Higher consciousness is the consciousness of a higher Self, transcendental reality, or God. It is “the part of the human being that is capable of transcending animal instincts”. The concept was significantly developed in German Idealism, and is a central notion in contemporary popular spirituality. However, it has ancient roots, dating back to the Bhagavad Gita and Indian Vedas.
Fichte distinguished the finite or empirical ego from the pure or infinite ego. The activity of this “pure ego” can be discovered by a “higher intuition”.
Fichte (1762-1814) was one of the founding figures of German idealism, which developed from the theoretical and ethical writings of Immanuel Kant. His philosophy forms a bridge between the ideas of Kant and those of the German Idealist Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
According to Michael Whiteman, Fichte’s philosophical system “is a remarkable western formulation of eastern mystical teachings (of Advaita).”
In 1812 Schopenhauer started to use the term “the better consciousness”, a consciousness
…[that] lies beyond all experience and thus all reason, both theoretical and practical (instinct).
According to Yasuo Kamata, Schopenhauer’s idea of “the better consciousness” finds its origin in Fichte’s idea of a “higher consciousness” (höhere Bewusstsein) or “higher intuition”, and also bears resemblance to Schelling’s notion of “intellectual intuition”. According to Schopenhauer himself, his notion of a “better consciousness” was different from Schelling’s notion of “intellectual intuition”, since Schelling’s notion required intellectual development of the understanding, while his notion of a “better consciousness” was “like a flash of insight, with no connection to the understanding.”
According to Schopenhauer,
The better consciousness in me lifts me into a world where there is no longer personality and causality or subject or object. My hope and my belief is that this better (supersensible and extra-temporal) consciousness will become my only one, and for that reason I hope that it is not God. But if anyone wants to use the expression God symbolically for the better consciousness itself or for much that we are able to separate or name, so let it be, yet not among philosophers I would have thought.
Different types of higher states of consciousness can arise individually or in various combinations. The list of known types of higher states of consciousness:
- modified states of consciousness, achieved with the help of meditative psychotechnics;
- optimal experience and the “flow” state;
- euphoria of a runner;
- lucid dreaming;
- out-of-body experience;
- near-death experience;
- mystical experience (sometimes regarded as the highest of all higher states of consciousness) Revonsuo, A. (2009). Exceptional States of Consciousness. San Diego: Academic Press. p. 1034 p. ISBN978-0-12-373873-8.
Almost all religions have a concept of higher consciousness in at least some sects. It was first mentioned in recorded human history in the Sanskrit Hindu texts, the Upanishads.
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) made a distinction between lower and higher (self)consciousness. In Schleirmacher’s theology, self-consciousness contains “a feeling that points to the presence of an absolute other, God, as actively independent of the self and its ‘world’.” For Schleiermacher, “all particular manifestations of piety share a common essence, the sense of dependency on God as the outside ‘infinite’.” The feeling of dependency, or “God-consciousness”, is a higher form of consciousness. This consciousness is not “God himself”, since God would then no longer be “an infinite infinite, but a finite infinite, a mere projection of consciousness.”
For Schleiermacher, the lower consciousness is “the animal part of mankind”, which includes basic sensations such as hunger, thirst, pain and pleasure, as well as basic drives and pleasures, and  higher consciousness is “the part of the human being that is capable of transcending animal instincts”, and the “point of contact with God”. Bunge describes this as “the essence of being human”.
When this consciousness is present, “people are not alienated from God by their instincts”. The relation between the lower and the higher consciousness is akin to “Paul’s struggle of the spirit to overcome the flesh”, or the distinction between the natural and the spiritual side of human beings.
19th century movements
The idea of a “wider self walled in by the habits of ego-consciousness” and the search for a “higher consciousness” was manifested in 19th century movements as Theosophy New Thought Christian Science, and Transcendentalism.
The 19th century Transcendentalists saw the entire physical world as a representation of a higher spiritual world. They believed that humans could elevate themselves above their animal instincts, attain a higher consciousness, and partake in this spiritual world.
According to Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Movement,
By that higher intuition acquired by Theosophia – or God-knowledge, which carried the mind from the world of form into that of formless spirit, man has been sometimes enabled in every age and every country to perceive things in the interior or invisible world.
Blavatsky refers to Fichte in her explanation of Theosophy:
Theosophy […] prompted such men as Hegel, Fichte and Spinoza to take up the labors of the old Grecian philosophers and speculate upon the One Substance – the Deity, the Divine All proceeding from the Divine Wisdom – incomprehensible, unknown and unnamed.
The idea of “lower” and “higher consciousness” has gained popularity in modern popular spirituality. According to James Beverley, it lies at the heart of the New Age movement.
Ken Wilber has tried to integrate eastern and western models of the mind, using the notion of “lower” and “higher consciousness”. In his book The Spectrum of Consciousness Wilber describes consciousness as a spectrum with ordinary awareness at one end, and more profound types of awareness at higher levels. In later works he describes the development of consciousness as a development from lower consciousness, through personal consciousness, to higher transpersonal consciousness.
Gerald Edelman, in his ‘Theory of Consciousness’, distinguishes higher consciousness, or “secondary consciousness” from “primary consciousness”, defined as simple awareness that includes perception and emotion. Higher consciousness in contrast, “involves the ability to be conscious of being conscious”, and “allows the recognition by a thinking subject of his or her own acts and affections”. Higher consciousness requires, at a minimal level semantic ability, and “in its most developed form, requires linguistic ability, or the mastery of a whole system of symbols and a grammar”.
Psychedelic drugs can be used to alter the brain cognition and perception, some believing this to be a state of higher consciousness and transcendence. Typical psychedelic drugs are hallucinogens including LSD, DMT (Dimethyltryptamine), cannabis, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms. According to Wolfson, these drug-induced altered states of consciousness may result in a more long-term and positive transformation of self.
According to Dutta, psychedelic drugs may be used for psychoanalytic therapy, as a means to gain access to the higher consciousness, thereby providing patients the ability to access memories that are held deep within their mind.
- Bunge 2001, p. 341.
- Whiteman 2014, p. 398.
- Cartwright 2010, p. 181.
- Cartwright 2010, p. 181 note 5.
- Gillespie 1996, p. 194.
- Cartwright 2010, p. 182.
- Merklinger 1993, p. 67.
- Merklinger 1993, p. 65.
- Merklinger 1993, p. 68.
- Heisig 2003, p. 54.
- Ladd et al. 2010, p. 33-34.
- Ladd et al. 2010, p. 33.
- Ladd et al. 2010, p. 34.
- Helena P. Blavatsky, What Is Theosophy?
- Hanegraaff 1996.
- Beverley 2009.
- Wilber 2002, p. 3–16.
- Edelman 2004.
- Dutta 2012
- Dutta, 2012
- Wolfson, 2011
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