Nature of Consciousness

Greg Goode goode at DPW.COM
Mon Jul 19 16:51:07 CDT 1999

Dear list,

I apologize in advance for posting this, but have received two inquiries
for it to be on the list.  If it's too off-list a topic, let me know, and
further communication on this will be undertaken privately.


[Response to Robert, of Parisi & Watson]

Robert asked:
>How can a living person have _any_ state in the absence of brain physiology?

This is a question about persons and brains.  In the scientific realms of
physiology, biology, psychology themselves, the causal or primary role of
the brain is part of the accepted toolkit.  But it is not a metaphysical

In metaphysics, we question and investigate the concepts of brain, person,
states and consciousness themselves.  We don't take these concepts or their
definitions for granted.

Robert wrote:
>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?

Yes, these phenomena can be observed, but they can't count against the
non-dual view.  (How could anything?)  Remember the case of Suzanne Segal?
Long time TM meditator had a "no-self" experience in Paris while stepping
onto a bus.  It took her 10 years of searching before she ran into someone
who explained to her satisfaction how to interpret it.  She wrote a book
about it, COLLISION WITH THE ININITE.  Even after the book, she continued
to experience fear occasionally.  She died of a brain tumor.

There are two important points here.  (i) One is cause-and-effect.  (ii)
The other is whether we take any phenomenal object to be real, or
independent of consciousness.  (iii) The third is "What is consciousness"?

(i) Do brain states cause psychological or experiential states?  In
scientific observations, what is actually observed is only succession and
regularity.  Causation as a forceful power or phenomenon is NEVER observed.
 See David Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.  So there can be
statistical generalities laid out as theorems.  But to say that A causes B
is unscientific.  What can be accurately said is that in a large percent of
cases, B is observed to follow A.  That is what we have here with Oliver
Sacks' investigations.

Also, to say that A causes B is to impute external reality upon A.  "A"
can't really be a cause unless it is itself real, and inherently existing.
Similarly for "B", which can't be an effect unless it is first real.  But
this is just what we're questioning, "Is there any such thing as something
real in this sense?"

Also, the brain is not unique as a "necessary condition" for these
obervations.  On the regularity theory, many things could be added, like
mother, food, air.  Mother is a good one.  How can there be any
experiential state of a person without a mother?  Dysfunctional behaviors,
neuroses, etc. can be observed when predictable pathological relationships
with one's mother are observed (may take a while to show up!)

(ii) Do we take any phenomenal object to be real, or independent of
consciousness?  Later in your message you say that

     >We have only our perceptions, and can never compare
     >them to any thing in itself.

And you argue -- from the successful use of perception and inference in
navigation and survival -- to the conclusion that we CAN say something
about what is Out There.

But if all our states and the brain itself occur only as perceptions,
sensations and thoughts, then whatever we hypothesize as being Out There is
again occurs only as perceptions, sensations and thoughts.  Nothing ever
breaks out of the loop, for it is "in" consciousness whenever we say it is
not.  For the very "it" itself is something cognized in consciousness.

(iii) The third is "What is consciousness"?

I think we have been using the "consciousness" word in two different ways,
you and I.  You seem to have been using it in the say advaita vedanta uses
the word JAGARITA-STHANA, or waking-state concsiousness.  I've been using
it in the way Nisargadatta uses the word "awareness."  That is, it is THAT
which is aware of the coming and going of the waking, sleeping a dream
states.  They occur IN this consciousness.  The kind of consciousness
spoken of in psychology is something that can be witnessed as coming and
going.  Don't we know that we wake up in the morning?

So, does the brain cause the waking state?  According to the non-dual
viewpoint, what happens is that both the brain and the waking state are
appearances flashing and disappearing upon the screen of awareness.  So the
causal question is like asking whether, in a movie, one frame of a film
causes the next frame to be what it is.

Robert wrote:
>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?

Or neither!

Robert asked:
>So how can a valid argument be
>made on this basis that "all there is is consciousness"?

No valid arguments can be based on this.  For this is more like the
conclusion to the nondualist's arguments than a premise.


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