An Interview with Christian de Quincey


Q: What will people learn from your new book Consciousness from Zombies to Angels?

CdeQ: Readers will join me on the greatest adventure of all: an exploration of philosophy’s hardest problem, science’s final frontier, and spirituality’s deepest mystery. They will find seven simple steps on the path to knowing who they truly are.

I’m a professor of Consciousness Studies at John F. Kennedy University and Dean of Consciousness Studies at the University of Philosophical Research. I’ve been teaching and writing about consciousness for decades. It’s my life-long passion.

I wanted to create a comprehensive, easy-to-understand “user’s guide” to to the mind—exploring the full spectrum of consciousness from philosophy through science to spirituality. This book is based on presentations and handouts I created over the years for my students to inform and inspire them about the nature and possibilities of our most intimate reality—consciousness.

Q: How did you come up with the title?

CdeQ: Originally, I wanted to write a kind of Consciousness for Dummies book—like Meditation for Dummies, Yoga for Dummies, Philosophy for Dummies, etc. But I wanted to call it Consciousness for Zombies. You see, in philosophy, a “zombie” is a very special kind of creature: It is just like a human in every way, except it has no mind or consciousness whatsoever. Then (after prompting from my publisher), I realized that probably only philosophers would get the pun. So I went to Plan B.

The subtitle of the book is The Shadow and the Light of Knowing Who You Are. It means that if we are really serious about exploring consciousness we must be willing to work with our own shadow and light. Everyone has a “Shadow”—those negative aspects of ourselves (our fears, guilt, shame, anger) that we have pushed down into our unconscious from early childhood. But whatever we suppress remains in us and we either project it onto others or it erupts in some kind of mind-body illness.

And we not only suppress our “miserable” selves, we also suppress our “magnificent” selves—those parts of us that are creative, powerful, compassionate, and loving. To really know who we are, and to grow as healthy spiritual beings, we need to embrace both our Shadow and our Light. As Joni Mitchell said: “If you get rid of the demons and the disturbing things, then the angels fly off, too.”

We need to embrace our inner “zombies” as well as our inner “angels.” And so: Consciousness from Zombies to Angels. It’s a “user’s guide” to the mind from “Z” to “A.” To make the most effective use of this guide, we need to use our four gifts of knowing.

Q: What are the ‘Four Gifts of Knowing’?

CdeQ: Each of us has many different ways of knowing, with the potential to be a philosopher, a scientist, a shaman, and a mystic. It all depends on where we focus attention and what gifts we decide to cultivate.

The Scientist’s Gift is our senses—and a method for testing our assumptions and beliefs through the power of rigorous observation; we use this gift to explore the world of matter, including our bodies.

The Philosopher’s Gift is reason and language; we use this gift to explore the realm of mind.

The Shaman’s Gift
is feeling and alternative states of consciousness; we use this to explore the domain of soul.

The Mystic’s Gift is intuition and sacred silence; we use this to unite with the essence of spirit.

If we wish to truly understand consciousness, we need to cultivate and integrate all our “gifts of knowing.” It’s not enough to just study the brain using the Scientist’s Gift (though that is valuable, too). And using just the Philosopher’s Gift of reason, logic, and language gives us only intellectual knowledge about the mind (also useful if we want to talk or write about consciousness). However, it cannot bring us to the heart of consciousness itself which is experience. For that, we need to also cultivate deep awareness of feeling and intuition (the Shaman’s and Mystic’s Gifts).

We need these last two gifts to develop and evolve consciousness. No amount of information about how the brain works or intellectual knowledge of the mind will ever lead us to transformation. We need to be willing to be open to the full spectrum of consciousness—including our shadow and light, our inner zombies and angels. And to do so effectively, we need to engage in some form of psycho-spiritual practice.

It seems to me that the essence and aim of all spiritual practice is to help us cultivate what I call “experience beyond belief.”

Q: What do you mean by ‘experience beyond belief’?

CdeQ: These days, it’s quite common to hear people say, “you create your own reality” or “reality is whatever you believe.” The idea is that we can create or change the world simply by changing what we think or believe.

That seems to me to be a big mistake. Yes, indeed, consciousness does play a role in shaping the physical world. But be careful. The truth is not so simple—or as simplistic—as the popular cliché would have us believe. It is based on a confusion between “belief” and “intention.” Beliefs are mental habits that block our creative power. Intentions, however, are creative and have power to change lives. They are purposeful, focused expressions of consciousness through choice.

Beliefs, on the other hand, are frozen fragments of consciousness, static snapshots of reality. It works like this: first, at every moment, we are having an experience. Then, we interpret our experience using thoughts (words and ideas). But every thought is an abstraction, literally plucked from the ongoing stream of experience. Next, we solidify our thoughts by turning them into beliefs. We assume that what we think is true (that’s a definition of “belief” ). But we don’t stop there. We often go a step further and turn our beliefs into dogma by believing our beliefs. We insist that our beliefs equal reality (that’s the definition of dogma).

The problem is we then act based on what we believe. But, as everyone knows, a belief can be right or wrong. For example, some people believe that God exists, some people don’t. Who’s right? They can’t all be right, because those beliefs cancel each other out. And if beliefs really did create reality, then here’s what would happen: When people believe in God, God would exist, and when people don’t believe, God would not exist. So, God would be popping in and out of existence on the whims of what human beings believed. What a strange Supreme Being that would be!

It’s important to remember that any belief can be right or wrong (it may more or less accurately match reality or it may totally miss the mark).

However, an experience can never be wrong. Every experience always is exactly what it is. You can never have a “mistaken” experience. You can be mistaken only about your interpretation (thought or belief) of your experience.

Therefore, since beliefs run the risk of being wrong, and experience is never wrong, it makes far more sense to pay attention to your experience than to act on your beliefs. I’m saying that the goal of every spiritual practice is to eliminate the “middle man” of interpretation and belief, and to act directly from experience.

Here’s what typically happens:

experience —> interpretation —>  belief —> dogma —>  action

By contrast, when we cultivate “experience beyond belief” we become like martial artists, great athletes, or creative artists who act in the moment based on what they actually experience.

Have you ever noticed that consciousness or experience always happens right now. And, have you noticed when reality happens? Like experience, reality also happens right now. That’s very convenient. It means that our experience connects us directly with reality.

However, our thoughts and beliefs always distort reality in some way. They remove us from the in-the-moment experience where we connect directly with what is. That’s why I encourage us to cultivate experience beyond belief. And to learn to act directly from experience:

experience —>  action


Q: Are you saying we should give up all our beliefs’?

CdeQ: Not at all. We can’t help having beliefs (it’s what our minds have evolved to do, and they do that job very well). But we can choose whether or not to be attached to our beliefs. We can choose whether or not we believe our beliefs to be true. I’m encouraging us not to believe our beliefs. Rather, I suggest that we learn to notice them, and then release them, let them go.

Wisdom resides in our moment-to-moment experience, not in what we believe. As habits of mind, beliefs are conditioned by the past. Experience, on the other hand, always occurs in the present moment—now.

Of course, I don’t want you to believe what I’m saying, either. I do, however, want you to listen with an open mind, and to allow yourself to feel and experience whatever comes up for you as you respond to the meaning of my words. Pay attention to what you are feeling—to the sensations rippling through your body. That’s the source of your wisdom. Not your abstract thoughts.

As long as we have bodies, we will have ego-minds, and as long as we have ego-minds we will have beliefs. We don’t have much, if any, choice about that. But we do have a choice whether or not to believe our beliefs.

I often remind students of Plato’s final words. On his deathbed, the great philosopher gathered his followers around him and told them that everything he had taught and written was nothing more than a “likely story.”

That’s how we should hold our beliefs—lightly, as “likely stories.”

Q: You talk about going beyond ‘physics envy.’ What do you mean?

CdeQ: Many people use “energy talk” to describe consciousness or spirit. They use words such as “energy,” “vibrations,” “frequency,” “resonance,” “waves,” “fields,” “mechanism,” and a current favorite, “nonlocal.” All of these words are borrowed from physics. They describe what goes on in the physical world.


But mind or consciousness is not part of the physical world. It is non-physical. In my work, and particularly in Consciousness from Zombies to Angels, I encourage people to “watch their language” when talking about consciousness. I point out that using “energy talk” misses the most important point about consciousness—namely it is subjective. Everything in physics, and all the terms borrowed from physics, refer to objects, to things in the objective world.

Consciousness is not an object, it is not objective. It is the subject of experience. It is awareness and choice. It cannot be detected by physical senses or instruments, and cannot be measured. Therefore, it makes no sense to use the language of physics to describe what cannot be physically measured.

Nevertheless, people tend to cling to “energy talk”—because, paradoxically, they think it makes what they say sound more “scientific” or more “grounded.” Actually, the opposite is true. The language of physics is the language of abstractions. If we want to be truly “grounded” then we should ground what we say in what we actually experience—and use “mind talk” instead of “energy talk.” We should not confuse the experiencer (consciousness) with what is experienced (energy).

Frequently, when I make this point, someone says: “But if we give up energy talk then we would have to invent a new language.” This surprises me. I point out that, in fact, we already have a very rich vocabulary for talking about consciousness—words such as “intention,” “attention,” “purpose,” “meaning,” “perceiving,” “observing,” “remembering,” “wanting,” “anticipating,” “believing,” “doubting,” “affirming,” “denying,” “imagining,” “judging,” “understanding,” “feeling,” “experience,” “choice”  . . . and on and on. None of these words can be reduced to “energy talk” or be explained by physics.

Consciousness has its own very appropriate language. I’m suggesting that if we want to push beyond the final frontier, then we will make much better progress if we “watch our language” and use “mind talk” instead of “energy talk.”

Q: Your book has four parts. Can you summarize the key points?

CdeQ: In Part 1, we begin with the Philosopher’s Gift to explore: What is consciousness? I focus on the three core problems in philosophy of mind:


(1) Mind-body connection: How are mind and body related—does the brain produce mind, or does consciousness create the brain; do they exist in parallel universes or does consciousness “go all the way down”?

(2) Other minds: How can we tell if anyone else has consciousness—or even if rocks can feel anything?

(3) Free will: Do we really have choice, or is everything determined by God, by genes, or by physics?

In Part 2, we then shift to the Scientist’s Gift to explore: How the brain works and how consciousness is related to quantum physics.

We enter the curious wonderland of the quantum to see how its strange inhabitants may give us insights into the origins and nature of consciousness. If you ever wondered what a quantum is, what “nonlocality” really means, or why quantum physics might be relevant to consciousness, you will find easy-to-grasp keys to this fascinating domain.

I also show why recent advances in neuroscience and brain imaging that claim to “photograph God” are highly misleading. Yes, it is useful to know what goes on in the brain when someone is having a mystical experience, but no scientific instruments can probe or capture what goes on in an experience. Information about the brain is not the same as information about consciousness. Brain is not mind, and brain science is not consciousness science.

For that, we need a very different kind of science, with a very different approach. Instead of standard Plate-Glass science, which separates subject from object, we need a new “Looking-Glass” science, where there is no separation. In true consciousness science, the mind is exploring itself.

And once we turn the beam of inquiry back on itself—when awareness is focused on itself—we must be open to whatever bubbles up in consciousness. We must be willing to engage with our Shadow, with all the fears, and shame, and anger hiding out in our unconscious mind. In short, a consciousness scientist must be willing to undergo psycho-spiritual transformation.

Only when we open up to our inner “zombies” and “angels,” can we move forward on the path to enlightenment.

Then, in Part 3, we focus on the Shaman’s Gift and Mystic’s Gift and explore: Why consciousness is important. We learn how our minds fall into different patterns, or grooves of thought, and how to shift out of the habits that keep us stuck.

We learn how to recognize “strange attractors” that pull our minds this way and that. We learn how the ego is formed, how it grows into our personality, and becomes embodied. We also learn how to transcend these restrictions through creative acts of choice and letting go to realize our full potential.

Besides learning to recognize our patterns, the Mystic’s Gift takes us into the realm of scared silence, rooted in experience beyond belief. It helps us to accept all of who we are—our ego, our personality, our shadow, our light, our zombies and angels. We discover what it means to “Know Thyself” by following the seven steps to knowing who you really are.

Finally, in Part 4, we shift to “Consciousness in Dialogue.” One of the greatest satisfactions of being an author, teacher, and public speaker is the feedback I get from people who have read my books, attended a talk, heard me on the radio, seen me on TV, visited my website, or taken one of my classes. I get a lot of emails, and, thankfully, I’m often challenged to defend or clarify something I’ve written or said. It keeps me on my toes. Sometimes a real gem of a question whizzes through cyberspace and gets me thinking deeper and more carefully about an idea I’ve put out there.

I’ve collected these “gems” over the years, and have created an archive of “MindBytes”—a series of questions and answers organized under headings such as “God,” “Energy,” “Cosmos,” “Evolution,” “Miracles,” “Quantum,” “Time,” “Beliefs,” and, of course, “Consciousness.” These are “learning nuggets” that highlight important questions, and I include examples at the end of each chapter.  Part 4 of the book is composed of longer dialogues on topics such as “experience beyond belief,” “consciousness, energy, and evolution,” “are rocks conscious?” and “is consciousness the same as spirit?”

The rest of this interview is available at

You can get a free copy of the full interview here

or order a copy of the book here




What’s Up With ‘Energy Healing’?

Q: I’m an energy healer (reiki), and I’ve read where you say consciousness and matter always go together. If what you say is true, then I’m wondering how is it possible to send healing energy to another person in a distant place? As far as I know, nothing material passes between people in a healing session?

CdeQ: You are quite right: Nothing material or physical travels through space in cases of distant healing—not even energy. (Remember: matter is just a form of energy.)

What is often called “energy-healing” (including reiki, which I’ve studied and practiced) is, I think, more accurately called “consciousness healing.” It is healing that takes place through shared meaning.

All energy necessarily (and by definition) moves through space. Therefore, there cannot be any instantaneous transmission of energy from one part of space (healer) to some other part of space (healee). Yet, the literature is full of examples of so-called instantaneous “non-local” healing—where prayer or intention (e.g., in reiki) is correlated with apparently spontaneous and instant healing (even across great distances, for example from America to Europe, Africa,  or Asia, or vice versa).

When studied under scientific conditions, it is clear that the healing event took place faster than energy moving at the speed of light (hence “non-local” healing). And since energy cannot move faster than light, it follows that no energy could be traveling between healer and healee to account for the healing.

Something else must be going on. And, I say, that that “something else” is consciousness. Not energy.

Consciousness Transcends Space

Consciousness does not exist in space (it is not even “nonlocal” it is non-located), and therefore is not constrained by distances. It doesn’t take consciousness any time to travel from A to B, because consciousness doesn’t travel—period. It is not in space.

What happens in healing, I suggest, is that healer and healee share, or participate in, the same meaning: “heal”—or “wholeness,” or “thy will be done” or “divine perfection” or “let it be,” or whatever the intention is. While the healer’s intention may be conscious, the healee may participate unconsciously. He or she may not even know that healing is intended for him or her.

Here’s one way of thinking about what may be happening: The consciousness of the healer (always associated with the energy/body of the healer) forms an intention or clarifies a meaning (in this case: healing). This intention or meaning does not travel through space, and therefore it takes zero time for the consciousness of the healee to participate in sharing the meaning “healing.”

The moment the clarity of the healing intention is expressed by the healer, the healee responds to the new constellation of meaning in his/her body. Healing begins. No energy has been transferred from healer to healee; they simply participate in sharing the same meaning. And clarity of meaning, I propose, is how healing works.

What is meaning? It is “the experienced fit between self and other (or between self and environment)” If we don’t fit in, we are a “misfit,” and that’s another way of describing illness or dysfunction. On the other hand, when we experience fitting in (and this applies to the relationship between our body and our cells, and between our bodies and our environment) we realign with the larger intelligence and processes of nature “all the way down.”

And that, I think, is how healing happens. It is the restoration of natural balance and integration between various elements or parts of the universe. It happens through meaning shared in consciousness, not through exchanges of energy. In other words, healing  happens through meaning, not through mechanism.

More ‘MindBytes’ at


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