Is a single neuron conscious? A brief 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 pointer to) reality’, not reality itself, which is unfathomable and indescribable. It permeates every apparently external 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.


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.

M. (to another participant) Did you look up the word ‘rishi/s’? It means ‘sage’ – Swami Vivekananda described Rishi-s  as Mantra-drashtas or “the seers of thought”. He told— “The truth came to the Rishis of India — the Mantra-drashtâs, the seers of thought — and will come to all Rishis in the future, not to talkers, not to book-swallowers, not to scholars, not to philologists, but to seers of thought.” (From Wikipedia).





Two Q & A-s

How can we consciously realize the consciousness concept?

First, consciousness is beyond concepts – language, which is dualist, allows talking of it as if separate from the subject, thus conceptually. But consciousness is a prime reality, the foundation of everything existing; same as being (which are not two). Consciousness is first, an immediate reality and, accordingly, you don’t have to do anything to realize it since you are it. Only, let the veil of ignorance drop, mostly by ‘not this, not this’ – one apavada after another; that is, by real understanding or discrimination. You are being itself, consciousness itself. The knower cannot know itself – as an object.

Who would win in an argument between Ramanujacharya and Shankaracharya?

As non-duality can be said to go beyond, and at the same time enclose duality within itself, we can also say that Shankara, being a non-dualist philosopher, goes beyond and ‘incorporates’ Ramanuja, that is, the latter’s philosophy (it has been said: a jñani understands a bhakta, not vice versa).

Ramanuja took the ego (psychological self) as being the Self, an error for an Advaitin. For the former a destruction of the ego (“me”) will thus entail destruction of the Self. For an Advaitin, the ego or subtle body (mind, senses and vital breath) dissolves when the body dies – not so awareness or pure consciousness.

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta ‘consciousness’ is another name for ‘reality/being/existence’: all there is or that can be (all possibilities of existence). Neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’, it annihilates this (mental) division, as well as sublating all concepts.

Or, as Francis Lucille, a well-known teacher wrote: ‘Simply put, non-dualism is the hypothesis that reality is non-dual, that there is only one single reality which is the substance of all things, of all phenomena, of both mind and matter. If that is true, it follows that the reality of our ordinary consciousness, meaning whatever it is that is really perceiving these words in this moment, must be this non-dual, single, and universal reality.’

Shankara said:

‘An enlightened person, after his death, does not undergo a change of condition – something different than when he was living. But he is said to be “merged in Brahman” just due to his not being connected to another body.’ Quoted from ‘The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta’, Michael Comans.


Three Qs & answers

Three questions & answers

Three Q/A from QUORA (on brain, philosophy, QM, NDE, consciousness)

  1. How does the brain understand philosophy?

M. The brain… understanding philosophy? My reply to this is similar to the one I gave recently to another question and which was based on Socrates’ answer to an observation that someone was making. The man saw a pool of water being stirred by a stick held by a man and said that the stick was stirring the water. To which Socrates replied: ‘Is it the stick, or the man moving the stick?’ (Which one is the real agent – the material, or the instrumental cause, in Aristotelian terms?).

Equally, is it the brain, or the mind which ‘moves’ the brain which moves the stick which stirs the water?

Is it the brain, or the mind which (using the brain as an instrument) understands philosophy?

Actually, it is consciousness (as a substrate) using the mind using the brain… Consciousness itself does not do anything.

Continue reading

Q.464 Laws of nature

Q: Are the laws of nature eternal? From a scientific viewpoint, consciousness is epiphenomenal and so is fundamentally governed by laws known to science.  If the laws of nature (not the parameters e.g strength of gravity, speed of light etc) are eternal and unchanging then aren’t they nityam and therefore fundamentally ‘real’?

There is a section of the responses to Q.436 (Ishvara and the existence of fossils) where you suggest (I think) that from a vyAvahArika level, time and causation are real. Just wanted to be clear that from a pAramArthika level, space/time and causation are all unreal?

Note: there are some interesting views on time by quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli ( – it seems even from vyAvahArika level one could potentially argue that time is illusory.

A: Everything relating to the empirical universe is mithyA. The nature of the teaching of Advaita is adhyAropa-apavAda, meaning that an explanation is given appropriate to the current level of understanding of the seeker but superseded as their understanding grows. The ‘laws’ of nature are said to be governed by Ishvara but, ultimately, the laws and Ishvara Himself are mithyA. In reality there is only brahman. So, no, the laws are not eternal and not ‘real’. And, yes, you are correct: time and causation also fall into this category (real from the vyAvahArika standpoint but mithyA from the pAramArthika). You must note, though, that mithyA does not mean ‘unreal’ or ‘illusory’; it means that it depends upon brahman for its existence – and brahman is of course real!

Your link sounds interesting; I will have to try to find time to read it.

Q.463 Individual consciousness

Q: Dennis, I have deep question that in fact no one can answer to me. I can accept that I am consciousness in which appearances take place that are in fact manifestations of my own consciousness. I can accept that unbounded universe of my consciousness is in fact my consciousness. This phenomenal universe exists in my waking state and disappears in deep sleep.

I am consciousness all the time. It is OK and understood. BUT I also understand that all these experiences and states belong to ONLY MY INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS.
I mean that others have other experiences. They have their own phenomenal universes, their own states in their own consciousnesses! And I have no access to them.

There is existence of many various individual consciousnesses perceiving various things. So can we say that there is no SINGLE Absolute I and no SINGLE consciousness?

A: All problems of understanding in this sort of question arise because of a confusion between ‘absolute reality’ and the ‘apparent world’.

You begin by saying that “I have a deep question“. This ‘I’ refers to the mind of the person (Fred) in the world. All these things – mind, person, Fred, world – are mithyA. They have no absolute reality. They depend upon the absolute reality for their existence. They are name and form of the non-dual Consciousness. Continue reading

Q.443 A ‘simple summary of advaita’

Q: Based on your own search and discoveries over all of these years, and the writing of all of the books and blogs, if you had to summarize all of this, the truth of life, what would you say? 

A: Not sure what you are looking for here. My ‘personal’ view is surely not important and I could scarcely find any better summary than Shankara’s. Anyway, I spent an hour thinking about it (while washing up and vacuuming) and here is my one line summary:

The form does not matter – it is the substance that is important.

Q: How do we know that energy/matter is Consciousness and not just what it is as energy/matter? And why does it matter? Can’t Consciousness just be what it is by itself and simply aware?

A: Energy and matter are both objects of experience. They are transient and finite, changing one into the other and ultimately ending in Absolute zero. Consciousness is the non-dual, unchanging, eternal and infinite reality.

It does not matter from the standpoint of absolute reality. It does not even matter to most jIva-s, since they just get on with the usual pleasure-seeking aims. It matters to one who is seeking Self-knowledge.

Consciousness DOES just be what it is (there is nothing else) but is not ‘aware’ in the usual meaning of the word, since there is nothing else of which to be aware. Continue reading

1) Knowledge and the Vedas; 2) Is everything metaphysical?

Do the Vedas really contain any advanced knowledge as so many people claim they do? (Quora)

I would say the Vedas contain the most fundamental and ‘advanced’ knowledge there is, though usually portrayed  in the form of paradox (analogy, metaphor, story, etc.), so that one has to crack the code in order to find the wealth hidden in them. That knowledge is not like empirical science, which is cumulative and provisional, and can be said to be somehow contained in the latter, even if in embryonic or potential form. That knowledge or perspective is metaphysical rather than mystical. According to the Vedas there is one and only reality: consciousness (brahman, the Absolute, etc.), which pervades the whole universe; it is immanent in it as well as transcendent… “the smallest of the small, the largest of the large”. It cannot be measured or understood by the mind, for which it is ineffable, but it is that by which the mind comprehends… it cannot be expressed in words but by which the tongue speaks… it is eye of the eye, ear of the ear, mind of the mind, as expressed in the Upanishads.

Modern physics is having a hard time trying to explain away what consciousness is in terms of physical phenomena (neuronal activity in the brain), but consciousness is not an irreducible phenomenon or datum; it is reality itself, everything being comprehended in it (theories, doubts, projections, emotions, things, thoughts, intelligence, observer and observed, you and I). For the Vedas reality is one, and present physics is trying to find out in which way it is so (‘theory of everything’, ‘unificatory theory…’). Not all physicists are reductionist, some of them having seemingly mutated into philosophers with an understanding of the core of Vedic teachings.


Is everything metaphysical? (Quora)

‘Is everything metaphysical?’ My answer is a resounding Yes! despite the widely accepted, prevailing, physicalist theory: everything is reducible to matter/energy. This last position is being insistently questioned ever since the rise of the new physics (the role of the observer, uncertainty principle, etc.). Nobody knows what matter is intrinsically, and why an atom is an atom – its nature is a mystery; scientifically we can only talk about mechanism, ‘behavior’ or function, in relation to physical processes. Thus, everything is metaphysical – including tables and chairs or, rather, the material they are made of, wood (hilos) – which means non-reducible to the physical. Psychology, mind, selfhood are equally non reducible to the physical – nor are they purely mental or purely conceptual – , thus they are metaphysical, however psychologists may protest. ‘Man’, ‘personhood’, are metaphysical or philosophical notions.

Metaphysical doctrines are couched in LANGUAGE (concepts, plus logic and reasoning -tarka), which de facto is dualistic, but that is a springboard and a conditio sine qua non for realization or uniting with the TRUTH or REALITY which is indivisible, non-relational, and inexpressible by the mind (anubhava).


Advaita Vedanta & Neuroscience

Contrary to consciousness being an emerging property of the mind, as someone has answered, thus reifying the latter, I would hold the inverse: mind is a property or, better, a projection of consciousness. Consciousness is universal, mind particular, individual – standing in the relationship essence-accident (or substance-form). The first is without a beginning, the second temporal, The first, necessary as principle, the second contingent. First unmoving, second changeable.

All this is clearly spelled out in the philosophy and metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta and also, even if with different analysis and import, in Aristotelian metaphysics. Continue reading

Q.460 Is reality really real?

Q: In your answer to Q. 228 you wrote:

Reality is that which never changes; that which is the only existent, conscious ‘thing’, which lacks nothing and is limitless. Every, seeming ‘thing’ in creation is, on the other hand, transient and limited.

But this view of (pointer to) reality is not the only viable view, right? I mean viable in general, not within the Advaita worldview.

Couldn’t we say, instead, that reality is whatever happens to exist, in this moment, in the consciousness of the beholder? Reality as qualia, as subjective experience. In which case every seeming thing that exists in the moment is real (in the moment).

Or that reality is change, is transformation?

Or that reality is a concept that points to ___________ (the mystery)?

I could go on sharing other views of reality. Continue reading

Two questions (relationships & eternity)

1) How is one’s self related to other selves.

This can be seen from two perspectives: 1) lower or empirical, and 2) higher or spiritual (I try to avoid the word ‘metaphysical’). I am not going to consider what Christianity or Islam hold about any of these two perspectives, only the non-duality of Advaita Vedanta (Buddhism does not contemplate individual existence per se). According to the Advaitic tradition the individual self (jiva) can be considered as a reflection of the higher Self and then his/her faculties (basically memory, mind, and sense of self) as well as all bodies are separate and individual – this pertains to ordinary, transactional life. This is the realm of ignorance (avidya). Continue reading