Eight-circuit Model of Consciousness


The eight-circuit model of consciousness is a transhuman (an intermediary form between the human and a hypothetical posthuman) theory proposed by Timothy Leary and expanded on by Robert Anton Wilson and Antero Alli. The model describes eight circuits of information (eight ‘brains’) that operate within the human nervous system.

Each circuit is concerned with a different sphere of activity. The lower four, the ‘larval circuits,’ deal with normal psychology, while the upper four, the ‘stellar circuits,’ deal with psychic, mystical, enlightened and psychedelic states of mind.

These higher circuits are thought to have only recently evolved, with just a fraction of human beings using them. The higher the circuit, the fewer people have activated it. Leary describes the four larval circuits as necessary for surviving and functioning in a terrestrial human society. He proposed that the higher four exist primarily for future use by humans who might someday migrate to outer space and live extraterrestrially.

Leary, Alli and Wilson have written about the model in depth and how each circuit operates, both in the lives of individual people and in societies. The term ‘circuits’ came from the first wave of cybernetics research and development in the United States in the 1970s. (Other have proposed that the term ‘systems’ should be substituted for ‘circuits’ to reflect both a systems theory approach and also the changing anatomy of an entity as it goes through a neurological change). Each successive circuit represents a more complex phase of evolution. In line with recapitulation theory (the idea that the embryonic development of an individual organism follows the same path as the evolutionary history of its species), the model applies equally to the evolution of an individual organism and the evolution of the whole tree of life. Each neurological circuit provides a new cognitive function (whether or not the organism is aware of the circumstances that led to its activation). The eight circuits are 1) oral biosurvival; 2) emotional–territorial; 3) symbolic or neurosemantic–dexterity; 4) domestic or socio-sexual; 5) neurosomatic; 6) neuroelectric or metaprogramming; 7) neurogenetic or morphogenetic; and 8) psychoatomic or quantum non-local (Overmind).

The oral biosurvival circuit is concerned with nourishment, physical safety, comfort and survival, suckling, cuddling etc. This circuit is activated in adults by opioids such as heroin. This circuit begins with 1 spatial dimension, forward/back. This circuit is imprinted early in infancy. The imprint will normally last for life, unless it is re-imprinted by a powerful experience. Depending on the nature of the imprint, the organism will tend towards one of two basic attitudes: A positive imprint sets up a basic attitude of trust. The organism generally considers the environment benign and accepts and approaches. This is equivalent to a default life position of ‘you’re ok’ in the ‘life positions’ model of ‘Transactional analysis’ (TA, a theory of personality that describes how people are structured psychologically). A negative imprint sets up a basic attitude of suspicion. The organism generally regards the environment as hostile and flees and avoids. This is equivalent to a default life position of ‘you’re not ok’ in TA. This circuit is said to have appeared in the earliest evolution of the invertebrate brain and corresponds to the reptilian brain of triune brain theory. This circuit operates in essentially the same way across mammals, reptiles, fish, primates and humans. Robert Anton Wilson equated this circuit with the oral stage in the Freudian theory of psychosexual development.

The emotional-territorial circuit is imprinted in the toddler stage. It is concerned with domination and submission, territoriality etc. The imprint on this circuit will trigger one of two states: Dominant, aggressive behavior; this imprint creates an ‘alpha’ social attitude. Equivalent to the ‘top dog’ position in the model of Fritz Perls, to ‘I’m ok’ in TA, and to ‘master morality’ in the model of Friedrich Nietzsche. Or Submissive, co-operative behavior; equivalent to the ‘bottom dog’ position in the model of Fritz Perls, to ‘I’m not ok’ in the life positions model and to Nietzschean ‘slave morality.’ This circuit is activated by large quantities of alcohol. This circuit appeared first in territorial vertebrate animals and is preserved across all mammals. It corresponds to the mammalian brain of triune brain theory. Robert Anton Wilson equated this circuit with the anal stage in the Freudian theory of psychosexual development. This circuit introduces a 2nd spatial dimension; up/down.

The first and second circuits both imprint in a binary fashion: trust/suspicion and dominance/submission. Thus there are four possible ways of imprinting the first two circuits: Trusting 1st circuit and dominant 2nd circuit. ‘I’m ok; you’re ok.’ ‘Friendly strength’ in the Interpersonal Circumplex. ‘Fire’ in the four elements model. ‘Sanguinary’ in the four humors model. — Trusting 1st circuit and submissive 2nd circuit. ‘I’m not ok; you’re ok.’ ‘Friendly weakness.’ ‘Water’ in the four elements model. ‘Phlegmatic humor.’ — Suspicious 1st circuit and dominant 2nd circuit. ‘I’m ok; you’re not ok.’ ‘Unfriendly strength.’ ‘Air’ in the four elements model. ‘Bilius humor.’ — Suspicious 1st circuit and submissive 2nd circuit. ‘I’m not ok; you’re not ok.’ ‘Unfriendly weakness.’ ‘Earth’ in the four elements model. ‘Choleric humor.’

The symbolic or neurosemantic–dexterity circuit is imprinted by human symbol systems. It is concerned with language, handling the environment, invention, calculation, prediction, building a mental ‘map’ of the universe, physical dexterity, etc. This circuit is activated by stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine. This circuit supposedly appeared first when hominids started differentiating from the rest of the primates. Robert Anton Wilson, being heavily influenced by General Semantics (a philosophy that deals with how people react to things that happen around them based on meaning), writes of this circuit as the ‘time-binding circuit.’ This means that this circuit’s contents – including human know-how, technology, science etc. – are preserved and passed on from generation to generation, constantly mutating and increasing in sophistication.

The domestic or socio-sexual circuit  is imprinted by the first orgasm-mating experiences and tribal ‘morals.’ It is concerned with sexual pleasure (instead of sexual reproduction), local definitions of ‘moral’ and ‘immoral,’ reproduction, nurture of the young, etc. It is basically concerned with cultural values and operating within social networks. This circuit is said to have first appeared with the development of tribes. Leary never associated a drug with it, but some have pointed out that entactogens such as MDMA seem to meet some of the requirements needed to activate this circuit.

The neurosomatic circuit is concerned with neurological-somatic feedbacks, feeling ‘high’ and blissful, somatic reprogramming, etc. It may be called the ‘rapture circuit.’ When this circuit is activated, a non-conceptual feeling of well-being arises. This has a beneficial effect on the health of the physical body. Triggering this effect is the aim of mind-body healing systems such as Christian Science and faith healing. The fifth circuit is consciousness of the body. There is a marked shift from linear visual space to an all-encompassing aesthetic sensory space. Perceptions are judged not so much for their meaning and utility, but for their aesthetic qualities. A hedonistic turn-on occurs, a rapturous amusement, a detachment from the previously compulsive mechanism of the first four circuits. This circuit is activated by ecstatic experiences via physiological effects of cannabis, Hatha Yoga, tantra, and Zen meditation. Robert Anton Wilson writes, ‘Tantra yoga is concerned with shifting consciousness entirely into this circuit’ and that ‘Prolonged sexual play without orgasm always triggers some Circuit V consciousness.’ Leary describes that this circuit first appeared in the upper classes, with the development of leisure-class civilizations around 2000 BCE.

The neuroelectric or metaprogramming circuit is concerned with re-imprinting and re-programming all earlier circuits and the relativity of ‘realities’ perceived. The sixth circuit consists of the nervous system becoming aware of itself. Leary says this circuit enables telepathic communication and is activated by low-to-moderate doses of LSD, moderate doses of peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms. This circuit is traced by Leary back to 500 BCE, and he associates it with the Silk Road.

The neurogenetic or morphogenetic circuit is the connection of the individual’s mind to the whole sweep of evolution and life as a whole. It is the part of consciousness that echoes the experiences of the previous generations that have brought the individual’s brain-mind to its present level. It deals with ancestral, societal and scientific DNA-RNA-brain feedbacks. Those who achieve this mutation may speak of past lives, reincarnation, immortality etc. It corresponds to the collective unconscious in the models of Carl Jung where archetypes reside. Activation of this circuit may be equated with consciousness of the Great God Pan in his aspect as Life as a whole, or with consciousness of Gaia, the biosphere considered as a single organism. This circuit is activated by regular doses of LSD (200-500 µg), higher doses of peyote, higher doses of psilocybin mushrooms, yoga and meditation. The circuit first appeared among the Hindus in the early first millennium and later reappeared among the Sufi sects.

The psychoatomic or quantum non-local circuit (Overmind) is concerned with quantum consciousness, non-local awareness (information from beyond ordinary space-time awareness which is limited by the speed of light), illumination. Some of the ways this circuit can get activated are: the awakening of kundalini (dormant chakra energy), shock, a near-death experience, etc. This circuit has even been compared to the Buddhist concept of Indra’s net. This circuit is activated by DMT, ketamine, and high doses of LSD (1,000+ µg).

Although Leary propounded the basic premise of eight ‘brains’ or brain circuits, he was inspired by sources such as the Hindu chakra system. His most direct inspiration was received in the form of a document from a student of yoga, a pamphlet containing 24 different pages, with three-page subdivisions each corresponding to a particular yogic ‘energy.’ Leary then translated this and expanded it into a 24-stage model of evolution, and eventually streamlined it into the eight-circuit model of consciousness. With this, Leary created his umbrella model which others have expanded on. As one grows from infancy, the circuits are activated in turn, as described by Jean Piaget. Leary thought that the first four circuits reside in the left hemisphere of the brain or the cerebrum. The later four were said to reside in the right hemisphere.

An under-utilized ‘lower’ circuit hinders the complete expression of a ‘higher’ circuit. It would thus become necessary for a person to fully experience, integrate, and embody the survival circuits, in order to withstand the shock that accompanies the activation of the post-survival circuits. One observation based on this model is about ‘entities’ such as angels, extraterrestrials, deities, etc. According to one school of thought, these entities reported by eight-circuit visionaries are members of races already evolved to this level. Leary claimed that among other things this model explained the social conflict in the 1960s, where the mainstream was said to be those with four circuits active and characterized by Leary as tribal moralists and clashed with the counter-culturists, who were then said to be those with five circuits active and characterized as individualists and hedonists.

Leary’s first book on the subject, ‘Neurologic,’ only included seven circuits when it was published in 1973. ‘Exo-Psychology,’ published in 1977, expanded the number of circuits to eight and clarified the subject; it was re-published as revised by Timothy Leary with additional material in 1989 under the title ‘Info-Psychology.’ Leary theorized that until recently in human development higher circuits have remained dormant within the brain. Leary’s ideas heavily influenced the work of Robert Anton Wilson. Wilson’s book ‘Prometheus Rising’ is an in-depth documentation of Leary’s eight-circuit model of consciousness. Wilson’s published screenplay ‘Reality Is What You Can Get Away With’ also uses and explains the model. Wilson, like Leary, wrote about the distinction between terrestrial and post-terrestrial life. He gave each circuit a much more specific location in various regions of the brain than Leary did.

The model is fairly prominent in chaos magic (a school of the modern magical tradition which emphasizes the pragmatic use of belief systems and the creation of new and unorthodox methods). This concept has been detailed in ‘Chaotopia!’ by Dave Lee, a leading member of the magic society ‘Illuminates of Thanateros.’ Although both Leary and Wilson were members in this group near the end of their lives, the circuit design clearly predates this organization.

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