The Three States of Waking Consciousness

Western science has it that there is a single state of human consciousness. In his landmark book The Meditative Mind, my wonderful friend Daniel Goleman presents the ancient Eastern wisdom of the Visuddhimagga and other sacred texts, showing ten waking states above an access state which itself is superior to the everyday state on the path of concentration, and nine such waking states above access state and everyday state on the path of insight. This suggests that there are around a dozen waking states.

Obviously in the East they allowed self-observation to be considered a path to objective knowledge, a technique little used in the West. This is why psychotechnologies – ways of controlling our mental states by acts of will and concentration – were developed first in the East.

If there were only one state of waking consciousness, this means that Osama when he was reportedly high on heroin and about to be shot was in the same state of waking consciousness as Einstein was in when he had the insight of Relativity and the relationships between matter and energy, space and time. How plausible is that?

Even if we want to be snobbish know-it-all Westerners, unscientifically closed-minded and not even interested in experimenting with Eastern mental maps, is it not pretty easy to allow that there could be more than one state of waking consciousness?

As in the paths of concentration and insight in the example above, it is possible to conceive of a number of different maps of states of waking consciousness, all being true from their own viewpoint. There could be a map showing what you go through when you focus on your concentration in itself, and discover higher and higher degrees of your ability to concentrate. There could be a different map for what you experience when you practice ways of achieving deeper and deeper insights into what exists in your purview.

Here at The Human Effectiveness Institute (THEI), because we are singularly focused on the goal of increasing human effectiveness, we divide waking consciousness into three states. We recognize that there are other valid ways of distinguishing states of consciousness, and that there are undoubtedly sub-states within the three states that we use as a basis for our psychotechnology. However, for utilitarian reasons, we simplify to these three states:

  1. Emergency Oversimplification Procedure (EOP). The “functional” state of the human race today. You are acting like a robot. Somebody who knows you well can predict accurately what you will do in a certain situation. He or she could get rich making bets on your next actions, were there anyone to take those bets. You always say the same things, keyed to the situation. You have the same feelings and go through the same mental loops when the same types of things happen to you. You are focused on quickly classifying incoming situations into types so you know what to do.
  2. The Observer State. You can see that you have been acting like a programmed machine. You can see that it’s hard to stop the robot part of you from controlling your actions even though you are wide awake to the situation.
  3. The Flow State. Aka The Zone. Often for short periods, some of us are able to spontaneously do exactly the right thing down to miniscule subtleties, and it all happens automatically while you watch your self do this, from your ringside seat.

We hypothesize that there are underlying measurable brain states corresponding to these three experiential (perceived from the inside) states. It’s possible that one drives the other but we need to be careful in coming to conclusions about which drives which.

In EOP, we hypothesize that there might be high functional connectivity (or functional coupling) between neural networks in Brodmann Area 10 (sense of self; aka BA10) and the limbic system and other brain areas involved in the ancient fight-flight reaction syndrome.

In the Observer State, we hypothesize that there is high functional coupling between BA10 and the prefrontal lobes.

In the Flow State, we hypothesize high functional coupling across a number of brain regions, signifying natural harmony, possibly appearing in brainscan as symmetrical and balanced, possibly crystalline pattern of moving energies. Users of low cost EEG devices such as Mind Mirror since the early 80s have seen this yantra/mandala--like pattern in EEGs of advanced meditators. The Mind Mirror device is conducive to showing these artistic brain patterns during subject Flow State because the display shows left and right brain from “above”.

Computer science professor and prolific science fiction writer Rudy Rucker uses the pre-existing term “autopoiesis” (self-creation) to mean the degree of control an individual has over his or her self. (Rudy’s characteristically quantum mechanics infused twist on the term makes for a paragraph interesting to read.) Using Rudy’s meaning, the three states of waking consciousness as we have defined them, constitute stages along a continuum of self-creation/self-control. In EOP, regardless of what one thinks, one is not in control of one’s actions, which are being driven mechanically by people who push your buttons and by what appear to be stray events. These events may or may not being dragged (by inter-personal signaling among mirror neurons) into your purview, attracted by your fears; it certainly seems that way. Your fears keep attracting the feared situation.

In the Observer State, there are degrees of control. At the earliest stage of learning how to be when in the Observer State, one can see what one’s robot is doing but cannot stop the robot from doing it. Later on there is a higher degree of control.

In the Flow State, one has such a high degree of control that it has become autonomic such that the individual’s will has no inertial drag as it processes through to motor control.

We define “psychotechnology” (the word had earlier meanings in the 1930s) as anything that helps people get from EOP into either or both of the two higher effectiveness states of waking consciousness.

I have been creating such psychotechnology for my own personal use all my life, and began packaging it for others in the 1970s. In 1976 I founded the Human Effectiveness Institute (THEI) and others who saw the effectiveness increases from the early psychotechnology gathered around THEI to help disseminate it. We are working toward an even more effective package with the next book and its accompanying DVD video.

We hope you will experiment with these psychotechnologies on yourself.

Looking forward to that. All the best,



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