Q.409 Materialism and Consciousness

Q: Regarding Gaudapada Karika 4.28, what is the best argument you are aware of against the materialist position that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon?   In particular do you think it is inherently illogical to say that consciousness can arise from the inert?

More generally, is it the position of Vedanta that the materialist position is inherently illogical/impossible or simply that it is incorrect because it is contrary to scripture?

A (Dennis): Schopenhauer said that Materialism is “the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself.” And this really sums up my own view of the situation with respect to Science and its so-called ‘hard problem’. Science is forever trying to discover how consciousness can ‘arise’ from matter and never even considers the possibility that matter might actually be name and form of Consciousness. I.e. Consciousness does not arise from matter, matter (as it were) arises from Consciousness. They view the topic ‘back to front’ because they ignore the significance of the observer. And this is despite their past realisation that the observer cannot be ignored in quantum mechanics, for example.

The term used in the scriptures for the materialist is lokAyata (worldly wise) or Charvaka, after the philosopher of that name who is associated with these beliefs. (They have also been called mAmsa-mImAMsaka-s or ‘flesh philosophers’ because of their belief that we should aim to maximise pleasure in life.) The beliefs are also associated with the god bRRihaspatI and Shankara has sarcastically used this term in a derogatory sense to refer to ‘intellectuals’ who play the role of disputant in his commentaries. Continue reading

Q.400 – Consciousness and the person

A few questions or clarifications please…

  1. As you’ve said to me before, to focus on this world and everything within it, is really the wrong focus, because it’s mithyA. And what we really are, is that in which all of it occurs?
  2. Am I correct in saying that Vedanta is truly a specific system or process to know who you really are as well as understanding the functioning of everything?
  3. So the elements or energy is not who we are since they are dependent on Consciousness. As Nisargadatta said, “without Consciousness nothing is”.
  4. To gain self-knowledge however, there must be a body with a nervous system. So the body does matter in relation to self-knowledge? But, consciousness doesn’t care whether it’s manifested or not?
  5. Words cause confusion, so what is the difference between Consciousness and Awareness from your understanding?
  6. The mind is discussed a lot, and many say that to have ‘no mind’ is the key to peace and freedom. Is the mind a part of the brain or something entirely different?
  7. Upon gaining self-knowledge, does the mind continue or fade away if you will, leaving the brain to function in its normal and natural way without the mind blocking it?

A (Dennis):

  1. You are not the body-mind; you are Consciousness. There is only Consciousness in reality; the ‘rest’ is just appearance and mistaken interpretation.
  2. Advaita is a teaching methodology to bring you to this realization.
  3. Elements, energy etc are only name and form of Consciousness.
  4. In reality, there is only Consciousness. From the perspective of the person, there is a body-mind. The realization that there is only Consciousness has to take place in the mind of the person in order for the person to realize that ‘All there is is Consciousness’.
  5. You can define words how you like. As long as you do this, there need not be any confusion. The way I use these terms is that Consciousness (capital ‘C’) is the reality (better called ‘Brahman’ to avoid confusion); and ‘awareness’ (capital or not) and ‘consciousness’ (small ‘c’) refer to the person’s perceiving/conceiving ability.
  6. The ‘person’ requires a mind in order to function in the world. This applies whether the person has Self-knowledge or not.
  7. It is likely (though not necessary) that the mind of someone with Self-knowledge will be less prone to disturbance by desire/fear etc.

Living in the Moment Eternally — 3

[One of our esteemed Readers, Shri V. Madhava, has been kind to send an off-line message to me a few days ago saying “I enjoy reading your writings and just finished reading the article “Living in the moment eternally Part 2”.  Wondering if there is a Part 3 as there seems to be a broken link…” Reason enough, I guess, to continue on with my chatter — ramesam.]

Part 1                   Part 2 

Brain Activity - Past or Future vs Present Let us recall that living in the Now is an important trait of a jIvanmukta. J. Krishnamurti wondered if we could have an experience but not record it in our brain as a memory so that all our experiencing will be ever in the Present, in the innocent Now, afresh and always anew from moment to moment. Continue reading

dhyAna and samAdhi

Meditation

dhyAna and samAdhi are quite fascinating, pretty alluring and romantically inspiring terms for an aspirant on the spiritual path. They are almost always spoken in a tone that creates an awe. They sound mysterious, other worldly and ethereal. Many stories are told in the Purana-s about highly revered Sages lost in deep meditation or samAdhi to the extent that they were unaware of their own body being buried in heaps of sand or eaten away by critters and crawlers. Hair-rising narratives too are often reeled out about the powers that dhyAna and samAdhi lead one to – clairvoyance, multiple accomplishments (aNimAdi siddhi-s), infinite longevity (ciranjIvatva), visitations to subtler worlds inaccessible to normal human beings and so on. There is hardly a spiritual Guru who does not harangue about the glories a seeker will be bestowed through practicing dhyAna and samAdhi. Some teachers would even make these as a pre-requisite before any true ‘knowledge’ is imparted. As a result, the words dhyAna and samAdhi acquired varying meaning. Teachers too historically used or interpreted them in different ways. We shall attempt to take a synoptic view particularly from a Non-dual perspective what these terms connote and their role and relevance for a seeker who has adopted the jnAna mArga (The Knowledge Path) in his/her pursuit of liberation.

The write up is structured as a Power Point Presentation downloadable as a pdf file at: http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/downloads/dhyAna_samAdhi.pdf. Continue reading

Three Q&As in Quora

Three Q/As from QUORA (on brain, philosophy, QM, NDE, consciousness)

1. How does the brain understand philosophy?

M. The brain… understanding philosophy? My reply to this is similar to the one I gave recently to another question and which was based on Socrates’ answer to an observation that someone was making. The man saw a pool of water being stirred by a stick held by a man and said that the stick was stirring the water. To which Socrates replied: ‘Is it the stick, or the man moving the stick?’ (Which one is the real agent – the material, or the instrumental cause, in Aristotelian terms?).

Equally, is it the brain, or the mind which ‘moves’ the brain which moves the stick which stirs the water?

Is it the brain, or the mind which (using the brain as an instrument) understands philosophy? Actually, it is consciousness (as a substrate) using the mind using the brain… Consciousness itself does not do anything Continue reading

Hiranyagarbha – a Boltzmann Brain?

Boltzmann Brain The unequivocal and uncompromising declaration of Advaita is that ‘Nothing is ever born; there is no creation.’

If so, what is ‘all this’ that we see?

Well, if such a question arises, the scriptures invoke the IkShaNa shruti – to explain creation. It is just a conceptual model – a fact which the shruti itself affirms. A throb in brahman is said to have engendered a formless Hiranyagarbha, as the Creator, whose thought then projects a world. Sage Vasishta explains very clearly in the Chapter on Origination in Yogavasishta that “Hiranyagarbha is born within the Supreme Self. He has no form. His body comprises his mind only. There is no physical body for him. The five fundamental elements are born from Hiranyagarbha through his mentation (thought process). Hence the five elements and the subsequent products arising out of them like the gross worlds do not have reality. They lack Beingness. They are not really born. They are like the horns of a rabbit.”

While answering the question of “What is this universe?” the physicists too figured out from their calculations a similar mechanism. What they find is that there is a high probability of a vacuum fluctuation in an absolutely quiescent thermodynamic equilibrium giving rise to a single conscious brain (mind) within it rather than the entire gamut of universes, galaxies, livable planets, living creatures. us and so on.  Continue reading

Consciousness/Awareness, the brain, and memories

(Q&A published recently in QUORA)

Q. ‘Why wasn’t my consciousness generated by another brain? Why am I linked with this brain?’

I heard that everybody experiences consciousness, but then why am I my consciousness and not another person’s consciousness? It’s hard to explain.

Paul Bush. Yes, it’s hard to explain. Basically it’s because the most important part of consciousness, which is awareness*, is the same for everybody. There is only one awareness, and in fact nothing else. All the other aspects of consciousness, the contents, are projections of awareness as it identifies with small parts of reality such as bodies and minds. Such misidentification creates a perspective. From each perspective the part of reality not identified with is seen as the external world. The observer with a particular perspective and the world observed as a consequence of that perspective are both inferences created at the moment of identification.

So, there is only one awareness that is continually pulled into the illusion of being this or that observer. The ongoing personal identity that we think of as ourselves maintains coherence through the construction of the concepts of time and space; memory and an apparent (though not total) physical separation from the rest of reality. Awareness has no personal identity, it is exactly the same for you and everyone else, because it is singular awareness that creates each experience depending on the perspective of the entity that it is identifying with.

*(AM Awareness and Consciousness are generally taken as equivalent in Advaita Vedanta – no distinction being made) Continue reading

Living In The Moment Eternally – 2

[Nobody has obviously noticed or pointed out that the continuation articles have not been posted for two years! So I am proceeding with the Series of articles here a bit hesitantly as I am not sure of the Reader-interest. In these two years my computer lost the “memory” of my notes and files stored on the subject (thanks to the hackers from Nigeria). I am hence obliged to go by whatever material I could harness in the ‘now’ from my computer. Part – 1 here.   Part – 3 here .  ]

The main question of interest for us here is “How does the body of a Self-realized man live eternally in the ‘Now’ and function in the day to day life of eating, moving, acting and interacting in the absence of ‘memory’ of past experience/knowledge for recognition? What does “Now” mean for him/her? Is the “Now” on a temporal dimension?”

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, it is impossible to lead a normal life in the world without memory. Maybe it is simply responding to when your name is called or you have to find a solution to a much more complicated problem of technology, memory plays a significant role. Therefore, before we venture to answer the questions on the functioning of a jIvanmukta‘s body, one could be curious to know about the lives of those who are  at a disadvantage in their worldly life because they do not have an access to their memory anymore . I shall list briefly a few such cases which are well studied by scientists. Their lives may look yet times hilarious and often poignant and heartbreaking but always harrowing to their care givers.Wearing - HM Continue reading

Science and Philosophy – Part III  

“The intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups…literary intellectuals at one pole – at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of incomprehension.”

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s? “- C.P. Snow (in the 1960s)

Continue reading

Becoming, Being and the Brain

brain - nancyCan one day the brain science tell us “Who we truly are?”

And show the difference between ‘becoming’ and ‘Being’  in a brain scan?

Can a scan possibly differentiate a “Knower of Truth” vs an “Expert on Truth”?

Please watch this Talk (17:40 min) of Nancy Kanwisher, a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT. Nancy’s Talk is supported by excellent graphics.