Consciousness – Sentience – Sentience And Consciousness

by pre., Friday, January 9th, 2009.

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.

Consciousness – Sentience – Sentience

by pre., Friday, January 16th, 2009.

Smash yourself in the face with a book. As hard as you dare. A bit harder than you dare if you can manage it. Make yourself feel pain. Really. It will be instructive. It will be helpful if you read the rest of this article with a fresh memory of what it’s like to feel a smack in the face.

Your sentience is the reason why pain hurts. It’s why if you followed instructions your face even now still tingles, still has little micro-bursts of intense demand for your attention.

Of course sentience isn’t only about pain. Yes, it’s the reason why pain hurts, but it’s also the reason that joy is joyful, pleasure is pleasurable and ecstasy ecstatic. It’s why you feel a drive to get up in the morning (or, indeed, a drive to stay in bed when you should get up). It makes the difference between a philisophical zombie and a real person. Between an automaton and a being.

Directing Sentience

You’ve already been exploring perception awareness, which is one special case of sentience. You’ve been trying to increase the degree to which you’re aware of your perception. You’ve also looked at mood awareness which is also an example of sentience. You’ve tried to learn to manipulate that sense, control your mood by paying attention to the things which make your mood change.

These two examples have taught you that by focusing your awareness onto something you begin to understand it more deeply. Not necessarily on an intellectual or verbal level, but on a visceral level, in the gut. Not the way you understand how to calculate simultaneous ballistic equations but the (in some ways deeper) level on which you understand how to catch a ball.

What Is Sentience?

Humanity still has very little objective idea what sentience, subjective experience, might be. What it’s made of, how it works. At the Transcendence Institute we’d hazard it’s some kind of pattern in a feedback network, but that’s certainly too simple to explain it and nobody really knows in any detail at this point. It is clear however that it’s related to attention, to learning, to the mind’s way of improving itself. It is certainly a survival trait and therefore subject to natural selection.

This explains why pain hurts: To get your attention onto the thing which has to be attended to right now. It explains why pleasure is so attention grabbing, why desire so driving.

It does not explain how these things operate on a cellular, or molecular level. For that you will have to wait, or join the search for understanding by becoming a molecular biologist.

It does not explain why it feels the way it feels, for this you will doubtless have to wait even longer, or join the information theorists or perhaps the neuroscientists or more likely some discipline not even invented yet.

However it does hint at ways in which you can learn to control your consciousness. Ways you can use your sentience to improve your sentience.

You know that the things that you apply your awareness to, you learn about. So you will learn to direct your awareness onto the fact of your awareness. You’ll learn to feel your pleasure more deeply, your pain more exquisitely, your joy more joyously, all by directing your attention at the fact of your experiencing those experiences.

You’ll be directed through this, and more, during our next meditation.

Next week we’ll see what happens when you apply sentience to itself, when you spend a lot of your attention trying to understand your attention. When your sentience grows into sapience.

Consciousness – Sentience – Sapience

by pre., Friday, January 23rd, 2009.

Last week we talked about sentience. The ability for an organism to feel, to direct it’s attention towards a thing and thus improve it’s neural model of that thing. This works in ways which are far too complicated for science to have yet explained. However, we do know more or less how neurons in the brain work, and can postulate that this system for filtering information, categorising it, directing attention to parts of it, attaching emotional significance to it and learning to operate in the world is built from some kind of neural network in the brain.

It seems likely that in a sufficiently advanced organism (and right now we basically have no way of determining how ‘advanced’ we mean) these neural circuits can do more than just focus awareness on the senses, more than just learn to trigger emotions and moods through association. It can also grow connections from part of it’s own network back into the ‘input’ parts of that network. By directing it’s attention not at the world, at it’s senses, but back at it’s own sentience network it can begin to learn to model that network in the same way it’s learned to model space though the visual field, sounds though the air-pressure sensors in it’s ears and it’s own body though the network of neurons in the skin and muscle building the kinaesthetic senses.

The organism can become aware not only of the world it lives in, but of it’s own processing of that world, it can learn to use those systems to model and understand itself. It can learn to see how it thinks. This, then, is sapience. A trait usually only attributed to people, to you and I.

With vision, hearing and feeling, you don’t ‘see’ photons or feel the air-pressure in your ear-drums or even actually the stretch of a single neuron. Sentience is finding patterns and metaphors and similarities and generally building a simplified model of that thing. Not trying to represent it all exactly at once. Just narrow down the salient parts. See what they remind it of.

Pattern recognition, simplification

Likewise, a train of thought, a moment of consciousness, an epiphany or understanding, is actually an unimaginably complex cascade of excited neurons selectively exciting and inhibiting others in turn. A massive waterfall of cause and effect. Far too complex and chaotic for the brain to model precisely just as a visual scene is too complex to be modeled precisely. It needs to be simplified, to be compared to other things through metaphor and simile.

When you look at a picture your retinal neurons — the rods and cones in the back of your eye — start firing in some extraordinary complex pattern. In order to see that picture rather than just look at it your brain simplifies and codifies and interprets that scene. The insanely complex neural firing patterns are simplified hierarchically. The visual cortex has networks looking for patches of similar colour which feed into networks looking for lines. Then these feed into networks looking for shape, and these feed into networks looking at orientation, and so on, until eventually it gets to things simple enough to keep in working memory, in the consciousness, in the sentience.

Surely sapience, our awareness of that sentience, our model of our awareness, works in a similar way. Hierarchically organizing the insane cascade of it’s own neurons, looking for patterns, comparing them.

Thinking Styles

Neuro Linguistic Programming practitioners teach that the brain works through ‘Representational Systems’. That each thought is strongly associated with a sensory system. That our thinking is done in ‘modes’, either visual thinking or auditory thinking or kinaesthetic thinking, or sometimes olfactory or gustatory thinking.

Each of us will have more practice with some of these modes of thinking than others. Likely the ones we happened to try first will have been most practised and so most useful and so used more often. Some people are strong visualisers, they have learned to take more conscious control over their visual system than others. Some people have amazing auditory and language skills, they “think in words” more deeply than others can. Some people have more often used kinaesthetic systems to model and understand their own thinking, and so practised that more and perhaps “grasp” ideas rather than “Seeing what you mean”.

These types of thinking may just be metaphors, interpretations of what the brain is doing using similar ideas as those used for seeing, hearing etc. Alternatively, they may be the actual systems which the brain uses to do the thinking. The visual or auditory systems themselves diverted by understanding and control.

Either way, practice using that control will lead to more refinement of those interpretive models or more skill at diverting the brains inherent systems. All normal human beings have learned some ability in all of these skills. Some of these methods are however better at solving some types of problems than others. Thus you should endeavour to improve your abilities to notice, model and so direct them all.

The Meditation

You will concentrate on paying attention to one of the three main styles of thought, concentrating on them, on how they work, and thus improving your own model of these thinking styles.

You will increase your awareness and your conscious control of your own thoughts. Though we will use words to direct you, you will be practising using, modeling and understanding your visual imagery and kinaesthetic senses as well as your auditory ones.

Note that if you’re following along our meditations in order, you have already been practising using those skills for some time. Just about every meditation has you imagining and visualising and paying attention to imaginary detail. As you listen to this meditation however, you’ll be deliberately focusing your attention onto the fact that you are practising them. Learning to direct your consciousness at itself more thoroughly. You’ll also be receiving suggestions that as you practice these things in future, you’ll remember to pay attention to all of your sensory systems rather than concentrating on just one.

Consciousness – Sentience – Raising Consciousness

by pre., Friday, January 30th, 2009.

Levels Of Consciousness

Knowing about reflex, and having learned about sentience and sapience it will be tempting to build a tower of consciousness.

  • At level zero, no consciousness at all. The consciousness of a rock. It has no chemical receptors, no light receptors, it behaves as an inert object.
  • At level one, reflex action. A simple mechanism which enables an organism to run from light, to turn to face a noise. A sort of almost-conscious consciousness.
  • At level two, sentience. The ability to feel, to pay attention and to learn. A more complicated feedback which allows an organism to respond to it’s entire history rather than just the stimulation of the moment.
  • At level three, sapience. The ability to learn about one’s own sentience, to understand, model and control your world.
  • At level four, higher consciousness, an ability to understand, model and control yourself, to apply sapience to your own self, to learn how you work, to bend yourself into a better shape.

Tempting, but obviously wrong.

A mouse-trap has a reflex action. Do we think a mouse-trap is conscious to the amount of one? A worm can learn, is it level one or level two? What about a rat? Is it the same level as that worm? A computer can be used to design the blue-prints for it’s successor, it can model it’s own existence, but it’s clearly less conscious than that worm is.

In fact there are many levels of consciousness between level zero and level one, many more levels between there and level two. All organisms will be more conscious of some things than others and any given organism is likely so complex it’ll be impossible to fit into a chart like that.

However, understood as a metaphor, this hierarchy can be enlightening. One of the Transcendence Institute’s favourite examples is the human urinary system. As a baby you had no control over when you pee. Your bladder fills up, the reflex goes *snap* and the bladder empties. All automatic, all without thinking, all without conscious control. By reflex. Then at around 2 years old, we are taught to pay attention to our bladder system. To learn to direct and control it. To gain conscious control over when we pee. As a result, although you probably could pee if I paid you to right now, you aren’t. You have raised your consciousness over this system. Reached up to a higher level of consciousness. You can take it still further and learn to pee cartoon figures in the snow if you so desire.

While that four-tier hierarchical model is almost utterly unrealistic and simplified, it can teach you what we mean by raising consciousness. Firstly: Understanding. Our language calls it a “gut level” understanding, though of course the gut isn’t really involved. Not an intellectual grasp, not a linguistic explanation, but a visceral neural model. The understanding you need to catch a ball rather than the understanding you need to pass a ballistic equations question in a maths exam.

This is the understanding that comes almost inevitably as a result of how your neurons grow together when you pay attention to something and practice it. When you focus and repeat and study, over and over again. Each time, you get better.

By “higher consciousness” we mean simply using that understanding upon itself. Learning, on that visceral non-verbal gut level, how your consciousness works. Becoming more conscious of it!


As we have said, this understanding, this higher level of consciousness, is not a linguistic understanding. It’s not the understanding which this article hopes to give you through words. These words and the words in our meditation will help you to understand the path to higher consciousness but the words alone can never actually show you that higher consciousness. The only thing which will enable that deep understanding is actually spending the time to apply your sentience to itself, to take the time to try to understand how you think. Time spent observing your own consciousness, concentrating on it as fully as possible. Just as you won’t learn how to catch a ball by reading a book you won’t learn how to transcend your consciousness by reading these words. You will learn either only through practice. By actually doing.

We will devote an entire meditation in the next loop around the spiral to the subject of language, but at this point it is worth wondering how many members of non-human species would realize that in order to master their consciousness, they must pay attention to it? How many creatures without language and metaphor and simile and teaching would ever think to study their own thought? To think their own mental processes as worthy of attention as the search for food or sex or safety? If a cow could study it’s mind, how often would it actually do so? How would you instruct it to? It’s worth noting how loaded your every-day conversation is with references to thinking processes, how much those you talked with as you grew up were constantly directing your attention inward, encouraging you to pay attention to your own mind. Asking you how you feel, discussing what you think. Using metaphor to explain their own conscious processes. All these things are in every healthy human’s environment and understanding, but in no animals understanding at all.

Introducing Our Consciousness Raising Meditation

We use words to remind you to pay attention first to your senses, then to your sentience, your experience of understanding those senses, and then on to your sapience, your understanding of your own understanding.

If you’ve never thought about these things before, you may feel like a blind man being ordered to see. You may find it difficult to understand how to direct your attention at your own attention. Trust your own mind though: whatever you practice for a while you get better at. Just focus on your mind, visualise it, think about it. If you try this for ten minutes a few dozen times over a few months your brain’s neurons will grow new connections, strengthen synapses. You will start to grow, slowly at first, that gut-level understanding of your own gut-level understanding.

You can and will transcend your current consciousness, raise to a higher consciousness, a deeper understanding.

Guided Meditation File 12 – Consciousness – Sentience
Backing Music “Meet Your Maker” By Adatek
Download Meditation Download Backing Music Visit Artist's Site Read Articles