Consciousness arises from the body, not from intelligence

Photo by Jennifer Martin on Unsplash

Contrary to what we usually think, consciousness has little to do with intelligence or reason and, instead, has much more to do with the body, breathing, emotions…

Thinking, reasoning, mind wandering, no matter how logical or rational it may seem, or if we solve a mathematical equation in doing so, it is far from consciousness.

It is pain that awakens consciousness, it is in suffering where consciousness emerges.

(Stop breathing until you feel you are drowning and you will see the full consciousness emerge.)

In other words, consciousness does not have as much to do with noticing or experiencing what we think, but with noticing, experiencing our body, the one we breathe, the one we suffer, the one we feel pain.

And that experience of suffering or pain is far from masochistic or pessimistic. It is the natural pain, the one that we live daily in different everyday moments. When we are thirsty, hungry, uncomfortable, tired, full of energy, everything related to the body.

“A person doing yoga on a sloping ground in silhouette” by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Homeostasis

Our body seeks continuous stability, which is why it regulates a state of equilibrium called homeostasis. That is, our body is designed to detect changes that affect our body internally or externally: changes in temperature, changes in the balance of liquids, sugars, salts and minerals, acidity, etc.

Homeostasis, despite its etymology, is not static but dynamic. It’s based on the principle that there are always changes. What the organism seeks is to maintain balance within certain acceptable degrees.

That is why, from our genetics, we are designed to detect the changes that affect us, that make us feel, that make us uncomfortable, dislike us.

But if those changes are minor, the body is responsible for solving them. That is why we feel a little cold when going out and it happens fast: the body regulates it immediately.

Only if the discomfort persists, the conscience makes an appearance: something more is required to solve the problem.

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Emotions

Emotions play an essential role here, it is true. But sometimes emotions pass us by. They arise but we do not immediately realize their presence.

Remember the basic emotions, according to Paul Ekman: joy, sadness, fear, displeasure, surprise, anger. Yes, the same as Inside out, the movie.

And let's address something that we sometimes miss. The sensations are made of information that we receive from our senses, either from the outside or internally.

Emotions are information that we emit. An emotion is a signal from within ourselves to the outside, to others or to us.

That’s why emotions are expressive by nature, they can be read by other people.

Many times we notice emotions once we feel them in the body. Those butterflies in the stomach, that upset stomach, pain in the liver, in short, until we feel them physically is that when we become aware of them.

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Interoception

Then, consciousness arises from the capacity of our interoceptive function or from feeling the internal state of the body. The brain is responsible for integrating the signals it receives from the body itself, maintaining a certain sense of the state it is in at each moment: our heart, breathing, stomach, intestines, bladder, etc.

In other words, we are conscious as we become aware of our desire to urinate or noticing that our heart is agitated after walking several streets.

What we feel is equal or more important than what we think.

Evolutively speaking, there were the sensations and emotions first, and then, the consciousness. Far after, reason or intelligence.

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The reason

We Westerners (thanks, Aristotle, thank you, Descartes), have placed above all, like a political hierarchy, reason and intelligence. Consciousness has been considered a natural daughter of rational and intelligent beings.

But consciousness is born from being able to feel, born from the body not the brain.

Therefore, sensations and emotions lead the consciousness and not the other way around.

The fact that sensations and emotions do not use words or have a logical structure, has made them be defined as everything that is not rational, intelligent or conscious.

That is, they have been designated as our irrational, unconscious side (thanks, Freud).

It is curious and interesting how much of our modern psychology is based on this false premise: every psychological problem or disorder is due to the absence of awareness of our unconscious.

We go to a psychoanalytic session to talk, to try to light the unconscious with the lamp of consciousness, to put in words the unmentionable.

We believe our erroneous acts, harmful behaviors, traumas, are the product of errors, damages or wounds in our unconscious. Once we make them conscious, then it is possible to heal.

But again, all this presupposes that consciousness is what precedes what we are, and in addition, it is superior to what we are.

The sensations and emotions are present in almost every form of life, they biologically precede consciousness, even intelligence.

“Cute baby chewing on a letter block toy” by Colin Maynard on Unsplash

The experience

So, the experience of our sensations and emotions is what gives rise to consciousness, and therefore, what constitutes our self.

Since it’s a complete experience and it’s absolutely based on bodily sensations, therefore, it’s an experience rooted in the present, the here and now.

In other words, pain is not experienced in the past or the future, pain can only be experienced in the present.

(Perhaps we could go further by saying that actually, it’s not even an experience in the present but an experience without time: time is a conception of intelligence.)

Thinking is not experienced. There is no experience in thinking.

Nobody says: I lived a great experience thinking about X. Nobody talks about the experience of reasoning.

The experience compromises the senses, the attention, the psychomotor system, the body map in my brain, in short, the operating system of my being.

From that first awareness, realization, a first construction of the self arises, its limits, distances, orientations, and from there, consciousness arises.

It is very simple: the ideas, judgments and reasoning proper to intelligence, in no way make me experience and define my own self. That is why it is difficult to determine if an idea is mine or someone else’s, where the ideas of others end and mine begin.

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” Really? How can I know that what I think is my thought? If I think about Einstein’s theory of relativity, is that thought mine or Einstein’s? How can consciousness be born of an idea that I can’t even distinguish as mine?

Instead, I recognize pain immediately as mine, within what I am, my territory, my limits.

For newborns, this process of the birth of consciousness is clear. Consciousness is born of experience.

A baby gets consciousness without having to develop reason or intelligence. Her experience is born of the natural impulse of the human being (yes, since we were babies) to dare to loose the homeostasis so she can explore a new place, take a toy never seen before, touch that substance that looks strange, all to feel, live the experience, of something totally different and new until that moment.

That is, to dare to feel discomfort, pain, suffer a little, venture to live and experience the world.

(This article was first published in Spanish as Consciencia e Inteligencia in my personal blog.)

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