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

Is Consciousness Entirely Physical?

I off and on referred in these columns to the exciting new Theory of Integrated Information developed by Porf. Giulio Tononi of Wisconsin to explain Consciousness (For example here and here).  We have Dr. Tononi explaining the basic concepts behind the theory in simple words in the short Videos at the following links:

  1.  Is Consciousness entirely physical? (8:12 min)
  2.  Anything non-physical with the mind? (9:27 min)

A few other very interesting topics related to Consciousness are also discussed in this series of Videos hosted by Dr. R.L. Kuhn.

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

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

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.

Q.361 – Advaita and the Brain

Q: Hello, I have a question. Professor V. Ramachandran, a neurologist at UC San Diego, in his research outlined that  the Temporal lobe in the brain, which when excited by electricity results in the individual having a religious experience where they “now understand the cosmos” and feel as one with it. This has been characterized in press reports as “The God Zone”   He tells in his book:  “It seems somehow disconcerting to be told that your life, all your hopes, triumphs and aspirations simply arise from the activity of neurons in your brain. Science— cosmology, evolution and especially the brain sciences—is telling us that we have no privileged position in the universe and that our sense of having a private non-material soul “watching the world” is really an illusion (as has long been emphasized by Eastern mystical traditions like Hinduism and Zen Buddhism).”

So according to modern science, there’s nothing spiritual or paranormal. Consciousness in any form is produced only in the brain. How do those new information fit in the Advaita?

A (Ramesam): The quote of Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, if I am not wrong, seems to be from his 1998 book on “Phantoms in the Brain.”

By the late nineties the thrust given to Neuroscientific research through ‘The Decade of the Brain’ project was coming to an end. As a result of this concerted effort, illuminating light began to shine on many hitherto dark corners of the brain’s way of functioning – be it memory, emotions, thought process, neurological ailments or even the intractable mind-brain relation. The general atmosphere prevailing in those times was that of all round excitement and euphoria about the new findings which opened the doors to promising avenues of research in Neuroscience. Dr. Ramachandran made a name for himself with contributions to the advancement of our knowledge on the alleviation of pain from surgically excised limbs, synesthesia and even the application of neuroscientific principles to art and sculpture. Continue reading

Spontaneous thoughts

You may recall my earlier Post on “Two Genres of Thought” in Dec 2013.

A just published research study says:

Spontaneous thoughts, intuitions, dreams and quick impressions — we all have these seemingly random thoughts popping into our minds on a daily basis. The question is what do we make of these unplanned, spur-of-the-moment thoughts? Do we view them as coincidental wanderings of a restless mind, or as revealing meaningful insight into ourselves?

A research team from Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard Business School set out to determine how people perceive their own spontaneous thoughts and if those thoughts or intuitions have any influence over judgment. Published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, their research found that spontaneous thoughts are perceived to provide potent self-insight and can influence judgment and decisions more than similar, more deliberate kinds of thinking — even on important topics such as commitment to current romantic partners.

The (perceived) meaning of spontaneous thoughts.
Morewedge, Carey K.; Giblin, Colleen E.; Norton, Michael I.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, May 12 , 2014,

Two Genres Of Thought

“The Problem is I can’t tell the difference between a deeply wise, nudge from the Universe and one of my own bone-headed ideas!”

(Copy right: Bradford Veley)

It looks to me that we are besieged by two genres of thought.

When I say two genres, I do not mean the yes- no- thoughts or being double minded and undecided in our view about things. Nor do I refer to split personalities. Actually it has NOTHING to do about the “content” of the thought.  What I have in mind is about the suite or family of thoughts – based on their possible source of origin (real or apparent).

As advaitin-s, we all know that everything is a manifestation of brahman. We shall use the term ‘Universal Self’ for It. The Universal Self is kUTastha – does not do or intend to do anything. It is changeless, actionless, eternal and It is Beingness-Consciousness-Infinity. We also know that we act, talk, walk, eat, breathe and live as an individual.  We shall use the term ‘self’ for this separate entity. Continue reading

Living In The Moment Eternally – 1

Appayya Dikshitar - (1520-93)

Appayya Dikshitar – (1520-93)

We, the traditional Advaitins, are a prejudicial lot – aren’t we?  Appayya Dikshitar’s words uttered in delirium when his brain was under the influence of the hallucinogenic Datura seeds are for us a beautiful AtmArpaNastuti in praise of Lord Shiva. But the mutterings of some other ordinary mortal with a differently affected brain is mere meaningless chatter unworthy of any notice. Let us not forget that both are actions done under conditions of an altered brain. And in both cases, an external agency is responsible for causing the change in the brain.

It was UG who famously said once that whether it was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or pulling the chain in the WC sounded the same to him.  Some of the Zen Masters used to respond to the simple questions like “What is the time now?” with an answer that the mountain was running or some such response – totally frivolous and meaningless on the face of it. But their effort was to draw our attention to the way our mind functions in assigning ‘meaning and significance’ (which are actually not there) ever caught up in a habituated pattern which we  normally fail to detect.

Over six years ago, I prepared a comparative statement of the characteristics of an ordinary person and a ‘Self-realized’ man. I used the information  collated from many sources  that I could lay my hands on in preparing this tabulated compilation — almost like what a Purchase Officer does with the quotations (s)he obtains. There were several reasons behind this exercise of mine. Continue reading