Nature of Reality

Vaidya Sundaram vaidya_narayanan at YAHOO.COM
Fri Oct 5 00:22:47 CDT 2001

 (I changed the subject again ...)

--- nanda chandran <vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:
> So it is very vital
> that all
> efforts should be made towards reconciling Advaita with modern
> scientific
> knowledge.

I think one has to be carefull not tread on different "domains" at the
same time and end up confusing ourselves. To certain extent, all of
vedic knowledge and teachings must remain subservient to the daily
experiences (such as fire is hot etc.) Where the teachings are
super-sensory, as Aniruddhan mentioned, one has no need to reconcile,
and infact, one has no method for such reconciling. Those teachings are
to be accepted as they are. They are a pramana unto themselves. In this
respect, I would doubt if any reconciling is actually needed.

> One thing that modern Advaitins can think about is, ancient Indian
> philosophy, almost without exception had no clue about the existence
> of a
> brain - as a physical organ which can think.

 I think you are wrong here, and let me explain why I think that. Feel
free to correct me ...
 That the debates on philosophy did not include them is not reason
enough for me decide that the knowledge did not exist in general.

 There are two aspects to your point - one is the existense of the
physical brain as an organ, and second is the point that it is this
organ that is responsible for thinking.

 The point about the existense of the brain as an organ was/is clearly
well established in the vedas. Take for example, some of the karma
kanda rituals -  they specifically refer to several internal organs and
the dieties they are to be offered to. So, the vedic seers clearly had
very good knowledge about the internal anatomy of animals. So, the
existense of the brain is presupposed here.

 Now to deal with the point where you say: "as a physical organ which
can think" - the fundamental hypothesis you are making here is that
something physical (or material to rephrase) is actually capable of
"thinking". When this fundamental hypothesis is not accepted, then we
run into all sorts of problems, not the least being that your statement
cannot be accepted.
 The fundamental hypothesis of the vedic seers on the other hand is
that physical objects (or matterial objects) are not themselves
sentient, and that sentience is capable only for consciousness. Now,
why do I bring in sentience here? It is because "thinking" of the sort
you refer to is only sentience - if by thinking you mean purely
chemical reactions, they we would have robots running the world for us
even today - even day to day science today clearly establishes the fact
the chemical combinations in themselves do not account for sentience -
One of the books that brings this out is "the double helix" - by Watson
and Crick - the fellows who discoverd the nature of the DNA strands.
Any other book on search for extra terrestrial intelligence would bring
out similar ideas.

 Consider a paradigm shift here - make a hypothesis that sentience is
possible only in "consciousness" - so, you could have a brain of a dead
man, but no thinking is possible there - a physical observation - is
very neatly explained. No amount of tinkering with the dead brain, as
fresh as it might be, can cause it to think.

 At the next level, if your argument is that : it is not the chemical
combinations alone that accounts for "thinking as sentience" but the
overall structure - then again, I would dispute that claim. Refer to
the book "Phantoms in the Brain" by V. Ramachandran, a book I am told
is held in esteem in that field of neuro phyisology and effects of
psychology. Consider a very simple example he quotes: a man who lost
his left arm in an accident and had to have it amputated, continues to
receive sensations from the arm, and the experiments conducted by
scientists note that when some portions of his brain have been
"assumed" to have undergone "rewiring", then this can be exzplained.
Now, why do I bring this up? It is because, the hypothesis will be made
more and more complex and involved to explain more and more anomalies.
 Things would be much simpler to explain if the hypothesis is that
"thinking" is not inn the domain of the physical, but rather another
entity - vedanta says that this is the antahkarana, made up of chitta,
buddhi, manas (and ahamkara?) - the role of the idea of "thinking" is
hence split up and attributed to different aspects of the same
"individual" ...

> This lack of knowledge
> has in
> itself given rise to philosophical systems - Kshanikavaada and
> Vijnaanavaada
> of the Buddhist systems - which assumed that mind meant only a
> constant
> stream of temporary thoughts - and they built their systems based on
> this
> concpetion. There are quite a few authors in the Advaitic tradition
> itself
> who have inclined towards a Vijnaanavaadic interpretation of Advaita
> - such
> an interpretation will suffer if an attempt is made towards
> reconciling it
> with with the scientific knowledge of the workings of the brain.

 The long winded argument from my side above was to refute your idea
here that since the thinkers of those days did not "know" that brain
was responsible for thinking, they introduced these arguments. They
introduced these arguments for quite different reasons.

> It is very vital that such a reconciliation be made though. For
> better the
> understanding of our own physical/psychical faculties, the easier
> will the
> path become.

 The better understanding of our own physical and psychic/psychological
properties is also explained, in my opinion, my smritis. Take for
example, the concepts of the body being made up of chakras, nadis and
so on ... They common objection to such ideology is that there is no
"chakra" or wheel in the body as such. But that is not the idea is it?
The idea there is that there are certain points in the human body where
a lot of physical "entities" such as nerves etc are brought together at
the same point ... the flow of a shakti as kundalini through the spinal
column has been referred to ad infinitum in these kinds of literature
... why is not possible to make an analogy here that the energy is a
sort of nervous impluse being transmitted ...?

bhava shankara desikame sharaNam

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