We previously discussed self consciousness (that is awareness of your own mental state) when we were talking about self awareness. This month we will explore consciousness more deeply, learn to understand what sentience is, how we can improve it, and how this can raise help you rise to a higher level of consciousness.
Sentience And Sapience
If you tease a dog, you can make it angry. You can change the way it reacts, the balance of hormones in it’s head, the rate of it’s heart. This shows that the dog in question is sentient. We know it can feel that anger because that anger affects it’s behaviour. The word sentience comes from the Latin sentire, meaning “to feel”. We can make a dog angry, but we can’t make a rock angry. Dogs therefore can feel, they are sentient, while rocks likely are not.
This sentient dog, then, can feel anger, but does it consciously know that it’s angry? We can’t currently answer this question for we do not yet understand the mind, even the mind of a dog, to sufficient degree. If the answer is “yes” though, then the dog has not only sentience but also sapience. This word comes from the Latin sapientia, meaning wisdom. When Linnaeus was inventing the naming structure of species he chose to give our own species the name Homo Sapiens because he thought this wisdom, this knowledge and ability to act on judgement, even to to override that sentience if needed was a distinctive feature of our species. Presumably he thought that if other species had it, they have it to a lesser degree.
Of course, sapience, wisdom, self-awareness, can apply to things other than the raw feelings of sentience. Sapience can turn on itself, eat it’s own tail. Not only can we be aware that we’re angry, but we can be aware that we know that we are angry. We can also go up another level and be aware of the fact we’re aware of the fact etc. It’s this recursive nature of sapience which gives it such power. It’s also this recursive nature which is a clue to it’s origin.
We think that sapience is implemented in the brain by the same processes that sentience is implemented. That is that sapience is just the same thing as sentience. Just as sapience allows the senses to effect the brain through the senses, make it reflect, understand and model some aspect of the word, so sentience allows the brain’s internal connections to effect the brain itself, make it reflect and model some aspect of it’s own mind. It’s a recursive awareness of awareness itself.
This is a consciousness directed at itself, introspection on introspection, taking consciousness to a higher level. First perception and reaction, sapience. Then sentience: awareness of that perception and reaction. Then higher consciousness: awareness, manipulation and understanding of your own mind.
This recursive loop need not stop there. You can raise your level of consciousness to a higher level by directing your awareness at a higher abstraction: understanding of your awareness of your consciousness of perception. And more.
Sure enough, this is our plan this month. Next week we’ll consider Sentience in more detail, including looking at ways we can increase (or decrease) it. The week after that we’ll examine Sapience. Finally we’ll present a meditation designed to feed those two techniques into each other and so help you reach higher states of consciousness.