What is Consciousness?
This entry was written by Margaret Adamek
Don Johnson (2004) outlines the widely understood Western definition of conscousness as a "ready-made reality to be located and explored: its boundaries and contents to be discovered by intellectual means" (p. 41). Another typical Western view of consciousness encompasses a hierarchical taxonomy of sentiency, where humans enjoy the most evolved consciousness, then primates, then other animals (and perhaps bumblebees), then plants (since they communicate via chemical messenger - which isn't really consciousness, but merely a physicalist chemical reaction), then primitive life-forms like fungi, bacteria and cells.
Because Body-Mind Centering emphasizes movement and its relationship to consciousness, its understanding of what constitutes consciousness diverges from this more conventionally accepted view in Western academia. Sheets-Johnstone (1999) defines consciousness as the "range of experiences that one has of itself as an animate form" (p. 77). She invokes an Aristotelian perspective on the nature and role of sensation in knowing, averring the importance of sensation and its importance to mind. Extending her reach even farther back and afield, Sheets-Johnstone explores the evolutionary roots and cross-species manifestations of consciousness, animation, and corporeality. Eschewing the notion of higher order and lower order consciousness, she proposes that as many patterns of corporeal consciousness exist as there are beings and that modifications in consciousness emerge as evolutionary descent unfolds.
This argument - tendered by Sheets-Johnstone and corporeally investigated by Body-Mind Centering - suggests that if the range of animate experiences we have constitutes consciousness, then there exists many states and forms of consciousness (what BMC describes as "mind"). There is bone consciousness, jellyfish consciousness, cellular consciousness, gravity consciousness, pushing consciousness, pulsing consciousness, fluid consciousness, all of which are accessible by the training and attenuation of attention. This means that humans are capable of manifold states of consciousness, any one of which can become the predominant experience in one's lifeworld simply through a skillfully shift in attention and movement.