Robert Fludd's Map Of Consciousness: What It Can Teach Us
One of the best-known English physicians of the 16th and 17th centuries, Robert Fludd (1574-1637) illustrated his model of human consciousness in an etching of 1619. Despite being four hundred years old, in many respects, it seems remarkably modern. Fludd notes the senses and appears to divide the brain into a frontal lobe, midbrain, and hindbrain, allocating different functions to each.
Yet, while it would not stand up to modern brain science, the peculiar etching can tell us things about the human mind that, perhaps, modern science cannot.
With all sorts of spheres inside and hovering above the cranium, the etching bears some similarity to diagrams of the various chakra systems of Hinduism and Buddhism. There are also obvious differences, of course. But, the top of the center of the crown in both Fludd’s etching and in the aforementioned chakra systems is considered to be the spot that connects the individual human to the Divine (God, the Creator, etc.)
In the chakra systems, this is depicted as a lotus with a thousand petals, which enfolds when the individual experiences spiritual awakening.
THE REALMS OF THOUGHT
In Fludd’s diagram, we see a vault or beam connecting the human brain to the Divine realm. This has been organized in a way that resembles the Kabbalistic Tree of Life (or the Yosher Kabbalah) of Jewish and Christian theology. Hence at the bottom of this Divine realm, we see the angels (angelos) demarcated, with other divine beings higher up, including the seraphim and cherubs (cherubin) at the top, either side of God (Deus). This, however, is only one world (mundus) of three that we see depicted. These are:
- Mundus Intellectualis (the intellectual world or, more correctly, the contemplative world)
- Mundus Imaginibilis (the imaginary, or imaginal, world)
- Mundus Sensibilis (the sensible, or material, world).
Man, in other words, is connected to, and is able to perceive the material world, an imaginal world, and a Divine realm. We must distinguish between imaginal and merely the imaginary, however. While the mind can imagine anything, real or unreal, “imaginal” hints at something imagined but nonetheless real. We might think of myth in this regard. Myth is an imaginary tale that reveals fundamental truths about our world (hence the incorporation of myth into psychoanalysis by Carl Jung).
If we look at the cranium, we can see that the sensible world connects primarily to the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hands (i.e., to the five senses) while the imaginal world connects to the frontal lobe (or roughly the location of what some spiritual traditions would call “the third eye” (others, of course, see it located at the pineal gland)).
The sensible world also links to the frontal lobe and, notably, meets the imaginal there. The sensible world gives the human being sensitivity (sensitiua) to things while the imaginal world gives us imagination (imaginatiua). Between sensitivity and imagination, we find the words “Hic anima est,” which we might translate as “the soul” or — if we prefer a more secular interpretation — “the person.”
Directly above this point, are three circles, one within the other. Beginning with the central circle, these are:
FLUDD AND CONSCIOUSNESS
While it might be easy to criticize Fludd’s diagram from a purely anatomical perspective, it reminds us that we are neither purely biological nor solely but a creature of imagination, rational thinking, contemplation, and consciousness.
As Fludd realized four hundred years ago, we are complex creatures. And using only one aspect of our consciousness limits us and prevents us from really seeing and understanding either the world and ourselves. As I’m sure Fludd would advise us if he were here today, we need to relax more, contemplate more, and dream more.