Mind and Brain: Q & A
Thompsons begins this San Diego State University presentation with a viewing of his “Mind and Brain” video, which elicits a number of provocative questions from the students. As a response, he offers an analysis of the complexity inherent to the mechanical function of the brain, which involves the interaction of billions of neurons identified with mental phenomena. He then uses the philosophical principle of Occam’s Razor for considering a dualistic approach to the mind-–brain dilemma. Thompson additionally offers descriptions of out-of-body experiences, something that can suggest support for an autonomous, nonmechanistic, and conscious psyche interacting with the brain.
TRANSCRIPT: Mind and Brain Q&A. San Diego – April 5, 1990 / (046)
Good evening. Welcome to this presentation on the mind and the brain. The presentation is being put on by the Bhaktivedanta Institute. The Bhaktivedanta Institute is an organization dedicated to the study of the nature of life and consciousness. We're interested in modern scientific ideas about consciousness and Eastern philosophy primarily. And we're interested in the interface between these different sets of ideas. So the presentation that we're going to make tonight is entitled “The Mind and the Brain.” We have a video which we've produced which we'll be showing you and this will run about a half an hour. Before I show that, I thought I would just make a few introductory remarks.
The basic subject that we want to discuss in this video is the nature of consciousness. So there's an old philosophical problem called the mind-body problem. And one can also call that the problem of the relationship between consciousness and the physical body, and in particular, the brain. So to begin with, I should indicate what I mean here by consciousness. Consciousness is the fundamental fact that we're aware of things. And this is to be distinguished from behavior. Behavior is something objectively measurable. You can observe another person's behavior. Different people can agree upon a given observation of behavior exhibited by an individual. Also you can measure physiological states, for example in the brain, using various kinds of apparatus. And in principle, you might be able to use some kind of mechanism to observe in detail what all the neurons in the brain were doing even though that's far beyond our present technic... technical capabilities.
So this is all objectively observable information. But consciousness is something internal or subjective. I have my own conscious experience and I presume that you have conscious experience but I can't directly prove that because I can only see your behavior just as you can only see my behavior. So consciousness is by nature internal. Philosophers sometimes speak of the problem of other minds. How can you tell if another person actually is conscious if it's not possible to objectively observe another person's consciousness? But one can reason, of course, that if I am conscious, and other human beings are entities similar to myself, then presumably they're conscious in a... in a similar way. So it's a reasonable inference. So the question is, what is the nature of consciousness and how does that relate to matter? Our present scientific theories perhaps can tell us something about how matter behaves, but they don't give us very much insight into consciousness. So there are many different points that can be made concerning the relationship between consciousness and matter.
What this video does, is it first goes through a number of arguments that have been advanced regarding the relation between consciousness and matter. These are mainly arguments of a philosophical nature. Here we survey these arguments very briefly. They are, of course, subject matter for many books and many extended discussions. So after briefly going over some of these arguments, and discussing the standard scientific view of consciousness, which is that somehow consciousness should be understood in terms of the functioning of the material elements within the brain, we then go on to advance an alternative view. This alternative view is also something that is not new. It's the dualistic idea that there's a conscious self which is distinct from matter. So we introduce this idea, and once this idea is introduced, an immediate question that arises is: If consciousness is due to something distinct from the material structure of the brain, then there must be some kind of interaction between the conscious self and the brain. After all, if I will to do something; for example right now I'm trying to talk – so if I have the desire to do that, then my brain and body respond according to that desire. Likewise sensory information taken in through the eyes and the ears and so forth, which are physical organs, are somehow translated into conscious perceptions. So there must be some back and forth transfer of information then between consciousness and the brain, on the dualistic hypothesis, and the question is; how can you account for that?
So we discuss some ideas regarding how one could account for that in the context of modern ideas of physics and also ideas in Eastern philosophy. And finally we present some empirical data which supports the idea of a duality between the conscious perceiving self and the physical brain. So that's a brief outline of what we're going to present. So what I'll do is show the video. This will last for about half an hour and after that time we can have questions and discussion of these ideas. So that's the basic outline – format. So I try to show this. I hope this works.
[Video is shown]
So are there any questions or points? Yes?
Answer: We were speaking there of what is called Sankhya philosophy. S-A-N-K-H-Y-A would be the spelling. That's.... so anything you would like to discuss?
So the basic subject here is that there is evidence indicating that the conscious self is actually distinct from the body. And there are two approaches you can take to this actually. One is analytical and that's what we really dealt with in the first part of the... the video. There are many arguments there and of course, to present all of them in detail would take quite a long period of time. But by examining the nature of consciousness, which is a matter of introspection – that is observing one's subjective states of awareness, and then thinking about how that relates to our theories of matter, the theories of physics and so forth – one can find lines of reasoning indicating that consciousness is something completely distinct from matter. At least it's distinct from matter as we understand it.
Of course matter as we understand it is made of atoms and molecules. We have theories describing how these things work. There's quantum mechanics, chemistry and so forth. Atoms tend to bond together and chemical reactions tend to occur and so forth. Biologists have made a great deal of... have made great strides in understanding how different processes in the body can occur through interaction with molecules through chemistry and so forth. But how then can one understand how one can have conscious awareness? That's the... the question. If the body and the brain in particular is made of a certain number of atoms which are bonding together, always changing in their positions and their interconnections and so forth... One might explain different kinds of behavior in that way if you have a computer-like model of what is going on; but how can you account for conscious awareness? In a given atom or molecule you would not expect to find, at least, human conscious awareness.
There's a general philosophical idea called panpsychism which would say that in matter in general there's some small element of conscious awareness. This is a very old philosophical idea. But if... excuse me... it's ok... so if you... if you think about that though, you can ask: Well suppose a molecule... let's say an atom of carbon in your brain has some dim level of conscious awareness, surely that's not your consciousness. You're aware of being a person and having thoughts and feelings and so on relating to the world about us and so on and so forth. Surely if a carbon atom has some degree of consciousness, it's not consciousness of that. One might only... could only imagine what that consciousness might be – consciousness of being at a certain energy level or something like that. But let us suppose then that that's the case. The different carbon atoms, oxygen atoms and so forth have some degree of conscious awareness. Still then, if you put them together in a group, then why should the conscious awareness that results by putting them together in a group be anything other than just the sum total of their individual levels of consciousness. So we gave a little argument here in... to illustrate this idea.
There's a philosopher at U.C.Berkeley named John Searle who is famous for this argument. It's called the 'Chinese Room Argument', although we gave a slightly different version of it. The idea there is, if the brain works because you have a large number of simple interacting units which act in a computer-like fashion to produce the total behavior of the brain, you can simulate that, at least in principle, by say, having a group of people – it might have to be a large group of people – who send messages to one another according to some rules, just as the neurons are sending messages to one another according to some rules. And one neuron sends a message to another neuron based on how it's connected to that neuron through synapses and so forth. So similarly you could have a group of people which duplicates all the message transmission that's going on just by sending pieces of paper back and forth. So if you had this group of people, each person would be doing a very simple thing. He'd have a certain table of rules such as: If you get a 'one' from the left and a 'zero' from the right, then send a 'three' to the person in front of you, or something like that. So you could have rules of this sort, and the result is the total group of people, as a whole, would carry out all the steps that are also carried out in the brain because the same logical interrelations are there. So we can imagine that, although in principle, you couldn't do it. You'd need too large a group of people. But in principle you could imagine doing that.
Searle's original argument was: Let us suppose that we have a program like this that translates Chinese. Or even, in other versions of it, he said; suppose this program will answer questions in Chinese. In other words, if you send it a sequence of Chinese ideograms representing a certain question, it will feed back to you an answer of the sort that a Chinese... native Chinese speaker would give you. So in that sense it would pass that Turing test which Turing proposed as a... a... a criterion for deciding whether a machine could think or not. So suppose you had that. Suppose in the room, you have a group of people manipulating slips of paper or some system like that. You can suppose that these people don't know Chinese at all. All they know – well they may speak English let's say – but all they know is they're supposed to manipulate the slips of paper according to certain rules. So the result is: The slips of paper with the Chinese questions come in, in the form of a code, let’s say in terms of 'ones' and 'zeros' or something like that. They manipulate the pieces of paper and they send out slips of paper which have the answers. So they don't know Chinese; they don't have to even know this whole process has anything to do with Chinese. And yet, they're giving the right answers to those questions. So is there any conscious awareness there of answering Chinese questions?
Now if you ask the questions to a Chinese person and he answers you, then he's conscious of answering; but this Chinese-room-computer arrangement presumably is not conscious. At least the people in the room manipulating the pieces of paper have no consciousness having anything to do with Chinese. And so, could you say the room as a whole, is conscious of answering questions in Chinese? Well that's a bit of a dubious assumption. Just like imagine if all of you people here were doing these things with slips of paper, would the whole room full of you be conscious of answering questions in Chinese even though no one of you, in fact, was aware of such a thing?
So the basic idea here is that you can have a large number of little interacting elements which through their interactions and sending of messages back and forth and their switching functions and so forth... that will produce behavior such as answering questions the way a human being might answer them. In fact in this video we took it even further. There's a... a scientist especially someone named Hans Moravec who's a peculiar scientist, an artificial intelligence investigator. So he proposes that if you could actually build a machine that would duplicate everything that's going on in the human brain, then that machine would be the same as that person in terms of it's consciousness. Once you booted up that machine and had it running, then that person would be there. That's what he proposed. Because if... and he said technically this could even be done in principle because brain cells have a certain size. There... it's said to be about a hundred billion brain cells within the human brain. So if you made small enough little computer elements, microprocessors, and put them together in a... in a box so that you had about a billion of them or so, and they were wired together in the right way... he says, “Well why wouldn't that do the same thing your brain does?” In which case that would also be conscious.
But the point then here is that you have these tiny little entities which are interacting with each other, and the argument I just gave involving the Chinese room and so on would say that these little elements interacting with each other are not going to produce consciousness. And even if you follow panpsychism and you say, “Well, individually they may have consciousness of some sort.” Surely it's not the human consciousness. Then still... why would the total collection of them have human consciousness? That problem is there.
So how can one get around that? Basically you have to make some, you might say, very strong metaphysical hypotheses in order to introduce consciousness into a physical system. One thing you might do is argue, “Well, we'll just postulate that in association with states of the brain-computer, particular patterns of activation of neurons and so forth, there are states of consciousness. So whenever there's a certain pattern there of neural activation, there's a certain state of consciousness that's associated with it. So you could make a postulate like that.
But if you do that, then you have to, so to speak, make a list in which you have states of the brain on one side and states of consciousness on the other side and you say, “Well, there's some connection between the two.” So you're introducing a lot of metaphysical machinery there. You have to postulate that all these relationships are there, between the states of the brain and the states of consciousness. Practically speaking, it is more economical to assume that there is some non-physical entity which has the property of consciousness and can interact with the brain. At least that's as economical as proposing these many different states of consciousness and proposing that they must be linked to the different states of matter. So... yeah?
Q: Do you feel that there are different levels of consciousness such as... beginning in... let's say lower animals, lower forms of animals... what do you think (indistinct) about let's say animals being conscious?
A: We would suggest that animals also have consciousness.
Q: Going down how far would you say... like insects...?
A: Insects. Bacteria..
Q: Anything living?
A: Yeah, anything living. But what we would propose is this: I've been basically outlining an argument suggesting that in the human being, consciousness is there, because by virtue of some other entity which is interacting with the brain... the whole gist of the argument here is that you need something else. Just our ideas of the brain are not adequate to account for consciousness. So I'm proposing there is something else that is interacting with the brain. So in an... a body of an animal, you could also have that 'something else'. Let's call it the soul or call it the mind. So in any organism in which there's activity, one can likewise say that you could have a mind interacting with the physical structure of that organism. So given this basic idea we can accept the... the concept that you could have conscious awareness in all different grades of... of animal life, or even for that matter in plant life, as far as that goes. Because the idea is... excuse me?
Q: Do you see them as... as equal or do you see, you know let’s say a gradually declining consciousness. What I mean is; Is it just the human brain that has the self reflecting thing or... or other animals, let's say something like other higher animals like dolphins or whales?
A: There's a distinction to make between the capacity for having conscious awareness and the particular contents of consciousness; that is what your aware of at a particular time. So an animal might have the same inherent capacity for consciousness that we have. At least, in principle, we could see how that could be. But the content of consciousness there would depend on the particular brain and particular bodily situation of that animal. That makes sense if you consider that even in the human being, the content of your consciousness will depend on your physical state. At least as long as you're tied up with the physical body in terms of your conscious awareness. For example, if a person goes into a stupor because of some drug, then... and he wakes up later, he'll remember that he was in a very dull state of consciousness then. Because the chemical has interfered with what his brain was doing, and his consciousness was focused on his brain. So similarly, in an animal with a less highly developed brain, the content of consciousness would be on a more... on a less developed level. So there's that idea.
Of course, we gave here this evidence concerning out-of-body experiences which is interesting. See this is direct empirical corroboration for the idea that the conscious self is something different from the brain. Because what we see here is that people who suffer physical trauma such as cardiac arrest will sometimes experience that they're still conscious, and they're witnessing... perhaps their body from some other vantage point. And they're even able to, in some cases, give reports of what was going on, for example, during the time when physicians were resuscitating their physical body. This Michael Sabom that is mentioned in the video is a cardiologist who was once connected with Emory University in Atlanta and also he's been involved with hospitals in Florida. And he said that he was initially very skeptical of this kind of idea. There's a book by Raymond Moody called 'Life After Life' and originally... that's a very popular account of out of body experiences, so this Michael Sabom heard about that and initially he was quite skeptical. He thought, “Well these must be exaggerated or fabricated stories or else they're merely hallucinations that people have due to anxiety involved with dying and so forth.”
But he interviewed many of his own patients. He said, in particular, he engaged in what he called prospective interviewing. In other words, he didn't know in advance that his patients even had experiences like this. He just interviewed them. And in a certain percentage of his patients, these stories came out... that they would have these out-of-body experiences. And he said there were actually two types of out-of-body experience. In one, he called it the transcendental out-of-body experience. The person would go off into another world and have different experiences. Of course it's hard to corroborate that. But then he said there were what he called autoscopic out of body experiences in which the person would see their own body. And in that case, many people were able to describe what the physicians were doing to resuscitate them from a heart attack. And physicians have many particular procedures that they use, but they're not always the same procedures. It will vary from case to case depending on the circumstances.
And Sabom found cases where people could say in detail that: Right now the... an injection was given in to the left femur and... or thigh. And then these paddles used in... electroconvulsive defibrillation it's called. You can put a shock through the chest and this jolts the heart back into action. Say those were applied... let's say three times, and so forth. And then Sabom would check the medical records and find that, in fact, this is actually what happened. So this indicated then that the person's conscious awareness was functioning even during a time when, according to medical understanding, the brain should not be functional. Yeah?
Q: Does that mean that the consciousness could actually go on existing after the brain has died?
A: Yeah, that would be the implication. And we gave evidence suggesting that also. Namely this material by Ian Stevenson. This Ian Stevenson has studied reports in which people claim to remember previous lives. And surprisingly this is a phenomenon that occurs fairly regularly all over the world. He's found thousands of cases. Of course you have billions of people so it doesn't occur very often. But then there's the matter of how many events like this are reported. Presumably only a small fraction of actual events ever come to public attention. So what he observed is that there are many cases where a very young child, upon first learning to speak, will claim to remember a previous life. And in a certain percentage of cases, it is possible to actually identify the previous personality. That is, the person would give enough detail, saying that: “My name was such and such and I lived in such and such a family in such and such a village. We did this and we did that. I died in such and such a way and so on.” And then by investigating they would find there really was such a person and the records checked out. So this would... at least can be taken as evidence. Stevenson himself calls it "evidence suggestive of reincarnation." He doesn't want to come right out and say this proves it because there could be so many different considerations you could... you could bring to bare.
Q: It could be fraud too. I mean how could you possibly ...?
A: Well he's...
Q: ... substantiated scientific evidence. It's like people claiming there's UFOs. It's the same scenario. I mean... thousands of people...
A: Yeah, you could say... you could say it could be fraud. He's investigated that pretty thoroughly. And...
Q: He could be fraudulent himself. Now that's...
A: Anything could be fraudulent.
Q: Right. That's why you need the scientific... you know you need some backing.
A: Yeah but what's scientific? You see anyone could be fraudulent. He's a scientist...
A: You see he's a scientist. And if you report things like that, it's natural to think, “Well, that could be fraudulent, because this is pretty far out. How could... how could that be true?”
A: But he's investigated. Others also, he has colleagues. These are medical doctors. He's a psychiatrist himself. He's written technical articles on psychiatry and so forth, and studied forensic medicine, how to interview people and cross examine witnesses and so forth. He's delved into all these different areas. Because, of course fraud is a... a major explanation someone's going to... to bring forward. And he says that, “Well fraud doesn't... doesn't work out as an explanation in these cases.” Yeah?
Q: Hi, I have a question again about the out-of-body experiences. In how many of those cases were... was the person considered brain dead? [unclear] the conscious awareness...
Q: ... was it still there or was this person who was in cardiac arrest... shows maybe no brain activity that we can measure but ... or no I wouldn't say that much... in how many of those cases was the brain considered dead?
A: Well, Doctor Sabom discusses that issue. He says that: “First of all, in these cases the brain was not being supplied with oxygen. And normal reports from people – which is, of course, the only way you know about these things, asking people what they experience – indicate that within a few seconds after the heart stops beating, the person blacks out. The last thing to go is hearing. The person may go through as phase in which he can dimly hear things that are going on and then that also blacks out. This is the general description. During these cases of course, normally you don't hook up a... an electroencephalogram to a person to measure his brain waves when this is happening. You're busy trying to resuscitate him. But presumably you'd be getting no brain waves. Now Sabom discussed the possibility that a person could retain some auditory awareness even though they couldn't move, couldn't respond in the normal fashion. He discussed medical reports of this kind of thing. It's not so much involved with cardiac arrest but with operations in which a person is put under anesthesia. Sometimes a person has dim awareness of what's going on and he can hear what the physicians are saying even though he can't move and can't respond in any way. So he pointed out that in these experiences... first of all the experience is auditory. Secondly the person's consciousness is very dull and they feel very much oppressed by their circumstances. And they feel bodily pain but they don't see anything. Whereas in these out of... out-of-body experiences, in contrast... first of all the experience was primarily visual as well as auditory but there's no feeling at all. The persons very generally commented that there's a total absence of pain. Typically these people were experiencing a lot of pain due to their illness. So they would say the pain totally disappeared and they had a very vivid sense of consciousness. Their mind was very clear. And they were having vivid visual imagery from a perspective outside of the body.
One example he gave which sort of illustrates this nicely, this one involved a open heart operation. So the person's body was draped surgically. His head also was covered and the chest was opened up and an operation was performed to remove an aneurysm from the... the heart. And the person gave a description of the operation in considerable detail, as to what he saw happening. But yet... first of all his head was covered by a sheet, so even if he was conscious, how could he have described that? So that's one example. Yeah?
Q: You've given an argument as to why the individual components of the brain could not show consciousness collectively. That is consciousness has to be something outside of the individual... of the individual components. Do you have any ideas of where it comes from? This consciousness awareness. I mean we were born. We had brain cells develop in the womb, brain cell...
Q: Where do we get this consciousness? I mean is it...?
A: Well of course we have ideas about that. The idea of transmigration is there. If you have a conscious entity... I've only been presenting here arguments basically to indicate that this non-physical conscious entity exists. So it's very natural to ask, “Well, in that case where does it come from and also, what becomes of it after you die?” So I haven't given any proof regarding that. This evidence of Ian Stevenson – as I say he calls it evidence suggestive of reincarnation. And he discusses many alternative hypotheses that you can bring up. He has a whole class of different arguments and counter arguments that we can go in to. But certainly one possibility is that the conscious entity is a fundamental entity in nature. By fundamental.... I illustrated that in the video by way of some examples from physics. Take electric charge... of course electric charge is a very simple thing. But still, what is electric charge made of? All you can say is electric charge is made of electric charge. You can't break it down into anything simpler. So you always have to start somewhere. If you can break something down, then can you break down the components? And if you can break them down, then what about their components? So physicists will say we can't break down electrons, but they think they can break down protons but they get down to quarks. So you might have another layer of theory in which they might want to break down the quarks. But either you have an infinite regress or you have to stop somewhere. So one can at least introduce the idea of consciousness as something fundamental. It's just one of the things that's there. It's part of the reality of this world. Yeah?
Q: I have a question.... And that means that consciousness cannot be destroyed or...?
A: Yeah, that would suggest that.
Q: I have a question too as to... so where does it go as reincarnation is concerned? If you can remember a past life as well as (indistinct) you could assume that there were many previous lives and there will be many more. How does the consciousness change [unclear] to adapt...
Q: ...created or destroyed or add on to it or change it...
A: Well, the paradoxical feature of consciousness is that we can be aware of changing circumstances. In particular we can remember things and if consciousness is eternally existing... if one postulates that, then you're postulating something that can register changes in a... in an environment in which there's a constant flux of different events going on, and yet it doesn't change itself. So at least that's something we can conceive of. That's what one would have to propose. So there's the idea of karma. This now is getting into Vedic philosophy going beyond any evidence that we've presented here. But there's the idea of karma, according to which, based on one's particular state of evolved consciousness at the time one dies, one then transfers to another body and another circumstance in which one... which is related to the circumstance one was in when one died. That is... the idea there is that if you can elevate your consciousness to a higher level, then you'll transmigrate to a form in which you have a higher level of consciousness. If you degrade your consciousness to a lower level, then you can transmigrate to a form in which there's a lower level of consciousness and so forth. Yeah?
Q: Can you... what kind of level of consciousness [unclear]
A: Can you know?
A: Well that's a lot of subject matter there. Yes you can... you can know about that.
Q: And how do you...?
A: Well, the idea there is that you need some source of information and in modern scientific... so this… [unclear] ...that's resolved in relation to the idea that there's a Supreme Conscious Being and all the different laws... all the different ideas of right and wrong are actually coming from that Supreme Conscious Being. After all you can ask ultimately: “What is the basis for right and wrong anyway?” We may have an intuitive idea that, let us say, if some being is conscious then it might be wrong to kill it simply on the basis of: “Well, I wouldn't like someone to kill me.” But ultimately someone could argue: “Well that's your opinion, but what really determines what's right or wrong?” Someone may like killing. Some people do. So the idea here is that there's a Supreme Conscious Being and that's the source for the standards of what is right and wrong. Yeah?
Q: Considering the standards of right and wrong vary in different cultures. What some... people may value life and other people may not value life. How do you explain this vary-ing-ness of the values when... there is supposedly some Supreme Entity Consciousness providing us....
A: Well the idea is that not everyone is following the... the dictates of that Supreme... that Supreme Being. Because, for example, indeed, some people will argue that different forms of violence are quite appropriate and so forth. One can argue though, that's not actually correct... it's not actually in agreement with the will of the Supreme. But that of course is a whole subject. Yeah?
Q: But then how could they have anything else but?
Q: How could these individual consciousness have any other ideas but the ideas of the Supreme?
A: If they are allowed... this brings you to the question of free will. We'll go through the whole gamut of philosophical questions here. The question of free will. Because the question is: “Well if God has an idea of how things should be, then why aren't we all just following that automatically?” So the idea is that we're endowed with freedom. We can make up our own mind. So if we follow the laws of God, we do so voluntarily. It's up to us at every... at every point. So that leads to that whole thing. Yeah?
Q: I was wondering, to get back to the scientific way of (indistinct), how is consciousness organized? Because if each piece of organic matter has a corresponding piece of consciousness kind of attached to it, how is it organized? Because an elephant would have a larger brain than I do.
Q: But I have a higher state of consciousness so it's not just by number I guess right...?
A: No, the way it's organized is, briefly, like this: So you have the brain. So the ether which as I say we can think of as space. There's ether there where the brain is. Now there's a finer kind of element called 'mind', manas in... in Sanskrit. It's also considered a material element. But this element can produce patterns in the ether. Now when you produce these patterns in the ether, that in turn interacts with the other elements. Basically you have earth, air, fire, water, and ether. That's just like a basic breakdown of material elements. So the different molecules and so on – that's, you know, earth and water and so forth – so patterns in the ether cause the molecules and so on to change how they are behaving; so the mind can produce patterns in the ether. Likewise the behavior of the molecules produces patterns in the ether and that affects the mind. So you have a two-way traffic between the mind and the brain, and the ether is the intermediate link like a communication channel.
Now there's more than just the mind. There's mind, intelligence and false ego. These are subtle elements but you can think of them as a kind of matter which is more subtle than space. So beyond that, there's the level of the soul, the atma. So there's an interface between the atma and this element called false ego. And there's false ego, intelligence, and mind which are material elements. They interact and there's an interface between mind and the ether and the... and the brain. So this is complex. But that's a simple outline of the idea of how it would work. Now scientifically it's possible to even investigate this. You might say: “Well what can you say about a system like this?” But if you look at the element which is closest to what we already know about, and that would be the ether. That is, we already know something about the brain, although actually very little is really known about it. But the element that we come to next in this picture is the element of ether.
Right now physicists are trying to understand the physics of space. They're having great mathematical difficulties with it. This is called the theory of quantum gravity. Because of course you know in Einstein's general theory of relativity, gravity is due to the bending of space. So they want to link in quantum mechanics with that because they're thinking quantum mechanics is basic to all of physics. So you need quantum mechanics for how space bends but no one can do that at present. There are great difficulties mathematically in setting up such a theory. But ultimately such a theory would be a theory of the ether. And if you could work that out, you might well be able to examine how patterns within the ether could affect the action of nerve cells and so forth. So that's something totally on the... the forefront or beyond the forefront of science today. But you can conceive of how scientifically you could investigate such a thing. So on the scientific level you can look at it from this point of view. Now to look at the big picture though, you need philosophical information. Because even if you proceeded in this way scientifically for many lifetimes, how far would you get? You might work your way up from ether to mind and so forth, assuming that you could investigate all those things, and it would be a very long difficult process. So the information that I was describing relating to God, free will, all these different questions – one basically needs some higher source of information in order to know about those things. And that's also the idea in the... the vedic literature; that there are higher sources of information which can communicate understanding to us about what lies beyond the purview of our physical senses. Yeah?
Q: I'd like to know precisely how the Sankhya...
Q: ...is related to the Vedic philosophy you were talking about and what (indistinct)...
A: Okay, the Sankhya system of philosophy is part of the general body of Vedic literature. You find discussions of it in many different Vedic books. It's constantly referred to. For example, in the Bhagavad-Gita there's a discussion of Sankhya philosophy. In the Bhagavata Purana there are several different discussions in different parts and so forth. So it's... it's a topic that very often comes up. Sankhya literally means counting and what it refers to is the analytical study of how things work. Because when you analyze things, you break them down into parts and then see how the parts fit together. And you use mathematics, you count things, you assign numbers to things. So Sankhya has that orientation. So you could say it's the analytical philosophy in the Vedic literature. Yeah?
Q: You say that... I guess ether, is this the basic element of the consciousness?
A: No, ether I'm describing as a link, a material link in the chain of interaction between consciousness and the brain.
Q: Is there a basic... say if I take myself... the brain...through the basic elements; proton, neutron, electron. Okay, these are... these are things that everything around us are made up of.
Q: Is there a basic element for consciousness?
A: Yeah, that's what I'm proposing.
Q: And, sorry to cut you off, if there's a basic element, what [unclear] it's organization? Could you say there's a certain unit of consciousness that's connected with a certain unit of the mass or organic mass?
A: Yeah. How does it get connected with a particular brain for example? Is that what your asking?
Q: Where I'm... where I'm having a problem is; When a child's born it's gonna get it's consciousness from this pool of... of basic element of consciousness. But if something is reincarnated, it seems this pools not being drawn upon or... or if it has, where did the extra stuff go?
A: Here's the idea of how it works. With the idea... the basic idea here is one of transmigration. So the soul carries with it this... what is called, subtle body – linga sarira in Sanskrit – of mind, intelligence and false ego. So these are like material elements which go with the soul. This is the normal operating situation. So this mind element can interact through the ether with a particular brain. So you can think of that... consider the interface between a computer and an operator. So the actual computer is a little chip. If you open up your computer, you'll see this little square there with wires coming out of it. So that's the actual computer. So you interact with that through a keyboard and a monitor. So you have some apparatus which is a communications link. So you can communicate with that chip. So similarly, the ether is like the communications link between this element of mind and the... the brain. So you can imagine data being transferred back and forth across that communications link.
Now how does the link get set up? The idea is that, alright, you start with a fertilized egg cell and the embryo begins to develop and so forth. So a soul with subtle body – mind, intelligence and false ego – is associated with that. And this is arranged by what is known as the principle of karma. Just as we have physical laws governing how the atoms move around, so these laws of karma govern how the souls move around. It's a... a similar idea but they’re are laws on a higher level.