IT often feels that we are either conscious or unconscious. But are there, as this blog investigates, more levels of consciousness? The idea that there are varying degrees of consciousness has a long and distinguished history ranging from Plotinus to to Jung and Freud in the 20th century. Jung, for example, identified the mineral world, the plant world and the animal world as degrees of consciousness. Freud identified the oral, phallic and genital stages, while many present day psychologists probe multiple levels of consciousness. And it is in this tradition that Nathan Field lays out his fourfold hierarchy in Breakdown and Breakthrough.
The first level is what he calls One Dimensionality, which is most apparent in very young children. Field writes: “The focus of infant awareness is located in certain physical areas: the skin, the mouth, and the inside of the body which may be comfortably full or painfully distended.” It can also be apparent in some autistic children.
Two Dimensionality is more interesting because it moves out of the Self to the acknowledgement of the Other, but at the expense of an inner life. This two dimensionality is characteristic of schizoid personalities in which ’emotions appear to be skin deep’. Field writes: “There may be a great deal of surface drama, passionate declarations, threats, violent or hysterical gestures but the observer remains strangely untouched, even alienated.”
And while there may be surface drama, it is also characterized by opposites that can switch quickly from, for example, love to hate in an instant.
As Field points out ‘politics, news and entertainment are all deeply contaminated by two dimensionality’. In the political arena, reasoned opinions readily degenerate into convictions as political theory becomes fixed in ideology and, finally, crystalized in dogma. Doubt and complexity are difficult to sustain and harden into dead certainties. Here the ‘millions passionately devoted to fundamentalist religions and political beliefs are relieved from the torments of ambivalence and indecision’. There is, however, a positive element to two dimensionality which manifests itself in ‘unwavering loyalty, uncompromising rectitude, unquestioning obedience’, although it’s not difficult to see how these positives might morph into the dark side.
Three dimensionality, says Field, ‘represents all that civilization holds dear: rationality, balance, adulthood, fairness, flexibility, restraint, the ability to listen and to respect the integrity of another’. Field continue: “The intellectual faculty combines with our primary instincts to produce the capacity for imagination, metaphor and symbolisation, which are the basic requirements of all creative endeavour.” And while two dimensionality is characterized by polarity and conviction, three dimensionality is ‘searching, reflective, ambivalent’. As people move from two to three dimensionality they become more rounded and resilient.
More controversial, perhaps, is Field’s conception of Four Dimensionality, which is characterized by awareness of the movement from Self to Other of the sort that can happen between a ‘mother and her baby, between twins, members of the same family, partners, lovers, friends and, not least, enemies’. Although it is often experienced between the Self and the Other, Field stresses that it can also manifest itself as an enriched sense of Self. And he adds: “Whether shared, or experienced in solitude, the four-dimensional state is one that many people have known and tried to convey in art, music, and, most especially, in the paradoxical utterances of mystical literature.”
Spontaneity is important in all of this but Field also points out that it can also be aided by prayer, meditation or therapy.
An important aspect of Field’s theory is that the dimension incorporates the third, the third the second and the second the first, but he insists that each dimension adds something of its own.
But the really controversial aspect of Field’s thought is his interest in shamanism and his belief that it emerges out of the fourth dimension – and that Jung was a shaman: “In so far as Jung was able to assimilate his dissociative and pathological tendencies it places him, like the shaman, in the category of the ‘wounded healer’ or, more precisely, one who heals by virtue of the partial healing of his own wound, since if it had healed completely he might too easily forget how it felt to be sick and the capacity to identify with the patient would be impaired.”
While Freud saw the unconscious as being something to be controlled, Jung embraced it in the form of the collective unconscious, a vast creative force, which also tapped into his research into the medieval tradition of alchemy.
Many people might baulk at the fourth dimension and stick with the third but Field sides with Jung, insisting that the fourth ‘does in fact exist’. He concludes: “It is not a delusion, but carries with it the subjective conviction of being our true state; or at least closer to our true state than everyday consciousness.”