Consciousness Alone Exists – Part 3: A Neuroscience of Attention

I expect by the time I post this on David's website I will be about to return to New York from Havana, so I will have been working on this 5 part series of blog entries for six weeks. I have been doing very little of a “practical” nature. I do housekeeping, a little cooking and take shopping excursions with Marcia. I have been doing some design work for completing some furniture with carpenters and beginning some ironwork projects. I can practice tabla more each day and memorize some poetry. I am re-learning songs from the mystic poets of Bengal I first learned in the 1970s. I am very grateful for this opportunity. I feel a tacit communion with my spiritual brothers and sisters, with my spiritual teachers and with the Avatars with which I have a devotional relationship. Victory to the Mother!

[Note: Editing continues and each time I post I need to replace the previous versions of earlier entries – a process that could continue for my lifetime! So if you have read the previous entries prior to the posting of this one, there have been editing changes that are significant.]

To re-cap what has gone before in this series of blog posts:

1. I shared an understanding of Conscious Union implying an Absolute not only manifesting as infinity but also as an intuitive experience in personal life that pulsates in clarity, ultimately to full clarity as the Conscious Subject. In the present discussion I am putting in play the philosophical position of Vedanta with respect to the philosophy of materialism.

2. Satchitananda is clarifying the experience of the contents of individual Consciousness, our reality, revealing its union with the actuality of infinite Consciousness, the Conscious Subject. Feeling the unlimited experience of Satchitananda is the spiritual teaching of Consciousness itself. An emerging movement in the field of neuroscience is juxtaposed to spiritual teaching in this historical moment.

3. Some neuroscientists say it is not to be concluded that modifications of the contents of individual Consciousness, which are objectively knowable, produce the Conscious Subject. It is a serious current scientific hypothesis that is rooted in the following statement: “nothing we can or could know about the content of what anyone is knowing tells us anything about what it feels like to be anyone”.

4. The scientists who grasp the limitations of a materialistic hypothesis for neuroscience are establishing a new hypothetical paradigm that is necessarily metaphysical. Also, recognized by some is the insight that metaphysics not only pertains to humans, but by logical necessity to the “Mind at Large”. By that is not meant just the physical universe at large, but also what it means to be the universe. My own project here, is to offer the distinction between the materialistic “subject-thinker” [my term], and the metaphysical Conscious Subject or “Mind at Large” inclusive of the “subject-thinker”.

5. Empirical science must conclude that “the brain is a physical entity being in a relationship with a metaphysical Subject having Conscious experience”. The measurable activity of the brain, particularly thought of oneself, is memory reflected from our first person experience and as such is also a second person perspective – our own second-person perspective as “subject-thinker”.

6. Of course we assume other people have minds, but we could easily consider the dual perspective existing for animals, or further, as a feature of organic life. If we are to extrapolate from organic life as a subset of the physical universe we would posit a universal mind: metaphorically matter would be the brain and and what it would be like to be a cosmic Subject would be personal Consciousness as Absolute Consciousness!

7. The materialist philosophy is, according to Vedanta, rooted in a displacement of Consciousness in space. Positing matter without space is a disassociation from what is actual. The Upanishads assert that matter is superimposed in space, and space is superimposed in Consciousness! Just as the illusion of matter without space is a disassociation from actuality, so is living as a “subject-thinker” with the illusion of space without Consciousness.

8. An insight that one is Living with a disassociated image of oneself is a potent realization. Attention to our thought, according to Vedanta philosophy, is a process of thought within the contents of Consciousness that is in practice “meditation” as an activity which nonetheless continues in a state of disassociation. However, this “meditation” is a conditioning of the mind which mitigates the conditioning that generates disassociation, which in the language of Vedanta is better understood as “Maya”.

9. The questions attending the addition of Consciousness as a primitive element has its philosophy of science origins in the Pan-Psychism of Alfred North Whitehead. That material is superimposed on space, and space on Consciousness could be read into the theoretical metaphysical hypothesis in Pan-psychism. However, Pan-psychism as I have seen it represented is a dualistic hypothesis composed of disorganized and organized “individual” insentient things. It leaves simple individuals devoid of Consciousness and so the hypothesis read this way is not nondualism as only some space is superimposed in Consciousness.

10. Vedanta recognizes the reality of individual Consciousness in the actuality of an Absolute Conscious Subject. Its a hypothesis only substantiated by direct experience of a Subject– for a Subject being like that. A Subject like that would have to be an Absolute Subject with an Absolute mind in an Absolute material universe superimposed in Consciousness. Such a Subject could not be a disassociated fragment with a limited mind interacting only with the contents of memory, the domain of thought.

11. Vedanta will change nothing about what is being investigated by science regarding the mind-brain relationship. Vedanta will change the way we look, so we can find out what the consequences of that may be beyond the confines of material determinism or Pan-psychism and so take neuroscience into a novel arena of investigation.

The previous part of this series of blog entries finally argued for a science of attention changing the way we look: seeing without the demand for conclusions required by the content of thought, be it thought conditioned by the nondualism of materialism or the dualism of Pan-psychism. Evidently, the investigation of the “hard problem of Consciousness” in the field of neuroscience is leading a paradigm shift from materialist determinism to metaphysics. The metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta has been introduced as a model for such an investigation as a way, which is no way as it negates time. Vedanta offers a metaphysics to find out if our apparent state of disassociation from what some neuroscientists designate the “Mind at Large”, comes to an end in psychological time. I will clarify that statement at the end of the present blog entry. First, however, I would like to turn to some aspects of current neuroscience itself that suggest the need for such a metaphysical theory for the philosophy of science.

One of the most interesting and significant areas of investigation by neuroscience concerns mental illness, and particularly schizophrenia, and specifically Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – in popular vernacular split-personalities. The significance of this area of investigation pertains to the demonstrable existence of the Subject of a body-mind complex having multiple domains of thought composing thought of self-identity. There are two implications of this. First is implied that thought itself has some organizing function in fragmenting the field of thought. The “I” fragment is what we falsely take to be the Conscious experiencer. As discussed in the last blog entry, this false experiencer, as the “subject-thinker”, is only a second-person perspective. This “subject-thinker” is actually objectively known by the unknowable first-person Subject feeling what it is like to be the Conscious being. The “not-me” fragment is also part of the unified field of thought as the known world from the second-person perspective, existing seamlessly with the “subject-thinker”. This helps us grasp the enigmatic statement “the knower is the known” because the “subject-thinker” is also a second-person perspective!

The second implication of DID arises in the demonstration that the first-person perspective may witness multiple “I” fragments in relation to the “not-me” world. Each “I” is itself then knowing separate sub-worlds in memory. Each “I” has a capacity for recall of memory unique the the experiences of the world of “not-me” by each “I”. The implication is that no “I” fragment of thoughts in the total field of thought could be posited as the first person perspective of individual existence. All content of the mind as thought processes of the brain, as the fragments of “not-me” or “me” worlds of thought are objects of knowledge. Included are thoughts of second-person objective sensory perceptions plus subjective life as “subject-thinker” that are also objective knowledge to the Conscious Subject. Ironically, the “first person perspective” is also just an idea about something unknowable, but the perspective is logically implied as what it is to feel like somebody. It is the designation as a material thought for metaphysical Consciousness in excess of thought.

The metaphysics of Vedantic Advaitic (nondualistic) philosophy, as a philosophy for and of science provides a paradigm for considering the hard problem of Consciousness. It is a paradigm that proceeds from the present discussion of DID as but a prime example. The neuroscience term “disassociation” is excellent because it lends to a possibility of expanding its meaning in the context of the Vedantic assertion of Maya as generative of our individual reality, creating its limitation from feeling the actuality of Satchitananda. For example, the “multiple personalities” evidenced in DID are completely disassociated from each other. At the same time, there is disassociation in the unified field of thought between “I” and “not-I”. In the Vedantic paradigm, that dissociation is questioned with the statement “the knower is the known”. Vedantic metaphysics implies Consciousness as illuminating the unified field of thought, metaphorically and factually lighting the field of thought. What it feels like to to be somebody potentially is feeling like “I am the world”!

The startling aspect of that insight is that the reality of our thought, as well as objective perception of the world as the thought of names and forms, are all unified as reflecting the light of personal Consciousness to Absolute Consciousness itself. Reality is an individual person, thinking she is, as “subject-thinker”, knowing the objects of perception. Well, she is, but the “subject-thinker” is reflecting the light of Consciousness thinking it is that Consciousness. Such is the nature of Maya in Vedanta. A metaphor for this metaphysics is bowls of water reflecting the sun. In each bowl there is a sun (“subject-thinker”), and when all the bowls are broken the sun (Consciousness)remains.

Maya described in this way suggests thinking that the “I” fragment of the sphere of thoughts as being Consciousness, not just reflecting Consciousness, is the ultimate disassociation of a reality from actuality. Maya furthermore leaves us with a sad paradox and a conundrum for our inquiry of the hard problem of Consciousness. The only “how?” for this actuality lies in the fact of “superimposition” as discussed in the earlier part of this blog series. The reflection of personal Consciousness to Consciousness is the material brain superimposed in space also superimposed in Consciousness. Brain activity is a material process of thought in space-time, yet it is also superimposed in Consciousness. So what is the problem in question? Is it not the experience of disassociation from actuality in the reality of a false identification of the “subject-thinker” as the unknowable subject? The actuality is being what it what it is to feel Consciousness in knowing the “subject-thinker”! Is there an ending to the problem in question? Vedanta says the problem does not exist as evidenced in attention to the question disappearing! I am going to explain this very tricky situation as best I can.

The operation of Maya in our life experience is an objective fact. It is measured by the degree of attention allotted to the “subject-thinker” second-person reality perspective of the fragment of unified thought as “me” in relationship with the fragment of unified thought of the “not-me”. That attention is the attention from the first-person perspective which itself can only be what it is to feel Consciousness. The first-person perspective is not the object of attention – which is say the actuality perspective is metaphysical. The operation of Maya is an identification of the metaphysical existence of Consciousness with the “subject-thinker” and all that ensues as disassociation, as the reality of that identification in space-time. Included is all of a human life as the false identification is extended in relationship with the input from the sensory apparatus, with the body generating the content of thought of the “not-me”. Experience is retained as memory and memory meets continuously with new input retained as additional memory. Experience is the bridge between past and future, all belonging to the “subject-thinker” sustained in its continuity by the operation of Maya. Maya is an identification of the metaphysical existence of Consciousness with the “subject-thinker” and all that ensues as disassociation, as the reality of that identification in space-time.

Changing the way we look, seeing without the demand for conclusions required by the content of thought, be it thought conditioned by the nondualism of materialism or the dualism of Pan-psychism, means a science of attention to what is the nature of thought. Deeper attention, attention to our inattention, is a “meditation” process mitigating disassociation. The ending of a limited, dissociated individual paying attention, the birth of the “individual” Meditated by Absolute Consciousness is the ending of the operation of Maya sustaining the “subject-thinker” in time-space! Vedanta does not therefore actually propose a method or way to end the operation of Maya later. It proposes “meditation” to find out if our apparent state of disassociation from what some neuroscientists designate the “Mind at Large”, comes to an end in psychological time.

A science of attention would engender a formal axiom for the necessary metaphysics for neurologists studying the brain for investigation of the hard problem of Consciousness. This axiom is the need to ask what is the timeless state, or the stateless existence, of a living brain while discounting any conclusion depending on the operation of thought because thought is always the past, an operation of memory. An individual being studied by a neurologist could say what she is thinking in the waking state remembering what she is thinking, relate what she remembers from the dream state, and say she remembers nothing about what happened in dreamless sleep. None of that information would tell the scientist what her Conscious experience of her brain feels like sans thought.

There is obviously some measurable differences between a dead brain and a living brain, and between the three states of brain activity mentioned that may be discerned as not activity being known by the “subject-thinker”. Feeling may be discernible from thinking before the “subject-thinker” identifies with the feeling. Feelings or some feelings may transcend thinking. Peak experiences may be feelings that transcend thinking and the baseline of ordinary feelings. Experiences of non-ordinary reality attending shamanic plants or other psychedelics are also being investigated with some presupposition that non-ordinary reality exists in an intriguing metaphysical paradigm transcending thought.

The list of speculations could go on, but why? An argument has been made about the metaphysical paradigm required for investigating the hard problem of Consciousness needing to negate the fragmented field of thought as the source of Consciousness it is reflecting. This is a matter of negating the conditioning put together by thought over the millenniums of brain evolution and the entire history of cultural influences. Reality is everything put together by thought, but thought does not put together Consciousness. If science is going to serve our intuitive desire to explore Consciousness itself in the Absolute actuality reflected by reality, it must expand attention beyond the reflected sun in the bowls of water with the help of “meditation” and the Grace of Meditation. So, on to Part 4: Meditation and Grace.