What we are about to propose here, is a third model of humanity. This model is distinct from the other two models, the Determinist model and the Rationalist/ Humanist model. (This model was developed by Dr Phil Harker and first articulated as part of his PhD thesis.)

In common with all physical life on the planet, we humans have a body. From our body we derive physical needs. If we don’t satisfy our physical needs we die – physically. Fulfilment of our physical needs allows us to survive. We should temper this with the thoughts of the evolutionary psychologists, that our physical needs are not only designed to secure our survival but are designed as well to secure the survival of our genes. Consequently our repertoire of needs is not only aimed at ensuring our own physical survival but at propagation of the species, the nurturing and protection of our offspring, and the well-being of those that share our genetic inheritance.

In common with all animals on the planet, we humans have a brain. Through the cognitive processes of our brains we are able to discern the world and make decisions. From this mental capacity comes our second set of needs, one that we share with all the animals of the world. The second set of needs are our social needs. Like all animals, we have the capacity to be aware of our outer world and to respond to it through the processes of thinking, feeling, and decision making. Like all animals we are intimately connected through strong emotional bonds to our fellow creatures, particularly those of our own species. If we do not find reasonable satisfaction for our social needs we die – emotionally (and sometimes even physically). Fulfilment of our social needs allows us to cope emotionally.

The third set of needs are spiritual needs – needs for meaning, the uniquely human needs. If we don’t supply our spiritual needs and fail to find meaning in our lives we die – spiritually (and sometimes socially and physically). Fulfilment of our spiritual needs and gaining a sense of personal worth through finding meaning and purpose in our lives is needed if we are going to experience our full humanity. Meeting these needs provides a transcendent sense of well-being, i.e. a sense of well being that transcends the condition of our immediate circumstances.

The question we now ask is what is this other dimension of our humanity that leads to this third set of needs, the uniquely human needs that differentiate us from other animals? To understand this we must re-explore the nature of consciousness.

Consciousness is the faculty that differentiates humans from other animals. Human beings are not only aware, as indeed all animals are, but as far as we can tell we are the only animal that is aware of its awareness. There is no doubt that other animals are aware of their exterior worlds. Without such awareness they would not survive. In dealing with this outside world all animals make decisions. Again, the efficacy of the decision making process impacts on an animal’s ability to survive. But the defining characteristic of Humanity is that not only are we aware of the outside world and make decisions about it in our day to day discourse with the world, but that all these processes are carried out in the theatre of our awareness. As we saw earlier, this is the process that creates an interior world for us and the experience of our interior world is the major determinant of our personal well-being.

Because of our consciousness, we are aware of the conscious internal processes of our mind. We thus create the construct of an “interior” world. The building blocks of this construction are our (personal) thoughts, feelings and temporal experience.

From our other senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch etc.) we also construct a picture of the external world. The world “out there” appears very real and immediate to us.

We then deal with an apparent dichotomy, viz:
1. The world “in here”, my interior world, and
2. The world “out there”, my exterior world.

It seems apparent to most of us that our sense of well-being is dependant on our interior world. We feel good when we have “good” feelings, positive thoughts and experience an inner equanimity. These things obviously manifest from our interior world.

The dilemma we have to contend with, however, is that most of us believe that the condition of our interior world is dependant on the condition of our exterior world. This is a myth that our society has conditioned us into believing is true. It is an outcome from a process we have learned to utilise to manipulate one another. This myth is embedded in the social learning we discussed earlier.

This process begins when we are children. Others will have us believe that we are responsible for the pain and suffering that they are apparently experiencing and hope to use the guilt we then feel to modify our behaviour. As children we are exposed to the proposition that we have to earn our love and regard by meeting the emotional needs of others. These are the kind of propositions we hear:

• “Don’t fight with your sister, Tom. It makes mummy angry.”
• “I am so ashamed when you perform so poorly at school.”

Here it is implied that we are somehow responsible for the qualitative condition of another’s interior world. This is reinforced by other’s reactions to our behaviour. The child spills something – the parent reacts angrily raising their voice and threatening physical punishment.

From this background the child relates the perceived cause and effect. The child erroneously believes it has caused the emotional response of the other. As it grows older it learns the same manipulative behaviour and comes to believe that its sense of internal well-being is also determined from outcomes in the exterior world.

One of the indications that “ feeling bad” because of the behaviour of others is a learnt manipulative response is that once the person “feeling bad” is removed from the proximity of those they are trying to influence their emotional response often changes dramatically. If an exterior event caused our emotional response it would be true irrespective of the audience. Yet strangely the “suffering” such an event supposedly caused is removed when the person or persons who purportedly caused it are not present! If I am physically hurt because someone stomps on my foot, that hurt persists whether the perpetrator is present or not. What’s the nature of this emotional hurt that it can come and go so arbitrarily?

Now we are not asking that those who seek to manipulate others in this way should be blamed for their behaviour. That would be entirely unproductive because their behaviour is not consciously determined. It too is learnt – learnt from parents and significant others such that it is a response subconsciously pulled out of a repertoire of such responses when appropriate circumstances arise. All that we ask is that people should understand that we are not responsible for the emotional responses of others. More generally, the sense of well-being we derive from our internal world is in no way dependant on outcomes from the perceived external world. As we quoted previously, Kahlil Gibran so aptly observed, “We don’t see things the way they are. We see things the way we are.” That is to say the state of our interior world determines how we interpret the exterior world. The rationalising mind will try to relate our internal state to the exterior circumstances.

Yet there is still one more subterfuge. We believe that the exterior world impacts on our interior world and consequently on our personal well-being. But all the time what we perceive as our exterior world is itself an interior construct. We can not know anything of the exterior world directly. Our whole sense of the exterior world is constructed through our physical senses. Our senses of sight, smell, sound and touch provide us with inputs to enable this construct. [Note: it is a construct. We use the word quite deliberately.] These sensory inputs provide the building blocks for the internal portrait we compose to translate the exterior reality. Thus our perception of the exterior world is in fact a map manufactured internally from the selective sensory inputs that our sensory capacities allow. As we saw earlier, our sensory inputs are but a minute sample of all the possible inputs. Again we see from a physical perspective, “We don’t see things the way they are. We see things the way we are!” And the way we are has prescribed physically the exterior inputs we admit into consciousness. To quote Ashbrook and Albright again, “…. The brain lives in a reality of its own construction. Through its perceptual systems it builds up ‘maps’ of the way the world is. These maps are limited ‘images’ of the territory, never the actual territory itself. Since we each live in worlds of our own making, we never rid ourselves of ‘perceptual commitments.’ These commitments are the result of genetic endowment, past experience, anticipation, and individually determined
purposes. There is no ‘lense-free’ system of viewing the world.”
But here again is the paradox. We believe our interior world is impacted by our exterior world. Yet our exterior world is only known to us by an interior construct.

When we understand the tripartite model, and begin to understand who we really are, we will come to know our internal sense of well-being can not be dependant on the exterior world. This is the truly glorious outcome of understanding the true nature of humanity. It articulates a truly egalitarian model; of humanity where personal well-being is independent of material circumstances.

Whilst the exterior world can not be the determinant of personal well-being, there is no doubt it can be the purveyor of physical pain. If my exterior world does not provide for my physical needs, I will suffer physically. These are the pains of hunger and thirst, deprivation and discomfiture. These are real pains and to be regretted wherever the physical world can not meet such needs. But the tripartite model will indicate that the emotional, social and most importantly the spiritual needs of humans are even more impactful than the physical needs. As Nietzsche postulated, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

What is the faculty, the mechanism, which allows us to experience this singularly powerful phenomenon? In our book “Humanity at Work” we have called this faculty the Watcher. This is the terminology that the renowned British neurosurgeon, Sir Wilder Penfield utilised to explain the human capacity to observe our own thoughts and processes as the brain was being probed in a clinical procedure. It is the faculty that allows the observation of our own mental processes.

This dimension of our Humanity has been recognised by many of the Eastern traditions. In this context it has sometimes been called the Witness.

The model that we then propose to explain the nature of our Humanity is one that has these three elements:

1. Body,
2. Mind, and
3. Watcher.

The model is illustrated in Figure 2.

Tri-Partite Model of Humanity

Watcher Spiritual
Mind Social/Emotional
Body Physical

Figure 3.

All of us are abundantly aware of our bodies and we can not doubt that we possess the cognitive construct we call mind. But few of us recognise the faculty that we have called the Watcher. Why, might we ask, is this so?

Our physical awareness makes our bodies undisputedly evident to us. Our physical senses detect the physical manifestations of our own bodies. We can see our limbs and feel their existence. These processes enable us to create a map of our physical presence in our mind.

The Watcher is the audience of our mental processing and imagery. It brings into awareness the conscious workings of our minds. We are able through its mediation to know our thoughts and our mental constructs. There is therefore a hierarchy. The mind is cognisant of body and the Watcher is cognisant of mind. A higher order in the hierarchy is required to perceive the function of lower orders. The body is not aware of the body, the mind is aware of the body. The mind is not aware of the mind, the Watcher is aware of the mind. But if the Watcher is the highest order faculty that we humans possess, its presence will not be immediately obvious to us because it has no capacity to observe itself. The Watcher can not be known directly, but only apprehended indirectly. Again this is a notion that the Eastern traditions have understood for millennia. The sage asks, “Can the knife cut itself? Can the eye see itself?” One ancient Chinese sage asked, “What is it then, that cannot be perceived.” His answer was, “Only that which is perceiving, in the act of perceiving can not perceive itself.”

It would be easy to conclude that the Watcher merely fulfils a passive role, observing the theatre of our consciousness. It does more than this however. Firstly it would seem to be this faculty which gives us our enduring sense of self. Whilst over a lifetime our bodies undergo many changes, and our mind is continually shifting with our thoughts and perceptions, we nonetheless experience an ongoing sense of oneness and continuity.

Anthony De Mello in Awareness had this to say: “Am I my thoughts, the thoughts that I am thinking? No. Thoughts come and go; I am not my thoughts. Am I my body? They tell us that millions of cells in our body are changed or renewed every minute, so that by the end of seven years we don’t have a single cell in our body that was there seven years before. Cells arise and die. But “I” seem to persist. So am I my body? Evidently not!”

No, it is the Watcher that provides us with this stable sense of “I”-ness even though our body, our thoughts, our material circumstances and virtually everything else is changing around us. In a way our language is perceptive enough to hint at this. It makes no sense to say “my thoughts” if I am indeed my thoughts, or “my body” if I am indeed my body. The use of the possessive pronoun in this way indicates that thoughts and body belong to something else.

As well as this it is the Watcher that creates the essential orientation through which we view the world. As we wrote in Humanity at Work,

“Because the Watcher can not watch itself, we tend not to be aware of either its presence or its role, but it would seem that it has a greater role to play than simply one of watching like some sort of internal video camera. It would seem that it is watching with a bias, and that this bias influences the way in which the mind (the second level of our human make-up) analyses and reacts to its environment.

The physicist and thinker, Albert Einstein, once stated that “Everyone has two choices. We’re either full of love …. or full of fear.” Now obviously he was not talking about the number and variety of possible decisions that people are able to make as they react to their world, for these are virtually without limit. Rather he was referring to the nature of a deeper choice that all human beings are uniquely required to make in relation to their sense of “self” as it interacts with other “selves” within their social environment. This suggests that human beings, in contrast to lower forms of animal life, have a real choice, and that this choice is in relation to how they deal with their sense of “self”.

Will the “self” be turned outwards towards other “selves” and become willingly and freely exposed and vulnerable to them – for this is what is meant by love in this context; or will the “self” be turned inwards and become defensive and fearful of the potential repudiation that other “selves” can give to our “self” by rejection – for this is what is meant by fear in this context. This may well be the question at the core of our humanity – the choice so often hidden from conscious view but always present beneath the day-to-day decisions that we make. This is the choice that determines how we interpret the chance circumstances of our unchosen life and so forms the foundation criteria for all our decisions, actions and reactions. This is the “choice-behind-the-choices” so to speak.”

In essence then, the Watcher disposes us to look at the world through an orientation of love or an orientation of fear, and these ‘core motives’ act as filters through which everything else is given value.


  1. Thank you all for your comments. As you will no doubt have perceived this material was developed with Phil Harker when we were contemplating publishing another book together. I am sure you will be interested in how his thinking has developed since then.He is currently writing a book which he intends to call “One Degree of Freedom.”

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