As someone who once taught Photoshop to beginners, it occurred to me that a deeper examination of its most important feature might also open the way to a deeper understanding of our true nature.

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Computer analogies are always tricky, but my own fascination with the reality that DNA is code and operates as software made me go through this exercise.

Let’s begin by understanding that a complete (“whole”) Photoshop file in the PSD format is referred to as a “composition.” It is a complete totality, but Photoshop allows for it to be “deconstructed” into parts so that it can be “understood” differently and eventually revised.

Most readers are familiar with web friendly image formats like JPG and PNG. When they are opened in Photoshop or a similar program a new world becomes available. Those who already use Photoshop know that once the features are learned, one can add effects, lighting, color, transparency, text, and many other “features.”

But also keep in mind as we go through this that everything you are reading (or if you were to do this on your own computer) is just pixels on your screen changing their individual features (color, shape, and brightness).

So let’s begin with a stock image in one of these formats – a picture of a guy at a laptop – and it is already a complete “composition” in Photoshop – just one layer.

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no layer

The “Layers Palette” can be seen right next to the preview image with the original single layer.

Using Photoshop features (info below) we create three new blank layers to modify our composition.

We can now select just the laptop screen, “cut” it from its layer in the original composition, and “paste” it into one of the new layers.  Moving it around we can see that a transparent area is left “beneath” it.


I put quotation marks around “beneath” because on your screen everything is flat, but for the first time you can begin to realize that it is your mind that makes the judgment (literally an overlay) that one image is beneath another. Photoshop programming takes advantage of this.

I can now add another picture, of the CE logo, and paste it into one of the other blank layers.

new layer in front

Since its layer is “above” the one with the monitor, the entire logo is visible.

Moving the order of the layers and dragging the monitor “above” the logo, now part of it is obscured.

So that using its programming Photoshop simulates the three dimensional view we have of the world by using the convention of “higher” layers looking “closer.”

new layer behind

This is just a very simple overview of the powerful layers feature of Photoshop.

And by saving everything as a PSD Photoshop composition, we can return to these fragmented elements and revise them again, adding text, effects, and so on each time, and then saving each as a “flattened” JPG or PNG file for a different purpose.

By keeping the original Photoshop composition, an artist maintains “the whole” — all of the original elements for reuse. Are you beginning to feel like God yet? Or maybe Einstein – since each element exists only relative to its “layer” – but all layers are relative to one another within the one entire composition.

What just happened on a deeper level?

We broke up a complete whole into basically artificial components.  We also saw that our mind reconstructs the whole according to our conditioning, adding, among other things, judgments of depth and scale.

This is what our brain does in filtering out parts of reality and fragmenting the “whole” in order to make “sense” of what it sees, but in effect it is overlaying a set of judgments based on conditioned beliefs.

If we now use the Photoshop analogy of the brain and begin to consider the “hard problem of consciousness,” as science does, as an “emergent” property of the brain – meaning that at some level of complexity and growth consciousness will “happen” – we can ask, how many layers will it take until there is consciousness in this composition – meaning complete knowledge?

In fact does any “feature” of the Program when applied to the composition suggest the presence of consciousness–or just additional “information”?

Author and presenter at SAND Bernardo Kastrup  addresses this very nicely in his video “A Small Theory of Everything.”

Surely we can now see that complete knowledge or consciousness will NEVER occur with the addition of elements or layers, because consciousness is a property of the entire program Photoshop which conceived and created the entire composition, broke it apart, and according to whose principles this small world operates. Consciousness is literally in a different dimension, or scale.

And now we also know that this is only a small fragment of reality, because we have been dealing all of this time with one still graphic image.

In reality nothing is static or still. Everything is in fluid motion or change, analogously to our Photoshop image being just one “frame” in a film or video.  An entirely different set of parameters and laws is needed to “explain” or account for the reality of video – almost infinitely more complex and powerful.

And again, consciousness is “no thing” — it is the space in which all of this takes place; it is never a function or property of any of the individual or collective elements, whether of a frame, a composition, or a full length film or video with many, many frames, each with their own potential layers.

In animation or CGI (computer graphics filming) we can “fool” the viewer into thinking something entirely imaginary exists by using the same principle of Photoshop over many frames, called rotoscoping.

Here again another “dimension” of “consciousness” would be appear to be “applied,” but it is still a fragment of the whole, because it all takes place within an infinitely greater context.

Additional information does not indicate consciousness.

Want to go to an even greater scale? What about virtual reality?  Now you are placing interactive control for entity (self) within a movie of many frames. Again this presents another world or dimension, but consciousness is again not a function or emergent property of that world.

All and everything takes place within or “as” consciousness; as Eckhart Tolle says, it is so obvious that it is hidden like a fish trying to understand water.

So from a scientific perspective or in terms of an observer based science that approaches reality as “it is” and not as fragmented through experimentation or measurement, the “hard problem of consciousness” can only be accounted for by beginning to shift our perspective to entirely different scales and dimensions of being, not mere knowing.

We can peel away layer after layer of our composition until all that is left is a background, which if made transparent, is literally nothing.  The program, or container for the composition, is nowhere to be found–and as an “executable” or application it is like the verb that implies its “work product” or a noun/thing but is itself “no thing.”

(I suppose that if we saw the layers as fluid and vibrational we might come up with our own String Theory for a cosmology of Photoshop but while it might explain the relationship between layers (planes or dimensions) it could never account for their existence.)

In a sense we would need to be the programmer behind Photoshop to comprehend the full scale of a composition, just as when we begin to decode DNA we cannot delude ourselves that we understand its full scale because the mind or consciousness that “created” or “conceived” it is surely far beyond our limited comprehension.

We will need a new set of senses, beliefs, and attitudes – perhaps those of reverence and awe.


Photoshop Hints (to do this yourself):

To convert a background into a layer:

  • Double-click Background in the Layers palette, or choose Layer > New > Layer from Background.
  • Set layer options as desired. (See Adding layers and layer sets.)
  • Click OK.

To convert a layer into a background:

  • Select a layer in the Layers palette.
  • Choose Layer > New > Background from Layer.

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