Nature of Consciousness
Parisi & Watson
niche at AMERITECH.NET
Sat Jul 17 10:11:20 CDT 1999
From: Greg Goode <goode at DPW.COM>
To: ADVAITA-L at LISTS.ADVAITA-VEDANTA.ORG
<ADVAITA-L at LISTS.ADVAITA-VEDANTA.ORG>
Date: Friday, July 16, 1999 9:50 AM
Subject: Re: Nature of Consciousness
>These are great questions, they get right down to it.
>At 08:21 PM 7/15/99 -0500, Parisi & Watson wrote:
>>Forgive me, but I'm still grappling with the basic concepts. Please tell
>>where this line of reasoning goes wrong:
>>1. Every shred of evidence, from psychoactive drugs to brain injuries,
>>indicates that all mental states are produced by the nervous system.
>Not true. Take even your own evidence into consideration. All your
>experience is evidence. What about the many thoughts, sensations,
>perceptions, emotions, etc. that appear to you that occur in the absence of
>any impression of drugs, brain physiology or pharmaceutical information?
>It is only a later thought appearing that would suggest that these
>experiences have some cause external to themselves.
How can a living person have _any_ state in the absence of brain physiology?
It's true that we can't explain how or why random thoughts arise, in terms
of brain physiology or anything else. But that's still not to say that these
thoughts and states are not produced by the nervous system, although in a
way that is unknown to us. If it were not so, then why would a person's
thoughts become bizarre and deranged after the ingestion of certain drugs?
Why would lack of blood flow to the brain produce unconsciousness? Why would
various types of brain injuries, which have been documented in detail in
books like those of Oliver Sacks, produce various grotesque distortions of
personality, perception, and self image?
>>2. This statement applies to sense experience also, but its survival value
>>indicates that it bears some resemblance to what is really 'out there.'
>Not true. Now this resemblance theory of knowledge to "reality" is
>something that no evidence can ever support. Can you cite even one case,
>in which we can know, without some experience,
>thought/sensation/perception/etc., what is really Out There? Comparing our
>states to an Out There is a comparison that can never be made. The burden
>of proof is certainly on the one claiming that (i) there is such a reality
>to which our states can be compared, and (ii) what this reality is like.
What you say is true, but the argument is an indirect and circumstantial
one. We have only our perceptions, and can never compare them to any thing
in itself. But the fact they enable us to survive in an often hostile and
dangerous world is still evidence that our perceptions, which are certainly
concocted (not an exaggerated word) by the brain present a schema of reality
that at least makes us able to navigate, avoid hazards, and so forth. We
also have many different ways of confirming sense perceptions, not only by
the various senses, but also by indirect technical means. When all these
sources present a similar picture, then we are justified in making a guarded
judgment that the picture corresponds to what is 'out there.'
>>3. By this reasoning, all other states of consciousness, including
>>experiences of nondual oneness and so on, are also produced by the nervous
>>system, and so tell us nothing radical or fundamental about the nature of
>I agree with the last phrase with a slight modification for this list, that
>states can tell us nothing fundamental about the nature of a reality that
>is somehow external to us. But it's because that there is no such thing as
>a reality external to us. Even if there were, as in (2) above, we could
>never know anything about it.
This is the crux of the issue. Is it not obvious that consciousness is the
medium of all human experience, regardless of whether consciousness is
produced by the nervous system or vice versa? So how can a valid argument be
made on this basis that "all there is is consciousness"?
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