Communication and Consciousness

At face value, it appears that developments in communication and consciousness are roughly correlated over time. That is, as the communication technology of a human society improves there is a corresponding shift that appears in consciousness. In this section this association is discussed, not in terms of a cause and effect, where communication advances causes consciousness shift or the other way around, but rather, that they are appear to be simply associated. The second objective of this section is to highlight the apparent oscillation that occurs in both systems and what this may mean.

A critical question to ask is when did a civilisation or society shift in consciousness. We know basically the chronology of communication advances, but when can we say did consciousness advance. There is no simple answer to this question and whilst Graves and later Gravesian theorists postulate when the shifts occur (table 1), there is really no clear cut definition of say when a particular "society" moved from say "C|P" egotistic to "D|Q" Absolutionist. Here are the reasons why creating this historical record is a problem.

First, recorded history is intrinsically a problem due to the nature of interpretation. Historians already acknowledge the problem of subjective evaluation of history. This subjectivity is compounded by a basic predisposition to understand history in terms of major events (battles, kings getting born, married and murdered etc) which may preclude the more mundane aspects of life at any historical time. The real grist to understanding history comes from looking at what the bulk of the population were doing. It's possible to do, but it is generally not popularised in any great detail.

Another problem occurs because we are looking at how both individuals at different levels of group organisation (family, village, city, nation) are transiting through levels of consciousness. Not all individuals will be at the same level of consciousness. As an analogy, in technology adoption there will be those who take up a new gismo very early (early adopters), then the late adopters or the mainstream and then the luddites. In a similar way, at any point in time, in any given culture and in any given cross section of the population there will be a mixture of different levels of consciousness. Indeed a society may have all 6 survival levels, to different degrees.

Further complicating this is that different strata in a civilisation will have access to more or less resources, which just to be clear, means the wealthy will simply have more time to contemplate existential problems or have access to the more recent technology, be that reading and writing in ancient times, or an iPhone today. Another problem is that the process does not appear ideally linear, where occasionally it may appear that a backward step has been taken. For example the dark ages seems at face value to be less conscious than the preceding peak of ancient Greek or Roman civilisations. Yet another problem is one of cultural separation over distance and time, so that some of the advances in ancient China may have correlates in ancient Rome yet the propagation between the two may not have happened.

There are many other issues to consider, but for now, the best way to conceptualise this is to consider consciousness at a fixed point in time to be a cohort. This works in much the same was as you would consider the age of a population as a cohort, where the age bracket is identified on the y-axis and the number of people in that bracket are indicated on the x-axis, such that it appears like stacked blocks on top of each other (Figure 1).

Fig 1.

Replace the age bracket with a level of consciousness and it may show a general bulking in the middle with less people at very high and very low levels of consciousness. When Graves first began to investigate his theory, he would ask the subject for a description of what constituted a mature adult personality in operation. The responses were then subjected to content analysis. I must stress that this analysis seems very ad-hoc and largely anecdotal in nature, where the general themes being expressed were grouped together based on their similarity. It is from these groupings that the conceptualisation of the stages of consciousness were formed.

As an aside, again it is important to note that it is hard to find the original research data, and I am unable to find statistical measures like inter-rater reliability or an analysis of variance that would test for things like independence and colinearity between categories. This level of statistical analysis may be present and I just can't find it, but nor can I find anyone else debunking Gravesian theory after having performed the appropriate content analysis. For the most part it seems the mainstream empirical research has just ignored it. My personal opinion is that once a researcher starts to look into this theory, they may become less interested in these methods as an approach to the study of consciousness. Certainly most seem to then move into organisation/motivation work, write books and generally sound less and less 'academic' as they continue along this road... but I am in isolation and really do not know. Maybe it's a matter of consciousness that is playing out?

As an aside, again it is important to note that it is hard to find the original research data, and I am unable to find statistical measures like inter-rater reliability or an analysis of variance that would test for things like mutual exclusivity between categories. This level of statistical analysis may be present and I just can't find it, but nor can I find anyone else debunking Gravesian theory after having performed the appropriate content analysis. For the most part it seems the mainstream empirical research has just ignored it. My personal opinion is that once a researcher starts to look into this theory, they may become less interested in these methods as an approach to the study of consciousness. Certainly most seem to then move into organisation/motivation work, write books and generally sound less and less 'academic' as they continue along this road... but I am in isolation and really do not know. Maybe it's a matter of consciousness that is playing out?

At any rate, to conceptualise the model properly, this data was taken from Ken Wilbur's estimate of population figures for the world alongside an estimate of how much 'power' that group has. By power, the suggestion is that a homeless person living rough on the streets (potentially A|N) is going to have 0% power in how society is run, whilst the bulk of decision making is carried out by the E|R group as part of the scientific / capitalist modernity we understand to be dominant today.

Fig 2. Estimates of population and consciousness level (World) against their power to influence decision making.
(Note: source material lacks internal consistancy and figures (weightings) have been adjusted to be percentages)

This idea of a consciousness cohort then poses the question of when did the bulk of a culture attempt to resolve the existential crisis of it's existing level and transit to a new level of consciousness within a specific cultural and historical context?

Keeping in mind that just as multiple ages of individuals exist within a culture, so too can different consciousness levels exist within a culture. Often it is these different ways of viewing the world, the differences in consciousness, which create the conflict both within and between societies over time. To put it simply, and using religion as an example meme, when religion is used to motivate the resource grab of one people over another, the proposed argument will be "our god is better that your god" but what they are really expressing is that "our understanding of reality is better than your understanding of reality".

The association between communication technology and Gravesian theory of consciousness is new, however the original theoretical position by Graves proposes several time frames for when the different levels of consciousness began to emerge.

Table 1. Graves (1981) Estimate of consciousness throughout history

Graves Estimate Began to Emerge Stage Focus Existential Problem Faced
A|N prehistory Self Outer
B|O 40,000 years ago Group Inner
C|P 10,000 years ago Self Outer
D|Q 6,000 to 4,000 years ago Group Inner
E|R 700 to 600 years ago Self Outer
F|S 80 to 90 years ago Group Inner

These time frames describe the early adoption of a new meme (or possibly the 'innovator' stage that come before early adoption), but they also could be used to suggest the mainstream acceptance of the previous meme. So that D|Q is accepted in the mainstream when E|R is first adopted by the wealthy/technologically literate.

What builds from this picture and the reason communication and consciousness seem to be correlated is that there is a corresponding oscillation within each system. In communication there is a movement between synchronous one-to-one network exchange of information and the asynchronous one-to-many broadcast method of information delivery. Similarly in consciousness there is an oscillation between the inner focused stages with outer focused existential problems and the outer focused stages with an inner existential problem.

Table 2. Timeline of Communication Technologies (Original Work)

Timeline of communication technologies

Consider at any stage in consciousness the existential problem that arises and sure enough the conditions of communication refocus in order to meet the demand on that problem. When we have focused too much on our own agency (inner focus) over the world and others and see that it has only occurred to the detriment of the group to which we yearn to belong, then we are swayed and buoyed by the storytelling, the public broadcast of what the group (village, nation, religion) stand for. We yearn to once again merge with the herd (outer) so we can have a sense of belonging, and with it the peace and stability it offers. This is the herding need and it grows stronger with the broadcast asynchronous story as we sit in rapt awe at the storyteller, the bard, the radio program, or news anchor, and listen to information on how the world is.

But as we herd too strongly (outer) the need for seeing individualisation and self definition grows (inner) to the point where the synchronous exchange of information is brought to the for. This is the narcissistic need to be mirrored where we want others to take notice of us, to validate us, to respect us, so that we can know that we are separate individuals. It is termed here the narcissistic need because in line with the original myth, and psychoanalytic theory. Usually when being explained in psychoanalysis the myth describes how Narcissus looks into a pond, sees his reflection and falls in love with himself. However this is only a secondary consideration because the more salient point to this myth is that Narcissus's problems began when the gods took away his girlfriend, who's name was Echo.

The narcissist exists in a world without feedback from others, or more precisely, without the embodied feedback from others (Echo being a disembodied voice as per the god Hera's curse). They get the message broadcast by those in control but they do not get a direct interaction or relationship with an embodied separate other. There is a reduced level of 1 to 1 communication. After 100+ years of incredibly strong storytelling and broadcast delivery of information the world has become and insanely narcissistic place, and there is in that a yearning for the individual to again seek separation so that they can be heard, and validated and made real. Go to a lecture that pertains to an 'activist' issue, like climate change or same-sex marriage, and at the end of the official list of speakers they will be forced into have a Q&A session from the audience. Without fail, most of the 'questions' will actually be statements by individuals who really just want to be heard. Usually slightly off-topic, these comments are this narcissistic need in full flight.

This oscillation of consciousness and communication there is one direction which is a need to belong to the group and another which is the need to individuate. But to put it in more flippantly, there is one motivation to be part of a herd and another to be heard.

If this postulate were correct then when Western society moved into the broadcast era of radio and film, there should have been an urge to rejoin with the herd. The powerful mobilisation of the individual that came with science and industrialisation and the effect this had on the less fortunate may suggest this. Was the expression of communist ideals an extreme form of this herding process? Was National Socialism in Germany similar, driven (or at least proselytised to be) with the desire to help all within the designated racial ethnic group (at the mortal expense of others)?

And the last time western society moved from a broadcast dominated method of information delivery (printing press) to a network form of information exchange (semaphore 1792-1846, telegraph 1837, organised prepaid postage 1840, telephone 1876) then the society would have been in the grip of a narcissistic epidemic. That is to ask then does the decadence of the feudal elite around the time of the French revolution personify a more severe narcissism in the individual, at least for those who had access to books.

And so on back, where the dominant personality position before the printing press was one of attempting to help the less fortunate through feudal overlordship, where the poor were trampled under the heal of war and famine, and maybe through ideals expressed in the Magna Carta, or the creation of the chivalric code, a herding trajectory was taken that served to cohere the group.

The idea suggested here is that as a society extends too far into either realm, herding as a group or defining oneself as an individual, then the necessary preconditions exist for a jump in consciousness and with it an associated advance in communication that will feed into that new need. This oscillation between self focus and other focus in theory suggested by Graves seems to be accommodated by the oscillation between synchronous (network) and asynchronous (broadcast) medium of information exchange.

But it appears to be more than just a simple pendulum swinging through time. There are nuances and subtleties between cultures and memes, complex interactions that seem more chaotic than predictable. Right now, there are many prognostications about the advent of the internet and what it will mean for society. Where to next? A post McLuhan analysis would be triumphantly crying "told you so", and reasserting that the medium is indeed the message, because as McLuhan predicted, the medium is changing, and it's all about the new way of communicating.

The internet started out as a medium dominated by the older broadcast structures that preceded it, however it very quickly became a flatter structure or network system of one to one exchange. And it promised the chance for people to differentiate themselves through email, blogs, and the later web2.0 social network technology. It is this promise of 1 to 1 connection that the web tries to offer, but it may be a non-real form of exchange because the 'other' is still at a distance, and perhaps more importantly, the other does not have an embodied presence. Just like the (broadcast) fantasy of the 1930's Hollywood musical or contemporary Bollywood musical is unreal, so too is the disembodied relationships (network) on the internet.

Technology is trying to fill the need of being met and heard, but it is also changing the very environment of how we communicate. When books were first printed the reader still had to imagine the world being created in the story, when the telegraph and pre-paid mail became dominant, the person at the other end of the communication was a disembodied voice that did not have the full resonance of a physical other, merely their written letter or the distant voice (later with the telephone). And the fantasy product of a broadcast medium, represented in a 1930's musical, or the modern action hero, movie is a shallow version of reality in the guise of an heroic journey. It looks like technology is trying to help each time, but the medium of the relationship always seems to be lacking somewhat. Even though we understand upper case to be ANGRY, there is no embodied relationship. Something is missing, even if we end up with the hollowed out sense of something pleasant as represented by a semicolon and a closing bracket.

As for the Gravesian prediction, right now we are seeing the beginning of mainstream adoption of the F|S level of consciousness. Global consciousness is certainly on the rise, what was once a 'global village' is now a large bustling metropolis. In commerce the dominance of transnationals is obvious, shifting goods one way and profits the other as their competitive edge widens. Global banks set the trends and global organisation of activism and charity rise to match. That everyone has heard of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is an anecdote that highlights this trend.

This global consciousness is on the rise in large part due to the threat posed by pollution in general and carbon more specifically. Climate change has become the transitionary point for the bulk of western society. It is an exemplar of the existential crisis that comes with externalising cost to the detriment of the whole. A tragedy of the commons, where the thought that "there is nothing wrong with producing carbon" is fine until everyone does it. It a crisis in environmental terms, and it is also a crisis in terms of consciousness because people are being made to realise that the world is finite, gravity is 9.89 m/s/s and without antigravity nothing is going to fix this problem, even though we gamble on this science fiction that it will be fixable in the future. And so the bulk of western thinking is starting to advance into the Green meme of F|S consciousness.

But that also means we are witnessing the early adoption of the next stage in consciousness. At this point in history, there is a major transition occurring. Graves originally argued that this transitional point between F|S and A'|N' (G|T or Yellow consciousness) is also a transition between egoic and trans-egoic witness consciousness. It is denoted as A'|N' because it is seen as an harmonic in some way to the first level of consciousness, but instead of having its basis in "subsistence" it is based in "being". Certainly it looks like a transition where the recursive function of viewing one's own self, to witness the self, is developed as a prerequisite to the first being state. So when a person is able to 'witness' their own egoic self, then the same stages of consciousness are again traversed, only this time with the self-reflection as a part of the function of the self.

The 'being' levels of consciousness come with a fresh take on an old question, which is "why am I here?" With self-reflection as part of the function of the self, this questions becomes far more potent and it starts with a contemplation of purpose. Thus, "Why am I here?" is really better phrased as "What is my purpose?"

The question of existence has previously occurred, and it's not as if the question has never been asked or answered before, the difference now is that it is possible to ask this question without alluding to a group meme. The purpose of our existence is not being asked in religious terms. The question is also not the same as that asked by an atheist who falls back on various extrapolations of evolutionary theory which basically comes down to "shit happens". When asking this question, a moral framework is still in place, which is to say that the cognitive and somatic organisation of experience are congruent (i.e.: where your 'thoughts' will 'feel' right as the question of existence is being examined.)

The question of purpose is being asked in a context sensitive way where each individual has to find their own answer to the question. Notice the swing back to the individual focus, an echo of the E|R stage or the C|P stage. And it is not then appropriate to start trying to force what one person might understand onto another person. With respect to the 'individualistic' levels, at the move into the first A|N level it was about pure survival, fight and fornicate. At the C|P level it was about mastery of the self regardless of others. At the E|R level it is about the advancement of the self without hurting others. And at the A'|N' level it is once again about survival of the self in existential terms through understanding your purpose in being here.

The individual has to work out why they are here, what is it all about for them as an individual. The stage of consciousness also seems to encapsulate the previous six subsistence levels, as a sort of toolbox from which to draw, in order to work out how to survive as a being who is conscious and who lives with the awareness of consciousness itself. The individual does not just give up and hide under the doona as the world collapses, but rather they work out honestly the purpose of their existence. This stage of consciousness is about choice, even when it may seem that there is absolutely no choice at all.

Before the early adopters it may occur that there are extremely rare, very early adopters who act as avatars, or people who are so far ahead of the bell curve in the population that they can seem strange and unreal when first introduced, but they have an insight which is profound and prophet like. A prominent avatar for the A'|N' stage of consciousness was Victor Frankle who was interred in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and survived to write about the transformation of the self that occurred. He wrote that when all choice had been removed, when nothing of freedom and liberty remained, he was able to find one thing that could not be taken from him. He could choose how to respond. Between the stimulus and the response there is a place of choice, that is an expression of ultimate freedom. This is the A'|N' stage of consciousness. This is a being state where the self is more aware of itself.

For the individual, this harmonic with the first subsistence level does not mean they must devolve to an earlier simpler time, it means having the awareness to be able to step outside of your "self" and witness who you are and what you are doing.

But this work is also about how the individual and group can seem to be in parallel, as if one could be used as a metaphor for the other. It may be more than a metaphor, as we'll come to see, but for now the parallelism is compelling. For a group this transition from egoic survival to being, means taking a step outside of the decision making structures and understanding what is driving it. This is the very great challenge that is being faced by our global civilisation, and the next section is concerned with putting a framework around how groups make decisions so that we can step outside of it and observe it, rather than just being tossed and turned by the stimulus and response, accusation and reprisal that makes up the modern political processes.

We are moving into a new age, and in a way McLuhan's sentiment, of a globally connected village, has been gestating for some time. But it is the internet, this new network structure that will bring the bulk of the population into the F|S level of consciousness, whilst laying the groundwork for the next stage of consciousness, as we all become aware of the larger global environment in which we live. The internet as a one-to-one method of communication is attempting to meet the demands of a highly narcissistic population through the so called "social media" interactions in Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere etc. But it is also laying down the gauntlet with regards to how we make decisions. No longer is our direction to be manipulated by the faceless men and party hacks, by the despots and their secret police.

In what may be a spiralling arms race, the individual may be more cynical and in some ways have a greater immunity to manipulation and propaganda of the state, even as the advertising mogul gets more and more sophisticated in its subtle manipulation of the other. This degree of inoculation to the media could even be measured in age-based studies. Are the 'digital native' generations more or less manipulated by the media? Is the media trying harder now than it did half a century ago? What's coming is the next stage of consciousness, B'|O' (H|U or turquoise), where the whole of the petty way we live our lives is exposed because something more profound is happening.

We are individuals, couples, groups and societies caught in a chaotic maelstrom of our own making and it is only now that this dynamical system is being uncovered. Where the subsistence level of B|O was orientated around the observation of cyclical patterns (linear), the B'|O' level will be concerned with observations around non-linear interpretations of experience, the dynamical self in the chaotic universe.

But as the bulk of the population moves into F|S, there is a breakdown in our ability to respond to critical situations. The leadership orientation of decision making is deprecated by nature of it's hierarchical structure, and the 'Mean Green Meme' insists that we all should put our chairs into a circle to sing kum-by-ya. At the same time, the earlier system of political machinations and party hacks is being exposed for what it is, as it can be a breeding ground for more and more bureaucracy that ultimately leads to graft and corruption. And the still earlier systems of absolute dogma are being ridiculed even whilst they gain in power.

In the same way that the individual reaches the end point of subsistence consciousness or egoic consciousness, our society is reaching critical points of indecision, because it is just not able to make decisions in any meaningful and long term way. Government has become unworkable, and opposition is relatively easy because vision has been replaced with focus groups and leadership is only ever the product of gallop polls that gnaw away at anyone trying to implement policy. Politics has become a farcical popularity contests, where spin doctors compete like puppeteers in a punch and judy show, trying to score five second sound-bights in the evening news. Short election periods and a blindingly fast news cycle all conspire to make long term decision making unviable. Instead there is a tendency to greater secrecy, coupled with emotive headlines fuelled by advertising in order to make people pay attention. Any political discourse then is one dominated by fear, or disgust or any strong emotion that grabs attention. Just as the existential crisis of an F|S individual can lead to a chronic depression, the mechanisms of group decision making are becoming ossified.

In the next section the focus turns to a classification theory of group decision making in history. The purpose of this section is to provide an experience of witness consciousness for the group. It concerns how groups make decisions and how these can be neatly subdivided into a 3 x 3 matrix where the evolution from one form of decision making to another can be played out. But it is just a tool, which is to be used to reach a conclusion about the nature of choice. In the final sections there is a return to the individual with a view to understanding how the self develops by using a radically new field of non-linear dynamical systems theory.

NEXT - Decision Matrix