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Taking A Trip Through The Brain

Exploring the 8-Circuit Model of Consciousness

by James Leroy Wilson
March 12, 2009

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Taking A Trip Through The Brain

Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising  is an "owner's manual for the human brain." It is based on Timothy Leary's 8-Circuit Model of Consciousness. It may make some readers wonder what I'm "on" if I'm adopting ideas from the prophet of LSD. But the model, as described by Wilson, makes sense.

I will describe the circuits using my own words and understanding, not necessarily the way Wilson or Leary would put it:

First Circuit: Instinct/survival. Imprinted in infancy and common to all vertebrates. Primary concern is nourishment and security. Thinking is in terms of safety-danger.

Second Circuit: Ego/emotional. Imprinted as the youngster begins to walk and talk and learns hierarchy, but common to all mammals (and many other animals). Thinking is in terms of dominance-submission.

Third Circuit: Reason, symbols. Imprinted as the child learns to read and see patterns. Thinking is in terms of space - i.e., the world around us.

Fourth Circuit: Cultural values. Imprinted in puberty. Creates sense of shame and responsibility (e.g., sexual taboos). Thinking is in terms of time - i.e., the interconnectedness of generations (or "what we owe our fathers").

Wilson believes our brains are imprinted by circumstances beyond our control. Through no fault of the parents, a baby may experience a trauma which helps determine his personality through life. An image seen by chance by a 12 year-old boy may create a fetish which, because it's taboo, could make him feel ashamed, weird, and neurotic as an adult.

Wilson also argues that we tend not to use Third Circuit reason to liberate ourselves from otherwise irrational social structures of the Second Circuit and irrational beliefs of the Fourth Circuit. We instead tend to use reason to make sense of them and construct our own "reality tunnels" - our beliefs about how the "objective" external world is and ought to be. Wilson's aim is to get us thinking outside of our own reality tunnels.

Not everyone has all four circuits equally developed. Indeed, it could be argued that most use the Third Circuit only occasionally and believe Fourth-Circuit religious values mainly because that's what their Second Circuit recommends. Nevertheless, all four circuits have developed in enough people for the development of civilization.

The question is, are they sufficient for the continued survival and development of the species?

In the past, different peoples were generally isolated from each other. Now, people of different customs and beliefs live next to each other and communication across continents is instantaneous and inexpensive. But Circuit 2 and Circuit 4 barriers endanger peace.

For example, three years ago there were protests across the Middle East and Asia because of cartoons published in Denmark mocking the Prophet Mohammed. In the West, news of the riots would trigger our First ("those people are dangerous") and Second (us vs. them) circuits. And also our Third (they're irrational) and Fourth (we're fortunate to have more tolerant values) circuits.

But then that very summer, all but one United States Senator voted to criminalize desecration of the national flag. (No law actually passed because Republicans insisted on a Constitutional Amendment and Democrats wanted a regular bill.) It turns out that we, or at least our Senate, is not so reasonable and tolerant after all.

Muslims were offended angry that the Prophet was dishonored in the cartoons. The Senate sought to ban flag desecration because that offends many people and gives the impression of dishonoring veterans. Neither rioting nor legislating is a reasonable reaction in either case. The Fourth Circuit, however, prompts us to jealously guard our religions, myths, and symbols. That's why in most cultures reacting violently - either through mobs or state prohibition - to "subversive" actions is considered appropriate.

But this mentality is not conducive to peace, and peace is what we want and need to survive and grow.

Leary and Wilson believe our brains are evolving four more circuits. I've renamed them, and follow Leary's order rather than Wilson's. What strikes me is how they seem to transcend the previous four circuits:

Fifth Circuit: Bliss/rapture – a feeling of joy and oneness transcending the organism's First Circuit desires for mere warmth and a satisfied appetite.

Sixth Circuit: Awareness – seeing outside of the wants of the ego, leading to the conclusion that one is the conscious creator of one's life, and not the victim of circumstance and chance.

Seventh Circuit: Intuition – genetic memory influencing the feeling in your "gut," which, despite logic and reason, directs you on the right path, creating synchronistic events.

Eighth Circuit: Cosmic consciousness – perceiving the unity in everything; that consciousness, information, and energy connect everything in the universe and transcend time.

There are different paths to triggering one or more of these states: drugs, yoga, meditation, sometimes erotic experiences, some exultant religious experiences. Wilson turned out to be too optimistic in his projections for human evolution (Prometheus Rising was originally published in the early 1980's), perhaps because he under-estimated the power and will of the government to delay and obstruct drug research. But I think he and Leary were on to something. The genius of the individual ultimately outruns the government's attempt to censor and suppress. As a species, we will either move far beyond our wildest dreams or descend into another Dark Age.

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