What is consciousness; and what is mind are very old questions. ACIM’s teaching about mind/consciousness is simple compared to philosophers and scientists. They eventually all admit that they really don’t know. Daniel Dennett has a position: discussed in his recently published very long book (considered later).
ACIM presents its concepts about mind and consciousness in the Introduction of “The Clarification of Terms.” Paragraph seven there has a clear definition of Mind/Spirit. Brief discussions of consciousness are also in the text, Workbook and Psychotherapy Pamphlet, but the gist of it is in the “Clarification of Terms.” Following is my summary of each of the five paragraphs of its Introduction.
1. ACIM is not philosophical. It corrects perception by achieving the Atonement through forgiveness. Individual consciousness is irrelevant as it represents the original error or sin which ACIM teaches to overlook. 2. Terms cause controversy, which can be overlooked. A unified theology is impossible. A unified experience is possible, which is ACIM’s purpose. 3. ACIM works in the ego centered separation to guide us on our path back to God (the Atonement). ACIM answers with simple ideas. The ego doubts so asks questions. 4. The ego demands answers which can’t be given, like how did the impossible Happen. Only experience can inform. Don’t let theology delay us. 5. Early in ACIM structure is examined then the central teaching emerges.
Here is the final sentence of the Introduction of the Clarification of Terms.
Since you have asked for clarification, however, these are some of the terms that are used. [there are six. Mind-Spirit is First]
The seven paragraph section of MIND–SPIRIT begins with the following.
The term [mind] is used to represent the activating agent of spirit, supplying its creative energy. When the term is capitalized it refers to God or Christ (IE, the Mind of God or the Mind of Christ). [Spirit] is the Thought of God which He created like Himself. The unified spirit is God’s one Son, or Christ.
This excerpt I often quote from Text Chapter 3 reinforces the above.
The statement “God created man in his own image and likeness” needs reinterpretation. “Image” can be understood as “thought,” and “likeness” as “of a like quality.” God did create spirit in His Own Thought and of a quality like to His Own. There [is] nothing else. [T-3.V.7.1-4]
Paragraphs two through six outlines the Course’s teaching regarding our split mind, consisting of the Right and wrong mind, and how the Right mind connects us to the Holy Spirit and the wrong mind to the ego. The Course’s succinct definition of consciousness is in Paragraph seven.
7. In this world the only remaining freedom is the freedom of choice; always between two choices or two voices. Will is not involved in perception at any level, and has nothing to do with choice. [Consciousness] is the receptive mechanism, receiving messages from above or below; from the Holy Spirit or the ego. Consciousness has levels and awareness can shift quite dramatically, but it cannot transcend the perceptual realm. At its highest it becomes aware of the real world, and can be trained to do so increasingly. Yet the very fact that it has levels and can be trained demonstrates that it cannot reach knowledge*. (my emphasis) *In the Course the word knowledge refers to the non-duality of Heaven.
The important first phrase in the above, ”In this world,” places consciousness in the separation and thus is illusory. It is a construct we make in our separated split mind with which we decide to choose to listen to either the ego or the Holy Spirit.
Following is a brief discussion of writings by Rene Descartes, Daniel Dennett and Antonio Damasio to contrast them with ACIM’s simple and clear view of mind and consciousness.
In, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (W.W. Norton, NY 2017), Dennett (mentioned above) traces at extraordinary length (476 pages) what his sub-title indicates: how he believes our minds and/or consciousness evolved along with the world. Throughout his book Dennett excoriates Descartes for his philosophy because (referring to it as the Cartesian wound), he separates the mind from the body. Dennett ends his book with a jumble of assertions and then a synopsis about how Darwinian Evolution played a part in humankind’s journey from Bacteria to Bach and back. He includes this reference to Hume’s account of our knowledge of causation.
We can then see human consciousness as a user-illusion, not rendered in the Cartesian Theater (which doesn’t exist) but constituted by the representational activities of the brain coupled with the appropriate reactions to those activities. [p.412]
Does Dennett, therefore, believe that our [worldly] existence is an illusion, as does ACIM? On the next page he declares,
This closes the gap, The Cartesian wound, but only as sketch of this all-important unification is clear at this time.
I find little support in his Book for his “Sketch.” During it he reminds us of Orgel’s Second Rule, ”Evolution is cleverer than you are.” ACIM, though, teaches that we use our ego-centric wrong mind to cause the evolution of our illusory separated world. Thus, aren’t we more cleaver than evolution?
Dennett concludes his book with a lengthy discussion of how AI may influence our learning of how the brain is the mechanism for our activity.
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, includes a discussion of Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method.” The “Discourse” is presented there as, “the reasoning by which Descartes establishes the existence of God and the human soul.” Part 5 of that article, Descartes’ Response to the Mind-Body Problem, gives an interpretation which calls to question common beliefs about his separation of the mind and the body. Here is the first Descartes quote in that article.
These questions presuppose amongst other things an explanation of the union between the soul and the body, which I have not yet dealt with at all. [p.11]
A “less mechanistic” view of Descartes thought follows. The mind and body work together, a different view of Descartes which lead the article’s author to state this.
…both are modes (mind and body) of a whole and complete human being. [And later] … the mind insofar as it is a thinking thing is a complete substance, while the body insofar as it is an extended thing is a complete substance, but each taken individually is only an incomplete human being. [p.16]
In the Fourth Replies, Descartes further argues,
that a substance may be complete insofar as it is a substance but incomplete insofar as it is referred to some other substance together with which it forms yet some third substance. This can be applied to mind and body as follows: the mind insofar as it is a thinking thing is a complete substance, while the body insofar as it is an extended thing is a complete substance, but each taken individually is only an incomplete human being.
These statements reveal a different and more complex interpretation of Cartesian thought than Dennett’s, and also Antonio Damasio’s. In his book Descartes’s Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (G.P, Putnam & Sons, N.Y.1994.), Damasio writes that the error is,
The abyssal separation between body and mind… specifically: the separation of the most refined operations of the mind from the structure of a biological organism. p. 249-250
Yet, in this passage page 252 Damasio could seem to agree with Descartes’ writing in his “Discourse.”
The truly embodied mind I envision, however, does not relinquish its most refined levels of operation, those constituting its soul and spirit. This is of course the difficult job, it is not: to move the spirit from its nowhere pedestal to a somewhere place, while preserving its dignity and importance…
The “somewhere place,” according to ACIM, is Heaven. There its dignity and importance need no preserving. “There is nothing else.”
This discussion is a prime example of the difference between the unity of Heaven and the dualistic nature of the separation where our made up world rules. Discourse, books, scholar’s papers, have, through the ages, delved into the unknown characteristics of the mind and consciousness. Jesus in his Course In Miracles does it simply in far fewer words.
The reason this course is simple is that truth is simple.
Complexity is of the ego, and is nothing more than the ego’s attempt to obscure the obvious. [T-14.IV.6]
The simple truth referred to is: we are united in spirit with God in Heaven. That is our most helpful concept to remember here in our daily life.