[Advaita-l] Reconciling current research with Advaitic theory of mind

Mahesh Ursekar mahesh.ursekar at gmail.com
Thu Feb 22 06:52:14 CST 2007

Pranams to all:

In a recent issue (Jan 19, 2007) of TIME magazine, the following article
appeared entitled 'The Mystery of Consciousness':

While the author categorically claims that currently they *do not* have
answers to what consciousness actually is, he does say:

"neuroscientists agree ...[that the feature they] ... find least
controversial is the one that many people outside the field find the most
shocking. Francis Crick called it "the astonishing hypothesis"--the idea
that our thoughts, sensations, joys and aches consist entirely of
physiological activity in the tissues of the brain. *Consciousness does not
reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain like a PDA; consciousness is
the activity of the brain*."

To support his claim, he makes the three following points:

"Using functional MRI, cognitive neuroscientists can almost *read people's
thoughts from the blood flow in their brains. They can tell, for instance,
whether a person is thinking about a face or a place or whether a picture
the person is looking at is of a bottle or a shoe *."


"*And consciousness can be pushed around by physical manipulations*.
Electrical stimulation of the brain during surgery can cause a person to
have hallucinations that are indistinguishable from reality, such as a song
playing in the room or a childhood birthday party. Chemicals that affect the
brain, from caffeine and alcohol to Prozac and LSD, can profoundly alter how
people think, feel and see. *Surgery that severs the corpus callosum,
separating the two hemispheres (a treatment for epilepsy), spawns two
consciousnesses within the same skull, as if the soul could be cleaved in
two with a knife*."


"*And when the physiological activity of the brain ceases, as far as anyone
can tell the person's consciousness goes out of existence*. Attempts to
contact the souls of the dead (a pursuit of serious scientists a century
ago) turned up only cheap magic tricks, and near death experiences are not
the eyewitness reports of a soul parting company from the body but symptoms
of oxygen starvation in the eyes and brain. *In September, a team of Swiss
neuroscientists reported that they could turn out-of-body experiences on and
off by stimulating the part of the brain in which vision and bodily
sensations converge*."

While I was able to think of counter arguments to the first and third
arguments keeping Advaitic theory intact, I could not find any such argument
against the second.

According to my understanding of Advaita, the mind is manifest due to the
power of Brahman behind it, just as the moon shines due to the power of the
sun. In other words, it is not an epiphenomenon of the gross body (as the
Charvaks would have it) but has an independent existence.

However, in relation to the second point of the author (in bold above) how
does one explain the 'splitting of the mind' when the brain is split? For
more details, on split-brain patients see the below link:

Can any of the more knowledgeable readers on this list share their thoughts
on how one can explain the second point of the author keeping the Advaitic
theory of mind intact? Or if my understanding is in some way flawed, I would
be grateful for due correction.

Many thanks in advance,

Pranams, Mahesh

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