[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.]
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.
We already know from several studies that the areas of activity in the brain are about the same whether we think of the past or future (Panel A in the figure to the left). In contrast, experiencing in the present showed a clear difference in the activity of the left parietal cortex (See Panel B). But as Martin rightly observed in his Comments at Part 2, we are not really in a position to definitively assert that we understand the processes of memory formation, recall etc. However, the good news is that the research particularly during the last 3-4 years in Neuroscience is opening up new doors to our knowledge on memory. The confused situation we have been in since the days of Karl Lashley, who “In 1950, admitted defeat [of his ‘engram theory’], proposing instead that memories were not contained within a small set of cells but distributed across the brain” is slowly getting cleared up. It does appear now that an engram (a definite pattern in the firing by a clique of neurons distributed globally in the brain) exists when a memory forms or when it is recalled. By manipulating selective neurons, Sheena Josselyn and colleagues demonstrated that “they can silence or activate the cells that make up the memory’s pattern, erasing and evoking specific memories and even implanting false memories.” It was also established that there is a specific time window when an experience gets stored as a memory. If we are able to block that window, the memory does not get recorded. Scientific American said in 2012 that “Drugs and other therapies may soon be able to alter or even delete recollections selectively.”
Brain activity during “trance” state was reported by Andrew Newberg and his colleagues in 2012. Their studies were made on “Brazilian mediums during the practice of psychography, described as a form of writing whereby a deceased person or spirit is believed to write through the medium’s hand. [Their] research revealed intriguing findings of decreased brain activity during mediumistic dissociative state which generated complex written content.”
I brought some of these matters to the notice of Peter Dziuban, the well-known Non-dualist, and requested him for his views. He made many illuminating points in his response. I reproduce below what he said in his mail in 2013:
First, it seems like there are several versions/definitions for “now” depending on who you talk to. In the cases below, that “now” is the human “present moment” now, the fleeting instant between what the mind calls past and future–but it is completely and only on a mind level.
The “Now” of spirituality is different–it is a consciously realized state, a consciously lived state, that is not on the same level of the mind. As one of my teachers, Lorene McClintock put it: “NOW is not a time. NOW is a conscious experience.” There is a conscious experience of peace, bliss, stillness etc. Usually this “Now” does not completely preclude what still seem to be mind functions (memory, etc.) but at this point, as one’s experience has “expanded” and no longer is limited to mere mind-activity, the mind is no longer “the only game in town.”
In the medical cases described there was a brain malfunction or departure from what we consider “the norm” (no memory) but that’s all there was. This new variation of experience was still in realm of mind, finite phenomena, or better said, an absence of what is considered normal phenomena. There was no consciously abiding as pure Consciousness.
As readers here know, this pure Consciousness is always present as the “primal” state of being, of all existence. It is non-local and universal, and includes body within Itself, rather than It being localized inside a body. But this primal, universal Consciousness is usually overlooked in one’s experience due to conscious attention being given to the constant arising or flow of body-phenomena such as sensing, thinking and emotions. These seem to be “superimposed” on the foundational NOW of universal Consciousness.
It’s worth noting that because this non-local NOW Consciousness is not an experience being had inside a body or brain, there’s nothing about Its BEING that can be measured inside a brain. A test subject experiencing the infinite Eternal NOW is always going to disappoint those trying to measure It scientifically, because there’s nothing of the Eternal NOW in the brain to measure.
I also think that what we call spiritually “living in the Now” is largely a matter of degree, and there’s a lot of variability. It’s not a cut and dried thing like an on/off switch on a light. For many in spirituality, “living in the Now” is like functioning on two levels simultaneously. There is a conscious state of bliss or quiet, but at the same time, mind/sensory activity still appears to be going on. The difference, as we say, is that there no longer is any identification or attachment to it. These would be examples of how, as you say, living in the Now is NOT the same as living without memory.
Then, to the degree one “goes deeper” into the Now (don’t know how else to say it) to that degree, the sensory/mind activity seems to fade out–just as a movie image on the screen in a theatre seems to fade out when the house lights go on. Nothing was done to the picture, but in the full light the picture no longer can appear.
Finally, from the “standpoint” of pure Infinite Self, Presence, these questions/issues cannot even be addressed because to the Infinite no such thing ever is even occurring or being experienced. There is no sense of time, no sensory or mental experience or appearances–thus questions cannot be asked or answered about it. This is a poor example, but it’s like when you are wide awake during mid-day, you are not troubled by the questions of the characters in a sleeping dream because no such sleeping dream is even occurring. You cannot account for the events in a dream that you’re not even having due to being wide awake.
[Note 1: The sentences shown in red above in Peter Dziuban’s explanation are additional inputs very generously provided by Peter on June 26, 2016 in order to bring in greater clarity to the reader. I am very much obliged to him for his time and the love with which he shared his thoughts in explaining the intricacies of the difficult subject being discussed.
Note 2: The figure shown is adopted from “Consciousness of subjective time in the brain” by L. Nyberg et al . The Panel A shows that “compared to a control task of doing mental arithmetic, both remembering and imagining (in the past as well as future) of an action activated numerous brain areas and there was very strong overlap between the two conditions. The Panel B shows the crucial contrast between remembering, past imagining and future imagining, vs. imagining in the present. This small nugget of the left parietal cortex represents an area where the brain is more active when thinking about times other than the present, relative to thinking about the same thing, but right now. The authors note that this area ‘partly overlaps a left angular region shown to be recruited during both past and future thinking and with parietal regions implicated in self-projection in past, present, or future time.’ ” ]
In closing, permit me to repeat a couple of points that I already made in the Comments sections of the earlier two Parts:
- We know that correlation is not causation and the purpose here is not looking for immediately creating a jIvanmukta in the lab using the neuronal correlates as a basis.
- Our main interest for the present is whether an observable footprint can be seen in the brain of body A as distinct from the brain in B — A being the body of a person behaving and acting in a certain fashion with a strong belief in his/her having a separate ‘self,’ and B is the body (of the same individual) after imbibing and ingesting the Advaita message but the body [now] functions because of its own innate intelligence built into it and there is no interference from the concept of a separate ‘me.’