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3.7 Modes of awareness and experiential biases

1. Absence of official recognition

Although, as indicated above, intergovernmental and official academic bodies are prepared to give limited attention to the non-economic aspects of human development, there is no indication whatsoever that they are prepared to distinguish the range of modes of awareness characteristic of such development. Even when, as in the case of UNESCO, emphasis is placed on "cultural development", no acknowledgement is made of the modes of awareness recognized by the religious and cultural figures frequently honoured by such bodies as contributors to the cultural heritage of particular regions. The focus is on their products not on their subjective experience, however much the products were designed to draw attention to such experience and to articulate it.

It is characteristic of the tragic hypocrisy and collective schizophrenia of the present time, that delegates to intergovernmental meetings discussing "human development" may be deeply aware of the subjective range of states of consciousness, for many are indeed deeply religious. Whether or not they are, most would take great care, for purely political reasons, to avoid offending those for whom such dimensions are important. And yet in debate no attention is drawn to these dimensions and to their relevance. Although the Constitution of UNESCO commences with the much cited phrase: "since wars begin in the minds of men, it is the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed", it is difficult to trace any acknowledgement of the experiences occurring in the minds of men in the programmes of bodies such as UNESCO, or in those taking their lead from UNESCO.

The principal reason for not drawing attention to such dimensions is obvious. Such modes of awareness may be associated in the minds of many with religious experience. In many cases they are defined by particular religions. Any such discussion would thus arouse too much controversy in an international community already torn by ideological controversy. Ironically, it is the bitter conflict between such religions which hinders any recognition of the importance of such modes of awareness by the international community.

A secondary reason is that the weight of expertise within the international community is oriented towards the hard facts of politics, economics and science. Where it might be assumed that some of the social sciences would acknowledge such dimensions, this has proven to be very far from being the case. Ironically, again, it is the bitter conflict between those social science disciplines which purport to be sensitive to these dimensions which hinders any recognition of the importance of modes of awareness by the international community.

2. Explosion of popular interest

This situation at the governmental and intergovernmental level has however been totally undermined over the past decade by the explosion of popular and scientific interest in these dimensions. For example, books on individual human development have proved one of the strongest growth areas in publishing. There is now a total cleavage between the content of human development as understood by intergovernmental bodies and the content associated with it by those interested in it personally (as opposed to professionally).

Of all the governments, surprisingly it is the USSR, with its materialist ideological commitment, which has broken through the disciplinary obfuscation of the sciences to promote extensive research on a variety of paranormal states of consciousness. Even more surprising is the remarkable synthesis by the Soviet mathematician V V Nalimov (1982, 1985) "using the major concepts of mathematics, physics, linguistics, psychology, psychiatry, history, philosophy, culturology, anthropology and theology". He covers all manifestations of the unconscious not encompassed within logic, synthesizing semantics, probability theory, mysticism and art into a startling new view of how the human mind perceives the world.

What is forgotten by the establishments that deny the significance of such experiences, is that people are strongly attracted to them irrespective of such denials, or possibly even because of the alternative they offer to the sterile concepts of human development promoted by such establishments. However well-meaning, such concepts are at present alienating to those bored by the claustrophobic analyses of political economics which prevail within the international community. For an increasing number of people, whether attracted to traditional or to contemporary approaches, the variety of modes of awareness defines human potential in a much more direct and attractive manner than has been otherwise possible. It becomes a process in which people wish to be engaged. For them human development can be both challenging and fun.

It is a sobering thought that, whilst official bodies and disciplines deny the significance of these dimensions, the amount of money invested in the achievement of alternate states of awareness through the use of drugs is now quite formidable. It has been estimated that the illegal drug trade in 1990 is only exceeded in international financial importance by the oil trade, which is commercially the principal traded product. In France it has been estimated that the individual expenditure in the "occult sciences" is three times the expenditure on consultation of general practitioners.

3. Experiential bias

The many perspectives indicated above suggest a strong case for opening up the debate on the nature of human development (as well as for finding out why it is so carefully closed off into isolated compartments). What in fact are the various meanings to be attached to the term? What are the related concepts? What images of human beings do such concepts imply? With what concepts or experiences do people themselves identify when considering their own development? What alternative and better varieties of experience and states of being do they suggest as being open to exploration? What methods may be used to facilitate such forms of personal development?

The following points give an indication that there are some very positive ways in which human development may be understood, and which are the justification for the collection of information undertaken for this section:

(a) In 1974, a well-respected establishment group, the Center for the Study of Social Policy of the Stanford Research Institute, prepared a policy research report for the Charles Kettering Foundation noting: "If the post-industrial era of the future is dominated by the industrial-era premises, images, and policies of the past, the control of deviant behaviour needed to make societal regulation possible would in all likelihood require the application of powerful socio- and psycho-technologies. The result could well be akin to what has been termed friendly fascism - a managed society which rules by a faceless and widely dispersed complex of warfare- welfare-industrial-communications-police bureaucracies with a technocratic ideology. Evidence exists that this sort of future is already nascent. In contrast to such a technological-extrapolationist future, this report envisions an evolutionary transformation for society as a more hopeful possibility.

Some characteristics of an adequate image of mankind for the post-industrial future were derived by: (1) noting the direction in which premises underlying the industrial present would have to change in order to bring about a more workable society; (2) from examination of the ways in which images of humankind have shaped societies in the past; and (3) from observation of some significant new directions in scientific research.

A future image of man meeting these conditions would:

  •  convey a holistic sense of perspective or understanding of life;
  • entail an ecological ethic, emphasizing the total community of life-in-nature and the oneness of the human race;
  • entail a self-realization ethic, placing the highest value on development of selfhood and declaring that an appropriate function of all social institutions is the fostering of human development;
  • be multi-levelled, multi-faceted, and integrative, accommodating various culture and personality types;
  • involve balancing and coordination of satisfactions along many dimensions rather than the maximizing of concerns along one narrowly defined dimension (eg economics); and
  • be experimental, open-ended, and evolutionary.
A framework is developed in the report which demonstrates that it is at least conceptually feasible to fulfil these characteristics. Further, the report provides guidelines for actions through which fulfilment of the needed characteristics might be stimulated."

(b) As a result of the work of Abraham Maslow (1971) and the humanistic school of psychology, a distinction has now been established between basic deficiency needs in a human being and what have been called self-realization or being needs. He suggested, on the basis of empirical observation, that only about 1 per cent of any sample out of the population of contemporary Americans are examples of self-actualizing individuals, namely individuals who continue to attempt to develop and manifest their latent potentialities. This would seem to imply that at least 99 per cent of the population of one of the most developed countries may be considered to be psychologically underdeveloped, or at least only "developing", to employ the international euphemism.

Robert Jungk, in an address to the 1974 conference of the Irish Management Institute, argued that cultural man is underdeveloped. The characteristics identified for such self-actualizing individuals include: a capacity for acceptance, efficient perception of reality, spontaneity, transcendence of self-concern, detachment, transcendence of environment, social feeling and compassion, tolerance and respect, ethical certainty, and creativeness. It is suggested that consciously or unconsciously every person is seeking some form of self- realization or to become a self-actualizing person, fully expressing his own innate potentialities as an individual, and in full recognition of his own uniqueness as a personality. It is believed that there are a variety of methods and processes by which self-actualization emerges, and that this diversity should itself be protected.

(c) From the 1970s, many groups, institutes and journals have emerged to explore new understandings of consciousness that recognize the experiential dimension.

4. Challenging need for new paradigms

Such interest is stimulated in part by new approaches to the relationship between consciousness and insights in fundamental physics (David Bohm (1980), Ken Wilbur (1982), and their specific relation to health (Larry Dossey, 1982). With this burgeoning interest in human development and states of consciousness (whether "altered" or not), it might be expected that there would be clear indications as to what these states or modes are to which people may aspire in the course of the process of human development. In fact the literature is mainly characterized by the priorities of the authors. These may, or may not, include: research on drug-induced states, research on mystical experience, states identified by traditional religions within a well-defined framework, conditions identified by various schools of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, and conditions emerging from the explorations of charismatic leaders of new growth movements.

There is a general assumption that the different forms of awareness identified within each context may, in some cases at least, be identical. But there is little effort to catalogue these varieties of modes of awareness in their own terms, leaving open the question of what is identical with what. And the result of grouping such modes into a limited number of theoretical categories, as in the pioneering work of Charles Tart (1975), tends to denature the experiences described even further, however interesting such classificatory exercises may be from an academic point of view.

Part of the challenge lies in the manner in which many of the modes of awareness accessible to man in the process of human development are incomprehensible within classical scientific paradigms. They call for new approaches and new languages in which to communicate them, as argued in Section KD. These are emerging, as is indicated by Nalimov's work, for example (1985, 1981). But both the traditional and the new approaches rely to a large extent on metaphor for descriptive purposes (R S Valle and R von Eckartsberg, 1981).

As discussed in Section M, not only is human experience metaphorical in nature, but also that metaphor is an essential constituent of the structure of human experience. That is, part of the meaning of any experience is elusive, and it is the use of metaphor that formulates this elusive meaning and makes it available through an understandable figure of speech (Robert Romanyshyn, 1981). Part of the difficulty lies in the large number of modes which have been described, whatever similarities the descriptions conceal. This raises the question as to whether it is possible to interrelate these modes in any coherent manner without denaturing them. What are the "metabolic pathways" of intra-personal processes? Some of those identified are interlinked into sets, representing stages in a process, whether linear or cyclic. But it is clear that new ways of interlinking metaphors are required to offer a language for maintaining continuity between different modes of awareness.

This is one of the reasons for experimenting with metaphors and patterns, especially with the possibility of "pattern languages" discussed there.

5. Beyond human development consumerism

Despite well-recognized excesses of human development enthusiasts, is it appropriate to ignore the insights which prompt efforts at "revisioning psychology" (James Hillman, 1975) or to navigate through the dross of excesses and extreme positions? Robert E Ornstein, in a book appropriately entitled The Mind Field (1976, p.ix) indicates the problem: "We are now on the threshold of a new understanding of man and of consciousness, one which might unite the scientific, objective, external approach of Western civilization and the personal, inward disciplines of the East. The emergence of this new synthesis has caused many to flock, unthinkingly, to rudimentary spiritual sideshows, which are quick, cheap, and often flashy. These reductions have given strength to others' total lack of interest. I write to develop a more secure position, one of interested yet candid assessment, somewhere between the two dominant positions: the almost reflexive rejection of what is conventionally understood as "mysticism", by many in the "hard" areas of contemporary life; the reflexive adulation characteristic of the slavish consumers of guruism, "instant enlightenment training", and other degenerations." Such reassessments merit attention. Where would society be if, for example, "economic development" were to be rejected because of the excesses of its enthusiasts?

Only by opening up the debate on these matters, identifying the variety of concepts currently in use, and how they are related to one another, will it become possible to establish the connections between such concerns and the topics of economic and social development problems which have been favoured by the international and academic communities with such questionable results. Given that a major obstacle to such socio-economic development is the so-called "lack of political will to change", it may be that this intangible factor is intimately related to intangible factors in individual development, however it is conceived.