Tag: Consciousness

The book! Chapter Eighteen.

Learning from Dogs

Chapter Eighteen.

The day before Philip’s appointment with Jonathan, he suddenly realised that if they had set a time he hadn’t made a note of it.  He called Jonathan.

“Jonathan, it’s Philip.”

“Hallo Philip, is there a problem for tomorrow?”

“No, not at all. It’s just that if we made a time, I screwed up and didn’t note it down.”

He could hear Jonathan’s laugh over the phone. “Ah, and there I was thinking I hadn’t made a note of the time.  Luckily, I was going to be in all day so was pretty relaxed about when you came across.”

Philip replied, “Ah, that’s a welcoming attitude.  But how about me coming over early to mid-morning? How does that suit you?”

“Ten-thirty, Philip?”

“Done, I’ll see you at ten-thirty.” He was just about to ring off when he added, “Jonathan, I could leave Pharaoh here at the flat but as it’s not become home to him yet, would it be alright if I bring him with me?”

“Not a problem. Would be lovely to see him again.”

“Thanks Jonathan, see you in the morning.”


The room at Jonathan and Helen’s house was ideal.  Ideal, that is, for a large dog. However, just in case Pharaoh couldn’t settle, before leaving the flat Philip had stuck a couple of dog biscuits in his bag.  But there had been no need to worry because as soon he and Jonathan sat down and started to talk Pharaoh curled up behind Philip’s chair.

Jonathan opened the conversation by asking Philip, “Why don’t you tell me a little about your life, pick out the things that more often than not come to you when you think back over the years?”

Philip settled back in his chair and allowed his memory of the last fifty or so years to bubble up into his consciousness.  The key moments were easy to speak about.  His father’s death, his subsequent failure to get any decent exam results at school, then managing to enrol as a graduate electrical engineer at the Faraday House of Electrical Engineering so long as he passed two ‘A-levels’ within the first year; which he failed to do. So he had to leave Faraday House but, miracle of miracles, somehow managed to gain a commercial apprenticeship at the British Aircraft Corporation’s manufacturing plant in Stevenage.

A quiet snoring from Pharaoh showed that he was now solidly asleep. Philip guessed he had heard all this before!

He continued with this snapshot of his past years. Going on to recall how he loved so much his first year at BAC because all apprentices had to spend their first year learning a whole range of engineering skills: cutting, shaping, welding, riveting, and much more. He mused how those skills had given him confidence later on in life to tackle most construction projects; well small ones anyway.  Then on to the second year at BAC and the deadly boredom of the commercial office undertaking such gripping tasks as pasting typed amendments over the top of the pages of current Government contracts for hours upon hours.  Only made bearable by the kindness of Malcolm Hunt, who was his oversight manager.  Leading to Philip offering to cut Malcolm’s grass at his home in the Summer evenings because Malcolm had to constantly wear a neck brace due to severe problems with his upper spine. Then him meeting Malcolm’s lovely Scottish wife, Sadie, and often being invited to have an evening meal with them.

On to that fateful day when he was sitting at his desk, his desk next to Malcolm’s, when Malcolm said, “Philip, Sadie wondered if you could give her a call at work.” He passed Philip a slip of paper on which he had written down Sadie’s office number, a local Stevenage number. He had gone over to the main canteen where there was a public phone box in the lobby.

“Hallo, British Visqueen, how may I help you?”

“Yes, my name is Philip Stevens and I have been asked to call Mrs Sadie Hunt.”

It was but a moment before Philip heard Sadie’s lovely Scottish accent. “Philip, how nice of you to call.  Listen we have a vacancy in our sales office, the team that manage the sales of our polythene film products to UK companies, and I wondered if you would like to be interviewed for the vacancy?”

“Oh Sadie, thank you so much for thinking of me.  I would love to have a try at the position.”

“Well, that’s grand, Philip.  Both Malcolm and I were thinking that your present job was leaving you unfulfilled and something closer to selling would match your skills and personality.  I’ll arrange for the usual letter inviting persons to interview to be sent to you in tonight’s post.”

He became conscious that he had drifted away and looked up at Jonathan with some embarrassment.

“Whoops, got a bit carried away there, didn’t I.”

Jonathan replied gently, “You obviously got the job at British Visqueen.”

“Yes, I did and in a funny way that job set me up for life.  Of course, that’s only clear to me now looking backwards. But all my life I’ve loved the interaction that selling inevitably requires, and, without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I have been good at it.”

The hour with Jonathan flew by.  They agreed the next appointment for a week’s time and he and Pharaoh went out to the car and made their way back to the flat.

Despite that hour with Jonathan almost entirely taken up with him speaking of past times, it had still left its mark on him.  He was aware for much of the rest of that Friday that there was something about the atmosphere in Jonathan’s room that made him feel totally safe even though he had no idea as to how that had been achieved. That was fascinating, he pondered.  It was not as if he was a stranger to being one-on-one with another person nor disliked meeting and talking with others, far from it. But still it felt so different.  He looked forward to next Friday morning.


The morning was soon upon him and, again, much of that next session continued with him talking about the key events in his life, not just in his working life but, for example, the circumstances of his first marriage and how that failed.  By the end of the second session he was up to present times.


The third session, a further week on, started very differently because Jonathan started to talk about consciousness.  In particular about David R. Hawkins who, apparently, is an internationally renowned psychiatrist and researcher into human consciousness.  This all felt a little strange to Philip but as Jonathan showed him a chart, for want of a better term, of the different states of consciousness, a map of consciousness as the title described it, then it did start to fall somewhat into place.

Apparently, David Hawkins had found a way of measuring the human body’s reaction, using kinesiology, to a range of life’s circumstances. Leading to Dr. Hawkins proposing that those reactions were really a window into a person’s consciousness. Hawkins then went on to create a numerical value for those measurements and proposed a mid-way value.  Mid-way, as it were, between positive and negative human reactions. Philip found this fascinating from an intellectual perspective.  He still struggled to embrace the meaning and relevance of it as part of his counselling.  However, from what he had come to observe about Jonathan’s approach to psychotherapy he expected the emotional significance of this to appear pretty soon.

He tuned back into Jonathan explaining how those measurements of the body that scored above the mid-way level of 200 described a range of positive, strong levels of human consciousness and below a corresponding range of negative, weak levels. It was all a little baffling; he had to admit.

Jonathan could see that Philip was struggling a little with the whole idea of human consciousness having levels, let alone that those levels could be measured.

“Philip, think of it as two very broad categories.  From a mid-way level of 200 all the upper states of consciousness are described in the general terms of truth, integrity and supportive of life.  Whereas, from 200 and down those states of consciousness are described as false, lacking integrity and unsupportive of life.”

Jonathan paused and went on to add, “And did you know that the consciousness of dogs has been mapped?”

That brought Philip immediately to the edge of his seat, the suddenness of his reaction causing Pharaoh to open his eyes and lift up his head.

“Yes, the consciousness of dogs has been mapped as between 205 and 210.  They are creatures of integrity.”

Philip knew in that instant that something very profound had just occurred.  He slipped forward out of his chair, got down on his hands and knees, crawled behind his chair, and gave Pharaoh the most loving hug of his life.  Dogs are creatures of integrity.  Of course! So utterly and profoundly obvious. Wow, what a revelation.

He sat back up in his chair, now truly engaged in the subject. Jonathan continued to outline more of David Hawkins’ findings, closing their session by offering to lend Philip the Hawkins’ book Power vs Force.

“See you same time next Friday, Philip?”

“No question.  And thank you for a fascinating session.”


On the drive back to Diptford, Philip couldn’t take his mind off the idea that dogs were creatures of integrity and truthfulness.  What was that third quality that Jonathan had mentioned?  Ah, yes. Integrity, truthfulness and supportive of life. He had no doubt that all Nature’s animals could be seen in the same light but what made it so powerful in terms of dogs was the scale of the unique relationship between dogs and man.  A relationship that had been running for thousands upon thousands of years.

As he made himself his usual light lunch of a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and some fruit and then sat enjoying a mug of hot tea, he just couldn’t take his mind off what Jonathan had revealed.  Dogs are examples of integrity and truth.  No, examples is a pathetic word.  Dogs are beacons of integrity and truth.  Yes, that’s it.  Wow.

Then from a place that he knew not from where, it came to him.  Some day he would write about this. About these qualities of man’s best friend. How we should be comparing the integrity of dogs to this modern, dysfunctional world, a world that seems to be descending deeper and deeper into corruption, lies, greed, selfishness and depravity.  My goodness, how much there is for man to learn from dogs.

As that last thought passed across his mind, he was hit by a force, a force that was beyond question.  He would write not some time in the future but now.  Write about how we must, for the future sake of mankind, learn from dogs.

He shuffled his chair across to his computer, toggled it back to life and started looking at available internet domain names.  Bingo, it hadn’t been taken! Thus a few minutes later he was the registered owner of the domain name learningfromdogs.


Friday the 22nd came round as regular as clockwork and Philip, once again, was settled into his chair in Jonathan’s room. Pharaoh likewise settled in to the corner of the room behind his chair.  He had been looking forward to this next hour with Jonathan because so much had flowed from the revelations of last week’s session.

“Philip, when we had our first session and I asked you to relate the key life events that came to you, the first event you spoke of was the death of your father.  Tell me more about that time in your life.”

“To be honest, I don’t have clear memories of my father much before he died that year. He was a lot older than my mother, some eighteen years, and I had been the result of an affair between them; my father being married at the time.  They met when they were both members of an amateur orchestra in London during the height of the Second World War.  Apparently, my father had had two daughters with his wife and longed for a son.  I came along just six months before the end of the war.  At first, my father couldn’t decide to leave his wife leading to my mother eventually giving him an ultimatum that if he wished to continue to see his son then he would have to marry her.  So despite me being born in November 1944 it wasn’t until 1946 that my parents became married.”

He paused for a few moments, as if having to dip back to that December in 1956 was going to stir up pain.

“I had turned twelve-years-old in early November 1956.  Just finished my first term at Grammar School.  To be honest, I can’t recall when my father became ill and how long he had been bed-ridden. But on the evening of December 19th, after I had kissed my father goodnight and jumped into my bed in the room next door, my mother came in, closed my bedroom door, sat on the edge of my bed and told me that my father was very ill and may not live for much longer.

It clearly didn’t register with me at any significant emotional level because I went off easily to sleep. But when I awoke in the morning, I was told that my father had died during the night, the family doctor had attended and my father’s body had been removed from the house. I had slept through it all.”

Jonathan quietly looked at him.  Nothing was said; not for a long time. Philip was aware of a strange, yet peaceful, presence in the room.  Pharaoh softly stood up, came over and laid his head across Philip’s leg. All remained still and quiet in the room.  He lost any notion of the passing of time, no idea of how long it was when there was a gentle movement from Jonathan.

“What are you experiencing at this moment?”

“Jonathan, it’s strange but there’s almost a complete absence of feelings.  I’ve often tried to reflect on what I truly felt at the time or, indeed, what I feel all these years later whenever I am drawn back to that time.  But the best I have ever been able to come up with is that I was never able to say goodbye.  You need to know, Jonathan, that it was decided that because it would be too upsetting for me, I wasn’t even at the funeral and cremation thus reinforcing my sense of not saying goodbye to my father.”

Minutes passed afresh before Jonathan asked his next question. “Philip, you have a son and daughter.  What are their ages?”

“My son, William, is now thirty-five and my daughter, Elizabeth, thirty-four.”

Jonathan put his hands together fingers-to-fingers and lent his chin against them. “So your son would have been twelve in 1984.  That was when you were very busy running your own business, if I recall.”

Philip nodded in reply.

“So Philip let’s say that during that year of 1984 you had been diagnosed with some terminal illness, say cancer, as with your father.  You were given a life expectancy of six months or less. What thoughts come to mind?”

“You mean in the sense of what it would have meant for William and Elizabeth?”

Jonathan nodded.

“Wow, what a truly terrible thing to reflect upon.”

He idly stroked Pharaoh’s head as he tried to put himself in the position of knowing he was dying back when his children were eleven and twelve.

He looked up. “What comes to mind without any doubt is that I would have walked away from my business immediately. After all, very soon it wasn’t going to be my business.  My kids were still living at home, of course. I would have wanted to share every minute of my life with them. Try to let them understand as much about me, who I was, what I believed in, what made Philip Stevens the person he was.”

Jonathan almost breathed the next question into the air of the room, “Translate the circumstances of the death of your father across to your son experiencing the same circumstances from your death. What’s your reaction to that situation? Admittedly one we know didn’t take place, thank goodness.”

Philip felt the passion rise from within. He almost cried out,  “To know that I was terminally ill and to have that kept from my son and daughter; that’s terrible, it’s beyond comprehension. Then to compound it by having everything associated with my death and the disposal of my body kept secret from William and Elizabeth.”

He left the sentence unfinished before adding, the pain so clear in his voice, “It’s cruel beyond description.  My poor children wouldn’t have had a clue as to why they had been excluded. No, not excluded; denied. Denied from telling their father how much they loved him and, in turn, denied not hearing from their father how much he loved them. Denied for ever more.”

Jonathan allowed Philip’s anger to reverberate around the room.

“Is there one word that says it all to you? If so, what’s the one word that comes to you?” Jonathan asked.

Philip hardly hesitated. “Rejection.  Yes, that’s the word.”

He went silent as he turned that word over in his mind. “No, can’t better the word.  William and Elizabeth losing their father that way shouts out that their feelings weren’t even considered.  No-one in the lives had stopped to think about how these two very young people were dealing with the severe illness, let alone the imminent death, of their father. Their feelings were not cared for. And not caring means not loving.  Yes, that’s it.  They would see it as a total rejection of them by their father. Not unreasonably, I might add.”


There was a further silence in the room that lasted for, perhaps, five minutes or more.  Then Jonathan said, “Philip, we are not quite up to the hour but I’m going to suggest you just sit here quietly with Pharaoh.”

Jonathan looked at Pharaoh who still had his head across Philip’s leg and said, “I was going to say just let yourself out when you are confident of being OK to drive home.  But, of course, Pharaoh will be the one to make it clear when you may go home.  Bet you anything on that one.  Either way, I’ll be next door; very close by.”

He added, “Just let today settle itself in your consciousness just however it wants to.  Don’t force your thoughts either way, either dwelling on today or preventing thoughts naturally coming to the surface of your mind.  As we have discussed before, pay attention to your dreams.  Maybe have a notebook by your bedside so you can jot down what you have been dreaming about.  I’ll see you next Friday same time, if that’s alright with you.”

Jonathan left the room whereupon Philip quietly laid his face down on Pharaoh’s warm head and wept.  He knew beyond doubt that he had been released from a long, dark, emotional prison.

A few minutes later, he lifted his head, wiped his eyes, just as Pharaoh lifted his own head and indicated clearly that it was time to go. They left the house a few moments later.


When a crossroads is neither a roadway, nor a choice of pathways in the woods or fields, when that crossroads is in our minds, we seldom know it’s there or the choice we made to take one path and not the other until it’s long past.  Sometimes, the best one can do is to look for the tiniest clues as to where one is really heading.


Philip had read that in a book a few weeks back although, typically, could no longer remember the name of the book.  It had spoken to him in a way that he couldn’t fathom out at the time, yet carried sufficient strength and clarity for him to feel the need to jot it down on a sheet of paper.  He had been sorting papers out on his desk on the Sunday following that last session with Jonathan when he came across the sheet of paper.  Much more than the first time he read the words, when he reread them now they were laden brim-full of meaning.

Because, to his very great surprise, his sleep on both Friday and Saturday nights had not only been dream free but had taken him to a place of such sweet contentment that it was almost as though he had been reborn.  Alright, perhaps reborn was a little over the top, but there was no question that he was in an emotional place quite unlike anything he could ever recall.  Almost as if for the first time in his life he truly liked who he was.

Earlier on that Saturday morning when he had taken Pharaoh over to James’ woods, he called in on his sister and shared a cup-of-tea with her.  As he was leaving, Diana asked him if he was alright.  In  querying why she had asked, she said, “Oh, I don’t know. There’s something different about you that I can’t put my finger on.  A happiness about you that I haven’t seen in ages, possibly never seen in you.”

He wrapped his arms around Diana and gave his sister a long and deep hug. He softly said, “I miss our father at times, don’t you?”

She answered, “Oh, I miss him too, miss him so much at times.  He was such a wonderful, gentle man who lived for his children.  He loved all three of us more than anything else. To die at such a young age.”


As the week passed by, Philip became aware of a truth that had been hidden from him for practically the whole of his life. He couldn’t wait to share it with Jonathan.  Thus, as he drove across to Torquay on what was the last Friday of June, he was full of what he wanted to say.

Jonathan could tell that Philip was fit to burst. They had hardly sat down when Philip said, “Jonathan, it’s been an amazing week.  I’ve at last understood some fundamental aspects of my life.”

“That sounds very interesting, tell me more.”

“Well, when I realised that the consequence of the way my father’s death had been handled was to bury in my subconscious the idea, the false idea, of having been rejected, something struck me smack in the face. Namely, that it explained two ways in which I have behaved since being a teenager.”

Jonathan remained silent.

“The first thing that came to me was the reason why I have been so unfortunate in my relationships with women.  This is how I figured it out.  Whenever a woman took a shine to me, I would do everything to come over as a potentially attractive spouse. Rather than rationally wondering if this woman had the potential to be a woman I would fall in love with and love as a wife, I have been driven by such a fear of rejection, that I oversold myself and, inevitably, made poor long-term relationships; Maggie being the classic example.”

Philip’s excitement had him out of breath.  He took a lung-full of air and continued, “But the positive aspect of my fear of rejection is that throughout the whole of my business and professional life, I have been successful. Because I have always put the feelings of the other person above my own. I can’t tell you what a release this has been for me.”

“Philip, that’s a fabulous example of how when we really get to know the person we are it gives us a psychological freedom, a freedom to be the person we are, to feel happy with ourselves.”

Jonathan continued, “One thing I should mention is this.  It’s likely that what happened to you back in December 1956 is not necessarily hard-wired but certainly is a very deep-rooted emotional aspect of who you are.  This new-found awareness will be of huge value to you but that sensitivity to rejection is not going to disappear.  The difference is that you are now aware of it. Quite quickly you will spot the situations, as they are happening, that stir those ancient feelings around.  Then you will be able to notice those feelings without having them pulling behavioural strings. You will be fine; of that I have no doubt.”

4,139 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

Unlocking the inner parts of our brain.

The healing power of meditation and self-reflection.

Yesterday, I wrote about two seemingly disconnected events that appeared to resonate together.  One of those was a comment left by reader Patrice Ayme.

But that harmony didn’t stop with those two events.  Here’s how it continued to flow.

Patrice has a recently published post called Consciousness I.  To be honest, some of the concepts have been a bit of a struggle for me to understand.  However, at one point in that essay, Patrice wrote:

Meditation is a most precious, most human state of consciousness. Whereas sentience is shared with many animals on this planet, obviously, not so with the capacity for meditation. meditation allows to shut down most (over-) used neuronal circuitry, and engage more strategically important parts of the brain.

Action without meditation is as slavedom without wisdom.

That really struck a chord with me because, once again, the power of meditation has been brought into focus.  Regular readers of Learning from Dogs may recall that just six days ago, I wrote a piece called Maybe home is found in our quietness.  There were three references to meditation in that post that I will take the liberty of repeating today.

The first was:

A few weeks ago when meeting our local doctor for the first time since we moved to Oregon, I had grumbled about bouts of terrible short-term memory recall and more or less had shrugged my shoulders in resignation that there was nothing one could do: it was just part of getting older, I guessed!

“On the contrary”, responded Dr. Hurd, continuing, “There’s growing evidence that our information-crowded lives: cell phones; email; constant TV; constant news, is pumping too much for our brains to manage.”

Dr. Hurd continued, “Think about it!  Our brains have to process every single sensory stimulus.  The research is suggesting that our brains are being over-loaded and then the brain just dumps the excess data.  If that is the case, and the evidence is pointing in that direction, then try thirty minutes of meditation each day; give your brain a chance to rest.”

Then later on in that post came:

The second was a recent science programme on the BBC under the Horizon series.  The programme was called,The Truth About Personality.


Within the programme came the astounding fact that even ten minutes a day meditation can help the brain achieve a more balanced personality (balance in terms of not being overly negative in one’s thoughts).

The last one was in a short talk by writer Pico Iyer  meditating on the meaning of home, the joy of traveling and the serenity of standing still.

Now come forward just three days to last Tuesday evening. Jean and I sat down and more or less randomly wondered if there was something of interest to watch on the website Top Documentary Films.  Just by chance, we came across a film by filmmaker Isabelle Raynauld with the title of Mystical Brain.

Here’s a tiny snippet from the film:

Filmmaker Isabelle Raynauld offers up scientific research that suggests that mystical ecstasy is a transformative experience.

It could contribute to people’s psychic and physical health, treat depression and speed up the healing process when combined with conventional medicine.

This documentary reveals the exploratory work of a team from the University of Montreal who seek to understand the states of grace experienced by mystics and those who meditate. In French with English subtitles.

However, as interesting as this snippet is, the power of the film is in the area of spirituality and the way that meditation can open up the brain to an incredible range of mystical experiences, as well as the impressive health benefits of slowing the mind.  Maybe, just maybe, the power of religious and spiritual experience is being understood, with some very surprising results.

So please watch the whole documentary on-line. The website of the Mind & Life Institute will also be of interest.

To underscore why the film should be watched, there is much about the nature of the theta rhythms in the brain.  The relevance of these?  Simply that when the brain is generating these regular slow oscillations the human condition is one of great peace.

Dhalia showing us humans how easy it is to meditate!
Dhalia showing us humans how easy it is to meditate!

Call it prayer, meditation, relaxation, building internal energy or life force, compassion, love, patience, generosity or forgiveness; what does it matter.  It’s what it is doing to you that matters!

So when you bury your face in the warm fur of your beautiful dog and both you and your dog appear to be transported to some beautiful, magical place you have entered that indestructible sense of well-being.

Actually, let me make one small correction. Both you and your dog have entered that indestructible sense of well-being.

Only one way to finish today’s post: I think, therefore I am!” René Descartes.

Essence of wisdom, page one.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Thus spoke Confucius, albeit not in the English language!  But, nonetheless, those words from so, so long ago (he lived to the age of 73 – from 551 until 479 BCE) resonate very strongly 2,500 years later.

That was the easy bit!

I’m not entirely clear as to why a variety of items that have crossed my ‘in-box’ in recent days seem to offer some sort of cohesive sense.  But they do to me and I’m going to draw them together. I will leave you to be the judge as to how well it worked!

Thus over the next three days I am going to reflect on three topics.  The challenge of how we humans make sense of the world, how we confuse what we do with what is best for us, surely the essence of wisdom, and the growing gap between the wisdom of millions of citizens and their leaders.

I should quickly add that much of my musings are due to this scribe standing on the shoulders of giants than seeing clearly from his own level.

Today, I shall start with the brain. Your brain, my brain, the brains of humans.  The reason this trilogy starts with the brain is that, ultimately, everything we humans think, feel and do comes from this brain of ours.  Our brain is who we are.

Let me offer you this video made by Bristol University in England.  Just a little over 6 minutes long it sets out the functional story of our brain.

(An animated tour around the human brain commissioned for Brain Awareness Week in 2010)

But there is so much more to this ancient body organ.

The Big Think website has been publishing a series called The 21st Century Brain. The latest episode published on November 6th was called Consciousness: The Black Hole of Neuroscience.  It starts thus:

What’s the Big Idea?

“By the word ‘thought’ (‘pensée’) I understand all that of which we are conscious as operating in us.” –Renee Descartes

The simplest description of a black hole is a region of space-time from which no light is reflected and nothing escapes. The simplest description of consciousness is a mind that absorbs many things and attends to a few of them. Neither of these concepts can be captured quantitatively. Together they suggest the appealing possibility that endlessness surrounds us and infinity is within.

But our inability to grasp the immaterial means we’re stuck making inferences, free-associating, if we want any insight into the unknown. Which is why we talk obscurely and metaphorically about “pinning down” perception and “hunting for dark matter” (possibly a sort of primordial black hole). The existence of black holes was first hypothesized a decade after Einstein laid the theoretical groundwork for them in the theory of relativity, and the phrase “black hole” was not coined until 1968.

Likewise, consciousness is still such an elusive concept that, in spite of the recent invention of functional imaging – which has allowed scientists to visualize the different areas of the brain – we may not understand it any better now than we ever have before. “We approach [consciousness] now perhaps differently than we have in the past with our new tools,” says neuroscientist Joy Hirsch.

Later on is this:

So there’s no reason to assume that consciousness is eternally inexplicable. However, it may never be explained through neurobiology, says David Chalmers, the philosopher who originally made the distinction. “In so many other fields physical explanation has been successful… but there seems to be this big gap in the case of consciousness,” he says. “It’s just very hard to see how [neurological] interactions are going to give you subjective experience.”

The fascinating essay concludes:

It’s no different than any other aspect of the brain that we cannot presently explain, she [Hirsch] says:

For example, we don’t understand how the brain creates colors. That’s a perception that is very private – I don’t know that your perception of blue is like my perception of blue, for example. Smells are another one. I don’t know that your perception of the smell of an orange is like mine. These are the hard problems of neuroscience and philosophy that we haven’t made a great deal of progress on.

What do you think? Is the distinction between “hard problems” and “soft problems” useful, or reductive? Does the brain create consciousness? Will we ever empirically understand where it comes from or how it works?

But it was one of the comments to the piece that jumped off the screen at me. From Beatriz Valdes and slightly edited by me, the comment offered:

Human consciousness happens in the human brain.  The human brain’s functions are rooted in what the human senses relay to it.  Self consciousness, consciousness of what is around us, is the result of thinking.  There would be no thoughts if the brain were a tabula rasa (Latin for blank slate), had no input from the senses. Therefore, consciousness is quite local, quite mortal, quite dependent on the gray matter inside our skulls.

Local and mortal.  Very profound (I think!).

So, if you like me suffer from time to time from understanding oneself, don’t worry.  There are plenty of others – aren’t there?  As Professor Dan Dennett makes it all clear below.

Philosopher Dan Dennett makes a compelling argument that not only don’t we understand our own consciousness, but that half the time our brains are actively fooling us.

Philosopher and scientist Dan Dennett argues that human consciousness and free will are the result of physical processes and are not what we traditionally think they are. His 2003 book Freedom Evolves explores the way our brains have evolved to give us — and only us — the kind of freedom that matters.

Good, glad that’s all clear. 😉

Stay with me for ‘page two’ of Essence of wisdom coming out tomorrow.

Animals in love

The beautiful hidden depths of the consciousness of animals

Back in the Summer of 2011, I published a couple of posts on the subject of consciousness.  The first one was called Consciousness, science or God? and the second one about a month later continued the theme under the heading of And more on consciousness.

In that second article, I concluded with these words:

Finally, do you have a dog at home?  If you do, ponder on how their conscious world engages them.  If science can’t explain human consciousness then all we have is our own intuition with regard to animals.  Not sure about you but when one is feeling a little low and a dog comes up and lays a head across you I feel a very strong conscious connection.

Hazel and Pharaoh

The dog to the left of Pharaoh in the above picture is Hazel.  Shortly before we left San Carlos, Mexico to move up to Arizona in February, 2010, this dog was dumped outside Jean’s house.  She was still in milk and Jean explained that it was common practice for female dogs to be cast out shortly after they had had pups.  The pups would have been sold for a few pesos and the mother dog was no longer of any use or value and was ‘disposed’.

We took her in, of course, and she joined the other dozen dogs on our journey to our new Arizonan home.  Hazel has the sweetest of dispositions and frequently sleeps snuggled up against me at night.  As I write these words, Hazel is sleeping just to the left of my feet.  There are times when Hazel looks into my eyes with what I can’t lable as anything other than the look of a dog in love.

So with that in mind, let me introduce you to Kate and Pippin.  As their website proposes  Kate & Pippin is “An unlikely love story“.


Pippin, a helpless baby fawn was abandoned by her mother on the property of Isobel Springett. Isobel’s Great Dane, Kate, adopted Pippin immediately and they have been best friends ever since.

The story of Kate’s and Pippin’s loving relationship is charmingly chronicled in a handsome book featuring the beautiful photography of Isobel Springett.

Here’s Martin Springett, author of the book.

While there’s a small degree of overlap with the first video, you’ll still love to watch this.

A collection of photos from pips’s early days. She was just a few days old when she found us. Music is by my brother Martin Springett.

To close, here’s Pip at about two and a half months old. She’s just lost her spots and is looking like a teenager, all legs! She loves grapes and bananas after her bottle. (And the music is fabulous – Artist: Jelengue “Amar Mi Verdad”)

Reminds me of that great book from Jeffrey Masson, Dogs never lie about love!

The thinking dog

Science embraces what many intuitively know: Animals have consciousness.

This was published on the Big Think website at the end of August.

Scientists Give Animals Consciousness

Nick Clairmont on August 29, 2012, 2:34 PM

What’s The Big Idea?

Scientists have given animals consciousness. Not through complex manipulation of the brain or through genetic manipulation, but by publicly acknowledging the consensus, for the first time in such a straightforward way, that non-human animals, including some of our evolutionarily distant cousins, have awareness and experience like we do.

The declaration, called The Cambridge Declaration On Consciousness, was signed at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference of Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals in the presence of Stephen Hawking in July in Cambridge, U.K. by an international group of scientists including cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists.

What do they mean by consciousness? The Declaration treats it as the same as the phrase, “subjective experience.” Philosophers who share this view of consciousness with the scientists often say that something is conscious if there is “something that it is like” to be that thing. So, according to this, a rock is not conscious, because there is nothing “that it is like to be a rock.”

The signing marked the first formalization of the scientific consensus about the consciousness of several non-mammals, including birds, octopuses and even bees.

So if we now turn to that Conference held in Cambridge, England under the subject of Consciousness in Human and and Non Human Animals, we see how that declaration reads,

We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

The full document is really worth reading, by the way.

There is much more about the conference including some remarkable videos here, from which I will select two.  The first one, in particular, is very moving, and upsetting!  Be warned!

OK, forgive me but I’m going to state the obvious!  Just read the entry on Wikipedia about Orangutans.

Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates and use a variety of sophisticated tools, also constructing elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. The apes have been extensively studied for their learning abilities. There may even be distinctive cultures within populations. Field studies of the apes were pioneered by primatologist Birutė Galdikas. Both orangutan species are considered to be Endangered with the Sumatran orangutan being Critically Endangered. Human activities have decimated the populations and ranges of both species. Threats to wild orangutan populations include poaching, habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade. There are several conservation and rehabilitation organisations dedicated to the survival of orangutans in the wild.

Among the most intelligent primates‘! Yet again, an example of mankind treating the planet as a disposable item!  A quick web search came across the Orangutan Foundation so as well as being saddened and angry, there is something we can do; support them.

The second video from that Conference website is about the intelligence of dolphins – enjoy!

Back to the Big Think article, which concludes,

What’s The Significance?

The signatories have indicated that we cannot, at least certainly not for the reasons we have been giving, ignore the fact that animals have the same type of experiences that gives us a reason to treat other humans humanely.

Beyond the ethical ramifications, this declaration is another step in a long line of conclusions that the animal brain displays remarkable plasticity and is able to accomplish highly complex tasks in multiple ways.

While anyone who has gone to a zoo or owned a pet has at least temporarily thought of animals as conscious, there is still a large contingent that strongly believes that humans are exceptional in some morally and scientifically significant way. But, as Christof Koch, who co-presented the declaration notes, “The belief in human exceptionalism, so strongly rooted in the Judeo-Christian view of the world, flies in the face of all evidence for the structural and behavioral continuity between animals and people.”

Well done those scientists!

The unconscious

A Biological Basis for the Unconscious? Surely not?

Ten days ago or thereabouts, I saw a piece on Big Think about the unconscious.  The title of the piece was as the sub-heading: A Biological Basis for the Unconscious?  I was intrigued, to say the least, and wanted to write about that on Learning from Dogs.

The article started thus:

What’s the Big Idea?

Eric Richard Kandel

Today, the question of how people make decisions is an animated and essential one, capturing the attention of everyone from neuroscientists to lawyers to artists. In 1956, there was one person in all of New York known for his work on the brain: Harry Grundfest. An aspiring psychiatrist who was born in Austria in the 1930’s, Eric Kandel took an elective in brain science during medical school and found himself studying alongside Grudfest at Columbia University.

“What is it you want to study?” Grundfest asked Kandel. “I want to know where the id, the ego, and the super-ego are located in the brain,” Kandel replied. Grundfest looked at him as if he was crazy. “I haven’t got the foggiest notion whether these constructs exist,” he said. “But the way to approach the brain is to study it one cell at a time. Why don’t you study how the cells work?”

Now it would be improper to republish the whole article, not having permission to so do, and I thoroughly recommend you going to the article here and reading it completely from the Big Think website.

But there are a number of interesting videos on YouTube and the one I have selected is a great example of Kandel’s power of mind.  As the short description of the video reveals, “A Conversation With Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, Who Continues to Look Forward at 80.”

Endlessness surrounds us and infinity is within!

Stirring the mental pot for a Friday morning!

Not too long ago, I came across the website The Big Think.  It tickled my curiosity to the extent that I subscribed.  On November 6th an essay was published with the wonderful title of Consciousness: The Black Hole of Neuroscience‘.  Couldn’t resist that!  Here’s how that essay started,

What’s the Big Idea?

“By the word ‘thought’ (‘pensée’) I understand all that of which we are conscious as operating in us.” –Renee Descartes

The simplest description of a black hole is a region of space-time from which no light is reflected and nothing escapes. The simplest description of consciousness is a mind that absorbs many things and attends to a few of them. Neither of these concepts can be captured quantitatively. Together they suggest the appealing possibility that endlessness surrounds us and infinity is within.

That last sentence jumped off the page at me – hence me using it as the title of this post.

If this interests you at all, then do read the full item.  That closes like this …

Hirsch sees it more practically. Though functional imaging has not explained where perception comes from, it has important applications for unconscious patients. “The boundaries have been broken a little bit, clinically,” she says. “As we study patients with disorders of consciousness, we can probe their levels of awareness in ways that other traditional ways of asking them to respond.”

It’s no different than any other aspect of the brain that we cannot presently explain, she says:

For example, we don’t understand how the brain creates colors. That’s a perception that is very private – I don’t know that your perception of blue is like my perception of blue, for example. Smells are another one. I don’t know that your perception of the smell of an orange is like mine. These are the hard problems of neuroscience and philosophy that we haven’t made a great deal of progress on.

What do you think? Is the distinction between “hard problems” and “soft problems” useful, or reductive? Does the brain create consciousness? Will we ever empirically understand where it comes from or how it works?

This post is part of an ongoing series, The 21st Century Brain.

But that’s not the end of it.  Browsing the comments revealed a link to the Blog called NeuroLogica Blog.  The author is Steven Novella, MD.  Here’s a flavour of Steven’s competencies.

Dr. Novella is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society. He is the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. He is also a senior fellow and Director of Science-Based Medicine at theJames Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and a founding fellow of the Institute for Science in Medicine.

The NeuroLogicaBlog covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society.

Dr. Novella also contributes every Sunday to The Rogues Gallery, the official blog of the SGU, every Monday to SkepticBlog, and every Wednesday to Science-Based Medicine, a blog dedicated to issues of science and medicine.

I couldn’t resist doing a search on Dr. Novella’s blog using the search term ‘consciousness’.  What a rich vein!  Here’s just one example of what came to light,

Subconscious Motivation

Neuroscience research has been increasingly fleshing out the fascinating and complex relationship between the subconscious processing of the brain and our conscious awareness. We all labor under the illusion that our decisions, feelings, and behaviors are all conscious. When we do something, it seems, it is because we wanted to do it. We are very good, in fact, at retrofitting a logical explanation for why we consciously did something.

But much of our brain’s decision making occurs at a subconscious level. When presented with a choice various parts of our brains make a calculation – processing the choice, weighing varying factors based upon some neuro-algorithm, and then present that choice to our conscious mind (the global workspace, if you accept this hypothesis). Research shows that if we change the subconscious algorithm, by suppressing, for example, one part of the brain, the decision-making process is altered. We are not aware of this, and we still are under the illusion that the decision was completely conscious.

Strongly recommend that you read the article in full; it is deeply fascinating.  And then laugh out loud, as I did, when you read the first comment made to that article,

I find this fascinating even though I am not conciously aware of why!

And more on consciousness!

Two recent videos highlight the mystery and fascination of determining what, exactly, is consciousness.

Before I get started, it crossed my mind that some readers on Learning from Dogs might struggle finding any link between the the title of the Blog and such esoteric topics as consciousness.  Let me try and explain.  On the home page of this Blog is written,

But 10,000 years of farming the planet’s plant and mineral resources have brought mankind to the edge of extinction, literally as well as metaphorically.

Dogs know better!  Time again for man to learn from dogs!

Here’s a recent comment I made to an article on Naked Capitalism,

In a much broader sense, it feels to me as though we have been partying on the edge of a global volcano for years and years. Greece is surely a metaphor for the craziness of so many countries.

Continuing that broader sense, the period that we are in, from political, economical, societal, environmental and ethical perspectives, seems bust. Good will eventually come out of this transition, of that I have no doubt, but what a fascinating period in which to be alive!

I firmly believe that the period we are presently living through is a transition between the last, say 30 years (in a sense, many more decades than that) and a more aware, sensitive period where mankind embraces a deeper, sustainable, relationship with the planet that is home and life to all of us.  Frankly, there is no choice!

Thus the nature of consciousness, our awareness of self, is a crucial element of the future.  The greater our self-awareness, the greater our self-understanding and from that better self-understanding comes all hope of recognising our attitudes and knowing that it is our attitudes that drive our behaviours.

So here follow two videos.  Settle back and be entranced!

The first is the last episode in a brilliant BBC series broadcast in 2007, probably one of the best TV series on psychology and neuroscience ever produced.  The full series is on Top Documentary Films but the last episode called The Final Mystery is all about consciousness.  Beware you are going to never see the world in quite the same way!

Here it is, The Final Mystery presented by neuroscientist Susan Greenfield.

The second video is from Season Two of the Through the Wormhole series.  It is called Is there Life after Death? and also explores the deeper aspects of consciousness.  As the introduction to the video says,

In the premiere episode of the second season of Through the Wormhole, Morgan Freeman dives deep into this provocative question that has mystified humans since the beginning of time.

Modern physics and neuroscience are venturing into this once hallowed ground, and radically changing our ideas of life after death.

Freeman serves as host to this polarized debate, where scientists and spiritualist attempt to define what is consciousness, while cutting edge quantum mechanics could provide the answer to what happens when we die.

Here’s the film; same health warning applies!  You are going to see the world differently after watching this!

Finally, do you have a dog at home?  If you do, ponder on how their conscious world engages them.  If science can’t explain human consciousness then all we have is our own intuition with regard to animals.  Not sure about you but when one is feeling a little low and a dog comes up and lays a head across you I feel a very strong conscious connection.

Consciousness, science or God?

More of Peter Russell’s insightful ideas.

It was back in March, the 8th to be precise, when I first wrote about Peter Russell.  Well just over a week ago, I came across another article by Russell from the Huffington Post.  It was then a moment’s work to find it on Peter Russell’s own website.  (This links to various essays on the topic.)

Here’s a ‘taste’ from the first essay.

The Anomaly of Consciousness

Excerpted from book From Science to God

Science has had remarkable success in explaining the structure and functioning of the material world, but when it comes to the inner world of the mind science falls curiously silent. There is nothing in physics, chemistry, biology, or any other science that can account for our having an interior world. In a strange way, scientists would be much happier if there were no such thing as consciousness.

David Chalmers, professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona, calls this the “hard problem” of consciousness. The so-called “easy problems” are those concerned with brain function and its correlation with mental phenomena: how, for example, we discriminate, categorize, and react to stimuli; how incoming sensory data are integrated with past experience; how we focus our attention; and what distinguishes wakefulness from sleep.

It would be wrong to publish anything more so if you are interested in more, then go here and pick away or better still buy the book!

If you have a quiet 30 minutes, settle down and watch these videos

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Eckhart Tolle

On Stillness

One of the many lessons that we can learn from dogs is the ability to be still.  On the 2nd November, I wrote a

Eckhart Tolle

piece on Learning from Dogs about the critically important role of silence in our lives.


Eckhart Tolle is a very interesting person.  He had a challenging background but has used his life experiences to gain a much deeper awareness of the world.  Indeed, he measures around 600 on the Hawkin’s scale of consciousness.

Anyway, I reproduce in full an item from Tolle’s November Newsletter.  It is called Eckhart on Manifestation.

Often people ask questions about manifesting and the power of intention, and how that relates to the power of Now.  One person asked me about the difference between the continuous wanting that I write about in A New Earth and intention – the intention to create something.  What is the importance of manifesting things in your life, or creating, or is that counter-productive?

There are many exciting books these days about creating and manifesting: The Secret, the teachings of Abraham, and so on.  Often people ask, how does that relate to Stillness and inner peace?  And acceptance of what is? And surrender to the Present Moment? And living in alignment with Now?  Is there conflict, is one wrong?  Or misleading?

This is an important question for almost everybody.  Your own life is a microcosm of the macrocosm.  If you look at the Universe, the first thing you will see is that it likes to create, and it likes to manifest.  On this planet alone, the Universe is continuously creating and manifesting countless life forms.  And in outer space, we can only assume – we don’t know what exactly is there – but there is a vastness of life out there, and probably many more life forms than we have on this planet.  The life forms, both in the sea, and on land, including humans, they seem to enjoy a dance of coming into being and destruction.  It’s a transformational process.By just looking at life, you can see that the Universe loves to manifest.  Also it seems to be the case that life forms, over periods of time, become more differentiated.  Many more come.  And even human societies become more complex.  We have had ancient civilizations that were very complex, but our present civilization is the most complex.  This of course includes problem-ridden.  That goes with complexity.  Every individual who is part of this civilization has a life that is full of problems.  But complexity cannot go on forever.

The Universe likes to create, to manifest, to experience the play of form.  That’s one movement.  And you can see it in yourself, at some level.  There is something else in humans, you can only really see in yourself, an inner phenomenon.   The Universe wants not only to experience that manifested life, it also wants to experience peace and something that is not touched by the continuously fluctuating forms.  It wants to know itself deeply, directly, in its essence.   That really is the root of spirituality.  The Universe not only wants the outward movement, but it also wants the inward – the return movement to the One.  Every human being also embodies these two movements.  It seems that you are torn sometimes between the outward movement into form, and the inward return movement to the Source where it all started.  The Source that was never really lost, it is always there because it is timeless, and it is within you.  You feel drawn back to that, and that is the pull toward spirituality, peace, Stillness.

Not one or the other is right or wrong.  It’s only perhaps if you totally lose yourself in one or the other – maybe that’s not quite it.  Perhaps this is the challenge of the Universe here on this planet, and perhaps on other planets.  The challenge to reconcile the two movements, rather than to have them be separate.  Is it possible to reconcile the inner movement toward Stillness and Being, and the outer toward action, and doing?  I would say it is, and that is our challenge at this time.

Traditionally, it’s been very unconscious what humans have manifested in this world.  They have been identified with doing, and identified with form.  That has been going on for as long as anyone can remember – since recorded history and beyond.  And we call that ‘ego’.  The One consciousness that underlies everything moves into form, assumes forms, and enjoys the play of form but it’s not enough for the one consciousness to enjoy the play of form, it needs to completely believe in it to make it seem ‘real’.  You need to lose yourself in that dream of form.

Every human believes that they have a life of their own, and that means they are identified with the form of that life.  This particular physical body, this particular psychological life form, the accumulation of thoughts and the emotions that go with these thoughts; it all becomes part of that form-identity.

Consciousness is trapped, or believes itself to be trapped in that.  We could say that in that state, the Universe or Consciousness has entered a “dream-like” state.  It wants to do that, it must enjoy that dream, up to a point.  Consciousness has entered that “dream-like” state where it is completely identified with form.  It doesn’t realize that every other form is an aspect of itself.  Of course, then you are just an isolated entity.  It becomes quite unpleasant after a while.  So you have to get together with other entities and instead of having an “I” form, you have a “We” form, an “Us”.

For a while, the Universe seems to be okay with that, to have Consciousness identified completely with form.  Then the “movie” goes on.  Reading through history, you can see what happens when Consciousness is identified completely with form.  Then it comes time for another stage to arise, when Consciousness is beginning to awaken from complete identification with form.  This is beginning to happen at many stages, this is why human beings are drawn to spiritual teachings.  It is the awakening from the dream of form.

A little more about Eckhart tomorrow.

By Jon Lavin