-masochism (often masked) of the old plays ceases to be operative, the symptoms and suffering disappear.
Robert A. Berezin, MD is the author of “Psychotherapy of Character, the Play of Consciousness in the Theater of the Brain”