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The Sphere Model of Consciousness: From Geometrical to Neuro-Psycho-Educational Perspectives

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The present article addresses the logic of the sphere, or the Sphere Model of Consciousness (SMC) developed by Patrizio Paoletti over three decades of research (Paoletti in Flussi, territori, luogo (Flows, territories, place). M.E.D. Ed., 2002; Flussi, territori, luogo II (Flows, territories, place II). M.E.D. Ed., 2002; Fare il punto nave (Taking a bearing point). M.E.D. Ed., 2005; In: Proceedings conference at Leslie and Susan Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center. Bar Ilan University. Faculty of Neuroscience, Israel, 2007; Osservazione—Quaderni di Pedagogia per il Terzo Millennio (Observation: educational notebooks on pedagogy for the third millennium), Ed. 3P, 2011; Mediazione—Quaderni di Pedagogia per il Terzo Millennio (Mediation: educational notebooks on pedagogy for the third millennium), Ed. 3P, 2011). The SMC model has been experimentally applied in the educational field and lies at the base of neuroscientific and psychoeducational research conducted by the Paoletti Foundation. In recent years, it has been studied by several researchers in the field of neuroscience. Following a logical-mathematical introduction regarding the properties of the spherical shape, we illustrate for the first time the structuring of the model and its neural foundations. We emphasize the central space of the sphere, defined by the geometric model and highlight its descriptive and heuristic properties in relation to the study of consciousness. Finally, we present educational applications of the model, particularly with respect to the center of the sphere, defined in the current context as the “place of pre-existence.”
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Log. Univers. 13 (2019), 395–415
c
2019 The Author(s)
1661-8297/19/030395-21, published online July 20, 2019
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11787-019-00226-0 Logica Universalis
The Sphere Model of Consciousness: From
Geometrical to Neuro-Psycho-Educational
Perspectives
P. Paoletti and T. Dotan Ben Soussan
Abstract. The present article addresses the logic of the sphere, or the
Sphere Model of Consciousness (SMC) developed by Patrizio Paoletti
over three decades of research (Paoletti in Flussi, territori, luogo (Flows,
territories, place). M.E.D. Ed., 2002; Flussi, territori, luogo II (Flows, ter-
ritories, place II). M.E.D. Ed., 2002; Fare il punto nave (Taking a bearing
point). M.E.D. Ed., 2005; In: Proceedings conference at Leslie and Su-
san Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center. Bar Ilan University.
Faculty of Neuroscience, Israel, 2007; Osservazione—Quaderni di Peda-
gogia per il Terzo Millennio (Observation: educational notebooks on ped-
agogy for the third millennium), Ed. 3P, 2011; Mediazione—Quaderni
di Pedagogia per il Terzo Millennio (Mediation: educational notebooks
on pedagogy for the third millennium), Ed. 3P, 2011). The SMC model
has been experimentally applied in the educational field and lies at the
base of neuroscientific and psychoeducational research conducted by the
Paoletti Foundation. In recent years, it has been studied by several re-
searchers in the field of neuroscience. Following a logical-mathematical
introduction regarding the properties of the spherical shape, we illustrate
for the first time the structuring of the model and its neural foundations.
We emphasize the central space of the sphere, defined by the geometric
model and highlight its descriptive and heuristic properties in relation to
the study of consciousness. Finally, we present educational applications
of the model, particularly with respect to the center of the sphere, defined
in the current context as the “place of pre-existence.”
Mathematics Subject Classification. Primary 00-02; Secondary 18F-99,
19F15, 92C20.
Keywords. Sphere Model of Consciousness, spherical logic, geometry, di-
mensions of consciousness, place of pre-existence.
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
396 P. Paoletti and T. D. Ben Soussan Log. Univers.
1. Introduction: Thinking by Images
Wittgenstein notes that “we make ourselves images of facts” (Trac-
tatus 2.1) and the image we make of the world is in turn a fact,
but a fact of a particular type, which must have something in com-
mon with what it represents (Tractatus 2.16), i.e. the logical form.
“What every image, whatever its form, must have in common with
reality, to be able to portray it—correctly or falsely—is the logical
form, that is the form of reality” (Tractatus 2.18). Making an image
of the world means knowing the world through its logical structure.
R. Corvi [22]
The use of visual representations is a long-standing tradition in the his-
tory of the word as an expression of logic. It is perhaps as old as the word
itself, if not older, as suggested by the claim that arbitrary signs would have
emerged initially from gestures, which are more adaptable to iconic representa-
tions [3,79]. In addition, according to the embodi ed cog nition [107]andembod-
ied language [32,35] theories, the cognitive and linguistic systems are similar
to the motor system in both the structures they employ and their organiza-
tional characteristics. This perspective suggests that linguistic understanding
is rooted in action and uses the same brain areas that are activated during the
execution of movement. Psychophysiological and neuroimaging studies have
indeed shown that understanding nouns involving the manipulation of objects
(i.e., instruments) activates the same motor systems activated during both
actual manipulation and observation of manipulation of such objects [61].
These neuroscientific findings provide a physiological foundation for the
practice of visual representation, a practice as old as human culture, and en-
courage the use of visual tools in different fields research. Based on this per-
spective, we propose that the Sphere Model of Consciousness, through use of
the geometrical figure of the sphere, is a heuristically effective logical model
that can be applied to the neuroscientific investigation of consciousness and to
the field of education.
2. Law of the Sphere
2.1. Mathematical Perspective
The Sphere Model of Consciousness arose from the studies of Patrizio Paoletti
[7176]. It was developed over more than three decades of educational activ-
ity and lies at the base of the neuroscientific and psychopedagogical research
conducted by the Paoletti Foundation since 2002. It aims to synthetically but
exhaustively describe the coordinates of the possible experiences of conscious-
ness through graphic representation. The shape of the sphere is specifically
suited to describing consciousness as a phenomenon that is omnipresent and
transversal to different areas, fields, and functions of experience, since it can
be considered the most effective icon of the ideas of balance and harmony. In
fact, in the pythagorean school, the sphere was considered the material shape
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Vol. 13 (2019) The Sphere Model of Consciousness 397
of harmony and it was believed that the human soul was produced by the har-
mony between the different body components [86]. The value of a paradigmatic
definition embodied in a geometric form will be highlighted below.
To understand how the shape of the sphere lends itself exceptionally to
describing the phenomenology of human consciousness, one should consider
some of the unique properties of this shape, as described by David Hilbert and
Stephan Cohn-Vossen in their classic manual “Geometry and the Imagination”
[34]. In particular, in the current context, specific attention should be given to
the following exclusive properties of this shape:
1. All points of the sphere are the same distance from a fixed point.
2. The contours and flat sections of the sphere are circular.
3. All points of the sphere are “umbilical,” or locally spherical, meaning
that, in these points, the normal curvature is the same in all directions.
Therefore, the principal curvatures are identical and each tangent vector
represents a main direction.
4. Among solids of the same volume, the sphere is the one with the smallest
surface, and among those with the same surface area, the sphere is the
one with the largest volume.
5. The rotation of a sphere along the x, y, or zaxis also reproduces its shape,
such that each rotation transforms the sphere into itself.
The properties briefly mentioned above indicate the resilient character of the
spherical shape, which is exploited in the field of engineering by systems such
as “ball bearings.” Indeed, the sphere can redistribute pressure, through the
five characteristics indicated above, and particularly 1, 3, 4, and 5. It is possible
to assert that these characteristics determine a physically “empty” center. The
fixed point mentioned in characteristic 1, the classic geometric definition of the
shape, is an undefined point without measures, as exemplified by the “empty”
inside of a ping-pong or tennis ball.
3. The Sphere Model of Consciousness
In accordance with these characteristics of the sphere, in the construction
of the Sphere Model of Consciousness, the empty center is called the Place.
This is to indicate the receptive and originally undifferentiated features of the
phenomenon of consciousness with reference to all the internal and external
solicitations on the individual. In the model, the three ideal axes described in
characteristic 5 represent three lines of force passing through the central ideal
point, such that their intersection determines the division of the axis into two
sections, as in Fig. 1.
The model uses the axes with the relative intersection to represent the un-
folding and polarity of experiencing. Specifically, with reference to the spatial
coordinates (Fig. 1), (1) the left-right axis represents the strength-weakness
emotional polarities (X axis), (2) the vertical low-high axis represents the
aspiration-root dimensions (Y axis), and (3) the back-forward axis represents
the past-future temporal unfolding (Z axis) (Fig. 2).
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398 P. Paoletti and T. D. Ben Soussan Log. Univers.
Z
X
Y
Figure 1. One place with three forces passing through the
central ideal point of the sphere (the place) in the Sphere
Model of Consciousness. Source: Adapted from [71]
This identification between spatial coordinates and dimensions of experi-
ence is in accordance with the common conceptualization of the past as behind,
the future ahead, and the present here, with reference to body representation.
Behavioral research suggests that, from this point of view, arbitrary conven-
tions are not entirely such [49], since time seems to be thought of in terms of
space. Consequently, the central point of the sphere represents the space of
consciousness before experience characterized by the dimensions indicated by
the x, y, and z axes. If the sphere is seen as divided by axes passing through its
center, it is possible to see a division into eight segments of equal size (Fig. 2).
Figure 2illustrates the construction of the “logic of the sphere,” in accor-
dance with the four main meanings of the classical Greek word logos: relation-
ship, language, reason, and science [13]. The geometric characteristics of the
shape determine specific relationships that give rise to a particular language,
specific principles, and knowledge. Moreover, the fact that the Sphere Model of
Consciousness—a mathematical-geometric model—is effective in visually rep-
resenting neurophysiological evidence and in fostering new findings, supports
further study of the arbitrary or natural character of a specific logical model,
as illustrated by Paoletti et al. [80]:
Our thoughts can be considered part of nature, a position that could
have been reinforced by a neuroscientist establishing a relationship
between thought and brain activity. The wife of Boole, Mary Ever-
est Boole, a gifted child teacher wrote many books, among them
Philosophy and Fun of Algebra, where she says:
Arithmetic means dealing logically with facts which we know (about
questions of number). ‘Logically’; that is to say, in accordance with
the “Logos” or hidden wisdom, i.e. the law of the human mind and
the law of the king there is no use in ordering people, no logos, no
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Vol. 13 (2019) The Sphere Model of Consciousness 399
Figure 2. The Sphere Model of Consciousness uses the in-
tersecting axes to represent the unfolding and polarity of ex-
perience. Source: Adapted from [71]
logos, no logos. [16, p. 1]. (M.E. Boole, Philosophy & fun of algebra,
C.W. Daniel, London [16]).
But we can not decide, independently of any Parliament or God,
according to our rules, we will decide according to which rules we
will play chess? Is mathematics, often considered as the highest form
of reasoning, not a game for which we can set the rules? (pp. 127–
128)
Below, we will highlight the descriptive value of the specific relations
determined by the geometric shape of the sphere with regards to the descrip-
tive capacity of a visual model of consciousness. Following the description of
each axis (Sects. 3.13.3) and some of its scientific foundation, the descriptive
value of this representation with respect to the phenomena of consciousness
experienced in meditation practices will be discussed (Sect. 3.4).
3.1. The Time Axis
Having introduced the Sphere Model of Consciousness, we can now describe its
connections with current knowledge on brain functioning. From the cognitive
perspective, autobiographical knowledge is known to be hierarchically struc-
tured, as follows: (1) specific knowledge of the event, which is a synthesis of
the sensory-perceptive-conceptual-affective elaboration derived from working
memory, re-describes itself mostly in the form of visual images (e.g., memory
of the parthenon); (2) specific knowledge of the context is then contextualized
within a general event (e.g., during a trip to Greece); (3) the general event,
in turn, is associated with one or more periods of life that place the most
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400 P. Paoletti and T. D. Ben Soussan Log. Univers.
Figure 3. The time axis meets the pleasant/unpleasant po-
larization
specific knowledge within the autobiographical memory of the individual (e.g.,
that was the time when I used to study classical art) [9,19,20]. According
to [20], the common thread in all the levels of autobiographical memory is the
phenomenal sensation of memory:
The sensation signals the state in an experiential way. The experi-
ence recalled, the sense of self in the past and the episodic image
that accompanies that sense, indicate to those who remember that
those are indeed memories and not dreams, fantasies or some other
state of non-memory. (p. 614)
It is therefore suggested that memories are a layering of perceptions, and that
these perceptions are stratified through molecular processes that have been
investigated only partially [15,47,58,60]. Molecular research suggests that the
formation of memories in the mammalian brain is mediated, at least in part,
by a calcium-dependent phenomenon of the SC-CA1 synapse, but also that
this process is then modulated by neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, sero-
tonin, acetylcholine, and endocannabinoids, which are involved in a variety of
processes related to, among others, mood and memory [59]. The action of these
substances modulates long-term potentiation (LTP) [59]. In the context of the
graphic representation of the Sphere Model of Consciousness, these processes
can be metaphorically represented by the meeting between the time line, or
the past, and pleasant/unpleasant emotions of different intensities (Fig. 3).
All memories have a certain “emotional coloring,” which is mediated by the
aforementioned mood-related neurotransmitters.
It is known, however, not only that memories are necessarily recordings of a
subjective, partial point of view of experience, but also that this perception
is constantly mediated by interpretation [14,33,90]. This is further supported
by the time lag between sensory perception and consciousness of a stimulus,
which in some cases can last up to half a second [11,30,55]. It is also known
that memories are used by the brain for the purpose of unceasing predictive
activity—the proactive mind [6]—and that this predictive activity also influ-
ences perception. Perception is not a passive, uniquely receptive process, and
if the layering of memories constitutes the past, projection represents the fu-
ture. As the experience moves away in time and space, its content becomes
increasingly abstract and subject to further elaboration [33,38,42,88]. With
this greater level of abstraction comes greater variability in the possible in-
terpretations of the experience. Consequently, there is a time axis with two
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Vol. 13 (2019) The Sphere Model of Consciousness 401
Figure 4. The two axes, time and emotion, meet at the cen-
tral point
directions (past-future) and a central point that will be further discussed be-
low. Ultimately, the experience of the layered past is projected so that the
future is shaped as a result of past experiences (Fig. 4).
3.2. The Emotion Axis
It is now possible to deepen our discussion of the emotion axis. Autobiograph-
ical experiences do not exist as a neutral recording of a set of perceptions,
nor does the brain normally produce emotionally neutral predictions. Rather,
these recordings and projections inevitably have a certain emotional coloring
[7,9,25,51,69,104]. Even in the case of emotions, there is a crucial interpreta-
tive function. Several models have been proposed in the literature, all of which
converge in the conclusion of an interpretative process, cognitive in nature,
that is integral to emotional experience. Thus, in his model [25], distinguished
between emotions and feelings, with “emotion” indicating a sensory change
that takes place in the internal and visceral environment of the subject and
“feeling” denoting the mental image of this sensory process. According to [51],
each emotional state is determined by the combination of two factors: readiness
for bodily action and its representation, and evaluative description. Readiness
for action involves the activation of certain brain and body systems in re-
sponse to stimuli (essentially the limbic, autonomous, hormonal system and
components of the skeletal nervous system). Evaluative description comprises
self-representation, or the way in which one’s self was influenced by the event.
This interpretative process, in the case of emotions, represents a double polar-
ization: emotions are pleasant or unpleasant and, from the psychological point
of view, are associated with the reward/punishment spectrum (Fig. 5). In fact,
both reward and punishment can reinforce behavior and perception.
A specific set of brain structures and neuronal pathways are responsi-
ble for reward-related cognition, which generally includes associative learning
(mainly classical conditioning and operant reinforcement), incentive centrality
(i.e., motivation and desire), and positive emotions, particularly those involv-
ing pleasure. The brain structures involved include the mesolimbic dopamin-
ergic system and others, generally referred to as the reward system, that con-
stitute the stimulating circuit between the cerebellum and basal ganglia [12]
(Shulze 1995). This system functions as an interface between the midbrain and
diencephalon and penetrates deeply to frontal regions where, in accordance
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402 P. Paoletti and T. D. Ben Soussan Log. Univers.
Figure 5. The intersection of the time and emotion axes,
which produces a two-dimensional, circular life
with the strength of the stimulus received, a certain amount of dopamine is
released, triggering the urgent desire to perceive a stimulation (not yet char-
acterized). The dopamine system then is continuously activated until an effect
occurs. In this mechanism, punishment can be seen as an event that imposes
unintended consequences in order to stop unwanted behavior. Behavior can
be punished in two different ways: removal of positive reinforcement or intro-
duction of negative reinforcement. The second creates difficulty or discomfort.
If removal tends to strengthen a desired behavior, by contrast, punishment
suppresses temporal behavior without orienting towards a desired behavior.
Experiential avoidance is that set of strategies that is implemented with the
aim of controlling and/or altering our internal experiences (thoughts, emotions,
sensations, or memories) (Shultz 2015).
3.3. Inserting the Third Axis: From a Flat Plain to a Spherical Being
The intersection of the two axes—time and emotion—produces a two-dimensi-
onal and circular life, or a “flat life,” in which the repetition of experience cycles
is determined by the interaction between emotional memories and projective
experiences; that is, a circuit that moves between dependence and the need
for gratification (Fig. 5).
When we insert in the vertical axis Y into the diagram, it can have two different
functions. With respect to the diagram in Fig. 5, the vertical axis can be
regarded as a graduated scale of awareness. In this case, we the lowest point
will represent minimal experiential access to awareness, while the opposite
end will represent maximal access. In this way, the sphere structure represents
variation in degree of awareness, but does not represent the “empty” state in
the center (Fig. 6).
At this level, we still see a bi-dimensional surface deeply different from the
possible experience of emptiness, or “consciousness without contents.”
The situation changes only when we consider the third axis in relation
to high-low self-determination, because it results in a different interpretative
capacity. The idea of aspiration, or intentionality aimed at the pursuit of a
predetermined result, enables the implementation of interpretative capacity.
The vertical axis refers to the capacity for self-determination, understood as
the presence of an autonomous or intrinsic motivation [26], or the undertaking
of an activity that is satisfactory in itself for its own benefit, as opposed to
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Vol. 13 (2019) The Sphere Model of Consciousness 403
Figure 6. The vertical axis with respect to the “flat life.”
Here, the axis represents a graduated scale of access to aware-
ness
the execution of an activity in view of an external result (dependent or ex-
trinsic motivation). Studies have identified different degrees of internalization
of motivation, where the process of internalization refers to the efforts made
by the subject to transform an external motivation into an intrinsic value
[24]. Self-determining activity is expressed in a correlation between autonomy
and improvement of self-regulation, through the generation of more “energy”
and “vitality” [6567], which may be expressed neuronally in the correlation
between error-related negativity (ERN) in the anterior cingulate cortex and
self-regulatory mechanisms of performance [53]. Studies show that greater au-
tonomy of motivation is associated with better ability to understand and use
negative feedback in executing an activity. Clearly, this too is an interpreta-
tive process. While interpretation is an unavoidable trait of the perceptual
process described above, it can occur without the conscious knowledge of the
individual, through the reiteration of memories, or intentionally, as a prod-
uct of the tension associated with change. The same process will happen in
the dimension that the model defines as the root; that is, the dimension of
value and of the foundations of behavior, which is capable of soliciting in-
terpretations that conflict with the mere reiteration of memories and, in turn,
changing behavior [10]. The mechanical process of “circular life,” dominated by
the reward-punishment mechanism, is interrupted by the generation of an in-
tense aspiration or by questioning the founding values of the world view. In this
case, the intentional exercise of the interpretative capacity, with a purpose, can
modify automatic mnemonic layering. The evaluative function, which includes
the “sacred” values of the individual, involves different neural areas than that
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404 P. Paoletti and T. D. Ben Soussan Log. Univers.
of the reward-punishment mechanism. In the former, the left temporo-parietal
junction and the left lateral-lateral prefrontal cortex are involved, while the
abovementioned areas of the reward system are not activated [10]. The inser-
tion of the vertical, high-low dimension therefore extends the representation
of experience into a “spherical life.” Here, the logical mathematical value of
this form, an ideal paradigmatic model, is understood.
As noted above, the third characteristic of the geometric shape is as fol-
lows: “All points of the sphere are ‘umbilical,’ or locally spherical, meaning
that, in these points, the normal curvature is the same in all directions. There-
fore, the principal curvatures are identical, and each tangent vector represents
a main direction.” Hence, the logic of the sphere is a logic of equitable re-
distribution of forces. Each pressure that reaches the sphere from one of the
six directions of space, which are represented in the model as polarizations of
time, emotion, and self-determination, are redistributed throughout the struc-
ture without creating deformations, as long as the center of the sphere remains
“empty.”
3.4. The Center of the Sphere and the Consciousness
The Sphere Model of Consciousness places the point of maximum awareness
in the center of the system, equidistant from all possible interactions with the
dimensions of experience.
With respect to the distance from this center, the model is thought of as a set of
stratifications, like concentric spheres, each of which corresponds, from a psy-
chopedagogical point of view, to the seven levels of the theoretical development
model of the “I” [70,77,78]. However, examination of the neurophysiological
correlates of the theoretical development of the “I” from the “environmental”
to the “ideal” is still at an early stage. As such, we will refer only to the dis-
tinction between the non-conceptual Minimal Self and Narrative Self, which
dates back to William James, in relation to which we will add a further level
to represent the phenomenology of the experiences of possible “consciousness
without content.” In the case of the Minimal Self, proprioception, in which
bodily sensory inputs are predominant and self-reflexivity is low. However,
these sensory stimuli are known to be pre-conditioned by memories, which are
themselves interpretations. In the case of the Narrative Self, there is reflective
content, within which there are representations of the past and the future,
including mental representations of emotion as negative or positive.
The correspondence between (a) the neural activity underlying the mini-
mal self and the narrative self and (b) the related brain areas has been specif-
ically reported by Berkovich-Ohana and Glicksohn [9]. Research evidence has
shown that circumscribed brain regions are involved in the two types of sense
of self [18,54]. The neural networks that support the Narrative Self and the
Minimal Self can be associated with the organization of the cortex in two
global and often antagonistic systems [31,37,95,101]. Berkovich-Ohana and
Glicksohn [9] suggest that the neural space responsible for the activity of
the Narrative Self is the default mode network (DMN). The DMN is inward-
oriented, inhibited during tasks, and associated with self-referentiality and
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Vol. 13 (2019) The Sphere Model of Consciousness 405
mind-wandering [39,84]. The DMN consists of the medial fronto-parietal cor-
tex (PFC), the posterior cingulate cortex, the inferior parietal lobule, and the
medial temporal lobe, including the hippocampus and the lateral temporal
cortex [17]. In contrast, it is has been proposed that the Minimal Self relies
on the sensory-motor attentional network, which includes the dorsal attention
network, including the frontal ocular fields, the ventral premotor cortex, the
supplementary motor area, the superior parietal lobule, the intraparietal sul-
cus, and the medium temporal area sensitive to movement [9,21]. Between the
Narrative Self and the Minimal Self is interposed an intermediate network,
the fronto-parietal network, which can be broken down into the “executive
control network” (dorsolateral PFC and anterior inferior parietal lobe) and
the saliency system (anterior insula and ACC), with the latter also specifically
identified as the switch between the intrinsic and extrinsic systems [62,91]. The
intermediate network cooperates with the typically antagonistic Narrative and
Minimal Self systems, making one of them dominant in each state, and pos-
sibly integrating information from and choosing between the two potentially
competing systems [9,94,96]. As indicated by the research discussed above, the
two systems related to the two Selves are often in conflict [9]. The immediate
bodily experience of the Minimal Self contrasts with the abstract narration
elaborated at the level of Narrative Self. It has been shown that meditation
practices can produce a harmonizing effect between these two dimensions, with
great significance for the consciousness of the individual.
We will now consider a possible representation of the processes of “con-
sciousness without content,” recorded in studies on meditation through the
characteristics of the central space of the sphere, with the addition of a new
dimension of the self that has not previously been considered. This central
Place in the sphere can provide a logical structure, corresponding to the con-
cept of emptiness as a dimension of experience not conditioned by subjective
memories, and witnessed within the context of different contemplative prac-
tices. In the central place, yesterday and tomorrow meet, while love and power,
height and depth, cancel one another out because they are all equally present.
That point, equidistant from all the others, is metaphorically named the “place
of pre-existence.”
3.4.1. Emptiness of the Center of the Sphere: A Neuro-Psycho-Educational
Perspective. The shape of the sphere, which so effectively represents the di-
mensions of our experience, finds its most complete meaning in the function
carried out by the central point, a nucleus that is experienced as a void.Based
on the mathematical laws of the sphere, this void could be understood not as
the absence of references to consciousness, but as a relationship of equidistance
from all the simultaneously present references, with no dimension prevailing
over the others. Let us continue developing this representation, its correlates
and possible directions, for future research.
With regard to the Sphere Model of Consciousness, it is possible to as-
sume an inner place that exists before the stratifications produced by expe-
rience. According to this representation, the center of the sphere represents
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406 P. Paoletti and T. D. Ben Soussan Log. Univers.
the state of maximum receptivity of the conscience, available in equal measure
to all the dimensions of experience. It can therefore be assumed that medita-
tion practices can lead to an experience of consciousness that can de-automate
Pavlovian conditioning [29,40,41,92], regenerating the subjective memories in
their conditioning effect. Due to the possibility of experiencing of regenetrating
memories, we have metaphorically called the central point of the sphere the
place of pre-existence, as it represents (Fig. 2) a state of consciousness free from
the stratification of memories in the subjective chronology. This denomination
also indicates a suggestive affinity, particularly effective from a developmen-
tal point of view. It has been observed that, especially during the last three
months of gestation, the fetal brain, which is in a state very similar to sensory
deprivation, mainly produces the low-frequency waves that are also typical of
deep meditative states [89,100].
The state of emptiness overlaps with the idea of consciousness in it-
self [44,85,103] or consciousness without content [64,83]. The Sphere Model
Specifically highlights the equidistant character of the experience. In observing
different meditative practices, the common neurological characteristics make
psychological correspondences more significant. For example, there is often cor-
tical inhibition, as evidenced by theta EEG waves. Several investigations have
revealed increased theta activity following different meditation practices, such
as Sahaja Yoga, yoga nidra, Zen breath counting, and Qi Gong [2,48,50,68].
Theta activity was further found to be associated with a positive emo-
tional state (Aftanas and Golocheikine [1] for Sahaja yoga) and with a lost
sense of executive control or desire for action (Kjaer et al. [48] for yoga nidra;
Lou et al. [57] for yoga nidra). In yoga nidra, which also includes visualization,
theta was associated with accentuated sensory images [48]. Relaxed concen-
tration and decreased activity of the sympathetic nervous system during theta
activity has also been observed (Kubota et al. [50], for Zen breath count-
ing). This cortical inhibition would explain the absence of thoughts, emotions,
body awareness, and sense of self at deep levels. This interpretation had previ-
ously been considered contradictory in the literature, because EEG theta was
associated with the imaginative activity preceding sleeping states. A distinc-
tion is now made between low-range theta (4–6 Hz), which is associated with
daydreaming, and theta (5–7 Hz), which, in the area of the frontal cortex, is
associated with loss of executive control. Theta, in general, reflects massive
cortical inhibition [97]. It has also been proposed [4] that increased theta and
alpha (8–12 Hz) may reflect decreased contents in consciousness.
Further studies suggest cortical inhibition or filtering (gating) of auditory
sensation (Liu et al. [56], for Qi Gong), increases in neural order or coherence
(Khare and Nigam [46], for yoga and transcendental meditation), and reduced
complexity (defined as the number of activated cell groups, an indicator of the
complexity of neuronal calculations in the brain; Aftanas and Golocheikine [2],
for Sahaja yoga). Reduction in complexity may be due to the switching off
of neural connections in order to reduce incoming information and therefore
maintain an internal attentional focus [2].
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Vol. 13 (2019) The Sphere Model of Consciousness 407
Expansion of the receptive capacity, achieved through greater availabil-
ity determined by the balance between emotional factors (interruption of the
reward-punishment mechanism), temporal factors (focus on the present), and
self-determination (balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation), cre-
ates a dimension of self-consciousness that we refer to as “Overcoming of the
Self.” These concepts can be operationalized, as detailed in the second part of
2.4.
3.4.2. Overcoming of the Self. We suggest that it is necessary to define a
dimension, different from the Minimal and Narrative Selves, which we call
“Overcoming of the Self.” Studies related to meditative experiences provide
psychopedagogical evidence that people can reach a deep state of silence, in
which they become able to reconsider their past memories and experience a
deep sense of self-efficacy [79]. In this state of emptiness, in which we are in the
center of the sphere and assume a state of consciousness “with all contents,” or
reference points. We denote to reference points as conscious and unconscious
contents that are related to awareness through the global workspace, accord-
ing to GWS and information integration theory [5,28,102]. Contents in one’s
awareness—no matter how minimal—or the underlying mechanisms cannot be
equated to awareness itself, or to an awareness-in-itself correlate, because that
equation would lead to a tautological explanation. As [44] recently noted,
To regard nondual awareness primarily as a minimal phenomenal
experience, rather than as a unique kind of sui generis, means that
it is still seen as content of sorts, which leads to an excessive concern
over how minimal the minimal phenomenal experience is. (p. 14)
If it is possible to observe something like awareness in itself, it has to be
isolated from any content and/or related level of arousal. According to [44],
nondual awareness is not concerned with prediction [63] or with memories, even
non-specific memories. Some memories could be associated with awareness
itself, such that those memories could present themselves during awareness
experiences [64,81,82]. When we argue that the sphere presents its own logic,
we suggest that it is a specific kind of intelligence. The relationships presented
in the model indicate that awareness in the central place is equidistant from
other dimensions. The other dimensions are not missing. Equidistance implies
a total independence from those dimensions. We cannot identify awareness
in the attentional schema [45,105], nor with fronto-parietal networks engaged
in intentional pursuit of a predefined goal [27]. In the Sphere Model, these
networks would be related to the self-determination axis. However, the central
place of the sphere, exactly as traditional spiritual accounts report, implies a
lack of extrinsic intentionality. It is the classical Eastern “non-doing.” Indeed,
expression of intentionality would activate areas, such as the basal ganglia and
mechanisms related to the “reward system” [12] (Shulze 1995).
The hypothesis we wish to present here is that sensory deprivation is
one way to produce meditative absorption [36,52,87,99]. We present here a
speculative hypothesis based on current empirical evidences on “consciousness
without contents” and its correlates. The sensory dimension, widened through
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408 P. Paoletti and T. D. Ben Soussan Log. Univers.
the direction of widespread attention, becomes more receptive an consequently
may overcome the sensory coding determined in subjective autobiography, that
is to say the code that determines the characteristics of the Minimal Self. The
increased sensory receptivity may suspend the Narrative Self and, as a conse-
quence, enables the restructuring of experiential memories. It can be claimed
that as consciousness dilatates, becoming able to perceive every content, the
contents vanish. When consciousness is focalized on widening peripheral at-
tention to the necessary extent, identification with the content of this or that
awareness melts away, and the individual enters into what we have defined
as “the place of pre-existence.” We have chosen this name because the space
represents the possibility of living before perceptions—and thus re-processing
auto-biographical memories—“pre-exists” perceptual experience. The experi-
ence of “pre-existence” implies that individuals come out of absorption in a
neutral relationship with their own memories, without losing any of them.
Thus, researches on sensory deprivation should show a correlation between
the effort to integrate the information coming from the environment on one
side and a state of “consciousness without contents” on other side. The sen-
sory deprivation’s environment could stimulate the enlargement of the senses
in the effort to produce a representation. This effort could lead to the state of
“emptiness”. A research recently conducted on the OVO sensory deprivation
chamber, based on the Sphere Model presented here [8] provided supporting
evidence of the involvement of the insula, which plays a role in the experi-
ence of bodily self-awareness, sense of action, and sense of body possession
[23], in addition to transmitting homeostatic information that enables sensory
integration [106,108]. It is also involved in the salience network, which deals
with environmental monitoring, response selection, and musculoskeletal body
orientation [98]. The enhanced activity, in particular the beta, with a peak
in the insula, might suggest increased effort for interoceptive sensory integra-
tion signals, which are particularly necessary when an external environment is
difficult to integrate, as in the OVO-WBPD chamber.
These findings and the current hypotheses support the need for further
electrophysiological inquiry in the directions. More specifically additional stud-
ies could benefit through a shared investigation which would take into consid-
eration proposed Raffone and Srinivasan’s hypothesis concerning the role of co-
herence [83]; Ricard and Singer’s hypothesis [85], concerning global workspace
as a mediator of awareness, while representing itself reflexively, widened, and
emptied of other contents; Metzinger’s theory [64], according to which aware-
ness in itself is a virtual model of the general state of arousal in the brain; and
Josipovic’s hypothesis [44,45], which gives a determining role to a dynamic
functional network with a main node in the central area of the precuneus, and
a main axis with a node in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex.
4. In Summary
We stared from a geometrical description of the properties of the sphere as a
model for consciousness’ phenomenology. We illustrated here for the first time
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Vol. 13 (2019) The Sphere Model of Consciousness 409
the consecutive steps for the construction of the model with their neurophys-
iological correlates. We provided a model sufficient to describe fundamental
dimensions of human experience with consciousness such as time, emotion and
self-determination. In the final and most important part of the article, we pro-
posed a speculative hypothesis about “consciousness without contents” as it is
experienced in meditative practices. It has been shown how the Sphere model
could give account for the experience of “emptiness” through the center of this
unique geometrical shape. We hypothesized that the spherical form suggests
that emptiness is not the absence of contents, but every content, and that one
can experience this state under specific condition, such as when the senses are
saturated like in sensory deprivation..
Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Com-
mons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/
by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the
source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes
were made.
Publisher’s Note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdic-
tional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
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P. Paoletti and T. Dotan Ben Soussan
Patrizio Paoletti Foundation for Development and Communication
Rome
Italy
e-mail: research@fondazionepatriziopaoletti.org
Received: June 23, 2019.
Accepted: July 5, 2019.
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... In addition to the aforementioned effect of the top-down attention control, participants' consciousness could have affected WMC (Hölzel et al., 2011). According to the Sphere Model of Consciousness (Paoletti & Ben-Soussan, 2019), the top-down attention control induced by meditation changes participants' consciousness from the narrative self to the minimal self and further to overcoming of the self (Paoletti & Ben-Soussan, 2019Pintimalli et al., 2020). In this respect, the narrative self is a consciousness that comprises various stories, including the past and future representation with emotional valence (Gallagher, 2000). ...
... In addition to the aforementioned effect of the top-down attention control, participants' consciousness could have affected WMC (Hölzel et al., 2011). According to the Sphere Model of Consciousness (Paoletti & Ben-Soussan, 2019), the top-down attention control induced by meditation changes participants' consciousness from the narrative self to the minimal self and further to overcoming of the self (Paoletti & Ben-Soussan, 2019Pintimalli et al., 2020). In this respect, the narrative self is a consciousness that comprises various stories, including the past and future representation with emotional valence (Gallagher, 2000). ...
... In this respect, the narrative self is a consciousness that comprises various stories, including the past and future representation with emotional valence (Gallagher, 2000). It corresponds to a mind-wandering state supported by the default network or the hippocampal-cortical memory system (Andrews-Hanna et al., 2014;Christoff et al., 2009;Mason et al., 2007;Paoletti & Ben-Soussan, 2019;Vago & Silbersweig, 2012;Vincent et al., 2008). As for the minimal self, it is a consciousness made by an immediate subject of experience in the present (Gallagher, 2000). ...
Article
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Introduction Previous studies have revealed that one-session focused attention meditation (FAM) can improve top-down attention control, which is one of the factors of working memory capacity (WMC). In addition, FAM shares various neural substrates, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), with WMC. Thus, we hypothesized that one-session FAM would improve WMC by activating the DLPFC evoked by the top-down attention control. In this study, we examined whether FAM modified WMC in individuals with little to no meditation experience. Methods The participants were randomly assigned to either the FAM group (N = 13) or the control group (N = 17) who engaged in random thinking (i.e., mind-wandering). Before and after each 15-min intervention, the participants’ WMC was measured according to the total number of correct answers in the Reading Span Test. During each intervention, functional near-infrared spectroscopy was employed to measure the blood flow in the participants’ DLPFC and determine the top-down attention control effect. Results In the FAM group, WMC increased, and the bilateral DLPFC was activated during the intervention. As for the control group, WMC decreased after the intervention, and the bilateral DLPFC was not activated during the intervention. A correlation was also found among all participants between the increase in WMC and the activation of the bilateral DLPFC. Conclusion The study findings suggest that top-down attention control during FAM can activate the bilateral DLPFC and increase WMC among meditation novices.
... The Sphere Model of Consciousness [45] offers a symbolic representation of the phenomenology of consciousness based on the geometrical properties of spatial coordinates within a sphere (see Figure 3). ...
... Each axis of the SMC represents the deployment and polarity of an aspect of experience. The central place in the sphere represents an equilibrium point of the three axes of time, emotion and self-determination [45], and it is regarded in the model as a state of "Overcoming the Self," that is, a state of neutrality and detachment from the usual experiences of future-past (time axes), pleasant-unpleasant (emotion axes) polarities of the Narrative self, as well as of the more embodied Minimal Self [45,49]. Briefly, the Minimal Self has a short temporal extension and is endowed with a sense of action, property, and first person nonconceptual content, while the Narrative Self involves personal identity and continuity through time and includes conceptual content. ...
... Each axis of the SMC represents the deployment and polarity of an aspect of experience. The central place in the sphere represents an equilibrium point of the three axes of time, emotion and self-determination [45], and it is regarded in the model as a state of "Overcoming the Self," that is, a state of neutrality and detachment from the usual experiences of future-past (time axes), pleasant-unpleasant (emotion axes) polarities of the Narrative self, as well as of the more embodied Minimal Self [45,49]. Briefly, the Minimal Self has a short temporal extension and is endowed with a sense of action, property, and first person nonconceptual content, while the Narrative Self involves personal identity and continuity through time and includes conceptual content. ...
Chapter
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While emotion and cognition were previously considered separate concepts, current research demonstrates an interplay between them. In the current chapter, we discuss the importance of the body in relation to emotional intelligence (EI) and executive functioning. In particular, we address a specific movement meditation called Quadrato Motor Training (QMT), which has been shown to enhance emotion regulation and neurocognitive functions. We then examine the importance of emotion regulation in the context of the Sphere Model of Consciousness (SMC) and related neurocognitive studies. The SMC is a neuro-phenomenal model of consciousness based on three main axes: Emotion, Time, and Self-Determination. It presents all phenomenal experiences in a sphere-shaped matrix, aiming to account for different interactions among the axes. Through this model, the processes leading to improved EI can be framed in a general theory of consciousness and described in relation to the three axes. We discuss three key concepts in relation to the SMC: (1) EI; (2) identification, namely excessive self-involvement or feeling caught up by experience (3) self-awareness, or awareness and management of ongoing inner processes.
... Thus, with the aim of examining the differential effect of sitting and movement meditation, we selected two training types that had the same theoretical background and mainly differed in the degree of movement involved. The common theoretical background was that of the Sphere Model of Consciousness (SMC), which is a neurophenomenological geometric model focused on the subjective experience of the world derived from the awareness of the body in space and time [58,59]. According to the SMC, regulation of behavior through mindful training can expand spatial cognition. ...
... Spatial representations are thought to serve as the base for embodied cognition, underlie abstract thought and rely on similar brain mechanisms [92,93]. Based on this, the Sphere Model of Consciousness (SMC) suggests that through body-centered meditative practices, such as QMT and OMM [58,59] one can detach from his/her habitual relationship with space, and consequently detach from the habitual self and its ways of thinking. ...
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Full-text available
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... Normalization (Paoletti and Selvaggio, 2013) 2002a,b; Paoletti et al., 2022c;Paoletti and Ben Soussan, 2019), and was inspired by interdisciplinary literature (Fredrickson, 1998;Davidson, 2000;Korb, 2015;Paoletti, 2018;Tabibnia and Radecki, 2018). The 10 Keys for resilience are theoreticalpractical indications describing how a resilient brain works. ...
... Normalization (Paoletti and Selvaggio, 2013) 2002a,b; Paoletti et al., 2022c;Paoletti and Ben Soussan, 2019), and was inspired by interdisciplinary literature (Fredrickson, 1998;Davidson, 2000;Korb, 2015;Paoletti, 2018;Tabibnia and Radecki, 2018). The 10 Keys for resilience are theoreticalpractical indications describing how a resilient brain works. ...
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... This transition is crucial among prisoners because it is in line with their need to rethink their lives from the past to the present, to the future. EF is a thematic pathway including ten keys to resilience (see Table 1) that are based on interdisciplinary studies on resilience (Korb, 2015;Tabibnia & Radecki, 2018;Paoletti, 2019;Tabibnia, 2020) to examine how it is possible to cover and learn from stress and uncertainty and, training in daily life through specific exercises.The Ten-Keys were used in emergency and challenging context like earthquake survivors (Di Giuseppe, in Press), juvenile penal justice educators during Covid-19 pandemic (Paoletti et al., 2022), and inmates . ...
... Psychotherapy also uses the body to elicit aspects related to embodied memory. Therefore, the complex, layered perceptions of memories and magnitude of uncertainty in understanding how bodily experience contributes to mental health must be respected (Ianì, 2019;Paoletti and Ben Soussan, 2019). HCPs must critically recognise the central and irreplaceable role of psychotherapy in treating and managing somatic and somatoform symptoms (Chemero, 2009;Gentsch and Kuehn, 2022). ...
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I introduce arguments toward a non-representational reflexivity theory of consciousness-as-such to address one of the key issues in the science of consciousness today: lack of understanding of the nature of consciousness itself. An expanded map of consciousness is outlined, which includes, in addition to the well-known contents of awareness and levels of arousal, the indeterminate substrate and consciousness-as-such or nondual awareness. The central idea presented is that consciousness-as-such is a non-conceptual nondual awareness, whose essential property is non-representational reflexivity. This property makes consciousness-as-such phenomenologically, cognitively and neurobiologically a unique kind, different from and irreducible to any contents, functions and states, including the indeterminate substrate. Our previous hypothesis on the precuneus network for nondual awareness is further discussed in relation to non-representational reflexivity, and in the light of other hypotheses on the neural correlates of consciousness-as-such.
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Classical conditioning is a quintessential learning process; however, maladaptive forms of conditioning sustain many unhealthy behaviors (e.g., addiction). Mindfulness training is theorized to de-automatize conditioned behavior by decoupling stimulus and response. This study assessed the effect of mindfulness training on conditioned behavior during a classical conditioning task. Findings indicated mindfulness training decreased classically conditioned behavior relative to an active control condition, delaying the onset of first conditioned response and decreasing conditioned response frequency. Thus, mindfulness training may be one method of increasing volitional control over maladaptive conditioned behaviors that contribute to the development and maintenance of clinical disorders.
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Absorption, the ability to highly focus attention, as well as openness to self-altering experiences, is an important psychological construct, closely related to deep-meditation states and other altered states of consciousness. Yet, little is known about the electrophysiological profile of states of absorption, possibly due to the difficulty to induce this state in the lab. While most studies have used a visual Ganzfeld (homogeneous perceptual field), here we use a novel technique of full immersion—the OVO Whole-Body Perceptual Deprivation (OVO-WBPD) chamber, which is an altered sensory environment in the form of a human-sized egg. Consequently, the aims of the current study were to investigate whether the OVO-WBPD chamber induces state absorption, using first-person reports, as well as to examine electrophysiological change following immersion in this altered sensory environment. Fourteen participants volunteered to participate in the study. Trait absorption was measured using the Tellegen Absorption Scale (TAS). State absorption was assessed by analyzing the content of the subjective reports, using sub-categories of the absorption construct (e.g., synesthesia). EEG was measured before and during a 20-min OVO-WBPD experience. Using exact low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography (eLORETA), we analyzed change in oscillatory EEG activity and localized the generators of the scalp EEG power spectra following the OVO-WBPD. Our results show that OVO-WBPD immersion leads to a state of absorption in all participants. We also report significant increased oscillatory activity in the delta and beta bands, in the left inferior frontal cortex, with a peak in the sub-lobar of the left insula. In addition, a positive correlation was found between change in delta activity and trait absorption. The results are discussed in light of other meditative practices and altered states of consciousness.
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This paper sketches a new and empirically testable theory about what "pure consciousness" or the simplest form of phenomenal experience is.
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The controversial question of whether machines may ever be conscious must be based on a careful consideration of how consciousness arises in the only physical system that undoubtedly possesses it: the human brain. We suggest that the word “consciousness” conflates two different types of information-processing computations in the brain: the selection of information for global broadcasting, thus making it flexibly available for computation and report (C1, consciousness in the first sense), and the self-monitoring of those computations, leading to a subjective sense of certainty or error (C2, consciousness in the second sense). We argue that despite their recent successes, current machines are still mostly implementing computations that reflect unconscious processing (C0) in the human brain. We review the psychological and neural science of unconscious (C0) and conscious computations (C1 and C2) and outline how they may inspire novel machine architectures.