States of Consciousness – 2, 3, 4 and 1/2?

Okay, here is your starter for 10 – your time starts now! (If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it relates to the quiz show ‘University challenge’, which was on British television for many years.)

The question is: how many states of consciousness are there?

I can almost see your mind tripping up and reading that question again. Surely, you will say, there are three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming and deep sleep. What can I possibly mean by querying this? Well, actually, depending upon how you answer this question, the number of states of consciousness could be two, three or five (or 4 ½) or you could argue that the very question is misconceived!

It is true that most of the scriptures refer to 3 states. If you have read my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, you will know that it refers to jAgrat, svapna and suShupti. These three states are mithyA and the reality underlying them is called turIya. In the tattva bodha (attributed to Shankara), the question is asked: avasthAtrayaM kim? – What are the three states? Admittedly, this is a somewhat leading question but the answer is given: jAgratsvapnasuShuptyavasthAH – they are the waking, dream and deep sleep states. And it goes on to explain each in turn. Continue reading


[Part 1/3         Part 2/3]

To eff the ineffable:

We travelled the depths of Non-duality in Part 2/3.

As Jeff would put it, “I am realized, you are not” is a silly game. There’s no one – none – that’s not Brahman. You are already realized! So relax.

And let’s know what the brainy brain-scientists say consciousness is.

What consciousness is and how the brain produces it (if it does), is still one of the great challenges to science. Until a few decades ago, science was averse to dabble into this subject for lack of adequate investigative tools (both conceptual and instrumental). “Today consciousness research has become a passion for many scientists.”

But what is consciousness? It’s like asking what life is or what energy is. You know it when you see it. We say that “a brain that is fully awake and constructing experiences is fully conscious.” The thalamus, a sort of hub located deep in the brain for information flows from the senses to the upper reaches of the brain is crucial for consciousness. A person turns into a vegetative state if the thalamus is damaged or the information flows are inhibited. This does not mean that thalamus produces consciousness; it may just show that one is conscious – much like a thermometer which doesn’t actually make the heat, but tells you how hot it is.

Dr.Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and his colleagues are studying

States of consciousness (After L. Saunders, 2012)

brains that are deeply asleep, under anesthesia or in comas to understand consciousness. As shown in the figure at the right, “awareness typically tracks with wakefulness — especially in normal states of consciousness. People in coma or under general anesthesia score low on both measures, appearing asleep with no signs of awareness. Sometimes, wakefulness and awareness become uncoupled, Continue reading


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Before going into a consideration of Deep Sleep, once again a small detour.

Dennis raised in an e-mail the question of Sleepwalking. Where would it fit in the Model?

Some people amble around in sleep and even hurt themselves.  A few persons could commit heinous crimes in the state of somnambulism.  A well-known case is that of Kenneth Park in 1987 when he strangulated his father-in-law and killed his mother-in-law. However, he was let out by the court on the ground that he was sleepwalking when he harmed and killed people.  A similar case of acquittal also occurred in 1846. Apparently the body of the sleepwalkers is active but the mind seems to be asleep.

Neuroscientifically speaking, in the case of sleepwalking, the motor cortex of the brain is functional whereas the frontal lobe vested with executive functions is at rest. This means that a part of the mind (that propels the body to act) is active while the part responsible for reasoning and self-control is asleep. Continue reading