University of Earth
Projects Overview (Explanations)
Human Development Project (Explanations)

Method: Criteria and definitions

Human Development Project


1. Scope

There are many ways in which human development is understood and many concepts that imply particular understandings of human development. Some of these are very narrow in focus. Some are very broad. In the case of modes of human awareness the situation is even more confused, with many denying the existence of states that others consider essential to an understanding of humanity and its future potential. To clarify the situation, without imposing yet another set of constraints, a very broad approach has been taken in selecting material for inclusion. The criteria are such that the user is confronted with the challenge of deciding whether particular items are relevant or irrelevant to an understanding of human development, either in western or other cultures.

The whole question of modes of awareness is further confused by the meaning, if any, to be attached to "consciousness". The short response would appear to be that nobody knows what it means, or rather numerous concepts, theories, models, and analogies have been proposed, but little agreement has been reached. Even without taking into account the very extensive explorations in eastern philosophy, in the west the very definition of the word remains in doubt. At one extreme, it is held that such concepts simply reflect a particular use of words. Many intermediate views derive from different positions on the classical mind-body controversy, including various forms of dualism and monism. Although psychology was originally conceived as the science of consciousness, behaviourists have sought to eliminate any reference to it, with some regarding it as an epiphenomenon of little significance.

Despite this lack of consensus on the definition or nature of consciousness, some of its characteristics have been generally accepted and might be described as follows: "Consciousness is a personal state, characteristic at least of humans, which involves selective awareness of both external and internal events, which exemplifies knowing, allows insight, evidences memory and is to a large extent subservient to the will....What has become clear is that not only may it be said to function at various levels, but that it is composed of many sub-systems. Furthermore, it seems probable that these are arranged hierarchically, as are our physical systems. Perhaps we should concern ourselves...not with an assumed totality, nor with separate components, but with their interrelationships" (Graham Reed, The Psychology of Anomalous Experience, 1988, p.161-2).

Both in the case of modes of awareness and human development concepts, the prime concern has not been the analysis of the extant concepts in order to group them into some apparently suitable order. Apparent duplicates have been combined under certain circumstances but allowed to stand as separate entries, possibly even with the same descriptor, where their advocates would have considered such treatment appropriate. The aim has been to allow users to consider the advantages and disadvantages of greater "rationalization" of the material presented.

2. Human development concepts: exclusion

In identifying aspects of human development in order to build up the sequence of entries, some criteria are obviously required either to include or to exclude material. Since a principal objective was to identify the range of human development concepts, it was considered unwise to develop a precise definition of what was to be included and both easier and usefully open-ended to define what was to be excluded. A set of provisional exclusion criteria was therefore used. When the collection of material was well-advanced, a set of provisional inclusion criteria was developed. These criteria continue to evolve.

3. Human development concepts: inclusion

4. Modes of awareness: inclusion

It was not considered useful or possible to make hard and fast distinctions between a level or state of consciousness as such and the less specific modes of awareness which might encompass such states or observe them. Entries were included on:

5. Concepts and modes identified by symbol or metaphor

In many traditions the process of human development, and the modes of awareness encountered, are identified to a high degree by metaphor or symbol. This is especially true of non-western cultures. The metaphor of a journey, for example, is frequently used in all cultures. The stages on the journey correspond to particular insights or modes of awareness.

In Buddhism there is an important technical term dhatu. This refers both to psychological realms (altered states of consciousness) and to cosmological realms (including "hells" and "heavens"), namely places in which the practioner can exist and be reborn and live out one (or many) lives. In this sense to attain a particular altered state of consciousness is also (temporarily) to exist in the corresponding cosmological realm and possibly to be reborn there. This intimate relationship between the psychological and the cosmological is absent from the western traditions, except in those of magic. Practitioners of magic are in part concerned with contacting such "worlds" and entering them. These domains can all be understood as distinct states of consciousness (often in some ascending series) although their identification as such tends to be allusive. They are held to be accessible through particular meditational disciplines and other practices.

A number of traditions understand a human being as composed of several distinct "bodies", usually three or more. Each of these may be understood as providing a unique perspective or mode of awareness. Development of the person may progressively lead to the unfoldment of these modes as he becomes aware of that body.

In many traditions, states of consciousness may be symbolized by spiritual beings, notably gods. The encounter with a particular god is associated with entry into a particular state of consciousness. Repetition of the name of that god is one technique for conditioning the mind to awareness of that state. In a monotheistic system, God may be held to have many Divine Names, which can also be used to evoke distinct modes of awareness, to be associated with such modes, or to determine them.

Of greater concern is the extent to which some traditions, notably Buddhism, associate modes of awareness with all classes of phenomena. Cognition of a particular phenomenon thus involves a particular mode of awareness. Any classification of phenomena may then be understood as a classification of modes of awareness.

A very pragmatic approach has been taken to all such symbolic material. A principal concern was to avoid including sets of symbols which were not actively held to be associated with states of consciousness by some living tradition. Little attention was therefore given to material in which gods were simply worshipped unless that material identified a distinct state associated with the encounter with the god. Furthermore, even if there were strong indications that such states were recognized but no material could be located to give some content to that experience other than in terms of imagery, then such potential entries were not included.

6. Restrictions on coverage

Human development concepts (Section HH) emphasize the positive side of the individual's development, with far more entries describing methods of improving the human condition than activities detrimental to development. There has been some attempt to indicate possible negative consequences of human development concepts, but in the main, and where possible, the positive side has been emphasized. The material on modes of awareness (Section HM) covers all states whether positive or negative.

Section HM focuses on the experience of the mode rather than it's existence as such. States of unconscious (sleep, trance, etc) are given less full treatment than waking states. Minimal effort was given to philosophical, theological, psychological or other intellectual attempts to theorize about modes of awareness. The emphasis is on the experiential dimension, especially when some special personal discipline is advocated, however inadequate the articulation of the insight.

In its final form however a number of the entries and references included could validly have been excluded according to one or more of the above criteria. They have however been included either in order to mark the existence of borderlines or where it could easily have been assumed that they should have been in (whether because of confusion of terminology or because they were closely related to other concepts of human development). The core concepts of human development should therefore emerge by contrast with such borderline cases.

Inclusion of concepts and modes is based on availability of source material. Higher priority was given to material that could be readily processed. For this reason concepts from some traditions and disciplines may be better represented than others. Some material called for more work than resources permitted.

Recognizing the limitations of collecting material from a wide variety of cultures, where material was available describing states, entries were often made even if the description was felt to be unsatisfactory. Even if the description could only be formulated in poetic or symbolic terms, and even if only a single sentence distinguished it from related states, the entry was included as a pointer to an experience considered meaningful in a particular tradition. Such minimalistic entries can then be extended at a later stage if richer or more explicit material is located.

7. Distinguishing concepts from modes

Clearly, the entries in section H are descriptions of objective concepts which can be described, assessed objectively and accepted or dismissed as one's rational mind decides or one's intuitive mind relates; and those in section M are attempts to decribe another's experience, something which cannot be accepted or dismissed rationally, only as one sympathizes intuitively or relates to one's own experience.

However, despite the apparent simplicity in distinguishing between the objective means by which an individual develops and the subjective awareness arising from those means, the distinction is not as hard and fast as it sounds. Many systems involve a pathway (part HH) which is mapped out by subjective experience (part HM). The two may be so interrelated that it is unclear when the pathway is objective and when experiential. There are thus a number of cases, particularly in the hierarchies of Buddhist paths and experiences, where the selection of H or M section for a particular item seems arbitrary and may be argued on a number of grounds. A number of descriptions designated "M" could therefore conceivably have been designated "H" and vice versa. It may be that some "H" entries are more experiential than some "M" entries on the basis of subjective decisions that cannot be argued at all. It is hoped that this will not interfere with the reader's enjoyment of the contents or of their usefulness.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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