Consciousness – Not such a Hard Problem (2 of 2)

Read Part 1

Without Consciousness, nothing can be known. But Consciousness itself cannot be an object of knowledge, just as in a totally dark room, a torch may illuminate everything but itself. Knowing requires both knower and known. For Consciousness to be known, it would have to be a knowable object but it is the knowing subject. We ‘know’ Consciousness because we are Consciousness. Consciousness is our true nature. The ultimate observer (which is who you essentially are) is simply not amenable to any type of objective investigation: who could there be beyond the ultimate observer to do the investigating?

Numerous attempts have been made to define Consciousness. Most seem to revolve around the assumption that a person’s behaviour indicates its presence or absence. It is argued that consciousness is present during the waking and dream states but not in deep-sleep or under anaesthesia, for example. But this is again to confuse Consciousness and awareness. When we awake from a deep-sleep, we are able to state with confidence that we were ‘aware of nothing’. This is a positive statement – there were no gross objects, emotions or thoughts present for us to perceive. Continue reading

Consciousness – Not such a Hard Problem (1 of 2)

This is an article I wrote for a Philosophy magazine 5 years ago but it was not published. It was included in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy’, which was based upon the 18-part ‘Overview of Western Philosophy‘.

ABSTRACT

The studies by neuroscience into the functioning of the brain will tell us nothing about Consciousness. We must differentiate between Consciousness and awareness. Consciousness enables the brain to perceive just as electricity enables the computer to process data. The computer does not generate electricity; the brain does not produce Consciousness.

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Ever since the ‘study’ of consciousness began to be an academically acceptable area of research amongst scientists, both they and Western philosophers have been heading deeper and deeper into a conceptual cul-de-sac. At the root of the problem is the tacit assumption that science will (one day) be able to provide an explanation for everything. But, more specifically as regards this particular issue, the big ‘C’ of Consciousness must be differentiated from the little ‘a’ of awareness. The conflation of the two means that the true nature of Consciousness will forever elude them.

Below, I address some of the various misconceptions that are misleading many of the neuroscientists and philosophers in the field of Consciousness Studies. It is accepted that not all of these investigators will hold such ‘extreme’ positions (and a few are much more liberal in their approach). Continue reading

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 8/8

Part – 7/8

15.  jIva and jagat are Notional (Contd):

When Arjuna laments at the prospect of killing his loved ones in the war, Krishna tells him, “It was not that I was not existing before nor will I stop existing in the future.” That means there is no beginning or end, nor do the birth and death exist. Life is merely a transitional form that arises in between the unreal appearance of birth and death. Since birth and death are unreal, we (as the Self) are already liberated.

त्वेवाहं जातु नासं त्वं नेमे जनाधिपा |
चैव भविष्याम: सर्वे वयमत: परम् ||              —  2:12, Bhagavad-Gita.

[Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.]

In the very next verse, Krishna, however, says: Continue reading

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 7/8

Part – 6/8  

13.  The Logical Fallacy of Infinite Regress:

While explicating further on the question of “Whose is avidyA  (Ignorance)?” Shankara points out that the contention “I am ignorant” is a logical fallacy which would lead one to an infinite regress.

Shankara says:

ज्ञातुः अविद्यायाश्च सम्बन्धस्य यः ग्रहीता, ज्ञानं अन्यत् तद्विषयं सम्भवति ; अनवस्थाप्राप्तेः   ज्ञातुः अविद्यायाश्च सम्बन्धस्य यः ग्रहीता, ज्ञानं अन्यत् तद्विषयं सम्भवति ; अनवस्थाप्राप्तेः  यदि ज्ञात्रापि ज्ञेयसम्बन्धो ज्ञायते, अन्यः ज्ञाता कल्प्यः स्यात् , तस्यापि अन्यः, तस्यापि अन्यः इति अनवस्था अपरिहार्या  यदि पुनः अविद्या ज्ञेया, अन्यद्वा ज्ञेयं ज्ञेयमेव  तथा ज्ञातापि ज्ञातैव, ज्ञेयं भवति  यदा एवम् , अविद्यादुःखित्वाद्यैः ज्ञातुः क्षेत्रज्ञस्य किञ्चित् दुष्यति

“How can you perceive the relation between the Self and avidyA? It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to avidyA, at the same moment (that your Self cognizes avidyA); for, the cognizer (Self) acts at the moment as the percipient of avidyA. (The Self cannot be both the perceiver and the perceived at the same time). Continue reading

Q.483 Inert elements?

Q: The five elements of this universe (space, air, fire, water, earth) are considered inert by nature and in Vedantic teachings. However, Brahman is the substratum for everything and is Consciousness. So, how can the 5 elements be fundamentally be considered inert?

A: In reality, there is no matter. What appears to be matter, from the standpoint of phenomenal existence, is actually Brahman (Consciousness) but we see ‘forms’ and give them ‘names’ as if there were separate entities.

The elements are certainly inert. But so also are the bodies and minds of humans. (We differentiate these of course as being ‘gross’ bodies and ‘subtle’ minds but they are all still inert.) The difference between a mind and a rock, is that the mind ‘reflects’ Consciousness, whereas the rock does not. Thus the mind expresses consciousness (small ‘c’) but the rock doesn’t.

You always have to remember that explanations such as these are ‘interim’ only, in order to point the mind towards an intuitive understanding of the nature of reality. You can never have ‘true’ explanations because reality is non-dual.

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 6/8

Part – 5/8 

What we have are clearly two entities. They are the kShetra, the field comprising all that which is the knowable, and the kShetrjna, who is the Knower. If ignorance and misery were to be the inherent properties of the Self, it amounts to say that Self perceives Itself because the Self is able to know them (the misery and nescience). That obviously is an absurd position, “since one and the same thing cannot be both the agent and the object of an action.” Whatever is perceived, as for example form and color, cannot be a property of the perceiver.

Likewise, it is the Self that perceives joys and sorrows. They cannot perceive themselves. They are objects to the Self; they are not the Self.  For the Self to perceive these, they must be different from the Self. Only then can they be experienced. If the object is totally identified with the Self (me), it cannot be perceived anymore. It itself becomes the Self.

Hence it is incorrect to say that “nescience and misery and the like are the attributes and specific properties of kShhetrajna.” Continue reading

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 5/8

Part – 4/8

8.  Self is never in Bondage (Contd.): 

Shankara is very categorical in his observation that “Very rare is the person who attains discriminating wisdom. The ignorant don’t follow the man of Wisdom, because of their attachments and evil passions which necessarily lead to action.” He regrets that such people resort to even black magic. He adds that “Therefore, samsAra is only based on avidyA and exists only for the ignorant man who sees the world as it appears to him. Neither avidyA nor its effect pertains to Kshetrajna, pure and simple.”

9.  A Man of Erudition (paNDita) vs. A Scholar:

Shankara says that, not only many of the common people, even some of the scholars (Experts in shAstra-s) fail to understand the essential message of the scripture. Proud of their knowledge in the Vedic rituals, they think that they are the doers (with a strong sense of a “me”) and believe they will attain great merit (as “mine”) in this life-time so that they can reap the fruits of their meritorious actions in the next world. They perceive their body, life-force, senses, and mind, but are unable to grasp their innermost Self (pratyagAtmA) which is the actual witness to all that they perceive. If they are able to recognize their inner Self, they will easily cognize the Supreme Self (paramAtmA) that is present everywhere and in everything. They will come to realize that their inner Self is not different from the Supreme Self.  As the Gita says,

विद्याविनयसम्पन्ने ब्राह्मणे गवि हस्तिनि |
शुनि चैव श्वपाके पण्डिता: समदर्शिन: ||    —  5.18, Bhagavad-Gita. Continue reading

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 4/8

Part 3/8

7.  Self is The Knower of All Experiences:

Any feelings, like joys or sorrows, that we experience are not what we are. They are experienced by us. Everything is known by that one no-thing thing which is the Knower (Knowingness). It is we who experience even birth and death. After all, death does not experience its death, nor does birth experience its birth. Whatever experiences the birth and death cannot Itself be born. Nor can it die. Once we are able to clearly discriminate and understand this truth, we will stop identifying ourselves with the wrong entities like the body. Knowing clearly who we are, and abiding as that Knowledge is liberation from ignorance. Liberation is not something that we attain in some heavenly abode, a remote Vaikunta or Kailasha. Nor it is to be attained sometime in the future. It is right here and right now.

There is no separate self within us waiting to be liberated. Liberation is our very nature. Joys and sorrows are not our nature. That which comes (Agama) and goes (apAya) is not what we are. That which we perceive is not us. We perceive a thing only if it is different from us. What is inherent to us, what we are, namely the Self, cannot be perceived, nor is It something we can add on to nor can be gotten rid of. We are It, space-like, all-pervasive, formless, and blemishless. Continue reading

Is a single neuron conscious? (From Quora)

 A short discussion.

M. Advaita Vedanta’s perspective is better seen from the top-down rather than from the bottom up. Consciousness or awareness can be considered (there is a consensus on this) as a ‘fundamental ‘property’ of (or a pointer to) reality’, not reality itself, which is unfathomable and indescribable. Consciousness permeates every apparently external – and also every internal – phenomenon, which is thus an expression or manifestation of Consciousness. Accordingly, a neuron, an electron, is a manifestation of Consciousness – ‘the One without a second’. Alternately, neurons, atoms, etc. are embedded in Consciousness or reality.

PB. I think the best words you can use to characterize reality are awareness/consciousness, existence/beingness, and bliss/love. However, I wouldn’t identify reality with consciousness, the other two concepts, or all three together. They are just the purest manifestations of reality that we can identify. True reality is not a thing or concept, it is beyond definition.

But yes, I would agree that neurons, electrons, etc. are phenomena of consciousness, as are these words and the bodies and minds that write them.

M. Metaphysical truth is sometimes called apperception, or direct supramental perception, and it is non-transferable. Nicholas of Cusa put it this way: “The highest wisdom is this, to know… how that which is unattainable may be reached or attained unattainably”. Metaphysics (philosophia prima, or first philosophy of medieval times) is not science, and its truths are often dressed as paradoxes, analogies, and metaphors; they are not meant to convince anyone who is not open to them.

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A metaphysical truth appeals to intuition; it is an experience or knowledge-experience… It is not speculation and is not amenable to subject-object relationship or distinction.

Continue reading