The Path – December 1888

THE PLANES OF CONSCIOUSNESS — J. D. Buck

There are three conditions of consciousness in ordinary daily experience, that of ordinary wakefulness, that of sleep with dreams, and that of dreamless sleep. We have already shown that not memory, but consciousness, is the all-potent factor in man. Consciousness as a fact returns to the individual as well as memory, after deep sleep. Every one will admit that, in sleep where dreams occur, consciousness is on a different plane, or under different conditions, from the waking state, and memory brings into the waking state the subject and the varied experiences of dreams. After dreamless sleep memory may bring nothing back from the subjective world, but it resumes the thread of life just where it was dropped before unconsciousness came on. Now what becomes of consciousness during the dreamless slumber? Either it continues or it does not. If it continues, then it must simply be upon another plane and under different conditions, at least so far as thought and memory are concerned, for the gap is between consciousness and memory in relation to thought. If, on the other hand, consciousness is blotted out and re-created every time we enter dreamless sleep, how does it happen that both consciousness and memory, both new creations, at once take up the thread of life just where they dropped it, and resume the even tenor of their way as though nothing had happened? Such a position is evidently absurd. Nature never does things in that way. Her adjustments require time, her developments and all her varied relations are slow growths. Both consciousness and memory have grown and expanded from the original germ. The true philosophy of dreams, then, is a problem in the conditions of consciousness, while we may fairly assume that consciousness still persists in dreamless sleep, though under different circumstances. Nothing is more common in daily life than the shifting of the planes of consciousness. Take, for example, the action of anaesthetics. Chloroform changes the consciousness of the real ego. The individual cannot be called strictly unconscious. He is not conscious in the ordinary way. He suffers no pain, and retains no recollection of what occurs while under the influence of the anaesthetic, but the organic consciousness remains undisturbed, muscular motion may occur, but without coordination. The cerebrum, cerebellum, and sensory ganglia are unconscious in dreamless sleep; the medulla, spinal cord, and solar plexus, and the sexual area are wide awake, and sometimes these are super-sensitive. The light of self-consciousness is withdrawn, drawn within, but not quenched. In syncope or an ordinary faint, consciousness is likewise withdrawn, but if one will watch carefully the first return of consciousness in such cases, it will generally be found that consciousness has been by no means dead or idle, for by gently attracting the attention just on the turning point it will be found that a few seconds have been sufficient for the recall of a long forgotten experience, recovered now from the all-pervading ether, or for the weaving of romance, comedy, or tragedy quite sufficient for a good sized novel. But, perhaps, the rather common instances of sleep-walking or somnambulism offer the best illustrations of at least dual consciousness. The literature of the subject is, however, so full and so easy of access that it is unnecessary here to go into details. Persons subject to these attacks from childhood really lead dual lives bearing no direct relation to each other. Individuals walking in their sleep have been known to enter a company where there were strangers, carry on a conversation with those to whom they were introduced, and retain no recollection of the events or of the names of the strangers, or even to have met them. But on the succeeding night, walking again in sleep, meeting the same individuals they recognize them and resume the conversation of the previous night. One such case is sufficient to show the existence of another than the outer plane of consciousness. Experiments in animal magnetism, and more especially the recent investigations in hypnotism, demonstrate beyond all controversy more than one plane of consciousness, and these may have no direct relation to each other, or, when desired, the connection may be established between the different planes. In many of these cases the extent of knowledge and intelligence of the faculties of the individual in subjective consciousness altogether transcends the ordinary plane. As previously remarked, the difficulty is not in finding illustrations of the different planes and relations of consciousness, but in selecting from the mass of available material. Even the delirium of fever, the intoxication produced by alcohol and many drugs, no less than monomania and insanity, each and all consist largely in either a temporary or a permanent shifting of the planes of consciousness, and aberrations of memory. Take, for example, the delirium caused by opium and alcohol. Consciousness is shifted to a subjective plane, and sometimes to a very low plane. It is a great mistake to assume that the objects seen and the events that occur have no real existence. If all these are to be regarded as the creations of the imagination, whence arises the great uniformity of the objects witnessed from the effects of alcohol? When we get any rational idea of the subjective world, we shall discover that the snakes and dragons witnessed there are as veritable on that plane, to subjective sense, as their living phototypes are on the phenomenal plane to objective sense; for it must be remembered that the universal ether is that infinite ocean whence all creation proceeds, and into whose all-dissolving bosom all things return. Our relation to objects here is largely incidental, determined by location, circumstance, and the like.

On the subjective plane our relations are determined by attractions and intrinsic conditions, and an individual full of all evil passions, inflamed by alcohol, will attract entities of like degree, and so on to the end of the chapter. To say that all such cases result from pure imagination is not even to make them thinkable. Many persons assume that when they have named a thing they have explained it, and that further questions are an impertinence. Perhaps the most important consideration in regard to the shifting states of consciousness from the objective to the subjective condition regards that vague and varying state known as insanity. As a rule, with the insane this transfer of consciousness is partial, seldom complete. Consciousness is rather out of joint than actually transferred from plane to plane. There is usually an organic lesion, or a functional obstruction that tends to tissue change in some of the nerve centers. The result in many cases is to break down that sharp line of demarcation between the objective and subjective worlds. The individual becomes bewildered, loses his bearings. His experiences are no longer coordinate. The instrument through which consciousness manifested is out of tune, and the result is discord. The great mistake in regard to all these cases of perverted function arises from the fact that no differentiation is made as to planes or states of consciousness. Practically but one state of consciousness is recognized, and the still further mistake is made of looking upon all objects cognized, and all experiences outside the ordinary plane of consciousness, as altogether non-existent, a figment of the imagination. But pray what is imagination? Ask the artist, the poet, the painter; ask genius that is so closely allied to insanity; ask all who create from ideal forms; and they will tell us, one and all, that imagination is the wings of the soul that bear up the lagging fancy, the slow and plodding mind, till it enters the ideal world and gazes there on both beauty and deformity in all their nakedness. They will tell us that what we call the real world is at best but a poor and colorless caricature as compared to the ideals open to the imagination, and that what the world is pleased to call the work of genius bears but a touch of that transcendent truth and reality that veils its face from every faculty of man on the phenomenal plane. Ask the true scientist what we knew of anything, of matter, space, time, or motion, — of the whole phenomenal world —, and he will tell us, and tell us truly, that we have our own ideas of these, and nothing more. Finally, ask that greatest of all modern philosophers, Schopenhauer, what is imagination? and he will tell us that not only the world, but ourselves included, is reducible to two terms, Imagination and Will; the one, the essence and the creator of all forms in nature; the other, the creative and motive power; and that these powers are as potent on the subjective plane as on the objective; are as active in drunken delirium, in mania, and insanity, as in that other condition of consciousness that we call sanity, but which is often more insane than any other. There is no subject likely to yield more valuable results to the earnest student than the various planes and conditions of consciousness.


The Path

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