Science and Nescience
In the first two lectures of this seminar, Thompson reviews questions involving the brain and the conscious self. He considers four points in particular: 1) qualia and the subjective properties of experience, 2) attempts to explain consciousness within a reductionist framework, 3) Cartesian analyses of the dualistic interaction between a non-physical mind and the physical body, and 4) empirical evidence that appears to challenge orthodox scientific explanations. He introduces the Sankhya philosophy of India, along with concepts specific to Gaudiya Vaisnavism such as acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, to offer fresh perspectives.
TRANSCRIPT: Science or Nescience. VIHE Seminar Introduction: Gita Nagari - 1990 / (504)
...mind-body problem in particular, and I could speak about that for a couple of days. So the next topic would be actually the subject of Vedic astronomy and Vedic cosmology. So, I recently came out with a book which is now available and I have some copies here. It's called Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy. This book deals with the whole question of the Fifth Canto and its relationship with the Vedic mathematical astronomy, which is called Jyotisa Sastra and with modern astronomy and cosmology and so forth. So I thought I could spend a few days on that.
So ideally you could acquire this book. Arjuna said that he would be making some arrangements in that regard. I have to see what decision he has come to. In that case, I would be able to give some assigned readings for the different classes and go over some of the topics in this book. So that's why I wouldn't enter into the topic of astronomy and cosmology for a couple of days so that you have [a chance] to get the book and do a bit of reading also. So that's pretty much the plan.
I also have, by the way, some copies of this book, Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science, which deals with the topics that we're going to be discussing, especially the question of the relationship between the conscious self and the brain and physical nature in general.
So, today I was going to talk about this question of the brain and the conscious self. I have two videos that deal with this subject. These are intended for use in colleges basically, and I thought that for two days, today and tomorrow, I could show those two videos and then discuss some of the points that are made in them. And then we can have a discussion of those points after I give a bit of information. So the first video, the one that I thought I would show today is called "Simulated Worlds."
[break] ..I was going to continue with the topic of the mind-body problem we were discussing yesterday. I'll present another video on the subject of the mind and the brain, and then give an explanation of four different points which are made in this video. Remember other points that are made also. But I wanted to discuss four in particular.
So, this video is a little bit more on a technical level than the one I showed yesterday. Also when we made this, we did not have facility for putting a live narrator into the picture. So, it's done entirely with computer graphics which sort of... there are advantages and disadvantages to that. But this video discusses, first of all, some of the arguments relating to the nature of consciousness and the relation between the conscious self and the brain. It refers to the whole subject of artificial intelligence and the idea that people have had that we can understand the mind in terms of a machine or a computer. So, we go over some arguments involving that and then introduce the idea of the conscious self as something distinct from the brain. A number of points regarding that have been worked out. I introduce the Sankhya philosophy again and it introduces a specific idea of how the mind interacts with the brain. Of course, we know the mind in Vedic terms is a subtle physical element and in the Third Canto in the Srimad-Bhagavatam it's explained how the mind interacts with the gross elements through the element of ether. Ether is the intermediary link. So that is discussed. And then finally there's a brief presentation of some empirical evidence that confirms the Vedic paradigm. So I'll start this and then we'll have a discussion. Just push play here okay. Is the volume all set up?
RLT: Lights. [unclear]... What about this green thing?
[plays video–RLT reads the script]:
While his mind is still alert the aging Mr. Jones arranges to have his brain scanned by a cerebroscope, a device which will record the exact pattern of connections of the billions of neurons in his brain. Since the early 18th century, many scientists have felt that the total personality of a human being is encoded in the physical structure of the brain. In recent years cognitive scientists at Universities such as Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT have dreamed of the day when man may attain immortality by preserving a computerized copy of his neural patterns.
In 1936, the mathematician Alonzo Church argued that any computation that can be systematically performed can also be performed by certain universal processes of computation. In the late '40s and '50s, computers that could carry out these processes were first built using electronic circuitry. In principle, any computation however complex can be carried out on an electronic digital computer. If the human personality is entirely reducible to brain computations, it follows that a particular human personality such as that of Mr. Jones can be duplicated by a suitably programmed computer. This computer could be linked to a robot body, thus allowing Mr. Jones to live again. Insurance against accidental death could be provided by preserving backup copies of the Jones personality in a safe place. In principle, the robot body could be repaired and improved indefinitely thus giving Mr. Jones the prospect of enjoying ever more powerful bodily forms in an unlimited future.
Can a computer program duplicate the essence of human personality? In 1950 the British Scientist Alan Turing argued in a famous paper that computers can do this. He maintained that the essence of human personality lies entirely in observable human behavior and that any behavior that can be systematically observed and described can also be duplicated by a machine. On the basis of this assumption, Artificial Intelligence researchers tried to write programs duplicating human intellectual functions. They encountered some success in writing programs for mathematical problem solving and games like chess, but it proved impossible to duplicate more basic forms of behavior. These include the processes of pattern recognition in vision and hearing as well as the capacity for ordinary speech. And thus far Artificial Intelligence researchers have no idea how to represent the knowledge that a three-year-old child has of his mother's kitchen.
One impediment in Artificial Intelligence research has been that existing computers execute one instruction at a time. Whereas, the brain contains some 100 billion neurons all working simultaneously. It is hoped however, that parallel processors will be developed with the ability to mimic the brain by executing many millions of operations at one time. Parallel processors simulating neural networks have already proven useful in various tasks involving pattern recognition. However, there is still the problem of figuring out how to program a vast network of processes to duplicate brain functions. It is here that the idea of scanning the brain comes in.
Some scientists speculate that if it is possible to do this accurately and thoroughly, it may be possible to construct an electronic duplicate of the brain. It is hard to say whether or not this will ever be possible. At present it is certainly little more than a distant dream. But let us suppose that the brain patterns of Mr. Jones have been captured in electronic form. Let us suppose further that Mr. Jones' original behavior is precisely duplicated by his new robot body. We must still ask, is the robot conscious or is it simply producing Mr. Jones' behavior without conscious awareness?
To introduce the idea of consciousness let us consider a simple machine that prints the message saying, "I see a red light." whenever a red light is shown on it. This machine consists of nothing more than a photocell, an amplifier and a printer. Therefore we do not tend to believe that it has the conscious experience of seeing red light, even though it says that it does so.
Of course, some philosophers question the very idea of consciousness. The eliminative materialists say that words referring to consciousness cannot be objectively defined and therefore we should not use such words. They propose that instead of saying, "I feel a pain," it would be more scientific to say, "C-fibers are firing." But this simply demonstrates the reality of consciousness and the fact that whether we can objectively define it or not, we are able to talk about states of consciousness and understand what we mean.
The 19th Century Scientist Thomas H. Huxley accepted consciousness as a reality independent of matter. He described consciousness as an epiphenomenon, a manifestation that is affected by matter, but has no effect on matter in turn. The fact that we perceive material things shows that consciousness is affected by matter. Huxley's requirement that consciousness does not affect matter in turn serves to prevent it from violating the laws of physics by producing effects not predicted by these laws. If we accept the reality of consciousness we can ask the question, can a machine be conscious?
The philosopher John Searle has thrown interesting light on this question by presenting the following argument. "Consider the computer that duplicates the brain activity of Mr. Jones. Suppose that it is conscious just as Mr. Jones himself would be. The important thing about this computer is its logical structure, which duplicates the logical structure of Mr. Jones' brain. This same logical structure can be embodied in a computer consisting of a large group of people seated at desks. In accordance with certain simple rules, each person receives slips of paper from his neighbors, makes marks on them and passes them to other neighbors. By setting up the rules properly, this group of people will precisely duplicate all of the operations of the Jones computer. Just as the Jones computer duplicates Mr. Jones' brain so this group of people collectively duplicates both the Jones computer and Mr. Jones' brain.
Does the group of people manifest the consciousness of Mr. Jones? Each individual in the group knows only his own activities of making marks on pieces of paper, and we can suppose that he does not even know the purpose of the group as a whole. Surely the consciousness of Mr. Jones is not present in any of the individuals in the group, but is it present in the group as a whole? It seems most reasonable to suppose that in fact, the only consciousness in the group of people, is that of the individuals that make it up. But if this is so then what can we say about the Jones computer? Shouldn't we conclude that it also lacks consciousness and it's simply producing behavior by a mechanical process?
Finally, what about Mr. Jones' brain? What special feature does it have that creates the conscious experience of Mr. Jones? Its logical structure as a computer is the same as that of the Jones computer and the group of people. It only differs from them in the way its operations are carried out by nerve impulses instead of by electrical currents in semiconductors, or by the passing of written notes. A nerve cell builds up an electrical potential between its inside and its outside. A nerve impulse involves a localized flow of ions across the cell membrane that neutralizes this electrical potential. As this flow takes place it triggers a similar flow in adjacent parts of the membrane; thus an electrical signal propagates down the length of the cell.
From a computational point of view, the important thing is that some kind of signal is sent. The particular mechanism does not matter. The same thing can be said about the switching functions carried out by neural synapses. The theory of the brain as a computer holds that only the logical arrangement of neural interconnections is important in determining human mental functions. We have seen that this logical structure does not account for consciousness. Could it be that consciousness is a product of the particular physiochemical structure of neurons? Actually, there is no more reason to associate consciousness with this cellular machinery than there is to associate it with the amplifier and photocells of the red light machine.
As Huxley suggested, consciousness seems to be a real feature of nature. It is not understandable in terms of physical structures and processes. It must be postulated as an extra irreducible element in physical systems. The example of electric charge shows that the idea of an irreducible element is not foreign to modern physics. It is reasonable then to introduce consciousness as an irreducible element and inquire into its nature. Some thinkers such as the mathematician Rudy Rucker suggests that consciousness is comparable to an undifferentiated light that shines through material structures illuminating them with self-awareness. According to this idea, the one perception "I am" is common to all material patterns; and the thought, "I am Robert Smith" is simply this "I am" shining through the particular brain hardware and software of Robert Smith. In a molecule this "I am" shines through the array of nuclei and electron orbitals resulting perhaps in a dim awareness of harmonious molecular vibration. In a neuron, this "I am" shines through the membranes, microtubules and other components of the cell and perhaps produces a dim awareness of growth, metabolism, and nerve impulse activity.
Finally, in the brain of Robert Smith as a whole, this "I am" shines through the total neural system and produces the rich conscious awareness of Robert Smith. But wait, if the brain of Robert Smith is simply a combination of molecules each of which has some experience of "I am," then why isn't the total consciousness of that brain simply the collection of these individual states of molecular consciousness? This is the point of our group computer example. The only consciousness we expect to find in the group is simply the collection of the individual states of consciousness of the group members.
To clarify this point, consider this chart showing how theorists of Artificial Intelligence believe that thoughts and feelings might be represented within a computer. At the lowest level of the chart, we find computer hardware. As we go up the chart, we encounter software on higher and higher levels of abstraction ranging from the level of machine language up to the level of languages containing symbols that refer directly to thoughts and feelings. All of the higher levels are abstract. Only the level of silicon chips and electrical currents is physically real. Yet our consciousness corresponds to the highest abstract levels and not to the level of physical reality.
This is also true of the human brain. Whatever this "I am" is, it links up with high order abstract patterns of organization. Instead of shining through matter like ordinary life, it illuminates complex patterns with a unified awareness of their meaning.
To illustrate this feature of consciousness, consider a novel. The physical structure of the book consists of ink on paper, but there is also a hierarchy of levels of abstraction ranging from letters to words, sentences, character portrayals, and finally the plot of the story. Just as a human reader perceives the plot in the pattern of ink on paper, so consciousness picks out high order patterns in the human brain. One might object that all pattern recognition can be accounted for by brain mechanisms. For example, we can imagine a neural network which triggers the firing of a particular neuron if and only if an image of Robert Smith's grandmother is projected on the retina of his eye. We can call this cell a grandmother cell. Such a system may help account for the behavior of Robert Smith when he recognizes his grandmother. However, the grandmother cell fires neural impulses just like those of any other neuron. Thus for Robert Smith to be conscious of his grandmother, the "I am" must respond to complex details of the neural network as a whole. It cannot simply be linked to the grandmother cell.
This brings us naturally to the idea that consciousness involves a non-physical entity that is able to sense material patterns and tie them together in a unified awareness of self. Such an idea was introduced by Rene Descartes in the 17th Century. According to Descartes, there are two kinds of substances: matter, or res extensa; and mind, or res cogitans. Matter has geometrical properties involving extension in space. And mind is characterized by thinking, feeling, and conscious awareness. Descartes proposed that the mind interacts with the body. Since perception involves the transmission of information from the body to the mind, and willed action involves the transmission of information from the mind to the body, Descartes speculated that the center of mind-body interaction might be the pineal gland situated in the center of the head.
Over the years scientists and philosophers have been unable to make any progress in understanding how a non-physical mind might interact with the physical body. As a result, they have tended to reject this idea in preference for purely mechanical theories of the mind. However, theories of mind-body interaction continue to be proposed by scientists. In recent years, such ideas have been proposed by neuroscientists such as Wilder Penfield and Sir John Eccles, and by philosophers such as Karl Popper. One theory was jointly advanced by Popper and Eccles. This theory is quite complex, but in essence, it involves the idea of a non-physical mind that interacts with arrays of neural modules in the cerebral cortex of the brain. This mind responds to high order neural patterns. According to Eccles, the unity of conscious experience is provided by the self-conscious mind and not by the neural machinery of the liaison areas of the cerebral hemisphere.
One objection to theories of mind-brain interaction, is that injuries to the brain are known to impair specific mental functions. Therefore the mind must be simply a product of brain function. This objection can be answered by considering that the mind may program the brain computer. A person using a computer may become dependent upon it and he may be unable to carry out certain operations when the computer loses files due to a hard disk failure. Similarly, the mind may be unable to carry out certain functions if the brain is damaged. This problem will be particularly severe if the brain is no longer readily programmable due to changes caused by aging.
Another objection to theories of mind-body interaction is that such interaction would seem to violate the laws of physics. Of course, one solution to this problem is to suppose, with Thomas Huxley, that the mind can sense the behavior of matter but has no power to control this behavior. However, the physicist Eugene Wigner has pointed out that we have no example in physics of a phenomenon in which A influences B, but B has no influence on A. He argues that consciousness exists in addition to matter and that since matter can influence consciousness, it must be that consciousness can also influence matter. He, therefore, proposes that the laws of physics will have to be revised to incorporate consciousness. Such a step may seem radical, but we should keep in mind that the 20th Century has been marked by revolutions in physical theory that were completely unanticipated by physicists of the 19th Century. For example, the theory of relativity introduced strange transformations of space and time. And quantum mechanics replaced material particles with waves propagating within a Hilbert space of infinitely many dimensions.
To see how a theory of mind-brain interaction might be formulated, it is useful to examine the Sankhya philosophy of India. According to this philosophical system, a living being consists of three components: the gross material body, the subtle material body, and the atma, or conscious self. According to the Sankhya, philosophy gross matter consists of a series of transformations of ether, or akasa, which is regarded as the substance of space. These transformations generate air, fire, water, and earth, which represent the sum total of the material elements as we know them. This theory is reminiscent of the theory of geometrodynamics based on general relativity in which an attempt is made to represent all matter as patterns of deformation in the underlying metric of space-time.
According to the Sankhya philosophy, the subtle body is made up of the elements called mind, intelligence, and false ego. These elements are material in the sense that they lack consciousness. They can be thought of as a kind of material energy that is more subtle than ether, or space, and that can be molded perhaps in a computer-like fashion to represent ideas and patterns of thought. The energy of false ego is molded to represent the software for the false material self-identification of the conscious being. Beyond the false ego is the atma, or the self proper, which is endowed with consciousness. We speak of the atma as non-material since we use the absence or presence of consciousness to distinguish between material and non-material entities. The interactive link between the atma and the false ego is very subtle and is far removed from the domain of empirical science as we know it today. However, the link between the subtle mind and the gross physical brain may be amenable to scientific study.
According to the Sankhya philosophy the element of ether is the intermediate link between the gross body and the subtle mind. The mind generates wave patterns in the ether, which we may think of as the fabric of space. These patterns are amplified by material interaction and they result in systemic changes in neural activity that enable the mind to direct brain activities. The neural activity of the brain also creates disturbances in the fabric of space which influence the mind element and thereby allow for sense perception. It is perfectly possible for wave patterns to emerge from the subatomic background noise and coalesce to produce macroscopic organized patterns.
Here we see a simple model of a medium that can propagate waves. This medium propagates waves according to the classical wave equation. If the proper input wave is introduced into this system, the result is the production of two organized patterns. First, a letter A and then the symbol aum. To produce organized patterns, the key requirement is for the initial disturbances to be properly organized. The disturbances can start at arbitrarily small magnitudes and be brought to a macroscopic magnitude by natural amplification processes. For example, here is a model in which elastically colliding disks represent molecules in a gas. We see discs of two colors colliding chaotically starting with a random initial arrangement. Now, let us go back to the initial arrangement and systematically change the directions of motion of the discs by amounts so small that they would be impossible to measure. Now the discs quickly form an organized pattern. This involves effects of exponential amplification that are studied in the theory of deterministic chaos. This shows that mind-body interactions may produce macroscopic effects without a need for measurable disturbances in the dynamics of brain molecules. These interactions should produce changes in the entropy and information content of the brain, however, since they involve the transmission of information from the mind to the brain.
This brings us to our last topic: the question of whether or not there is any direct evidence for mind-brain interaction. The answer is that such evidence does exist. Some evidence for this comes from modern medical science. Physicians often encounter reports of out-of-body experiences. These typically occur during heart attacks, automobile accidents, and other traumatic events. Many people have reported observing their own body from a vantage point above it while being resuscitated from cardiac arrest. Dr. Michael Sabom, initially skeptical of such experiences, sought to confirm or discredit them. He requested heart attack patients reporting out-of-body experiences to give details of their exact medical treatment during the time their heart was stopped and their brain had no blood supply. In the group he studied, several people gave numerous explicit details of their own resuscitation that were confirmed by their medical histories. And no one made any serious mistakes in describing the resuscitation process. In contrast, in a control group of seasoned cardiac patients who did not report out-of-body experiences, no one correctly described details of his own resuscitation, and many made serious mistakes in describing the resuscitation procedure.
Dr. Sabom considered many theories that have been offered by doctors and scientists as explanations of out-of-body experiences. After showing that these did not fit the facts, he tentatively concluded that separation of the preceding self from the body had actually occurred. Sabin questioned, and we quote, "Could the mind, which splits apart from the physical brain, be in essence the soul which continues to exist after the final bodily death according to some religious doctrines? As I see it, this is the ultimate question that has been raised by reports of the near-death experiences. This leads us to the question of transmigration, the transferral of a conscious entity from one physical body to another at the time of death."
Doctor Ian Stevenson, the psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, has extensively compiled reports indicating that people are able to remember previous lives. Stevenson studied reports by very young children not under hypnosis, with neither the motive nor the ability to invent elaborate past life stories. In one case, a child named Sukla was born to a family in the village of Kampa in West Bengal in 1954. When Sukla first learned to speak she claimed that she had previously been a married woman named Mana Chakravarty. This person had died in 1948 and had lived in a village 11 miles away. The child, Sukla was able to spontaneously show the route to Mana Chakravarty's house and she named various members of the Chakravarty family on site. She also showed a strong emotional attachment to this family and to the surviving husband of Mana Chakravarty. Stevenson and his colleagues conducted many interviews with persons involved in this case in an effort to eliminate the possibility of fraud, subconscious coaching, and other explanations involving normal channels of communication. Stevenson was able to give strong evidence ruling out these explanations in many cases in which an alleged previous personality was described in detail and clearly identified as having actually existed.
As of 1988 Stevenson had tabulated 2,500 cases from around the world. Eight hundred and eight one of these were thoroughly investigated and Stephenson was able to verify the reported previous incarnation in 546 instances, about 62% of the total cases investigated. Such extensive evidence suggests that the human personality can function outside the physical body and even transmigrate from one body to another. This is consistent with Sabom’s evidence for out-of-body experiences and it adds support to the model of the conscious self as a non-physical entity that interacts with the physical body. Perhaps we have already downloaded into robot-like machines but not in the way imagined in scenarios of artificial Intelligence.
Well, that is that presentation.
Answer: Oh Yeah. Krishna-kripa – he did a lot of work on this. Okay, we can have the lights I guess. Let's see. [unclear]... Well, I was reflecting that to properly explain all the points made here, I have to do a whole week's course of lectures just on this alone. However, there were a few points that I wanted to discuss in particular.
The first point has to do with the role of reductionism. So, in modern science, the idea of reductionism is that you can explain one thing as being made up of components made of something else. For example, a given chemical compound would be made of atoms so you can reduce the chemical down to atoms. Very often that strategy, what you reduce things to can be further reduced. For example, you can reduce the atoms to electrons, protons, and neutrons. And then perhaps you can go a step further and you can reduce the protons and neutrons to quarks or whatever the real fundamental particles are supposed to be. So, there's the idea that once you reduce things far enough there'll be some ultimate stratum. And everything is made up of combinations and permutations based on that ultimate substratum.
Well, this idea is significant because first of all, it's very hard to see how a structure which can be reduced down to an ultimate impersonal substratum could be conscious. The reason that's difficult is that, after all, the only thing that's really there is the substratum. Let's say it's quarks ,and electrons, and gluons to glue them together. The latest theory in physics is called Quantum Chromodynamics – that's the name for it – and they have these elements called quarks, humorously named, and they're held together by gluons. But anyway, whatever the ultimate substratum is, these are very much impersonal entities. They are just like waves of force or something like that. So if you put together many impersonal entities into a pattern, why should that give you consciousness? The basic idea is that you won't get consciousness out of that.
Now I presented in this video this argument by this fellow named John Searle, and of course, he's famous for it now. But many people have made similar arguments before to the effect that if you merely have a pattern which simulates behavior, say of human beings, there's no reason to think that that would be conscious. So he used an argument of reductio ad absurdum to convey this and this is the basic argument that: if you imagine a computer, which is programmed to simulate, let us say, a human being, that computer consists of little parts that sends signals to one another. And there are switching elements, so the two signals may come in and that will throw off a switch and that will, say, block another signal from going through and so forth.
So, you can represent this computer in terms of people who are passing pieces of paper to one another and making marks on them according to certain rules. The computer can be represented in that way just as well as it can be represented in terms of the silicon chip or any other possible representation. So, imagine a large crowd of people who are passing pieces of paper back and forth marking on them according to these rules and so on. That will carry out the functions of the computer, but would we imagine that that crowd of people as a whole would generate the consciousness of the person which that computer represents? You would think that that wouldn't happen because each person is only conscious of what he's doing. Let's say he's making marks on a piece of paper and, you know, watching the clock hoping that he'll soon be able to get out and do something else. The crowd of people as a whole has no consciousness in and of itself – it's just a crowd of people. So then where is the consciousness of this person that's being duplicated? So that's the argument Searle made, that consciousness wouldn't be there anyway. In other words, the crowd would not duplicate the consciousness of that person. So likewise a computer would not duplicate the consciousness of that person, because what is the difference between the computer and the crowd of people? The essence of the computer is captured by the crowd of people making the marks on the pieces of paper.
So, if we follow the argument this far you can then say, well what about the brain? The brain also is the set of little switching devices that send signals to one another called neurons. So, the behavior of the brain according to scientific understanding is basically the same as the behavior of the computer – just a switching network. So, why would there be consciousness there? Well, Searle interestingly enough wants to say, “Well, there will be consciousness in the brain,” and he says that will be true because there are certain basic peptides and other molecules in the brain and that gives consciousness. Then you can ask, “Well why should that give consciousness?”
And of course, the point I made yesterday also in the video was that the essence of a molecule, as far as chemistry is concerned, lies in the structure of the molecule. Mainly how the components are put together and how they interact with one another. So, it's a matter of interactions between little parts again and the argument we already covered indicates that you would not expect that to produce consciousness. So the conclusion then is that you wouldn't expect the brain to produce consciousness either. In general, you would not expect any pattern on a substrate of some kind to produce consciousness. The pattern itself would not be conscious. That's the basic argument.
So that's interesting – it says that anything to which reductionism can be applied then will not be conscious. So we know that consciousness exists. So how can that be then? Well, anything to which reductionism can be applied cannot be conscious, then consciousness must be due to something else other than matter to which reductionism can be applied. There must be some other element there which is conscious, and that's the Vedic viewpoint.
So, I wanted to read a couple of things from the Bhagavatam just to point out that this idea of analysis of matter in terms of reductionism and so forth, is the Vedic idea. It's not just an idea that you find in modern scientific terms. So the 11th Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam has an especially clear presentation of this. Let's see if I can quickly put my hand on these different verses. Well, here's... mind you this is a translation of two slokas of the usual length, but it's an extensive translation, but I'll just read this for you. It's really a summing up of the whole idea of reductionism as presented in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. So this says,
Gold and earth are originally existing as ingredients. From gold one may fashion golden ornaments such as bracelets and earrings, and from earth we made fashioned clay pots and saucers. The original ingredients gold and earth exist before the products made from them, and when the products are eventually destroyed the original ingredients gold and earth will remain. Plus since the ingredients are present in the beginning and at the end, they must also be present in the middle phase taking the form of a particular product to which we assign for convenience a particular name, such as bracelet, earring, pot or saucer. You can, therefore, understand that since the ingredient cause exists before the creation of a product and after the product's destruction, the same ingredient cause must be present during the manifest phase supporting the product as the basis of its reality. A material object, itself composed of an essential ingredient creates another material object through transformation plus one created object becomes the cause and basis of another created object. A particular thing may thus be called real in that it possesses the basic nature of another object that constitutes its origin in final state.
So that's somewhat extended. But the basic point there is that if you have a given material form that is produced from the transformation of some other substrate, and all that's really there is that substrate, so the substrate produces a particular form and we assign a name to that form. In this case, the example of clay is given. The clay is the substrate, the form that may be produced will be a pot. So we assign the name pot to that form. But actually, there's nothing there but clay. The actual reality of the thing is the clay. Clay was there in the beginning, it's there in the middle and it's there in the end and it's the actual reality, and pot is merely a name we applied to a temporary form. So this example is clear enough if you apply it to clay and pots. In the Vedic literature it is applied to the material elements in general.
There's a description – I won't read all of this – but it's about a one page translation describing the dissolution of the material elements.
Q: Could we have the chapter and verse please?
A: Oh yes, well I'll tell you first, the one that I read just now, this will be interesting. It's Canto 11 Chapter 24 and this is text 17 and 18, which you could look up. This whole Chapter 24 is very interesting. This one I'm going to read part of right now is from the 11th Canto, Chapter 24, and this is text 28. And you have encountered this kind of verse before, but I want to explain it in the context of this idea of reduction. So it says here,
At the time of annihilation, the mortal body of a living being becomes merged into food. Food emerges into the grains, and the grains merge back into the earth. The earth merges into its subtle sensation, fragrance. Fragrance merges into water, and water further merges into its own quality, taste. That taste merges into fire which merges into form. Form merges into touch, and touch merges into ether. Ether finally merges into the sensation of sound...
and so forth. That's one part of it.
So, this is sort of a description of the process of creation of the elements in reverse. The annihilation of the elements occurs in the inverse order to the creation of the elements. But the point here is that in the creation of the elements as described in the Sankhya philosophy, there's a basic substrate which is ultimately pradhana. This energy pradhana, this is Krsna's external energy. And when actually it's called pradhana in the neutral state in which forms are not manifest. In the manifest state the same energy is called mahat-tattva. So, this substrate undergoes various transformations producing successive elements, but each element is basically only the thing that it is produced by transformation, just as the pot is really just clay; so ultimately all the different material elements are nothing but pradhana. And this pradhana is basically an impersonal substrate. So there's no consciousness in the material elements. The consciousness is due to something else.
There's another interesting point that I'd also like to read from the Bhagavatam regarding consciousness. So Krsna is giving here a whole discussion to Uddhava about the material elements. So, he was explaining how different elements are produced by transformation of other elements. So Uddhava raised a doubt as the following... [break in recording] In other words, he says there's a categorical distinction between the conscious self and the material energy. So that actually is the solution to this problem of understanding consciousness.
Philosophers such as this John Searle have seen that you really can't understand consciousness in terms of material combinations. He's argued this quite cogently. But then when it comes to the brain, he actually turns around and contradicts himself by saying that there somehow transformation of matter can produce consciousness after all. But in fact, the same argument that he has applied in other situations, namely to computers, applies there also. It indicates that the brain could not be conscious either. So, the solution actually is very simple, but he would hesitate to adopt such a solution and that is that there is a categorically different kind of entity existing, namely the soul, which actually has the property of consciousness. This categorically different kind of entity is interacting with the material elements, and thus the material elements seem to have consciousness because of the presence of the soul. So that was one point that I wanted to make.
The basic idea there is that this whole concept of reductionism is very much there in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. It's an idea that pervades modern science, but Krsna is explaining it in detail to Uddhava also in the Bhagavatam and giving the answer to this basic philosophical problem involving consciousness. So that was one point.
Another point that I wanted to bring up, which is made in this video, has to do with the nature of consciousness. Consciousness has the property that it can unify diversity. Now in Krsna Conscious philosophy, we have this basic principle that achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which is very fundamental, very interesting, because if you look at the attempt to explain consciousness in terms of combinations of unconscious things, one problem that you can see there is that in a combination of different things all the things essentially remain separate from one another.
For example, consider a picture like a painting. The picture is made of many little separate specks of pigment. So in one place you'll have a green speck, in another place you'll have an orange speck, and so forth. So what ties together those specks in the form of the unified perception of the image? In fact, you can argue that there is no unified perception of the image until someone looks at the painting. When no one is looking at the painting all you have are the individual specks of pigment in their different positions. But what happens if somebody looks at the painting? Well, initially an image of the painting is projected onto the retina of the eye and different light-sensitive cells are triggered off due to the light which is forming this image. And so certain cells, say that are sensitive to red light, will be firing in one part of the retina and other cells sensitive to blue light will be firing another part and so on. But there again, you just have separate cellular components firing. They're all situated next to one another. So what ties that together to give a unified comprehension of the image?
Well, one could say well you have to go further into the brain. It doesn't happen in the retina. Well, people have traced out how the process of vision works. It seems the nerve impulses from the retina go down the optic nerves, they cross over at a certain point called the optic chiasma, and then they go to regions of the brain – well, there's a whole series of regions of the brain they traced these impulses through. The main point here is that at each stage in the processing of the visual information within the brain, everything is divided up into separate parts. Things don't come together at any stage. In fact, they become even more divided up than you would initially think. This explains that one part of the brain processes color information; another part of the brain processes form; still another part of the brain processes motion. So what puts it all together then? That is the question. Nobody has an answer for that.
It's interesting though to see the kind of confusion that exists. I'm bringing up this particular example because in San Diego there are some devotees who are going back to college. This seems to be a very common thing these days. So, they're going to college and a couple of them are taking some courses in neurophysiology, they're studying about the brain. And in fact, one of these courses is being taught by a Professor Ramachandran, who has been worshipping Krsna, as he will point out, from his very childhood. But, as far as the brain is concerned he says, there is no conscious entity within the brain that's observing what's going on. This is ruled out by scientific knowledge.
So, I don't know quite how he reconciles his various ideas, but this is the argument that he makes in his course. In fact, he very strongly emphasizes this in teaching the course. He's repeatedly stressed that studies of the brain demonstrate clearly that there's no homunculus. This is the word they like to use. Homunculus means a little man that would be in the head somewhere and is actually perceiving what is going on within the brain. Actually they make this into a term of contempt. They say there's no little man within the brain who is perceiving what is going on there. So it's ruled out.
However, it could be argued that the very evidence that he is citing, to oppose the idea of a unified conscious self distinct from the brain can be used to support that idea. Because he is arguing that the different functions within the brain are all divided up. And in fact, the more the brain is studied the more it is found that the different functions are divided up. For example, you used to read about a speech center in the brain. Now it's understood there are two speech centers. There's the Broca speech center and the Wernicke speech center. But it's understood that even further than that, there are different subdivisions of the speech apparatus dealing with different aspects of speech. So some people with brain injury lose the ability to speak but they can still understand what people are saying; or they may lose the ability to understand but they can still talk; or they may lose the ability to write but they can speak. In fact, there's a kind of brain damage in which the person loses the ability to read but he can still write, but if he watches what his hand is doing it's very confusing because you can't comprehend what his hand is doing but if he doesn't look then he can do it.
So, the indication then is that the different functions in the brain are all divided up. So then what puts it all together? So you could argue there has to be something distinct from the brain which is putting it all together. Because it does get put together. You see this fellow actually argues in his class that nothing ever puts it together. It just remains separated into different special functions. However, common experience in anybody demonstrates that something puts it all together because we do have a unified experience of life.
Q: Does this mean any of [unclear]...
A: He doesn't want to. We approached him. We approached him and he said, “Well,” first of all, “I'm very busy. I won't be able to consider this until next year,” and then he said, “Well, and next year maybe I'll have one of my graduate students review the film to see whether it's worth looking at or not.” And then he said to us, “I should emphasize to you that the University has very strong laws against religious proselytization on the campus.” And of course you might ask, was this religious proselytization? It's not like many presentations of religion, but of course, he doesn't know, not having seen it. We also checked, by the way – the University does not have laws against religious proselytization on campus.
But in any case, that is why I went into that particular example, because it will come up – that it will be argued that, “Well, the brain has separate processing units for many different functions. So this shows that there's no conscious self that could be perceiving what's going on in the brain.” Actually, I would argue that the very fact that the brain is divided up in this way indicates that there must be a conscious self which integrates everything together. And you can consider just to carry this a bit further, hearing and vision. They are processed in completely different parts of the brain and yet I'm talking and seeing you and I'm aware of both things at once. You're seeing me and listening and you're aware of both things at once. So how does it work? Something has to put the different elements together. So, okay, that's point number two.
Point number three has to do with the laws of physics. This is another subject that we could go into in considerable detail. Recently I had occasion to talk about this at the conference we had in San Francisco, “Consciousness within Science.” The question is, if matter is moving according to the laws of physics, then how could you have, let us say, a conscious self that can manipulate the brain and make the brain do things? By changing what the brain is doing, wouldn't this conscious self be violating the laws of physics? So, the fact is that the laws of physics as understood by the physicists do not have any terms in them to allow for some non-physical conscious self to move matter around and so strictly speaking, according to the laws of physics, that should not be possible. And this is one of the standard arguments that is advanced against the possibility that mind or the conscious self could move matter or direct the motion of matter.
So in the video, I presented a little bit of material there m– it was probably a bit enigmatic – about how in fact the laws of physics are compatible with a scheme in which mind can move matter. Basically what it amounts to is that it is possible to produce immeasurably small effects within matter which amplify naturally to produce large scale effects. But this is a whole subject. But this is possible; this is the topic that I talked about in San Francisco. What I thought I would do today, though, was instead of going into the theory behind that, I would present a little bit of the scientific evidence which actually does exist indicating that human desire can influence the behavior of matter. It turns out that there is such evidence. This evidence falls in a domain called parapsychology, which is somewhat, let's say… it has a somewhat bad reputation in the field of science, because it tends to contradict some very cherished scientific ideas. But there is evidence that mind can influence matter and it's interesting this evidence is not obtained in the area of studies of the brain. Actually, the brain is extremely complicated and no one can really say that they know what's going on within the brain. There are about 100 billion nerve cells within the brain all doing complicated things simultaneously. So it's perfectly possible that the laws of physics could be violated in such a super complicated system and nobody would ever be able to know. But it turns out that simple mechanical devices can be influenced by human will.
So, this is being studied in particular by a fellow named Robert Jahn who has pretty good credentials. He's the Dean of the Engineering School at Princeton University. So he has a number of colleagues and they're engaged in what they call the study of engineering anomalies. So, what they do is they have different machines and they show that people, by the exertion of their will, can influence the behavior of the machines. The influence is very slight and it has to be measured statistically. But nonetheless, it is measurable and this is a reproducible phenomenon. They've been performing experiments in this area for about the last 12 years or so. And they have accumulated a large amount of data.
So, I have another little videotape here. This was from them. This will show one of the machines they use. This is a device in which balls fall down through pins and land in bins; and the idea is that a person can influence – I didn't take this out… oh, here we go – the idea is that a person through willpower can influence the behavior of the balls falling into the bins. So, there's no sound with this. Let me just... where’s volume on here? Here it is... just show you this so you can see the machine that they're dealing with. See what's going to happen. Maybe that's it. Let's try that. Doesn't want to rewind. Maybe not. Let's see. What could be the situation?
Audience: Maybe someone doesn't want to see it.
RLT: Somebody's willing not to see the tape. Their will is being efficacious. Well, that's interesting. It doesn't want to rewind and it doesn't want to play. Pardon me.
Audience: The pause button.
RLT: Hmmm, I don't think so. What could have happened to this? Well, it looks alright... it should be. Well we'll try it one more time, then we'll just, I'll just give you a description instead. Nope. All right. So much for that one.
Well, basically, I'll just sum up what they do. What you have is 9000 polystyrene balls bounce down through pins into a series of bins, okay? You've probably seen these kinds of things before – it's used to demonstrate what is called a normal distribution in statistics. That's a bell-shaped curve. So, the idea is somebody tries to will the bell-shaped curve to shift to the left or to shift to the right. Well, they find that it's actually possible. And actually after the conference I visited them in Princeton and acquired some of their data. So I looked at the actual data that they have. And they definitely have evidence for an effect there. Statistically, there's something called the standard deviation, if you have something happening at random and it can vary in different ways. You can consider for example, the height of people. There will be an average height for people in a given category and there will be variation around that average. So, one standard deviation on either side of the average includes about 66% of all the people and two standard deviations includes 95% Then if you go to three standard deviations, it's about 99.99% or something like that. So, if you have a statistical effect and you go say, four standard deviations away from the expected average, then that indicates that something is happening. You're not just getting your regular statistical effect – some other influence is coming into play.
So, they find that people can will the mean for these falling balls to shift, say, by about four standard deviations in a particular direction. So, statistically, this is very highly unlikely. And yet the effect is there. So there's evidence like that indicating that human desire or will can be correlated with physical effects. And the question then comes up: well, how can one understand how this would work? And in fact, it's something that is understandable in terms of the basic picture we have in the Vedic literature that the super soul is controlling the behavior of the material energy according to the desires of individuals. However, it is something that is not at all understandable in terms of known laws of physics. That is, there's no chain of cause and effect that anyone can conceive of in which causes and effects go in a chain from the brain of a person to this machine with the balls falling down into bins. There's no idea of how that could work.
Q: Were these the persons that were in the experiment, were these yogis or mystic people or psychics?
A: No, they were ordinary people. In fact that was stressed. These experimenters did not want to deal with psychics or unusual people of some sort. So the people were just student volunteers and people like that, many of whom they said were skeptical about the phenomenon involved. That is, they just didn't believe such things could happen.
Q: What did they actually do? I mean did they just will that it would move or just think, "Well, I want it to move" and...
A: Yeah. That's what they would do. They would sit there and they say, “Well I want it to go to the left,” and they’d sort of meditate on that. And that would happen. Yeah?
Q: Was a function of the balls moving and the communication between their mind, did that take place through ether?
A: Well, of course I was presenting in this video the idea that the link between the mind and the brain is through the ether. But in this situation, at least as far as I can understand, well I have a whole explanation of how this fits in with the laws of physics, which takes quite a presentation to go into. But briefly the basic idea is this, this is the picture I would present for this: namely that the Supersoul is adjusting the behavior of the material elements throughout nature on a global scale. So, the living entities have various desires, which they want to fulfill, and the Supersoul in terms of the karma of the living entities and the desires that they have, is adjusting all the different actions and reactions. So the result, that is a final product, you might say, which incorporates all these different desires.
For example, Srila Prabhupada said that the wealthy man is desiring that he should retain his money and the thief is desiring he should be able to steal it. So the Supersoul has to adjust these things, and it's not possible for everyone to get what they want because the different desires are conflicting. So, according to this basic model plus the ideas I can introduce concerning how this relates to physical laws, the Supersoul would be adjusting these phenomena so that partially the desire for the balls to go one particular way is also being fulfilled. Or more broadly it maybe the desires of the experimenters to have a successful experiment is being fulfilled. But, in any case, within the framework of the Vedic paradigm, you can understand how such a thing would be possible. Within the framework of the laws of cause and effect in physics it seems absurd such a thing can happen. Because you know, well how could it, you ask... well, could the person's desire exert a force that pushes the balls or something like that. There's no idea in physics of how such a thing could work. So within the framework of physics as we know it, it doesn't make sense. Within the broader framework of the Vedic system it does make sense. So that's the basic point there.
And it does indicate there are two points to make about it. One is that one can see in terms of the Vedic picture how such a thing could happen. And the second point is that it does show how individual desire can have an effect on matter which is actually measurable. If that's true, in this case it could be true in the brain also, or it could be true in more general circumstances. In other words, there is data that fits in with the Vedic picture but does not fit in so well with the traditional scientific viewpoint. So that was the third point that I wanted to make. And, yeah?
Q: [unclear]... have some kind of backup evidence in just terms of like psychic type of levitation.
A: Oh yes. There's all kinds of psychical evidence. The reason...
A: Yeah, right. The reason I point out this particular piece of evidence is that the people who are studying this have pretty good credentials and they've collected a lot of data. They've gone about the study in a very quantitative way. So as far as I can see it's on the level of quantitative science and it’s on as high a level as you'll find anywhere.
Q: How are they regarded by their peers?
A: Well it's interesting to see. They’re winning grudging acceptance among a number of scientists. Of course, a lot of people just dismiss this kind of thing out of hand. This Robert Jahn was at the conference in San Francisco, and he presented this material there. So, I sort of took a poll of the other participants in the conference to see what they thought. Basically, Henry Stapp, who’s a prominent physicist who was there, was reluctantly agreeing that it looks as though they have something. But he really didn't like it. He was thinking of it, well maybe this gives support for what they call the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is a whole subject. People who read Penrose can know about that. I had some discussion with him about it. So, he was grudgingly accepting that maybe they have something.
I asked John Searle, the philosopher, he just said, "Ahh, their statistics are bad." And I said, "Well, have you studied their work and evaluated their statistics?" He said, "No, I haven't read it." So I said, "Well, how do you know the statistics are bad?" And he said, "Well, the statistics are always bad in those things." So I asked him, "Have you studied any of these things yourself?" He said, "No." "Why not?" "Well because the statistics are always bad."
Q: [unclear]... is he the one who says that consciousness comes from reactions in the brain but it doesn't come from computers?
A: Yeah. That's the one.
Q: How does he justify that?
A: It doesn't make sense. Well I tried to pin him down.
Q: But what does he reply to then?
A: I put it to him several times. He has a very interesting reply: “I don't know.” That's what he said, you know, about two or three times I got into a private discussion with him and I said, “Well you know, on the one hand, you've argued that the computer cannot be conscious by virtue of executing an algorithm. On the other hand, you say the brain can be conscious; but all we understand about the brain really is in terms of algorithms and switching and impulses and so on. So how is it you can say that the brain is conscious? How are we to understand that?” He said, "I don't know."
So, let's see, I asked Benjamin Libet. He is an interesting fellow. He studies the brain and he gave a paper there. So, I asked him what he thought of the evidence given by Robert Jahn. He said, "Well when it's so far out you just can't take it seriously." So that was his response. And Eccles, oh dear. Eccles was furious. He didn't like it. Eccles is a bit of an authority – he's 87 years old, so I guess he deserves to be an authority to some extent. But in any case he just said, “This is nonsense.” And when Jahn was, Robert Jahn, that's J A H N, was presenting his material, Eccles was making comments that, "Wow. This is amazing." Completely sarcastic viewpoint. So…
Q: Isn't it what Wigner says about scientists that they have to stay within certain parameters of the conventional ideas?
A: Yeah, and unfortunately it's true. They tend to be very much bound by particular ideas. It's an interesting thing that scientists are really following the parampara system and not the system of empiricism. That's the problem with science. You see, they should probably be following the empirical system. In the empirical system, actually Thomas Huxley expressed it by saying that, "You should sit down before the facts like a little child," he said. In other words you should just accept the facts of observation and you should mold all your ideas on the basis of facts, so that if you encounter one fact that contradicts an idea, a theoretical idea that you have – no matter how cherished that idea may be – and immediately you discard the theory in the face of that contradictory fact. But actually, it doesn't work that way. Actually, scientists tend to follow the parampara system according to which there is an authority which presents the theoretical view which is to be accepted; and if some facts come up which contradicts the theoretical views presented by that authority, then they say there must be something wrong with the facts. And at that point, they invoke the four defects of the conditioned soul. They say, “Well you're saying this is a fact but you have imperfect senses. Even worse, you have a propensity to cheat. And I suspect that your so-called facts are due to cheating.”
So, this is the way the scientists actually operate. It's just unfortunate that the ultimate origin of the theoretical view that they are accepting on the basis of the authority is coming from speculation and guesswork and various perverted desires to establish a certain viewpoint and thus be able to justify certain ways of behaving and acting in the world. Yeah?
Q: What was the explanation that was given as far as this experiment with the consciousness affecting matter? The people that did the experiment, what did they say about it?
A: Well, they are interesting. They tend towards a Mayavadi impersonal interpretation of things. However, they don't have it worked out very thoroughly. They're interesting people. Basically, they're trying to get out the facts by this experiment. But their underlying framework of ideas tends sort of in a direction of the Mayavadi philosophy. First that philosophy is very widespread. So, if someone is casting about for new ideas to explain things, they're bound to run into the Mayavadi philosophy. So, they were making quite a number of statements indicating some kind of impersonal conscious substrate that's pervading things and connecting things together and so forth.
Q: [unclear]... like the force?
A: Well, not that naïve. They tend to quote a lot of physicists who became Mayavadis. For example, Schrodinger, famous quantum physicist, was an out and out Mayavadi. Schrodinger asked the following questions. He said, “On the one hand, we understand that the atoms are moving according to the laws of nature. On the other hand, I have the direct experience that I can move according to my will. So how do you resolve this apparent contradiction? The conclusion is that I am the power that is moving the atoms according to the laws of nature.” That's what Schrodinger said. And then to support that, he cited the Upanisads. So, the Mayavadi philosophy of course is very widespread. So…
Q: What about Eccles? I thought he was one of our conferences.
A: Well, he was at this conference.
A: This was our conference. And the conference I'm referring to is the conference that the Bhaktivedanta Institute held in San Francisco a short while back.
Q: You were talking about the one in Princeton?
A: That wasn't a conference. This Robert Jahn is located at Princeton.
Q: Before we finish up here, can you just hit on what these four things are again?
A: Okay. There were four, I actually only got to three of them. But the four points that I wanted to make was that one, modern science looks at matter in terms of reductionism, and you can see that any system can be analyzed in terms of reductionism cannot have consciousness.
So the Vedic literature also analyzes matter in terms of reductionism and also says you don't have consciousness in matter, and solves the problem of where the consciousness comes from by saying that there's a totally categorically different entity, namely the atma, which is conscious. So that's the solution given in the Vedic literature. So within modern science, you have reductionism and the problem of explaining consciousness and no solution. In the Vedic literature you have reductionism as applied to matter, with the like problem of explaining consciousness. But then you have the solution that there is a totally different kind of entity, namely the spirit soul, or the jivatma, which possesses consciousness. So that's the first point I wanted to make. What this means is the Vedic literature is extending science. It includes the ideas you have in science in this case of reductionism. But it solves certain basic problems by going beyond those ideas and introducing more material.
Q: What is this reductionism?
A: Pardon me.
Q: What is this reductionism?
A: Reductionism means explaining one element in terms of the combination of lesser elements. For example, a molecule is made up of atoms; the atoms in turn are made of electrons, protons, and neutrons. This is reducing molecules to atoms; reducing atoms to electrons, protons, and neutrons and so on. So then you finally say the only thing really there is electrons, protons, and neutrons. You can take the human body and say it's made of molecules. So, according to this, it's really just a cloud of electrons, protons, and neutrons. So that's the idea of reductionism. I'm about to get the signal from Arjuna.
So just to sum up the next two points. The other was consciousness unifies differentiated things. Now the whole subject of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva is the central point here. Lord Caitanya was introducing this as the fundamental philosophical principle in Krsna Consciousness. But your principle of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva is necessary to understand consciousness. Because in consciousness you have variety such as sound, sight, feeling, smells, and so on; and they're all unified into one perception of things. And materially we can't understand it. So it's inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference actually. And it’s therefore significant that this consciousness is taking place in the soul, which is part and parcel of Krsna, and Krsna is of course the object of this term acintya-bhedabheda-tattva. And on the point on the scientific side for that was that the brain is divided into separate units to perform separate functions. So if that is so, what ties it all together? We have a unified consciousness. If the brain consists of a bunch of separate operating units for sight, sound, color, motion, form, etc. etc., then how do we have a unified picture things? So you need something else.
Q: What we are taught is [unclear]... is the experience, like for instance, this is your mother, say, this is your father, this is a pencil, this is a bottle, [unclear]...
A: How do you have an experience? That's the question. Because if one part of your brain is processing the color data for that pencil, and another part of your brain is processing the shape data.
A: What puts the things together in the brain? You see you may have experiences that are happening and somebody may tell you this is a pencil but the real question is, how do you see that unified thing? What puts it together?
A: Well that's even worse, because a different part of the brain will process feeling. One part of the brain will be receiving nerve impulses from the hand and that will process feeling. Another part of the brain will process shape and another part for movement and so forth. These are all separate parts. So what puts it together? So someone might say well maybe there's one part of the brain in which nerves come from all the other parts and that's where it puts it together. But they haven't found such a part of the brain. And like Eccles will say, he's a big expert on this. There's no such part of the brain. There is no place where it all gets put together, but yet it does get put together. So then logically that has to be done by something that's not part of the brain and that's what we would argue that in fact that is the case. There's another entity distinct from the brain that actually puts it all together.
Okay, there is a book. The book is about to come out. Oh, an assignment. So, what I am planning to do with this course is in the next four days talk about astronomy and cosmology in the Vedic literature. And so you have the book now and the thing to do is start reading the first chapter because I'm going to start with that.
Q: Introduction as well?
A: Yeah, the introduction.
Q: That includes an appendix too.
A: Well, just read the first chapter. Leave aside the appendix for right now. Chapter 1.
Q: No blood is running.
A: Yes. There's no blood flow. This happens to people with heart attacks.
Q: So how do we understand that because consciousness is conveyed through the body by a circulatory system.
A: Yes, so they're having experience not within the body but outside of the body. So, the simple explanation would be that normally the subtle body – mind, intelligence, and false ego – is linked up with the gross body. So we only see and act through the gross body, through the senses of the gross body. But when the brain is knocked out of commission because the blood has stopped flowing, so then the subtle body can't interact with it anymore. The subtle body drifts off or at least it's sensory connection drifts off. The subtle body has its own senses so we can see independently of the eyes of the gross body, ears of the gross body. So it now sees the gross body lying there from a different place and can hear what the doctors are doing and so forth.
Q: How is it recorded? In other words, I sometimes hear the argument that to Christians, how do you know that you're in heaven or hell? Okay, what I'll prove to you, you believe there's life after death, what does it say in the Bible? You go to heaven or hell, right? So when you're in heaven, how do you know you're there?
Q: You have to have a body. Otherwise, how do you know you're there? I think you're in Hell, how do you know you are there? So someone is having an out-of-body experience, how do they...
A: You have the subtle body. So the subtle body is there. That subtle body is still functioning.
Q: You said the subtle senses. Because we have, you may not have the gross senses functioning but we have subtle senses therefore we are able to perceive.
A: You have mind, intelligence, and false ego.
Q: Yes but that's not subtle senses. I mean that is not a subtle site.
A: Well, as you can see in the description of the Sankhya philosophy, there are subtle senses as well as the gross sensory function.
A: For example, before there are any gross bodies, the senses are manifested by the universal form. You have the whole description of how different senses are manifest by the universal form. But yet there are no gross bodies yet, not even Brahma. So senses exist on a subtle level and thus perception can take place on a subtle level...
Q: Because there’s spiritual senses and there's gross senses and there are subtle senses?
A: Yeah. Yep. It's not a simple system.
Q: [unclear]... he may not be able to act on those senses.
A: Yes, that would be an example of it.
Q: So a patient who obviously is brain dead has come out of the body with mind, intelligence and ego.
Speaker: But also subtle… subtle sight, subtle touch.
A: Yes, now the question is, how does it work? It's a very mysterious thing because you see normally for the eye to work, the retina has to stop light. That means it has to cast a shadow to stop light. So how can you have an invisible eye? Because you see...
Q: Without the electrochemical action, etc, etc.
A: Right, how did it work? You couldn't have an invisible eye then it wouldn't stop light. Light would pass right through it, even if it was made of some glassy substance that could be bent by it. Like if you look at a lens, it bends the light. So you can see the lens is there because the way the light bends. So no one sees anything floating around near the body of the patient. But yeah, the person is having experiences. So you may not know how it works, but it's a—
Q: The evidence is there that it's going on somehow.
A: It's going on – in the Vedic literature it's described. There are subtle senses as well as... so the soul has the original senses. Then the subtle body has its senses.
A: No, it wouldn't function without the soul. The soul is there. So if you could remove the soul from the picture then, my understanding at any rate is the subtle body would also cease to function. It would be like a dead gross body.
A: Yeah. Well when the soul finally leaves the material universe altogether, then that subtle body is disintegrating. The soul is outside now of the coverings of material elements. And so that subtle body no longer would function, it would disintegrate. But of course, we're talking about a case where the soul is still right there in the subtle body. So the subtle body has its senses and these can function independently of the gross senses when they're put out of commission. So, there's evidence for that.
A: Yeah. I've seen that. He gives interesting evidence. It's similar to the evidence given by this Ian Stevenson. Of course, he uses hypnosis and one has to be careful there because hypnosis is tricky. Well, you see the subconscious mind can generate all kinds of fantasies and we have to be very careful with it. So the advantage of Ian Stevenson's work is that he's dealing with young children who spontaneously report memories of past lives. So there's no hypnosis involved.