Sam Harris: proud and prejudiced?

Illustration from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Source: Wikipedia.

UPDATE 17 Nov 2012: I accidentally deleted the original post and recovered it here. But the 74+ original comments have probably been lost! See more here. I sincerely apologize for this. An addendum was also added at the bottom of this post as a reply to Sam Harris' own addendum.

Sam Harris is at it again. Not content to have carried out what I see as a cheap 'drive-by shooting' of a neurosurgeon in his previous blog post, which I commented on here, he is now taking his act to a whole new level. Have a look here. Below, I intend to deconstruct Harris' argument, showing it for the display of intellectual blindness and misleading prejudice that I believe it is.

Here is the first segment that caught my attention. Harris is referring to Near-Death Experiences (NDEs):

"Unfortunately, these experiences vary across cultures, and no single feature is common to them all. One would think that if a nonphysical domain were truly being explored, some universal characteristics would stand out. Hindus and Christians would not substantially disagree—and one certainly wouldn’t expect the after-death state of South Indians to diverge from that of North Indians, as has been reported."

Here Harris is committing what I call the 'conclusion-by-inability-to-think-of-alternatives fallacy.' He is projecting onto all conceivable realities a particular aspect of one known reality; namely, the apparent objectivity of phenomena in ordinary consensus reality. But it is fallacious to infer, without further reasoning, this same characteristic for all conceivable realities. I extensively discussed this in an NDE article I wrote earlier, which I encourage you to read and which I make integral part of this commentary. Moreover, as I also discussed in my NDE article, there are indeed many commonalities across NDEs, regardless of the cultural background of the experiencer. This is elaborated upon in the very book Harris quotes from.

Harris' thinking seems to be the following: 'Since the phenomenology of NDEs is such that I can eliminate all other theoretical possibilities that I can think of, then NDEs are delusions and confabulations, despite all evidence to the contrary.' Well, this thinking doesn't say much about NDEs; though it says a lot about Harris' ability to devise theoretical alternatives.

He goes on:

"And those who have reported leaving their bodies during a true medical emergency—after cardiac arrest, for instance—did not suffer the complete loss of brain activity.⁠"

This is ridiculous. Harris is suggesting that a patient, after minutes of cardiac arrest and no blood flow, may still have sufficient, and sufficiently coherent, brain activity to confabulate unfathomable journeys into other realms; complex, coherent, peak experiences that change people for life and which they consider the most significant they've ever had. If the brain can do that with a few firing neurons hidden somewhere, what the heck do we need a fully-functional brain for? This is akin to claiming that if you damage every component of a car, except for, say, the spark plugs, the car can drive even faster than when everything is working in perfect order!

Harris has to decide whether he thinks human conscious life needs the brain or not. If he thinks it does, he must be self-consistent and acknowledge the obvious fact that a few neurons firing somewhere deep inside the brain, even if they are there, cannot possibly explain peak experiences like NDEs. After all, we seem to 'need' measurable neocortical activity even to dream of the clenching of a hand, as this study shows; let alone to dream of lifetimes in parallel universes. And if Harris doesn't think the brain is needed, then he has to bite the bullet and acknowledge the obvious implications. Harris cannot have if both ways: 'The brain is everything! Oh, wait... but in these cases we hardly need a brain at all.'

Unfortunately, Harris is not alone in this tendentious dance of contradiction in modern neuroscience, as I discussed before here.

Next:

"There is also a rumor circulating online that, after attacking Alexander from the safety of my blog, I have refused to debate him in public. This is untrue. I merely declined the privilege of appearing with him on a parapsychology podcast, in the company of an irritating and unscrupulous host."

This is not a rumor; it is a public fact that Harris refused to debate, when he was given the chance to do so, the man he had earlier taken the initiative to attack in an intellectual drive-by shooting. The record of his refusal is publicly available online in this page. And the email exchange that leads him now to characterise podcast host Alex Tsakiris as 'irritating and unscrupulous' is also publicly available online here, so you can judge for yourself.

Now a pearl:

"The very fact that Alexander remembers his NDE suggests that the cortical and subcortical structures necessary for memory formation were active at the time. How else could he recall the experience?"

Here Harris seems to be casually taking for granted that memories are encoded as physical traces in the brain, just like files stored in a flash card. Yet, decades and decades of research have failed to find these physical traces. Modest recent progress in that direction is self-contradictory, as a cursory comparison of this and this article shows. The fact that brain damage can impair memory only establishes that one can physically impair access to informationbut doesn't establish at all where this information comes from. I discussed some of my thoughts on memory in an earlier article and in a related discussion thread of this blog. I could write pages on this, but someone else already summarised the key points cogently. So I invite you to read chapter 7 of biologist Rupert Sheldrake's book Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery.

Memory formation is a mystery, as Harris must know. We don't know enough about it to use it either to dismiss or substantiate accounts of NDEs. Harris' argument is, thus, illegitimate. Moreover, that he so casually passes theoretical speculation for established scientific fact seems, to me at least, suspiciously tendentious.

Now, let's see what is perhaps the very 'best' part of Harris' comments. Pay attention to this:

"If the brain merely serves to limit human experience and understanding, one would expect most forms of brain damage to unmask extraordinary scientific, artistic, and spiritual insights—and, provided that a person’s language centers could be spared, the graver the injury the better. A few hammer blows or a well-placed bullet should render a person of even the shallowest intellect a spiritual genius. Is this the world we are living in?"

Yes, it is! Harris seems to ignore the vast literature on so-called 'acquired savant' cases. For a cogent overview, see this article from the Wisconsin Medical Society. It shows countless cases of people who developed genius-level skills in arts, maths, and many other areas of intellectual activity as a consequence of bullet wounds to the head, stroke, concussion, and even the progression of dementia. Nearly every conceivable source of brain injury can potentially trigger a savant. (Update: Popular Science magazine recently did a great feature on acquired savant syndrome).

Harris also asks why spiritual insight isn't triggered as a result of brain damage. Well, it is! Let's forget the anecdotal evidence and focus on controlled studies. A 2010 study published in Neuron shows precisely a correlation between surgery-induced brain damage and spiritual insight. Moreover, most, if not all, techniques for the attainment of spiritual insight seem to operate by causing a reduction of brain activity—think of ordeals, hyper-ventilation, sensory deprivation, psychedelics, meditation, and even prayer—which is entirely consistent with the hypothesis that the brain limits conscious experience. I elaborated extensively on this before, in the article linked here.

Again, Harris seems to be, at best, confused and ignorant of the facts; or, at worse, wilfully biased in his appraisal of the available data. His quote above describes precisely the facts as we know them, even though he uses it rhetorically, as if it were all obviously untrue. The irony would be sweet if it weren't concerning as far as what it seems to say about Sam Harris. The only part of the quote that I think is false is Harris' statement that 'most forms of brain damage' should lead to new insights. We don't know whether this should be the case for 'most forms,' for we do not yet understand how the brain filters and limits conscious experience. All we can say is that, for at least some forms of brain damage, insights should be triggered. And that, as I argued, is empirical fact that Harris, as a neuroscientist, should be aware of.

As I said in a previous post, I used to have special respect for Sam Harris and what I perceived to be his unbiased attitude. I regret to admit that such special respect is gone now. Harris' last post, in my view, is disgraceful. It is intellectually weak and flawed, it ignores empirical fact, and embodies either a dangerous form of purposefully-misleading prejudice or an astonishing lack of ability to devise theoretical possibilities. In my view, given his latest writings, Harris is as blinded by fundamentalist beliefs as his fellow 'horsemen.' It is easy to make a sport of wiping the floor with soft targets like religious apologists and new-agers, but it is a whole other story to stand to proper intellectual scrutiny and empirical fact.

If Harris ever reads this article, here is a note for him: Yes, I am taking what I think is a fair shot at you. But if you like to debate this, in contrast to your refusal to debate Alexander, I am game. Take on a real debating opponent for a change, Sam.



ADDENDUM 17 Nov 2012:

Harris wrote an addendum to his post, which you can find here. In it, he equates the 'filter hypothesis' to what is known as the 'transmission hypothesis,' according to which consciousness is a kind of radio signal received by the brain. He then proceeds to correctly point out the problem with the transmission hypothesis, which is that we are supposedly the signal, not the radio.

However, although the transmission hypothesis entails the filter hypothesis, the filter hypothesis does not necessarily entail the transmission hypothesis. As a matter of fact, the filter hypothesis doesn't even entail dualism! My own metaphysical position, for instance, is not dualist. Yet, the filter hypothesis holds well under my views, as I wrote about in this earlier article, which I encourage you to read. According to this article, the brain is the partial image of a process by means of which mind localizes itself, 'filtering' everything else out. Notice how this solves Harris' question: Instead of being an external 'signal' that is no longer being received, but which we still are, in my formulation mind folds in on itself in the form of a vortex, limiting its own breadth. We are mind, and yet mind self-limits. Under this formulation, to say that electrochemical processes in the brain are the cause of consciousness is as illogical as to say that lightning is the cause of atmospheric electrical discharge; or clots the cause of coagulation; or fire the cause of combustion. Fire is the partial image of the process of combustion as viewed from the outside and, as such, correlates very well with the process it depicts; just as electrochemical processes in the brain correlate very well with conscious states.

Currently, I am 2/3 of the way through writing a new book that will explain all this in details, and very specifically. That book will be my ultimate reply to Sam Harris. So please bear with me while I finish and publish it. It should be available at some point in 2013.

It is true that even I have used the radio metaphor when discussing the filter hypothesis. After all, the analogy is a very handy, metaphorical device to convey certain ideas. For instance, I once wrote a fairly elaborate explanation of the filter hypothesis under an implicit dualist metaphor. The article is available from here. But my use of the radio metaphor does not mean that I believe consciousness to be literally some kind of external signal being received by the brain. I don't. Assuming that would amount to taking the metaphor way beyond its intended scope.

Overall, Harris' understanding of the filter hypothesis seems to be based on an extremely casual and limited reading of it. Huxley wrote two paragraphs about it in The Doors of Perception. When Bergson wrote about it in Matter and Memory, his point was to discuss memory. Before Harris can pass judgment on the hypothesis, he needs to, at the very least, acquaint himself with a proper articulation of it. For instance, he should read my paper on it, and then my idealist formulation of it.

See also:

Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. I think Harris is somewhat correct in what he says. I too am extremely sceptical that NDE's have anything to tell us about what happens after we are irreversibly dead, or indeed that the OBE component of the NDE implies true mind/brain separation.

    It's already been shown that the neocortex is both transmitter and receiver – at least as far as weak Electro Magnetic Fields go - (Frohlich & McCormick (2010) “Endogenous Electric Fields May Guide Neocortical Network Activity”). EM fields also offer a plausible route to solving the 'binding problem' for visual perception.

    You don't have to go much further to realise that it is entirely possible that such 'fields' offer an explanation for the veridical OBE component of the NDE in the 10-20% of hospital patients who report an NDE during cardiac arrest.

    That it may be other persons EM fields which are temporarily interacting with the patient as their brain begins to lose it's own neocortical EM field. These other external EM fields able 'temporarily' to continue to amplify and synchronise neocortical network activity in the patients brain.

    Three things in particular stand out to me about this…

    Firstly, in the sequence of events of a typical NDE, the veridical OBE component generally seems to come first, if it occurs at all. That sequence seems to be appropriate for a brain which is shutting down, and in the process losing it’s own EM field.

    Secondly, the veridical OBE component of the NDE often seems to occur in fairly close proximity to the patient, which is presumably what would be expected if other EM fields are to interact with the patients brain.

    Thirdly, there appears to be an inverse correlation between the strength of the subjects experience vs their brain’s dormancy.

    It's rather easy to go further and consider that the fields within which our brains are embedded may perhaps be the key to what we experience as consciousness, as others like McFadden, and Pockett have suggested.

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    1. But if you are right, why aren't we bombarded by other people's thoughts and perceptions all the time? And why can't we, in some way, 'tune in' directly to radio, wifi, tv, or other of the myriad EM fields surrounding us everyday, or at least be noticeably affected by them? And I presume that you assume that a working brain is necessary to interact with other people's fields... so how can a person under minutes of cardiac arrest register these fields? And how can other people's thoughts explain the aspects of NDEs that have nothing to do with ordinary consensus reality, like timelessness, life review, other dimensions, other entities, trans-linguistic experiences, etc.? Honestly, to me this explanation is very precarious.

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    2. I agree with you, Bernard. I believe that any attempt to explain physiologically the veridical OBE element of some NDE can not work, since we have the following reasons.

      First, if the veridical OBE element of some NDE are product of EM fields emitted by the brain, then we can assume that in general psi abilities like telepathy and clairvoyance are also the result of EM fields, but it happens that parapsychologists have long investigated the hypothesis of psi abilities that are the product of EM fields with negative results. Psi abilities seem independent of distance and physical barriers, unlike any currently known energy.

      Second, if the veridical OBE element of some NDE are product of EM fields emitted by the brain, then I do not see why they would have to occur when the brain is collapsing, but that would occur when the brain is healthy, because this ability would be dependent on the proper functioning of the brain physiology. But this is not what happens.

      And third, there are other features of the NDE that also hardly be explained by a purely physiologic model. These features are the hyper-lucidity while brain activity is collapsing, when the current neurophysiological model predicts the opposite, and meeting loved ones dead but believed they had lived. The latter is also veridical information could not be obtained through the known senses, but that is not an veridical OBE, so can not be explained by people close to EM fields.

      Finally I think this article is interesting:

      http://sedna.no.sapo.pt/death_scresearch/pdf_docs/12.3_cook_greyson_stevenson.pdf

      Juan.

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    3. Thanks for the link, Juan. Interesting.

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    4. ((But if you are right, why aren't we bombarded by other people's thoughts and perceptions all the time? And why can't we, in some way, 'tune in' directly to radio, wifi, tv, or other of the myriad EM fields surrounding us everyday, or at least be noticeably affected by them?))

      As you know, waves transfer energy, and waves can amplify of cancel each other out. The human cortex structure is arranged in defined layers, with cortical minicolumns aligned perpendicular to the surface allowing the creation of defined EM waves as neurons fire. This is rather different from the deeper brain where the relatively random structure creates EM waves which tend to cancel each other out.

      It's generally only weak fields which have been shown to affect neocortical network activity. In my view, it seems unlikely that weak externally generated EM fields from other mammals would normally override internally generated EM fields in such a way that they could affect consciousness.

      Frohlich & McCormick's paper is very interesting. These are microfine slices of ferret neocortex, which are charged with calcium, then brought up to body temperature in oxygenated synthetic CSF. They are then exposed to weak EM fields that mimic EM fields which were separately recorded from the cortex of living ferrets.

      The applied field amplified and synchronized the existing neural activity in the brain slice. The results indicate that the EM field generated by the brain facilitates the same neural firing that created the field in the first place.

      ((And I presume that you assume that a working brain is necessary to interact with other people's fields... so how can a person under minutes of cardiac arrest register these fields?))

      It is these very unique circumstance which provide the tiny window of opportunity necessary for the veridical OBE component of the NDE - a fully functional brain which suddenly begins to lose it's own EM field.

      ((And how can other people's thoughts explain the aspects of NDEs that have nothing to do with ordinary consensus reality, like timelessness, life review, other dimensions, other entities, trans-linguistic experiences, etc.?))

      I am far less certain about the later components of these NDE's. However, as I pointed out earlier, there appears to be an inverse correlation between the strength of the subjects experience vs their brain’s dormancy.

      Also, because we generally don’t get to know anything about the background childhood of the NDEr, the significance of their message is often lost on us the listeners. However, there is a tantalising hint that the message the NDEr often takes away from their experience is somehow related to the difference between their experiences and beliefs, when compared to the beliefs and experiences of their cultural group.

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    5. Hi thinkingdeeper
      You say:
      "...the veridical OBE component of the NDE often seems to occur in fairly close proximity to the patient, which is presumably what would be expected if other EM fields are to interact with the patients brain"

      But some OBErs perceive events and THINGS (see below) that are quite far from their bodies (like, for example, in those famous "shoe cases").

      And the next question is the million dollar one: how those NDErs could see small objects (like a shoe on the hospital's roof, or a mousetrap on a cabinet top) that were invisible for other people and definitely could not emit any EM fields???

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    6. The idea is that external third party synchronised fields might sometimes interact with the OBEr's brain, whilst the OBEr's brain is dysfunctional.

      I don't believe either of the cases you refer to rule out that idea, in fact they seem pretty supportive of it to me.

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    7. ThinkingDeeper if some kind of EM field explains the mechanism of first person OBE viewing of oneself from a height above one's body, why do we need eyes at all, under any circumstances? Also as another commenter noted, some verified observations have been made remotely from the location of body of the experiencer.

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    8. There's no evidence that EM fields are consciousness. Where's the mathematical transform? Also EM fields in the brain are so minimal being generated by potentials in the micro-volt range. If EM fields are consciousness then my blender must be conscious as well as every other electrical device on the planet.

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    9. @RHC - the idea is perhaps that sensory data from our external senses is 'classically' presented as a spatio temporal EM field pattern, to some other process in our brain which is 'non-classical'. When the experient's brain loses/weakens it's own endogenous classical EM field, the 'non-classical' process temporarily continues to function, and continues to 'read' field patterns which intersect it, only these field patterns are not the experients own... they are external field patterns.

      @Anonymous - I don't think that endogenous spatio temporal EM field patterns within the brain are conscious, they are just patterns, which reflect sensory data from external senses.

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  2. Bernard what do you think of these videos, because I can't seem to grasp if you're against substance dualism (consciousness being fundamental, that we are the subjective expression of it, and matter illusionary) or not

    1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d4ugppcRUE (the good stuff starts at 18:00)
    2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrcWntw9juM
    3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSxluvq5HI0

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    1. Hi Anonymous,
      Your description of substance dualism is actually contradictory with what the term means. You describe idealism: only consciousness exists, we being an expression of it, and matter being an imagined content of consciousness. I am indeed an idealist, not a dualist. Dualism would entail that matter is indeed real and independent of mind, and that there is also mind, which cannot be reduced to matter. Matter and mind must then interact in some way. Substance dualism is what is implied when people speak of a soul, incarnation, etc.
      I see dualism as a handy metaphor that can 'run on top of' idealism like software running on an operating system. But I think, ultimately, there is only mind. So much so that even the word 'mind' is useless, for there is nothing outside of it. I am now finishing a book where I lay out my formulation of idealism in a lot of detail.
      Peter Russell's idea of consciousness is different from mine. Russell's notion is panpsychism, the idea that consciousness is a property of all matter, like mass, spin, or charge. So he assumes that all material constructs are conscious in different degrees: an atom, your home thermostat, your vacuum cleaner, your computer, etc. I do NOT subscribe to that. I don't see consciousness as a property _of_ matter, but consciousness as the underlying medium where matter arises as imagined form. There is a crucial difference there. To me, a thermostat is _in consciousness_, but it is NOT _conscious_.
      Cheers, Bernardo.

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    2. Thank you for replying.

      >Your description of substance dualism is actually contradictory with what the term means.

      Sorry, you're right.

      Do you have any book recommendations that speak of such idealism? I'm currently going through Plato's work(s) and taking on philosophy on my own, and it will probably take me awhile to get to German Idealism. I've only got Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Schopenhauer's Will and Representation and Hegel's Introductory Lessons in Aesthetics from that era. Have also heard Plotinus' Enneads is worth checking out, what do you think?

      Thanks

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    3. I could recommend my second and third books... :-) Yet, my best articulation of idealism is coming in my fourth book, which I am finishing now and should be published next year. Till then, there are many articles in this blog where I discuss idealism. You could try doing a search on 'idealism' in the search bar on the top-right corner of the homepage.

      Kant's 'Critique' is often mentioned as an articulation of idealism; which is somewhat fair. But his view is more about epistemological skepticism than true ontological idealism. Basically, Kant establishes boundaries on what can be known; but he doesn't venture a direct speculation regarding what IS.

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  3. As I wrote on your post Materialist Theory of Consciousness, I disagree with your speculative theory that the brain is a kind of filter. I hold that the brain is its own creator of consciousness and that we, perhaps, merely experience it. So, solely in the spirit of friendly disagreement, I'm challenging you.

    Briefly, I don't believe that the brain in any sense "filters" our (NLC) non-local consciousness. I think that the brain is its own nexus of consciousness, albeit physical consciousness, and that our

    First: Who is the decision maker in your vision of consciousness? Is it the brain (physical consciousness) or is it NLC acting through the filter of the brain? Is the brain active or passive?

    Second: Is your model of consciousness in any sense predictive? Can we expect, for example, a certain kind of evidence (drawn from NDEs or Psi experiences) if your model of consciousness is correct?

    Third: How does your theory square with recent studies indicating that the decision making process apparently occurs even before we are consciously aware of having made a decision? See "Decision making and free will: a neuroscience perspective by Kelly Burns and Antoine Bechara".

    Fourth: How does your theory square with the concept of free will and individuals who (during numerous NDEs) have been shown events in their future to a minute degree, implying that their (and our) lives are largely "decided" – a matter of cause and effect rather than free will?

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  4. >> disagree with your speculative theory that the brain is a kind of filter. I hold that the brain is its own creator of consciousness and that we, perhaps, merely experience it.

    Experience _is_ consciousness. So what you are saying is not that the brain creates consciousness itself, but the forms that are experienced in consciousness. This is a crucial difference.

    Personally, I don't think the brain creates anything. It is merely the image, _in_ consciousness of a process _of_ consciousness. When consciousness self-localizes (which I visualize as a whirlpool), that _process_ has an image when looked at from the outside. That image is what we call the brain. The brain is the (partial) image of the process of consciousness localisation much in the same way that lighting is the (partial) image of the process of atmospheric electrical discharge. It is absurd to say that lightning _causes_ electrical discharge; it's just the image of it. In the same way, I think it is absurd to say that the brain causes either consciousness or the imagined forms in consciousness; it's just the image of a process of conscious localisation.

    >> So, solely in the spirit of friendly disagreement, I'm challenging you.

    That's always OK and often productive. :)

    >> I think that the brain is its own nexus of consciousness, albeit physical consciousness

    Not sure what you mean by "physical consciousness." Just to make sure you understand my position, I am NOT a dualist. Have a look here: http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2011/12/brain-as-knot-of-consciousness.html. To me, 'filtering' is just a metaphor. This article should answer your questions, I guess.

    >> Third: How does your theory square with recent studies indicating that the decision making process apparently occurs even before we are consciously aware of having made a decision?

    Since I see the brain as an _image_ of a process of consciousness, I see no contradiction with freewill if Libet's measurements can indeed predict a decision before our _egoic_ awareness registers it. That said, there is dispute about whether Libet's experiments can really be interpreted the way they were, originally:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22144-brain-might-not-stand-in-the-way-of-free-will.html

    >> Fourth: How does your theory square with the concept of free will and individuals who (during numerous NDEs) have been shown events in their future to a minute degree, implying that their (and our) lives are largely "decided" – a matter of cause and effect rather than free will?

    I see this only as a question about the nature of time, not freewill. To illustrate my point with a metaphor, maybe all decisions have been made by freewill outside of time, while within time we are just playing out the movie and becoming conscious, in egoic awareness, of those decisions. The nature of time, and to what degree it is fundamental for reality, is what is been questioned, not freewill, in my opinion.

    Cheers, Bernardo.

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    1. //Experience _is_ consciousness. So what you are saying is not that the brain creates consciousness itself, but the forms that are experienced in consciousness. This is a crucial difference.//

      No, not quite. Forms are passive (if I understand your use of the word correctly). I'm arguing that these forms are *not* passive, but active. I *am*, in fact, asserting that the brain creates *a* consciousness and that, as far as we, as physical beings, are concerned (with rare exceptions), the brain does in fact create consciousness.

      And, yes, experience is consciousness, but this doesn't necessarily endorse your argument.

      //Personally, I don't think the brain creates anything. It is merely the image, _in_ consciousness of a process _of_ consciousness.//

      This makes the brain a passive organ. In this case, your theory is particularly curious. Your theory must account for steady developments in neuroscience that have been (with the remarkable exception of NDEs for example) increasingly identifying how the brain (in their view) creates consciousness. So... your theory must account for the observations drawn from the likes of CT scans and MRI's that ostensibly show the brain creating consciousness. This begs the question: if your theory were to reach such a level of completion that it could predict that neuroscientists could be fooled into thinking the brain created consciousness (mainly because that is precisely what it increasingly appears to do) then why not apply Occam's Razor and simply conclude that it does? Such a admission does not preclude the possibility of non-local consciousness and does not necessarily imply dualism.

      But next you seem to contradict yourself. You seem to imply what I do, you write "[the brain] is merely the imagine in consciousness of a process of consciousness." Well, if you're calling the brain "a process of consciousness", then that sounds more like my own speculation. We're dealing with two forms of consciousness and two levels of experience.


      //It is absurd to say that lightning _causes_ electrical discharge...//

      Yes, but for all we know, it may be absurd to compare the brain to lightning. This analogy can only bring you so far.

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    2. >> I think that the brain is its own nexus of consciousness, albeit physical consciousness

      //Not sure what you mean by "physical consciousness."//

      I mean that while we are bound to our physical forms, our experience is defined by a kind of limited consciousness that is a product the brain. It is obvious, at this point in neuroscience, that the development of our brains defines our experience of the world and, as you asserted, experience is consciousness. Your theory has to explain, childhood, puberty, adolescence, adulthood, etc... and I'm sure it does, but not without being redundant.

      >> Third: How does your theory square with recent studies indicating that the decision making process apparently occurs even before we are consciously aware of having made a decision?

      //Since I see the brain as an _image_ of a process of consciousness...//

      Well... okay, but again that begs the question, why use the "meta"-term, "process of consciousness" and simply posit that the brain is responsible for producing consciousness in the physical realm.

      //...maybe all decisions have been made by freewill outside of time, while within time we are just playing out the movie and becoming conscious, in egoic awareness, of those decisions. The nature of time, and to what degree it is fundamental for reality, is what is been questioned, not freewill, in my opinion.//

      :-) Interesting. This would explain why some NDEs imply a "destiny" that can be minutely predicted. The problem with your suggestion is that it somewhat defeats the whole purpose of "being here", at least as understood by every religion (to my knowledge) that has ever posited reincarnation. It also begs the question (misuse of the term I know): Why would a soul knowingly make decisions that would result in the holocaust when, according to every experience I've ever read, this is absolutely the-last-thing we should want on earth. I think you duck the question of free will (by rightly or wrongly conflating it with time) at your own risk. Some NDE's assert that make choices every day, others flatly seem to imply that our future is decided.

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    3. "steady developments in neuroscience that have been (with the remarkable exception of NDEs for example) increasingly identifying how the brain (in their view) creates consciousness. So... your theory must account for the observations drawn from the likes of CT scans and MRI's that ostensibly show the brain creating consciousness."

      I'm curious PG, I know that neuroscience has shown that certain part of the brain lights up when we are thinking of certain things. For example, one part lights up when I think of a carrot while another lights up when I broccoli. If I remember correctly, this is the same even with different people.

      This begs the question, what is so special about those part of the brain? Are there "broccoli neurons" and are there "carrot neurons"?

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    4. //This begs the question, what is so special about those part of the brain? Are there "broccoli neurons" and are there "carrot neurons"?//

      I don't know; but if the same parts *didn't* light up in different people, then neuroscientists would have a serious problem on their hands. We all descend from the same evolutionary path and our brains all arise from the same genetic blueprint. I don't think this fact argues for or against a materialist paradigm, my own or Bernardo's.

      At first blush, the evidence *does* seem to indicate that there are carrot and broccolli neurons. At minimum, there are areas of the brain that appear to be evolutionarily adapted to store or manage certain kinds of information. A carrot, for example, is a vast storehouse of information: texture, color, taste, smell, weight, sound (when you chew or cut it), density, etc... Probably when you throw all these characteristics together (and which all carrots obviously share) then all those complex "inputs" converge on the same area. One way to test this would be to have a blind person talk about a carrot, or a person who has lost their sense of smell (taste).

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    5. >> our theory must account for the observations drawn from the likes of CT scans and MRI's that ostensibly show the brain creating consciousness. <<

      See: http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2012/07/rational-evidence-based-non-materialist.html

      >> This makes the brain a passive organ. <<

      In the context of my idealist hypothesis, this assertion doesn't make sense. The brain is an image of a process, not an active generator or passive spectator. See:

      http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2011/12/brain-as-knot-of-consciousness.html

      You shouldn't expect me to elaborate on every facet of my hypothesis in comments... I have a lot of published material, in the form of books, articles, and videos, where I elaborate on all the questions you are raising. They are good questions but fairly natural, so I obviously needed to tackle them when publishing my ideas. My up-coming fourth book will do it in even more detail.

      >> I mean that while we are bound to our physical forms, our experience is defined by a kind of limited consciousness that is a product the brain. <<

      I, personally, don't understand what you are trying to say. You say, on the one hand, that consciousness is actually generated by the brain. But, on the other hand, you say that there is consciousness after the brain dissolves into an entropic soup. So it sounds like there are two entirely distinct forms of consciousness at an ontological level, which is very inflationary and likely unreasonable; it requires us to explain TWO phenomena instead of one. Also, I don't see why one could speak of survival in this case, for there should be no reason for the identity associated with 'physical consciousness' to have anything to do with whatever identity is associated with non-physical consciousness.

      >> simply posit that the brain is responsible for producing consciousness in the physical realm. <<

      I don't think there is a realm outside, and independent of, mind. I think such a realm is a fantasy of mind. As such, in my view, all there is is mind. The brain is then simply the image, in mind, of a process of mind; a process by means of mind limits itself, like water limits its own trajectory of flow in a whirlpool. Mind, in my hypothesis, is an ontological primitive; it is what is; it requires no reduction or explanation. Mind is not in the brain, but it is the brain that is in mind.

      >> The problem with your suggestion is that it somewhat defeats the whole purpose of "being here" <<

      If the purpose of 'being here' is to experience choices, I don't see how such purpose is defeated in anyway by the timelessness of choice.

      >> Why would a soul knowingly make decisions that would result in the holocaust when, according to every experience I've ever read, this is absolutely the-last-thing we should want on earth. <<

      Clearly, the holocaust was NOT the last thing Hitler's 'soul' wanted, was it? What meaning would there be in making choices if there were a giant morality book somewhere determining what choices could be made and what couldn't?

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  5. "To illustrate my point with a metaphor, maybe all decisions have been made by freewill outside of time, while within time we are just playing out the movie and becoming conscious, in egoic awareness, of those decisions."

    Bernardo, are you suggesting that literally ALL decisions have been made (by our larger selves) before we enter physical reality? What about the possibility that, as spirits, we choose certain parameters or specifics for the upcoming incarnation, so that we can *improvise* within that framework?

    I think of a soul or spirit designing a life as being akin to inventing a game or sport. Does a major league baseball player have free will when he's on the field of play? Certainly--within the boundaries set by rules decided upon beforehand.

    Anyway, that's how it feels to me, as I live my life. And it's what many researchers and mystical experiencers are suggesting.

    What do you think?

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    1. >> Bernardo, are you suggesting that literally ALL decisions have been made (by our larger selves) before we enter physical reality? What about the possibility that, as spirits, we choose certain parameters or specifics for the upcoming incarnation, so that we can *improvise* within that framework? <<

      Do you see how hard it is to talk about something OUTSIDE of time when all human languages have time built right into them? What you write above suggests that decisions were made BEFORE an incarnation, which assumes the framework of time! :) It is impossible to articulate timelessness in language. I can only say: No, I don't think all decisions were made BEFORE an incarnation... but perhaps outside of time... :) You will probably be frustrated with this answer; I would. But as I sit here editing this paragraph over and over, trying to find a better way to say what I mean, I must admit defeat...

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    2. Perhaps one way to try to visualize it is to imagine that ALL decisions are being made ALL THE TIME; continuously; before, during, and forever after.

      Eternity is not time extending forever into infinity, but the absence of time.

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    3. >>Do you see how hard it is to talk about something OUTSIDE of time when all human languages have time built right into them? What you write above suggests that decisions were made BEFORE an incarnation, which assumes the framework of time! :) It is impossible to articulate timelessness in language. I can only say: No, I don't think all decisions were made BEFORE an incarnation... but perhaps outside of time... :) You will probably be frustrated with this answer; I would. But as I sit here editing this paragraph over and over, trying to find a better way to say what I mean, I must admit defeat...<<

      Right on, Bernardo! I understand completely, and I'm not frustrated in the least by your answer. On the contrary, it's a relief to discuss these questions with someone who knows that answers cannot be nailed down verbally. Maybe it takes experience in altered states (as we've both had) to fully grasp that.

      When I use the word "before," it's a metaphor or shorthand for describing something that takes place *outside of time* (as you say), but in a separate realm, or state of consciousness, from our day-to-day experience.

      Here's a way to state my idea that at least minimizes time-related concepts: from the perspective of one state of consciousness, we design a life by choosing a rough framework for a specific journey or adventure, so that we might improvise a life within *another* state of consciousness.

      And that's about as timeless as I can make it. :)

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    4. What about perennial simultaneity as a metaphor for timelessness? These 'lives' in different states of consciousness are unfolding simultaneously... what do you think? :-)

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  6. Absolutely. Did you read Anita Moorjani's book? She wrote a wonderful description of timelessness as she experienced it in her NDE:

    "Time felt different in that realm, and I felt all moments at once. I was aware of EVERYTHING that pertained to me--past, present, and future--simultaneously. I became conscious of what seemed to be simultaneous lives playing out. I seemed to have a younger brother in one incarnation . . . ."

    So from that perspective, a *past* life is really a misnomer.



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    1. Mind-boggling, eh? Yet it has such a strong ring of truth...

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  7. It's more reasonable to me to speculate that the brain creates our ‘individual’ consciousness, that this consciousness is ‘field’ based, but is little more than a tiny dribble of individual awareness which obscures our awareness of information available from other internal and external fields. This would provide the filtering action that we experience.

    Again rampant speculation... that larger, stronger, structured mammalian binding fields have two effects in humans... a) created the conditions to produce our own greatly impoverished individual field of consciousness, b) tended to isolate us from external fields. Creating a mere dribble of awareness, but never-the-less an ‘individual’ consciousness, due to greater isolation from external fields.

    When the brain becomes dysfunctional, and/or our internal fields become weakened or poorly synchronised, perhaps we become more aware of external synchronised fields.

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    1. Yes, I see the logic of what you are saying. I understand the reasoning and it makes sense in certain ways. Personally, I don't think this hypothesis holds, because of a number of considerations of both scientific, empirical, and philosophical character. Much of my argumentation for this position can be found in separate articles in this blog, and in my three books. My videos also talk about it. However, I am laying out my argument right now in a complete and integrated way, as I finish writing a new book. As soon as it is available (in several months), I will make sure to announce it here. Cheers, Bernardo.

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    2. Yes, I read your article in Paranthropology, much of your article touches on data that I have also considered, but as you can see, at present I've come to a different conclusion.

      In my opinion it seems to offer a better fit with a wider range of subjective human experience.

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    3. Fair enough. I will try and make a better case in my new, upcoming book. It will be a much more complete case, in the sense that the argument in my paranthropology paper will be just one out of about eight chapters.

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  8. Hi Bernardo, friends: Despite the fact I would desire to discuss much of the statements done at the main article and in the comments on this thread (in a very basic way, as I'm not strong-formed scientist and my knowledge about the facts exposed here is limited), I would like to collaborate with one anecdote, which I feel will do this thread a little bit more interesting (by itselt very interesting yet):

    Unfortunately, just this past week (to be exact, last december 17), I suffered a lost: My father died while he was walking at the street, because a car beated him. The incident happened around 20:25 hrs - 20:40 hrs. The facts about his murder were that, while he was crossing at the street, some car running with abnormal velocity (around 70 milles/hr), reached him, resulting in an almost-instantaneous death.

    My family knowed about the incident around 21:15 hrs. My mom became to my house and my sister to the incident's place. The first person to recognize the body was my sister around 21:45 hrs. I knew about around 22:10 hrs, time where I arrived from my job.

    What about that tale? Ok, let's start with the main issue: My girlfriend, who lives 50 kilometers away the place where the incident happened, became to her beed and sleeped around 20:50 hrs as she was with headache. While she was sleeping, one dream came to her: Into the dream, she watched my father crossing some street, and while crossing, a big car with two brilliant lights approached too fast to him; in his dream she watched (if it was a picture, in an american shoot angle) my father getting up his left arm and covering his face with his hand. Because the impression, she waked up inmediately while saying a long "Noooooooooo!". When she waked, there were around 21:40 hrs. Inmediately she called to my house. My mother (who for that time was in my house) hanged up and told her my father several minutes ago were involved in a mortal incident. She became very impressed (as later she told me), and basically, she wasn't believing what she was listening through the phone line.

    I arrived to the crime scene around 22:25; when arrived, I watched my father: He was with his hands on the air, just like one having an ephileptic attack, his left hand was near his face, blood was arising from his mouth; apparently, he died almost at the same moment when the contact with the car happened. After that, I came to my house around 10:55 and called her; when she hanged up, told me she was entered about, but that time, she didn't said anything about her dream.

    One day later the event, while I was with her in my room, she told me her dream. To be honest, I became shocked. Till this moment, my position was very skeptic about that kind of facts; as software engineer, my mind is rational and logic-oriented. Of course, I've no reason to doubt her tale. She's very dependable, there's no reason why she would joke with something like that and no one reason for making a fable. Alongside, I've no reason for making a created tale.

    From my point of view, I'm clearly watching some event that current science would have too much troubles to explain, basically why, several minutes after the event, and through a dream, someone "watches" the incident without prior knowledge about how it happened, and without to be near the location. I found that, any scientific explanation (in the current state of science) cannot match, but, of course, there's a possibility I'm wrong. May it be possible, in a scientific way, with a logic, rational-based approach, any explanation about why my girlfriend watched through a dream the facts about the incident? From a probability-based point of view: How much probable is that, without prior knowledge about the incident itself, she dreamed details about this one (my father, the street, the car, and the beat)? Moreover, How much probable is that, almost at the same time of the event, someone have a dream which matches with some event which has verification in reality?

    Greets from Mexico City.

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  9. Dear Hugo,
    First, let me say that I empathize very much with your loss. I also lost my father at a younger age than you. It is very hard... but it gets easier. One finds peace with it. Time heals. I hope you're hanging in there.
    The probability that the event and the dream would happen together by mere chance is negligible. The odds are astronomically low given the richness and accuracy of detail with which one matches the other.
    There is no mainstream scientific explanation for clairvoyance, which is the technical name for this kind of phenomenon. There are researchers on the fringes of science, however, that believe a phenomenon called quantum entanglement could explain clairvoyance. Basically, the idea is that the atoms in your brain are entangled with all other atoms in the universe, so one can, in principle, 'tune in' to any event in time or space. Dean Radin is a proponent of this explanation, in his book 'Entangled Minds.' This is still a materialist explanation.
    But notice that it is a vague and promissory speculation rather than an explanation. It's just a vague hypothesis that Radin waves around. Of the kazzilion things the brain of your girlfriend could 'tune into' through entanglement, why precisely the accident involving your father? And how come such 'tuning' can be so coherent? Personally, I do not believe entanglement explains clairvoyance.
    My own position is that materialism is wrong. Mind does not arise from matter, but matter from mind. Reality is a shared dream obeying certain patterns and regularities that we call the 'laws of physics.' But these are not inviolable laws... the word 'law' is just a metaphor. These are regularities that usually are observed. Your girlfriend's dream didn't violate any 'laws,' but simply tapped into a part of the collective dream that she was sensitive to because of its emotional significance and power.
    Nobody did a more thorough study of dreams and their relationship to reality than psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. If you would like to get acquainted with his work, here are some well-done videos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BkpAXBdxdQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ex43uqD3ijA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJn-VkJjlYI
    Strength my friend,
    Bernardo.

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  10. Cerebral and Extra-Cerebral Memory
    30 December 1970, Ranchi
    Anubhútaviśayásampramośah smrtih [“The re-creation of things already perceived by the mind is called memory”].
    The objects or incidents that one recollects are called anubhútaviśayá or things already perceived. When the same objects or incidents are recreated in the mind, they are called smrti or memory. For instance, a person may not always recollect what he or she ate the previous day, but if he or she thinks hard, the items that were eaten will flash in the mind. In our daily life, we are constantly recollecting things perceived in the past.
    How does one activate the memory? There are two ways: internal and external. The internal way is to revive the undistorted image of perceived incidents in the nerve cells. Perception in the primary stage is registered in the unit mind through the nerve cells, and the vibrations of those perceptions remain imbedded in the nerve cells. The nerve cells in the brain differ according to the different vibrations they carry. Some carry vibrations of knowledge, others the vibrations of action. Microcosms with brains do not have much difficulty in creating ideas at the psychic level carried through inferences because the vibrations in the nerve cells remain undistorted for quite some time. For instance, if someone happens to see a white cow, he or she can easily say after five minutes what the colour of the cow was because the image of the cow imprinted in the nerve cells is still clear and distinct. That is why it is not difficult for the brain to recollect a memory by recreating ideational waves. But if we ask the same person to describe the cow after a few days, he or she will have more difficulty recollecting its colour because by then the impression of the cow in the nerve cells will have become indistinct. At that stage the perceived image is stored in the citta or ectoplasmic mind-stuff and not the brain. Hence the mind will have to labour hard to reformulate the image of the cow from the accumulated saḿskáras or the mental reactive momenta of past actions. The ability to do this depends on one’s psychic power.
    If the external factors necessary for the revival of memory remain undisturbed for some time, one can more easily recreate events already perceived. For instance, if one happens to go to the spot where the cow was seen, one suddenly remembers that a white cow was tethered there. But, after a lapse of much time, when the external factors necessary for the re-creation of that image change drastically, it becomes difficult for the brain to remember the details of the event. At this stage, to recollect the image, one has to penetrate the citta of the unit mind. Of course, once an incident is recollected, its impression remains understood for some time before it finally disappears.
    Thus the brain is nothing more than a worldly machine for mental recollection. Its various parts assist the mind in various ways. But the permanent abode of memory is the citta. So even though an impression has faded from the nerve cells, the mind can recreate the impression by its own power. When the brain assists in the recollection of any event or fact it is called “cerebral memory”.

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  11. Cerebral and Extra-Cerebral Memory
    30 December 1970, Ranchi
    ....................................................(CONTINUATION OF 1ST POST)
    The human mind has three stages: crude, subtle and causal. There are also three states in human existence: wakeful, dream and sleep. The crude mind remains active during the wakeful state and the causal mind remains active during sleep. The causal mind is the repository of infinite knowledge. Whatever saḿskáras we recreate in the wakeful and dream states remain stored in the causal mind. When the causal mind sleeps we call it “death”. Kárańamanasi diirghanidrá marańam [“Long sleep in the causal mind is death”].
    After death the disembodied mind floats in the vast space with its unexpressed saḿskáras. Later on, with the cooperation of the mutative principle, the disembodied mind finds a suitable physical base. The memory of its past life remains awake for approximately the first five years of its new life. Although the child remains in a new physical environment, mentally it continues to live the joys and sorrows of its previous life. That is why children sometimes laugh and cry in their sleep, and their mothers often think they are talking with God. In colloquial Bengali this is called deola kát́á. In actual fact this laughter and crying is nothing but the reappearance of past memories. To re-experience past events one does not need the cooperation of the old brain. The newly-born mind has not yet had time to build a close relationship with the new brain. The revival of experiences of past lives is what we call “extra-cerebral memory”, and is principally the task of the causal mind. The child’s mind being unacquainted with the outside world and the new-born brain being inexperienced, his or her crude mind does not function much.
    The experiences of the crude mind are not reflected in the child’s subtle mind. In the case of a child, since the crude experiences are relatively few, the subtle mind remains tranquil. Thus the waves of the causal mind easily surface in the child’s subtle mind. As a result, the accumulated experiences of the child’s previous life can easily be recollected. As the child’s crude mind is not yet mature enough to work externally, the dream experiences are not expressed in the wakeful state.
    This extra-cerebral memory begins to fade after five years. The more one advances in age, the more the new environment leaves its impressions in the child’s mind. The more a child sees new things before its eyes, the more restless it becomes to know each and every object of this world. Hence the child asks a multitude of questions – it seems there is no end to its inquisitiveness. The more it receives the answers to its questions, the more its mind gets acquainted with the mundane world. The experiences of the crude mind then begin, and get reflected in the dream state. As a result, the vibrations of the causal mind cannot come to the surface any more. Hence, the more the child advances in age, the more it forgets its past life.
    Sometimes children can remember their past life even after the age of five. In this case the mind of the new body remains free from environmental influences. That is, the waves of the external world are unable to influence the mind. Such people are called játismara or one who remembers one’s past lives. Normally, the extra-cerebral memory of such people remains active up to the age of twelve. If one still remembers one’s past life after that it becomes difficult to survive, because two minds will try to function in one body – the mind of this life and that of the previous one. A single body cannot tolerate the clashes of two minds, hence psycho-physical parallelism is lost leading to eventual death.
    Forgetfulness is a providential decree. Usually human beings forget their past lives. Is this forgetfulness a blessing or a curse? It is a blessing because human beings feel burdened by the weight of one life. It would be impossible for them to carry the burden of many lives together.

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  12. Cerebral and Extra-Cerebral Memory
    30 December 1970, Ranchi
    ............................................................(CONTINUATION OF SECOND POST)

    The human mind is sentimental – full of love, affection, camaraderie, etc. People have a deep attraction to this world; they remain preoccupied throughout their lives with fears and anxieties for the safety of their families. So many problems have to be confronted. The problems of one life alone are enough to make people restless. If they had to face the problems of several lives, they would be unable to lead a natural life. The problems of the past lives, compounded by the strife of the present life, would drive them to the brink of insanity. Secondly, it is difficult for people to be detached from love and attachment for one life. So much effort is required to overcome the bondages of attachment and march towards Parama Puruśa. If the memory of the past lives is revived, the bondage of attachment will tighten its grip, putting a halt to spiritual advancement. One will be caught in the grip of worldly attachment. Thus the decree of merciful providence is, “Let human beings be oblivious of their past lives.”
    It is also true that nothing in this universe is lost or destroyed, so the history of a person’s hopes and frustrations [of this life] remains stored in their subconscious mind [subtle mind]. Due to restlessness of the crude and subtle minds, the causal mind cannot give expression to its omniscience. But all knowledge, one’s entire past history and flashes of one’s previous lives, remain stored in sequential order in the causal mind, just like a colourful panorama, one layer representing one life, followed by a gap, followed by another layer representing another life, and so on. That is why the great poet Rabindranath Tagore said, Bhule tháká se to nay bholá [“To remain in oblivion is not to forget completely”].
    Human beings, if they so want, may try to relive those experiences in their memories. This endeavour is called sádhaná or spiritual practice. Sádhakas or spiritual aspirants, by dint of sádhaná, suspend their crude mind in the subtle mind, and the subtle mind in the causal mind. They can then clearly visualize that panorama of sequential events in the causal mind. As they have full control over the time factor they can easily transcend the intervening gaps between two lives and establish a link between them. A series of lives slowly and gradually unfold themselves like a moving panorama before their eyes.

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  13. Cerebral and Extra-Cerebral Memory
    30 December 1970, Ranchi
    ..................................................(CONTINUATION OF 3RD POST)

    Should one strive to see one’s past lives? Through sádhaná human beings attain a certain degree of control over the relative factors. After a long journey of hundreds of years one begins to visualize the saḿskáras of one’s past lives. To visualize other’s saḿskáras is relatively easy for a sádhaka, but to visualize one’s own saḿskáras is very difficult. Behind this also there is the decree of merciful providence. Imagine a person was a sinner in his or her past life, but in this life has got the opportunity to lead a spiritual life, by His Grace. Now, if the person happens to discover his or her past sinful life, he or she will lose all inspiration to continue spiritual sádhaná. The dominant thought in his or her mind will be, “I am a sinner. I have no saḿskára for sádhaná and will be unable to do it.” This sort of negative thought will thwart his or her spiritual progress. One’s past life will pull one back. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore:
    Adrśt́ere shudhhálem emani niśt́ur bale
    Ke more tániche pashcáte.
    Se kahila, “Phire dekh,”
    Dekhilám ámi,
    Pashcáte tániche more pashcáter ámi.
    [I asked the Lord of my life, “Who is pulling me from behind with such irresistible force?” He told me to look back. I did, and found that my own mental reactive momenta were pulling me back.]
    The pashcáter ámi [the “me” behind me] of the poem refers to the extra-cerebral memory.
    Conversely, if a sádhaka happened to be a great spiritualist in his or her past life, then through the powers of his or her extra-cerebral memory he or she will be further inspired to continue the spiritual life. He or she will think, “In my previous life I was unable to complete my spiritual practice. Now in this life Parama Puruśa has given me the opportunity to attain my cherished goal.” He or she will intensify his or her spiritual practice and advance rapidly towards Parama Puruśa with His sweet attraction. He or she will recite: Sammukhe t́heliche more pashcáter ámi [“My own reactive momenta are pushing me forward”].
    30 December 1970, Ranchi
    Published in:
    Ananda Marga Philosophy in a Nutshell Part 4 [a compilation]
    Discourses on Neohumanist Education [a compilation]
    Tattva Kaomudii Part 2 [unpublished in English]
    Yoga Psychology [a compilation]

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  14. There is a huge fallacy in the “brain producing consciousness” hypothesis that I’ve never seen addressed.

    I would contend that if brains were producing consciousness then we would not seem to be individuals!

    This is one argument that seems to be overlooked in the brain/mind debate.

    All brains are pretty much the same. Same subatomic particles, same cells, same chemicals, same overall physical structures.

    But if brains are the same and generating consciousness then why do we seem to be individuals?

    If my brain is producing my consciousness staring out of the eyeballs of body TJS then the "same” brain in another body XXX should be producing my consciousness there as well so I'm staring out of two sets of eyeballs and living two superimposed lives simultaneously. Taken to it's logical conclusion there would be one consciousness staring out of 7 billion human sets of eyeballs which would mean that consciousness could only experience white noise! This doesn't even take into account the billions of other non-human brains on the planet.

    Before I was born there were billions of brains on the planet that didn’t have anything to to with me. Then all of a sudden at a certain point in space-time I seem to have showed up? Afterwards more brains showed up that don’t have anything to do with me. Why?
    What was so special about the Universe and my brain that suddenly I seem to be conscious? Materialistic science says there was nothing special going on so then once again why do I exist? I can easily imagine the TJS body running around without being associated with “me” just like the billions of bodies before it.

    Somehow an "Individuality Module" would have to be identified in each brain that creates individualized consciousness. How could consciousness or pure awareness be individualized? What would be the measurable parameters?

    This “Individuality Module” would have to explain the structural differences in 7 billion human brains on the planet that creates an individualized consciousness each time and the materialist must be able to measure that consciousness directly and verify it’s individuality.


    Theoretically then my “Individuality Module” should be able to be re-created in another brain, preferably that of Richard Branson, so that I would then be staring out of those eyeballs!

    However materialist science has already concluded that consciousness is actually “everywhere and no-where in the brain”.

    Unless the above can be explained materialism cannot explain consciousness.

    Monistic Idealism however can explain the above without contradiction or paradox.

    We are all One Consciousness existing outside of time and space looking into this universe through the vehicle of every life form. In the process, as a function of focus, the illusion of individuality occurs. A form could be replicated exactly billions of times and each form would still consider itself to be an individual!

    This description of reality is ancient and is what Chalmers is invoking by making Consciousness fundamental.

    Ironically by examining our existence as seeming individual physical entities in the universe we find that that is exactly what we are not.

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    1. The 'white noise' argument you allude to is, I believe, more problematic for idealism than materialism. The key point here is to make a distinction between minds that are identical and minds that are in fact one. Materialism does not require minds to be one, even if they happen to be identical and undifferentiated (i.e. not individualized); it does not require (and in fact forbids) potentially identical minds to be connected. Even if my experience of reality were identical to yours, they wouldn't be one under materialism, but merely two identical copies that feel the same from the inside. That avoids the 'white noise.' Under idealism, we need a more involved explanation to address the white noise.

      Therefore, taken on face value, there doesn't appear to be a difficulty for materialism in the argument you bring up: the appearance of individuality (differentiation) is explainable by the fact that each one of us has a unique point-of-view on reality and a unique life history. Beyond that, individuality is really an illusion under materialism too. A similar explanation for individuality is used under idealism, as you pointed out, though idealism requires an extra explanation for why each of the 7 billion points-of-view of one mind (ignoring animals) becomes amnesic of all the others, thereby avoiding the 'white noise' you refer to. After all, it's all in the same mind! In my latest book, I try to explain how and why this amnesia occurs.

      I think you are touching on a profound and valid intuition, but I feel it's more of an issue for idealism than materialism, no?

      Cheers, Bernardo.

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    2. There is no way I accept that all brains are pretty much the same, they ain't.

      However if you could totally duplicate yourself in this reality to the finest detail, then as you've just pointed out, this person would be you (you would have to exist perfectly in the same time and space, and have had exactly the same experiences)... so it's not possible to duplicate yourself perfectly, even tiny field changes, tiny changes in mass and gravity, thoughts and perceptions mean it's not possible to duplicate yourself exactly.

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  15. I have a question. Well maybe more than one...
    All the brain theory upon memory you are suggesting have a direct implication: also animals should have consciousness , considering for sure that they have intelligence and memory. All of them down, say, to the worm level... or not?
    IMHO, we should go further, to the cellular level, because also cellular life has it own methods to collect memory, to act and to endure life. DNA and RNA filaments inside viruses ARE memory.

    Pretty much interestingly, WE are made of cellular components. The flesh. The brain.

    How all this things add up?

    In his story, Eben Alexander described the presence of GRASS, TREES, DOGS, other than children and ordinary people.... ah, I forgot the butterflies, obviously.

    Can I say that all this is darn confusing?

    My opinion is that the Universe (material and the rest of it, if there is an extension) should be coherent. We should consider the implications on the life forms other than simple human life. Are we the only dictated to be sent to heaven (or hell...)?
    DO the dogs have NDE experiences? Or whales? Which was the ultimate experience of the roasted chicken I ate yesterday?

    And again: the babies that died in the mother womb natually, accidentally, or aborted? ( I do not judge at all, don't misunderstand me).

    Did dinosaurs had a heaven after death?

    Sorry, I was a little ironic, but the questions are serious.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When you dream, there are animals, trees, and other people in your dreams. They clearly exist only insofar as they are in your consciousness, but are they conscious? In other words, is there anything it is like to be a person in your dream, other than yourself?

      The question here is the distinction between things being in consciousness, and things being conscious. Personally, I think everything is in consciousness -- and that everything exists only insofar as it is in consciousness -- but not everything is conscious. In ordinary waking reality, I believe that all living beings are conscious. But I think my computer is not conscious, though it exists only insofar as it is in consciousness. Therefore, in ordinary waking reality, living things are conscious and everything else is in consciousness.

      The question now is: in the after-death state, where does the boundary lie? Is everything that seems alive in the after-death state conscious? Or are they all merely in the consciousness of the dead person? I obviously don't know the answer to this question. But I do suspect that the after-death state is more dream-like than ordinary reality. This way, I am not sure that Eben Alexander's butterflies were conscious, though I do believe they were in his consciousness.

      Cheers, Bernardo.

      Delete
    2. Dear Bernardo,
      I've made a long travel into the NDE literature. The big fact was to discover that such events did happen near to me along my life, and never put my attention on those events. I know three people that reported these( to be more precise, two reported a NDE, one reported a past life memory of death event). I simply skipped this as "bizarre".

      So, definitely, this is not a matter of scam, or spin. These things happen to real people.

      The literarure ade me aware that no sceientific explanation is able to confute all experiences.

      This is usually a hint that something real is working, but what?

      IN this case, to be honest one should keep in mind that a huge mass of personal accounts are nota true proof of something, but usually describes something real, though the "interpretation" of it could be wrong. And also, the scientific "debunking" usually uses a lot of wrong theories to confute these accounts.

      A good example is the UFO issue. A lot of people has seen that, and used this as aproof that extraterrestial exist. A lot of debunkers used a lot of "scientific" explanations to deny the observations.
      But wait, a blogger, John Michael Greer (the Archidruid) made a newspaper reviev along the decades, and found the probable explanation. The observations during the year were perfectly compatible with the state of the art avionics used by military (high white fast moving spot with a trail, the X6 spy planes in the sixtyes, black triangle shaped in the eighties, and so on). The military probably added to the mess to confuse waters.

      Bottom line: the observations were correct ! The explanation was wrong!
      The debunkers were correct (at least until some real extraterrestial spacecraft land on Earth)! But all the "scientific" explanations used to debunk were wrong!

      bottom bottom line: each part was really propping their belief!. But the observations were real.
      This is usually the case when a lot of people is testimony of something, something that is not his/her personal advantage to speak of.

      We should trust facts described by a lot of common and generally honest people.

      This should be the reason to investigate without prejudice on the matter, and refuse the materialistic attitude, which is not true science.

      Have a nice day

      Delete

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