by Ravi Khanna
“Science & Spirituality in Modern India”
Feb. 5 – 7, 2006
The Big Picture for the Science of Consciousness
The western study of consciousness has progressed very rapidly in the last century but it is still stuck in the mould of mind – body dualism. This is best brought out in the words of a recent Time magazine quote ….
“If you close your eyes and think about it for a while, as philosophers have done for centuries, the world of the mind seems very different from the one inhabited by our bodies. The psychic space inside our heads is infinite and ethereal; it seems obvious that it must be made of different stuff than all the other organs. Cut into the body, and blood pours forth. But slice into the brain, and thoughts and emotions don’t spill out onto the operating table. Love and anger can’t be collected in a test tube to be weighed and measured.
René Descartes, the great 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, enshrined this metaphysical divide in what came to be known in Western philosophy as mind-body dualism. Many Eastern mystical traditions, contemplating the same inner space, have come to the opposite conclusion. They teach that the mind and body belong to an indivisible continuum.”
What constitutes this ‘indivisible continuum’ ? We are going to look at this in terms of the Vedas in this paper. As we will see, this leads us to the larger picture of consciousness as it is presented in the east and we will compare this with the western contemporary concepts of Multiple Universes or Multiverses and the theory of Infinities. Both these western scientific developments that have emerged in the last century also push the mind towards the ‘Big picture’.
IS THE MIND AN ‘EMERGENT’ PROPERTY OF MATTER ?
William James (1842 – 1910), the father of American Psychology observed that Consciousness is not a ‘thing’ but a ‘process’. In the last century the western study of neurobiology, its chemical processes and imaging techniques have undergone phenomenal advances carrying this ‘study of processes’ to cognitive sciences. The brain was studied using sophisticated EEG (Electro Encelograph) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines to map the visual cortex, language areas, auditory lobes, the relation of fear to amygdala and so on and so forth . But where exactly does the Consciousness reside in the cerebellum ? …. in the hippocampus or cerebrum – there are no easy answers !
So we come to what David J. Chalmers calls the ‘HARD PROBLEM’  …. “ The Hard Problem is the question of how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience. This puzzle involves the inner aspect of thought and perception : the way things feel for the subject. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations, such as that of vivid blue. Or think of the ineffable sound of a distant oboe, the agony of intense pain, the sparkle of happiness or the meditative quality of a moment lost in thought. All are part of what I call consciousness. It is these phenomena that pose the real mystery of the mind.”In a serious attempt to address this ‘Hard Problem’ His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been holding a series of Mind & Life talks with eminent western scientists every two years since October 1987 . The challenge has been to trace the advent of consciousness into the human mind from the progression of matter and its evolution. Some of the interesting features of these and other related writings are as follows:-
‘It is the closure of a primitive membrane into a “vesicle” that represents a discrete transition from non-life to life.’ (Harold Morowitz)