Our thinking is like an iceberg, with everyday awareness at the tip and 95% of cognition happening out of sight (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999: 13). Most of the time we identify that tiny 5% as ‘self’, discounting the hidden cognition that actually governs much of our behaviour.
This discovery could lead to a kind of Copernican Revolution in our sense of self: You are much more than you think you are.
The ‘iceberg’ triangle represents the body and the arrows illustrate how the “organism and environment enfold into each other” (Varela et al. 1991: 217). The dotted area just below the apex designates ‘gut feelings’ which are closer to the vast wisdom of what I call the ‘deep body’. At the bottom of the iceberg is the “cognitive unconscious” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999: 10), which is marked out because it’s normally inaccessible to intentional influence or awareness.
Our everyday ‘tip of the iceberg’ conciousness is quite narrowly focused and tends to heighten our impression that the world is made up of what’s ‘out there’ and what’s ‘in here’. But there are lots of ways to slide our awareness down the iceberg into the deep body, including meditation, ritual, dance and sex. This slide increasingly blurs the distinction between ‘self’ and ‘other’, as illustrated by the gaps appearing in the sides of the triangle. When our awareness is in the deep body there is no separation between ‘self’ and ‘other’ or ‘human’ and ‘nature’.
Cognitive science thus confirms ancient spiritual insights: We are only as separate as we think we are.