CONSCIOUSNESS: Ideas and Research for the Twenty-First Century


John Briggs


For the last 20,000 years or so the dominant mode of human consciousness has been one that divides reality into subjects and objects, and focuses on human desires and needs. This anthropocentric mode of consciousness has invented religions, built civilizations, amassed knowledge, and developed technology and science. It has also disembodied us from the Earth and led to the Anthropocene Era. Still with us is another mode of human consciousness that arguably once existed in a balance with the anthropocentric mode during our long hunter-gatherer, Paleolithic sojourn. This holistic, integrative mode of consciousness experiences the Earth as a mother, and responds to its creatures, plants, rocks, waters, and other anthropocentrically labeled “inanimate” forms, as close relations. This Earth-centered mode of consciousness still functions in indigenous cultures, and it has been implicitly preserved by artists through their metaphorical thinking. The two modalities of consciousness are equally part of the evolved capacity of the human mind. Over time the anthropocentric mode of consciousness became a hegemonic force, and the Earth-embodied was pushed aside. Relying principally on our anthropocentric mode of mind to solve the climate crisis — to manage nature — risks introducing new technologies that will generate new problems. Reawakening our Earth-embodied mode of consciousness would allow us to once again listen deeply to the Earth. This mode could holistically guide our use of knowledge and technology as we seek to find a new balance between ourselves and the other forces and life forms that shape the planet. Reawakening the Earth-embodied consciousness may not be as difficult as it seems. One approach suggested here is “creative animism.” A person becomes a creative animist by noticing and experiencing the forms of nature (nature’s “objects” in anthropocentric terms) as intensely alive, as both similar to and different from us, and as intimately related to us.