Free Will and Choice in the Dualistic World

S&T is a creature of S and T!
In the absence of S and T, S&T gets asphyxiated; S&T doesn’t survive.

Perhaps, you have already guessed S&T stands for Science and Technology; S and T are Space and Time.

Science and Scientists work where Space, Time and Substance (material) exist out there facilitating an observation. Their entire edifice is based on causal relatonships – a prior cause, p1, giving raise to an effect, p2, over a time interval. The mAdhyamika Buddhist philosophy also is based on this principle. A given effect in the present is said to result from summation of all the antecedent causes. The cause-effect relationship invokes “Mind space,” when there is no tangible physical space present,

But what happens if Space and Time are merely “unreal or imaginary”? Can causal relationships exist without a mind? Continue reading

Purpose vs. function

Q (From Quora): As a doctor, what did you learn in medical school that is forever etched in your brain?

A (Martin): In my 1st year of medical school, I read a footnote in ‘Samson Wright’ (the best book on physiology at the time and for many years) something that – to this day – continues to be a nostrum from the side of science but that I never fully accepted: (Referring to the workings of organs) ‘in science, we don’t talk of purpose, only of function’ — as if ‘function’ does not imply ‘purpose/intelligence’, an intelligence that is built into nature, of which the operation of the kidneys, liver, brain, etc. is proof.

From the perspective of Advaita Vedanta, purpose, function, are at most superimpositions on the one reality (Brahman, to give it a name) pertaining to the empirical realm. Cannot one affirm, though,  that intelligence is not just an anthropomorphic quality built into or added to existence, but something inherent in being/existence itself – sat, chit – despite admitting that the ultimate (Brahman) is attributeless? Then sat-chit-ananda is/are the least, or the most, that can be said about the ultimate reality.

AI and Consciousness

A not-too-serious look at the state of AI vis-à-vis Advaita prompted by Martin’s post

It is perfectly understandable that we humans should think that only we have the necessary evolutionary complexity to be able to exhibit self-awareness. But scientists (presumably not human…) seem to think otherwise.

Traditionally, the test for self-awareness has been the ability to realize that it is our own body that we see in a mirror – the MSR, Mirror Self-recognition test. The scientist puts the animal-under-test to sleep and then makes a very visible mark on its face. When it wakes up, it is given a mirror to see if it realizes it is seeing a reflection and tries to remove the mark from its own face, or whether it tries to kill the intruder.  According to Wikipedia, other species that have passed this test include “the great apes, a single Asiatic elephant, rays, dolphins, orcas, the Eurasian magpie, and the cleaner wrasse”.

Modern science still argues that consciousness arises as a result of interoperation of various parts of the brain (under the banner of the ‘neural correlates of consciousness’ or NCC), when it reaches a certain level of complexity. Ramesam will know lots more about this.

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Consciousness & AI

We are in the midst of a technological civilization or culture the consequences of which at long range are unpredictable; a future where technological growth could become uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization. This conditioning would bring about an ‘explosion’ in intelligence resulting in a powerful superintelligence that qualitatively far surpasses all human intelligence. This change or event has been called a ‘technological singularity’, as a result of which, it is stipulated, the human race could not continue.

What follows is an exchage on the ‘Quora’ forum from Oct. 2015 – anticipating today’s current concerns by over 7 years. The question asked was: “Could the technological singularity occur without computers ever becoming conscious?” And the following are comments by David Eager (Zen seeker, metaphysical tweaker) and myself.

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Q.523 Science and Reality

Q: Can we still hold that modern science is far from realizing the unreality of the world, the basic teaching of Advaita? (Quora)

A (Martin): Clearly, philosophical statements such as “the world is unreal”, “life is a dream “or “reality is spiritual” express not empirical but a priori propositions or enunciates. As such, they are independent of sense experience in that their truth or falsity is not determined by the facts of sense experience. Such statements can neither be confirmed nor confuted by sense experience. Observation and experiment are simply irrelevant to their truth or falsity. Thus, they fall outside the realm of the empirical sciences, whatever be the speculations of individual scientists when assuming the role of members of the laity. Further, in the contexts in which they most often occur, such statements are not regarded as provisional truths subject to refutation or revision as in the sciences, but as absolute and irrefutable truths.

Q.520 Perception and the witness

Q: How can the mind perceive something which is outside of time, when the mind itself is caught in time like a prisoner? Perception in itself is a movement in time so how can mind even claim to perceive the concept of Brahman and say that Brahman is eternal?

A: The mind cannot perceive anything ‘outside of time’. As you say, perception occurs within time (and space). And, more to the point, that which you perceive is also within time and space. Thus, you can never perceive Brahman. But conceptions are not quite the same. The concept itself is in the mind, which is also limited. But what is conceived is not limited. You can conceive of a unicorn with no problem at all, even though you also know that they do not really exist. Scientists also conceived of black holes, long before any proof was found for their existence – and still no one has ‘really’ perceived such a thing.

But perhaps the simplest way of thinking about it is to consider deeply who you actually are. It is possible to eliminate body, sense organs, mind, and anything else that you can think of as ‘not I’. But it is not possible to eliminate the one who is doing this. There has to be an ‘ultimate subject’ after everything else has been eliminated. That is who you really are and that is Brahman.

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Language and Color

Those people who regularly read my articles will know that, although my educational background is that of a scientist, I frequently criticize science in respect of its inability to say anything useful about the nature of reality. Because science can only operate by virtue of a subject making observations on an object, it only has validity in the empirical realm (vyavahAra). Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that science can sometimes throw light upon the thorny topics that we frequently encounter in advaita.  An obvious example of this is the findings of Benjamin Libet and Daniel Wegner regarding free will, about which I have written several times. Accordingly, I was very interested to hear recently (on a BBC Horizon program about how we perceive color) that scientists have carried out experiments which demonstrate that language affects the way in which we see the world.

I did not expect to see anything relating to advaita in the program but, when they described an experiment concerning the Himba tribe of northern Namibia, it quickly became clear that this was relevant to the vAchArambhaNa sutras from the Chandogya Upanishad.  

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Q.516 World outside of perception

Q: According to science, there was a world prior to humans where there were no living, conscious things. If nothing can exist independently of consciousness like Advaita suggests, then how could there have been a world prior to a perceiver? If there was no sentient being to experience the Big Bang, how could it have possibly existed?

A: Your questions relate to the apparent creation. The final teaching of Advaita is that there is no creation – there is only the non-dual Brahman. This means that the entire teaching of Advaita is interim only since it takes place in what is only empirical reality.

Having said this, the traditional teaching says that the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe is ‘managed’ by Ishvara, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. This means that He governs all of the laws that relate to creation and the jIva-s who inhabit it. Now you have to realize that science has ‘advanced’ significantly since the time of the Vedas. While they speak of the raw elements being space, earth, water, fire and air, we have a somewhat more complex cosmology! And I don’t think it is particularly fruitful to try to map one onto the other. Science can never explain Consciousness so is of no value in trying to understand the nature of reality.

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Swami Dayananda Interview (cont)

The following is the continuation of an interview with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, conducted by John LeKay for Nonduality Magazine. That site is no longer available and the article was submitted by Dhanya. It is in three parts. Read Part 1

NDM: An Indian sage once said, “No learning or knowledge of scriptures is necessary to know the self, as no man requires a mirror to see himself.”     

            Swamiji: He does require a mirror to see his face. No man requires a mirror to find out whether he exists or not, correct. But if he wants to see his face, he requires a mirror.           

            I have no question about myself whether I exist or not. I don’t have a doubt. I don’t need any mirror. Even my eyes and ears, nothing I require, because I exist and therefore I use my eyes. I exist and therefore I use my mind.

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Rationalism and metaphysics

How do Vedantins argue against Sam Harris’ comment on spirituality?

If Sam Harris defends rationality the way he does, he appears not to be quite reasonable or wise. He defines himself as an atheist (though he seems now to want to distance himself from that epithet), and such posturing is dogmatic in the way ‘agnostic’ is not.

His defense of rationality is flawed in other respects, and he should realize that; first, apart from science, there is feeling and emotion, fundamental and definitory of man the way he is constituted. Second, modern science does not have all the answers even within its own field of expertise – in any area.

The strictures SH has with respect of religion and the religions (their in-fights, rivalries, etc.) are widely shared by many people, and particularly in Advaita Vedanta, though, it must be said, religion has to 1) be accepted as being an attraction and consolation for the multitudes – a given fact, 2) it can be an intermediary step towards real knowledge of the reality of the world and us (as Iswara is with respect to nirguna Brahman), and, finally, 3) its aspects of surrender, love, participation, and esthetic beauty cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Neuroscience is still a science in its cradle. Not only does it lack many answers related to the brain and its functions, but some of its unknowns are insurmountable, such as what is the nature of consciousness (the ‘hard problem’) as taken from its own perspective. Consciousness or awareness cannot be explained by empirical science; it will always be a purely subjective experience (including objectless consciousness), an ultimate, irrefutable, and irreducible fact.

From the viewpoint of traditional Advaita (Shankara and Gaudapada primarily), there is no reality other than Consciousness (Atman-Brahman – which is/are just names or symbols). Phenomena are the way Consciousness or Atman manifests itself (a sort of play- maya). Multiplicity, space, time, and causality are illusory – that is, from the higher perspective, while they seem to be real from the lower, empirical one.

Empirical scientists have no truck, no real interest, in any of the above. They cannot touch it. Paul King, a prominent neuroscientist, wrote this not long ago in Quora:

“Ultimately, the question of whether or not subjective experience is an irreducible fact may come down to metaphysical stance and not anything that can be “decided” with a rational process.”