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

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Fri Feb 23 21:22:20 CST 2007

The article in TIME touches upon issues that have been debated for a
long time in Western philosophy, but brought to prominence in 1995,
with the publication of the paper by David Chalmers "Facing Up to the
Problem of Consciousness" in the Journal of Consciousness Studies (
http://www.imprint.co.uk/chalmers.html ).

The crux of the debate on Consciousness today is the division of the
problem into two by David Chalmers (which is quoted by the TIME

Easy Problem:
  What are the neural correlates of Consciousness?
  Can be studied by science.

Hard Problem:
  Why should neural function give rise to experience?
  Cannot be studied by science.

There is hardly a doubt that Chalmers has hit the nail on the head
with the above division. For sometime, scientists began to deny that
there was any such thing called a "Hard Problem of Consciousness",
(which is exactly what Francis Crick is trying to do in the article),
but that route is getting difficult with the arguments against this
position becoming stronger everyday. Every one of the so-called
"solutions" to Consciousess proposed by the scientists are to the
Easy problem. As Chalmers says in his 1995 article -- "The Hard
Problem remains untouched" -- which is still relevant today.

Rest assured that every one of the objections raised against
Consciousness by the materialists have answers in Sankara's Brahma
Sutra Bhashya 3.3.54. I will try to post on these topics soon. It is
unfortunately too difficult to explain in one posting.


--- Mahesh Ursekar <mahesh.ursekar at gmail.com> wrote:

> Pranams to all:
> In a recent issue (Jan 19, 2007) of TIME magazine, the following
> article
> appeared entitled 'The Mystery of Consciousness':
> http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1580394,00.html
> 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
> "*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
> "*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:
> http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro00/web1/Vasiliadis.html
> 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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