[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.
Clive Wearing: An eminent musicologist at Cambridge University. Each time he sees his wife, he runs tearfully into her arms as if it is the reunion of long-lost lovers when in reality she may have left the room minutes earlier. Without the ability to store new memories, Clive is permanently trapped in the here and now. He maintains a diary in an attempt to keep track of existence but this makes for painful reading:
“2.00 p.m. – I am awake for the first time 2.14 p.m. – I am now conscious. 2.19 p.m. – have just woken for the first time.
2.22 p.m. – ……. ……… ……..
Each previous entry is crossed out as he asserts that he has only just become conscious.
There was a movie also under the title, “Prisoner of Consciousness” on the life of this professor. His wife, Deborah wrote a book in 2005, with the title, “Forever Today.” She writes in that: “It was as if every waking moment was the first waking moment. Clive was under the constant impression that he had just emerged from unconsciousness because he had no evidence in his own mind of ever being awake before…. “I haven’t heard anything, touched anything, smelled anything,” he would say.
Henry Gustav Molaison (HM): At the age of nine, HM suffered head injuries in an accident that caused debilitating convulsions. In 1953, when he was twenty five years old, he underwent an operation that successfully relieved his symptoms. But another problem surfaced that something was terribly wrong.
HM could not retain new memories. Instead, he constantly lived in the present, greeting the same people several times a day with the same expressions, as if he were seeing them for the first time. Everything that went into his memory lasted only a few minutes before it disappeared. His long-term memory, however, was relatively intact and could remember his life before the surgery. But without a functioning hippocampus, HM was unable to record new experiences. For example, he would be horrified when looking in a mirror, since he saw the face of an old man but thought he was still twenty-five. But mercifully, the memory of being horrified would also soon disappear into the fog.
EP: His viral encephalitis infection wreaked havoc upon his brain: Large, bilateral, symmetrical lesions were found in the medial temporal lobe, portions of the brain responsible for formation of long-term memory; and whole, crucial structures were eliminated. Additionally, other brain regions had atrophied and white matter – the support fibers that transmit signals between brain structures – had become gliotic or scarred. Half an hour after lunch, he would have forgotten what he ate or if he had eaten at all. EP was utterly unable to learn anything new.
Jimmie G.: Jimmie’s scientific knowledge was that of a bright high school graduate with a penchant for mathematics and science. He was superb at arithmetical (and also algebraic) calculations, but only if they could be done in lightning speed. If there were many steps, too much time, involved, he would forget where he was, and even the question. Dr. Oliver Sacks says about Jimmie:
“….. He is a man without a past (or future), stuck in a constantly changing meaningless moment.”
“Jimmie both was and wasn’t aware of a deep, tragic loss in himself, loss of himself. (If a man has lost a leg or any eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self – himself – he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.)
One day I asked him: How do you feel?
‘How do I feel,’ he repeated and scratched his head. I cannot say I feel ill. But I cannot say I feel well. I cannot say I feel anything at all.’
‘How then do you feel about life?’
‘I can’t say I feel anything at all.’
‘You feel alive though?’
‘Feel alive? Not really. I haven’t felt alive for a very long time.’
But watch the same Jimmie in a chapel.
I saw an intensity and steadiness of attention and concentration that I had never seen before in him or conceived him capable of. I watched him kneel and take Sacrament on his tongue, and could not doubt the fullness and totality of Communion, the perfect alignment of his spirit with the spirit of the Mass. He was wholly held, absorbed, by a feeling. There was no forgetting, ….. but was absorbed in an act, an act of his whole being, which carried the feeling and meaning in an organic continuity and unity so seamless it could not permit any break.” (Copied from Dr. Sacks’s book).
Thompson: He remembered nothing for more than a few seconds. He was continually disoriented. Abysses of amnesia continually opened beneath him, but he would bridge them, nimbly, by fluent confabulations and fictions of all kinds. For him they were not fictions, but how he suddenly saw, or interpreted, the world. He, with quick-fire inventions, continually improvised a world around him – an Arabian Nights world, a phantasmagoria, a dream, of ever-changing people, figures, situations – continual, kaleidoscopic mutations and transformations. For Mr. Thompson, however, it was not a tissue of ever-changing, evanescent fancies and illusion, but a wholly normal, stable and factual world. So far as he was concerned, there was nothing the matter. (Copied from Dr. Sacks’s book).
Dr. P.: A painter, and a more severe case of prosopagnosia. The functioning of such people will resemble that of a machine. Dr. Sacks write:
“It wasn’t merely that Dr. P. displayed the same indifference to the visual world as a computer but – even more strikingly – he construed the world as a computer construes it, by means of key features and schematic relationships. The scheme might be identified – in an ‘identi-kit’ way – without the reality being grasped at all.” That tender delicate feelings of what we are as humans may be lost for them.
SM: SM is a 44-year-old mother. Arachnids (spiders) or even snakes don’t scare her. Horror movies or haunted houses just don’t bother her. When she was held up at knifepoint and gunpoint by some hoodlums or when she nearly got killed, she didn’t run for life; she just stood there fascinated. She has no ‘fears’ at all! It was found that she suffered from a rare genetic condition that resulted in an illness which left her with “two perfectly symmetrical black holes where her amygdala should be.”
Roger: Dr. J. Feinstein and his coworkers studied for a decade and half the case of Roger, a patient with damage to amygdale and other limbic parts of his brain due to viral infection some 30 years ago. In spite of it, Roger lives a normal life for all practical purposes. “His IQ is above average; his speech and language abilities are excellent; his vision and hearing are normal. His attention, short term (working) memory and reasoning abilities are unimpaired. Roger appears, like a Yogi, unconcerned by his condition. He is always happy. Moreover, based on his family’s report, Roger is paradoxically happier now than he was before his brain damage!” He, however, suffers from a global loss of memory. He has no sense of taste or smell.
I shall report in the next part the reply given to my questions on this matter by Peter Dziuban , a highly respected Teacher of Non-duality and the author of books like “Consciousness Is All,” “Simply Notice,” “Timeless Infinity” etc. .
(Continued … Part – 3)
I’m curious why you make a connection with the states of these people and the so-called enlightened man, or ‘jivanmukti’. All of these folks have suffered some kind of brain trauma that leaves them without full brain function. Surely, this has little to do with all the descriptions of the jivanmukti that have been passed down to us.
The idea of living in the now is a concept that is sought after mistakenly by those who really don’t see their own programming. The concept is full of holes from the idea that there is someone living now, to the idea of space/time, and something to be attained.
You have read UG’s description of his state which clearly describes the way he functions after his ‘calamity’. He had a functional memory whenever there was a need for one. The idea of happiness was a non issue because there was no one there to be happy or sad. Yet, you could see him laughing and very attentive to what was going on around him. There was nothing missing except the idea of who he was. His body functioned because of the innate intelligence built into it and the non interference with it from the conceptual mind.
Many people, due to brain function or trauma, seem to be in a state that is not particularly disturbed. I just don’t follow what you are trying to get at.
Thank you very much for the kind Comments and thereby helping to kick start a discussion that could possibly draw in others to come out with their views.
At the outset, let me say that I fully subscribe to what you expressed. I have no quarrel at all with your observations. Yes, as you said, I am aware of UG’s talks and also have the feel for what he is pointing to. So without much ado, I shall try to briefly answer “what I am trying to get at,” (borrowing your phrase).
You may say that I am driven by a sort of “academic curiosity” into this line of investigation. I have given the raison d’etre in several of my previous articles. (If I remember alright, and if you are the same ‘Anon’, you have also perhaps indicated a little bit of fascination to this approach). I shall give below three references and a very short summary of the ideas involved. I will not mind to expand on it if there are more readers wanting me to do so.
Ref # 1. The Series of ten Posts at my Blog starting with Neuronal Correlates of a Jivanmukta in June 2009 (here)
These posts begin with the sort of objection you raised and go on to explain the complete concept.
Ref # 2. Neuronal correlates of a jivanmukta’s mind – identification of ‘Markers’ in the brain : here
Ref # 3. A Series of three articles on “Emotional Stability” at the Advaita Academy with different subtitles, the first one at: here
The Abstract of reference # 2 says:
“This paper explicates the essence of Gaudapada’s ajativada (nothing is ever born) school of Non-duality and gives a neuroscientific rationale to develop identifiable “Markers” in the brain of a Jivanmukta, i.e. one who has realized that “nothing is ever born.” The sense of an individuating ‘self’ has collapsed right in the present life for a Jivanmukta. Samadhi or equivalent meditation states and epiphany etc. (on which published research information is available) is considered in Advaita to be still a ‘state’ (i.e. time dependent) unlike Jivanmukti where the sense of separation ends for good (i.e. irreversibly). Though a Jivanmukta is dissolved into an inexpressible Oneness, this change happens within and to an individual…… ”
Thanks to the large number of Psychiatrists, Neuroscientists and even Physicists with many years of experience in meditation, we have a large amount of scientifically observed data relating the brain to the thought processes and emotional status of an individual.
Say there is a body, let us call it ‘A’, behaving and acting in a certain fashion with a strong belief in his/her having a separate ‘self.’ After being exposed to UG’s or some teacher’s talk, a change happened. Let us say, that body is now “missing the idea of who he was. His body [now] functions because of the innate intelligence built into it and the non interference with it from the conceptual mind” (again using your phraseology). Let us call this body ‘B.’
Let us forget all the ethereal terms (jivanmukti etc.) and ask a simple question: Does the brain of the body A show any difference in the way it acts and reacts from the brain of the body B?
In the absence of actual and reliable data, one approach to the above question is to examine the status of brains showing similar characteristics as that of B in order to provide some base level information, as per the standard norms of investigation. Paraphrasing what I wrote elsewhere:
“Scientists may be able to damage parts of the brain of a laboratory animal (e.g. a mouse) and observe the changes in its behavior, like, for example lack of fear when exposed to a dangerous situation (say the presence of a predator cat). But the animals can hardly tell us what their internal feelings are, if any. And it may not be very wise to ask for human volunteers who will let us chop off some part of their brain for experimental purposes. But luckily, nature provides a way to let us know the effect of removing a specific part (say, amygdale) and that is by studying the case files of Neurology patients.”
That is what I have been attempting in the present Series.
Let me hasten to add that we know that correlation is not causation and we are not looking for immediately creating a jIvanmukta in the lab. Nevertheless, you may be interested to know about the work of some scientists like Prof. de Charms who suggests the possibility of attaining ‘yogic’ state through real time neural feedback.
‘There is still a lot that is not known about how memories are organized and represented in the brain. Neuron-level mechanisms have been figured out, and quite a lot of information has been gathered about the brain region specialized for coding and managing memory storage (the hippocampus). But the exact structure and coding scheme of memories has yet to be determined.’ (From article, below.)
Paul King is a Neuro-scientist most competent in this field. QUORA is a great repository on this and many other topics, scientific as well as philosophical. I’ll try to find something more, specifically on memory loss, and on depersonalization.
Thank you for your observations.
In fact, I have been eagerly looking forward for your intervention as you are really the most competent expert here to speak on the subject from the medical POV.
As you say, we are still admittedly scratching the surface as far as understanding the brain processes are concerned. But we have a much better picture of the brain today and the knowledge gained so far is perhaps enough to give us courage to venture into developing at least the broad contours of a field of study that can cross-pollinate and co-relate with Advaita Vedanta.
As you know, some researchers are already talking of Neurotheology. A large amount of Advaitic philosophy does deal with mental processes – emotions, mind control, thoughts & thought processes, cognition, illusory nature of the percepts, Consciousness & altered states of consciousness, hallucinogens, ego, desire, misery & happiness, etc. etc. Advaita is already being used in the cases of de-addiction, depression etc. by a few Neuroscientists/Psychologists and some Teachers of Non-duality.
It is quite apt that you touched on “Memory” in your comment. The post-upanishadic literature equates vAsanA kshaya with liberation. We know vAsanA-s are the traces of memory of past experiences carried in the brain by the genes and memes acting as the replicators. As Prof. Dobson (Astrophysicist turned a Monk of the RK Mission) said once, counter-cheating the genes from their expression is liberation – i.e. we have to stop them working from their stored information.
Research is in progress to develop methodologies to selectively “erase” memories (particularly in connection with PTSD) and now it appears that there is a ‘window’ available to eliminate the ‘record’ of memory of an experience. Whatever the nature of experience may be, one can then stay without being affected – whether pleasant or miserable – with equanimity like what you referred to in an earlier comment of yours quoting BG IV-18.
Art is long,
and Life is short,
and decision difficult. (Hippocrates)
Thank you Ramesam. After reading what you wrote above, I am led to say something in my own defense. First, my knowledge of brain anatomy and physiology goes back to over 50 years, in the first years of studying medicine. Second, my main area of interest is philosophy rather than science – even before I started medicine. Third, I tend to be critical, not about the positive, practical advances of science in general and medicine in particular, but about claims of the former concerning ‘progress’ and well-being of the masses. I may post in future an article I wrote many years ago titled ‘What do we mean by health?’, which still is a summary of my position on this matter.
[“Physicians are, by definition, intellectual chimeras because the discipline of medicine is an amalgam of hard science, healing, philosophy, metaphysics and ethics. Each physician must decide what to take and use from that intellectual palette and the decisions they make… “ – Stephen Hage reviewing ‘Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousnes Are the keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe’, by Dr. Lanza.]
There are three myths originated by the Greek genius that I find applicable to some of the concerns pertaining to what I just said: Prometheus, Pandora’s box, and ‘the sorcerer’s apprentice’ (cf. Till Eulenspiegel and his merry pranks). To these, three far-reaching concepts may be added: hubris, nemesis, and ananké (necessity).
Some of the developements in Bio-medicine, such as robotics and artificial limbs, organ-transplantation, stem-cell research with its clinical applications, and the advances in Neuro-science, logotherapy, etc., etc., are really outstanding, whereas things such as viruses and bacteria seem to be getting the upper hand in medicine’s fight against their prevalence and the harm they cause (increasing resistence to antibiotics, and hardly any new antibiotics looming in the horizon). Not to mention Iatrogenic diseases (provoked by pharmacological remedies), and ‘invented pathologies’, such as mourning-related ‘depression’, PMS, ADHD (questionable), DID (dissociative identity disorder), etc. There are also the phony therapies, like Homeopathy, Craniosacral therapy, Chiropractic, Reflexology, and Britain’s most influential nutritionist Patrick Holford and his ‘Optimum Nutrition Bible’.
What to make of efforts at, not just prolonging life, but making people immortal by means of sequential organ transplantation – ad infinitum? This is not a joke: serious efforts by ‘serious’, accredited researchers are being conducted right now (there must be a few millionairs already in the list waiting further developements… similar to those waiting for the first trip to Mars). http://www.quora.com/search?q=project+immortality+by+2045
Can medical Nanorobots theoretically make us immortal?
>>Gary Miller, Software Developer— Yes, and these are the some of the project milestones that will occur over the next 30 or so years that will indicate that we are making progress towards that goal…)>>
Apart from physical immortality, I have this quote, also to do with physicalism: “Frequently, in explanations disseminated in the culture, the only agency one hears about is the ‘brain,’ and never the ‘mind’ [but]… the brain does not ‘read;’ it does not ‘hear;’ it does not ‘love.'” Robert Geis.
In summary, what I wanted to say is that, personally, I don’t hold any particular hopes for, and enthusiasm towards, the future in terms of further inventions and discoveries by science and technology. For example, I think that there should be a moratorium in further improvements of the cellular pone – it is good enough as it is! And this feeling is extensive to whatever may be found in most fields, in consonance with man’s imperative towards uncovering the ‘secrets of nature’, related to the Promethean (and Faustian) myths: ‘You will be all powerful, and death will not touch you’.
Addendum. Sorry, it passed my mind referring – with appreciation and full accord – to what you wrote at the end of your post:
‘Whatever the nature of experience may be, one can then stay without being affected – whether pleasant or miserable – with equanimity like what you referred to in an earlier comment of yours quoting BG IV-18’
Perhaps you are shooting for the first institute to hand out jivanmukta certifications. 🙂
Keeping with the ‘strange’ case of UG, many people asked him whether he’s been examined by a neurologist to see if his brain function was different than someone who had not experienced what he termed his ‘calamity’. From his pov, what reason would he have to do so?
Let’s posit that it could be measured, what would that mean for those who are covered by this ‘dark cloud of Ignorance’? How would that help you or anyone else?
Referring to your mention of bio-feedback to induce certain states, I must remind you that the so called jivanmukti is not ‘in’ any state. If you are referring to more equanimity than the average person has, there are many techniques to help bring this about, but this does not equate to jivanmukti-hood, IMO. It is a conundrum that cannot be fathomed using the intellect.
Also, relative to the ‘programming’ that we all grow up with, this does not disappear. Because there is no identification of a person with it, it does not present a problem for those in the ‘hood’. Nirvana is Samsara. Very clever, huh? 🙂
As you know, I agree with Anon on this one. Self-knowledge is knowledge about the truth of the Self. Knowledge obviously ‘resides’ in the brain in some way but it is not remotely reasonable to suggest that knowledge of any kind might disrupt other brain functions, such as memory. The knowledge that is gained is that who-I-really am is not this reflected Consciousness functioning through the brain but the ‘original’ Consciousness that is the source of this reflection. Even so, this knowledge ‘belongs’ to the reflection, which continues as before. Obviously, knowling this, aspects of behavior are likely to be changed as a result. But the changes are the result of the changed perspective, not the result of physical changes in the brain.
Best wishes, Dennis
I would say that there is no knowledge gained as you describe because there is no knower to be gaining anything. If the body has this innate intelligence that UG describes, it is already functioning in all of us. It’s not possible to be conscious of it because there is no perceiver and no separation from it. You are it. As you say, your perspective is changed but nothing is added or taken away except the concept of a separate being. All anxieties stop here.
What Dennis is saying is that whatever knowledge one has or momentarily holds does not pertain to ‘the original Consciousness’, but to reflected consciousness or a purported individual — ‘The knowledge that is gained is that who ’I’ really am is not this reflected Consciousness functioning through the brain but the ‘original’ Consciousness that is the source of this reflection.’
As is known from advaita Vedanta Atman (in essence ‘you’ and ‘I’) is not a knower:
‘In the same way as Atman is presumed to be a knower of objects like sound, etc., which are conveyed by intellect, etc. because of avidya, or modification of the mind of the nature of non-discriminating knowledge, Atman himself who is really changeless is called “the wise one” because of the modification of the mind, which is unreal likewise, viz., knowledge discriminatig the self and the non-self.’- GBh. 2-21.
With due respect, Martin, I think your interpretation can be very misleading to most readers. I know you are an advocate of Advaita Vedanta and use the terminology freely. I, however, have found that discarding all this ‘cultural’ terminology leads to a much clearer view of what we call ourselves and what we seem to be chasing. Once you introduce terms like Atman, God, Realization, there is an immediate division created as it is all conceptual.
One of the most interesting things that I had ever heard was UG telling me he didn’t know who he was. I could see it in his face that he had no way of relating to a self of any kind. It simply didn’t exist for him. And, there was no substitute for being without a self, such as Self Realization, Buddha Nature, or what have you. These are the concepts of those who still have notions of being a person with a story.
Anon: First, this site has as its purported aim the discussion and elucidation of Advaita Vedanta as based on, and in terms of, its own tradition. I am happy with this.
Second, we (you included) do nothing else here but talk about – that is, conceptualize – whatever it is that we understand, or think we understand. Real understanding or ‘Intuition’ happens in the silence of each one’s private room or space, wordlessly and (coincidentally, or subsequently) with words or concepts.
Third, for all I know, U.G. could have been suffering from some type of neurological or psychological disorder (such as depersonalization). He did not sound, to me at least, as a liberated person in the sense we are currently discussing. He was not just odd or excentric – again, my opinion.
Dear Anon, Dennis and Martin,
Please pardon me for responding to all the points through a combined post. I felt it is better than multiple posts in reply.
First of all my thanks to you all for the thoughtful inputs and valuable observations. Though not needed, let me reiterate that all of us are on the same page as far as the fundamental message of Non-duality is concerned. We have no arguments there.
Anon raised the question of purpose of these discussions when he said: “Let’s posit that it could be measured, what would that mean for those who are covered by this ‘dark cloud of Ignorance’? How would that help you or anyone else?”
My reply is that let us not rush for ‘applications’ of these studies at this stage. I gave a more detailed answer on the ‘utility’ aspects of such a study like this at: http://beyond-advaita.blogspot.com/2009/07/neuronal-correlates-of-jivanmukta-10.html
Anon also said: “I must remind you that the so called jivanmukti is not ‘in’ any state.”
My reply: I am aware of the implication of time in the word “state.” I used the word ‘state’ for the lack of any other word as explained in the Abstract cited at Ref # 2 previously and also in greater detail at: http://beyond-advaita.blogspot.com/2009/06/neuronal-correlates-of-jivanmukta-8.html
Anon also referred to a question put to UG about being examined by a Neurologist. More than 90 percent of brain activity goes below the radar of our awareness. So it would not have been possible for UG to describe the changes in his brain pre- and post- his 1969 ‘calamity.’
Dennis raised the issue of “reflected consciousness” and original “Consciousness.”
My reply: Notwithstanding the clarification given by Martin, IMHO, the Model of “reflected consciousness” is used only for teaching purposes, that too preferred only by one particular school of Advaita. As you are well aware, there is another school which denies this concept. And there are teachers who use a mix of different models. Shankara himself in his bhAshya-s never propagated any specific model.
Therefore, all these models are tentative and are fictitious explanatory artifacts designed to help a seeker to start with. There is no intrinsic validity, sanctity or reality to them. It becomes only a belief if one insists to say that there is an animal sitting there called “reflected consciousness.”
Dennis also says: ” … the changes are the result of the changed perspective, not the result of physical changes in the brain.”
But the scientific fact is that the ‘changed perspectives’ do have an observable “signature” in the brain. The neuronal connections in the brain are highly labile. Even drinking a cup of coffee alters the physical connections. (The smell of coffee has been shown to change the connections in mice in lab studies). Behavioral changes in OCD patients before and after meditational practices are recorded in the brain. So the statement that “But the changes are the result of the changed perspective, not the result of physical changes in the brain” cannot be supported.
And once again, to repeat, we are not concerned with the causal relationships (whether neuronal changes cause beahaviors or vice versa), but whether an observable footprint can be seen in the brain of body A as distinct from that of B (A and B as defined by me previously).
Martin, medical doctor he is, raised the possibility of UG being a case of neurological disorder, ‘depersonalization.’ Even our scriptures say that the actions and behavior of a “Self-realized” individual cannot be distinguished from that of a mad man. And that is precisely my point. Can the modern sophisticated brain scanning and other techniques bring out the difference between the psychologically disordered brain and the brain of a “Realized” individual?
The only issue we are probing in depth is the rationale behind the possibility of finding out any identifiable ‘markers’ in the “pre- vs. post- enlightened ” brains. I have no qualms if this brain child of mine is killed. But the only appeal I make is that let us give it a fair trial.
I guess this line of inquiry does not amount to a violation of Advaita message itself. (We assume here that the reader is already familiar with Advaita and is not a beginner to be confused by the Posts made in this thread). And of course, undoubtedly Dennis has the privilege in continuing or otherwise the discussions here.
I shall refer to the work of Andrew Newberg on the state of a brain in trance in Part – 3 of my Post (if we do not discontinue the Series).
The only useful line of inquiry is into oneself, not into another. Perhaps there is a meeting point when we discover that there is no one there, nothing to realize, nothing to attain. Otherwise, it’s all opinion, and you know what they say about opinion…..:-)