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Self Awareness

Self Awareness

Most people think that ‘Self’ and ‘Self awareness’ are the same thing or ‘Consciousness’ and ‘Self consciousness’ are the same thing.

They are not!

When a child is born, it is conscious. There is a Self, a subject.  But the child is not self aware! 

The child has Life.  It moves, cries, smiles and reacts to the environment.  But the infant does not know of its own existence. It does not even know of its own hands and legs and other body parts. 

There is Consciousness without self awareness. 

Over the first one to two years after birth, self awareness gets built into the child. He is taught about his body, his hands, legs, nose and mouth etc. He learns to put food into his mouth. He learns to move his hands and legs in specific directions.  He learns to respond to a name.   When he looks into a mirror he initially does not know that he is looking at his own reflection but later learns that it is an image of himself.  

Self awareness is linked to learning and memory.  It is also linked to our intelligence. It is linked to the way our brain and mind work. We learn and remember all our personality traits as we grow and this self awareness forms the foundation on which our lives are built.

Our self awareness creates the Ego. What is the Ego?

Our genetic impulses drive our motivations basically, but our culture and upbringing moderate and modify them to suit the society we live in. Local morality, traditions, customs and social norms dictate our behavior and one part of our personality regulates our needs and desires accordingly. 

Sigmund Freud has called our innate impulses as the Id (It) and the regulating part of our personality as the Ego (I). 

The Ego is the monitoring part of our personality that gets activated as we become self aware. The Ego takes charge of our individuality and directs us to live, survive and reproduce competitively in line with our social environment. 

In other words, our Personality gets built around our genetic traits and it keeps transforming and developing in line with external compulsions.   All this requires self awareness and self control.  Without self awareness, conscious development is not possible.

Does the development of self awareness stop after childhood? No! 

The process of becoming self aware continues throughout life.  It expands further and further into our mind, emotions, intellect and inner self itself. 

As adults, even though we are basically self aware, we are very often not aware of how we behave or how we come across to others.  We are not always in control because we are governed by our innate impulses and emotions. We are often not conscious of our own behavior, expressions and body language. 

We are rarely aware of  our own inner thoughts and feelings. We think and feel spontaneously but may not always be self aware of what we think or feel.  Only if we have an acute sense of self awareness and an ability to self analyse can we sense, regulate and control our own thoughts and emotions. This requires that we should be able to see ourselves objectively in the third person, the way others see us. This requires a high level of intellectual development. 

We are also not realistic about our capabilities, strengths and weaknesses.  Because of our Ego, we have an exaggerated notion of our strengths and are usually blind to our weaknesses.  Self awareness is important to have a realistic idea of ourselves, our desires, aspirations, capabilities and limitations. 

Self awareness is considered a unique feature of humans, even though some animals could be self aware to an extent.  Even in humans, self awareness is considered an outstanding feature and different people are self aware to different extents. 

There is something called Meta consciousness which is ‘awareness of awareness’, ‘thinking of thinking’, ‘consciousness of consciousness’. This is the ultimate form of self awareness where all thinking and awareness become externalized. We are then able to observe and analyse not only our thoughts and feelings but also our thoughts about our thoughts, feelings about our feelings.  This is what helps self awareness to spread and expand into the inner mind. 

The more self aware a person is, the more mature and wise the person is considered. In spirituality, awareness of our True nature is considered the ultimate form of liberation. Self awareness gives complete understanding, control and discipline.  

But some thinkers consider the Self as an illusion. Why?

Self awareness being a property of memory, any problem with memory could affect self awareness.  That is why when people develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, they lose their self awareness and self control. They even sometimes forget their own name and other details. They could forget all personality related aspects that they had learnt as children. Even eating and answering natures calls could be ‘forgotten’.

During certain Yogic or meditative exercises, our self awareness can be temporarily blocked willfully and we could bask in a state of consciousness, free of self awareness. A trance like state.  

This means that self awareness can get erased temporarily through meditative techniques or even permanently due to disease.  In other words, we can ‘forget’ ourselves temporarily or permanently.

This gives the impression that the self is temporary, fleeting or an illusion. 

Is this impression correct? 

We can see that in the midst of all this….. Consciousness remains!   Even when the sense of self disappears, the Self remains.  Even in the absence of self awareness, the Subject or the core around which the memory was built, continues to remain.

Consciousness is a property of life itself.   It is not memory dependent.  It is fundamental. Even when we are in deep sleep  a part of our consciousness is awake. Using new technology, it has been found that even people in coma or in a vegetative state, have consciousness.  Consciousness leaves the body only at death. 

All living beings are conscious regardless of whether they are self aware or not. Even plants and insects are conscious. Even microbes can be considered conscious because they react to their environment and fight for self preservation.

Consciousness consists of two things. One is the Conscious mind (wakefulness) within which the self awareness, ego and personality are built, and the second is the unconscious mind that remains hidden beneath our awareness. (Please refer to my article on ‘Unconscious Mind’).

The totality of Consciousness itself is possibly a property of the atma or soul that forms the Self.  They can be treated as synonymous for all practical purposes.  These being complex and abstract areas outside our intellectual domain, going into details and trying to split hairs does not serve any purpose. 

From a spiritual practice point of view, as our self awareness expands to our emotions, intellect and mental processes within us, it gets extended deeper into our inner core. We can then become aware of our atma itself.  Awareness of our innermost Self  and our Consciousness is the ultimate form of self awareness.

At this point, our Consciousness and our self awareness get united and this is what is termed as Self Realization

Self Realization is considered as the ultimate liberation or mukti when the purpose of the ever expanding self awareness finally gets fulfilled. 

Best Regards.

T.Sriram Rao

2.2.2019

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The Unconscious Mind

The Unconscious mind   

A woman suddenly gets up from her bed at night, opens the door and walks out into the darkness of the back yard. Her parents and siblings call out to her but she does not respond.  Her eyes are open but she does not seem to be aware of what she is doing. 

They follow her and find that she has climbed onto the rim of their Well.  The Well is 50 feet deep and if the woman falls, it is certain death for her. But the woman does not fall. She balances on the rim and walks around.  The others don’t disturb her. They just wait with bated breath.   After some time, she climbs down, goes back inside the house, locks the door, climbs into bed and goes back to sleep.

In the morning when she wakes up, she is asked about the previous night but she has no memory of it at all!

This is sleep walking or Somnambulism. People have been known to ride vehicles, eat food, cross roads in heavy traffic and so on…all in their sleep without remembering any of it after they wake up.

A related phenomenon is Hypnotism where the person is said to be in an altered state with lose of peripheral awareness. The word ‘Hypnosis’ is Greek for sleep and hypnosis is seen as a form of induced sleep. This is like a trance state usually brought on by external suggestion.

In both cases the person is asleep, has no awareness and is in a state where he/she performs many complex tasks without being aware of it or remembering it later.

How does this happen?

Many people have tried to explain this phenomenon through the presence of a Subconscious or Unconscious mind within each of us that functions below the surface of our awareness.

The term was first used by a 18th Century German philosopher called Friedrich Schelling and many psychologists and philosophers wrote about it in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

What is this unconscious  or subconscious mind?

We all are aware of the conscious mind that we use every day in our waking hours.  This is the mind that thinks, feels, analyses, decides and enjoys. But underlying the conscious mind is something that we are unaware of and which makes its presence felt sometimes. This is therefore called the unconscious mind or the subconscious mind.  

Nowadays most people use only the term unconscious mind instead of the term ‘subconscious’  mind. Since the difference is only academic, I will use only the term ‘Unconscious’ mind in this article rather than the term ‘Subconscious’ mind.  The difference if any, need not trouble us.

The idea of a ‘Subconscious Mind’ as different from the ‘Unconscious Mind’,  could be useful in understanding certain aspects of our personality. More on that in another article. 

I am also not going into a discussion about the brain and its role in the functioning of our mind. Please refer to my article ‘Mind and Brain’.

We know what the conscious mind does. But what does the unconscious mind do? No one is sure. But significant research has gone into it in recent years.

Automated activities:

Many people attribute our automatic actions, those that we perform without any conscious thought, to the unconscious mind. 

Many of our actions are automatic and habit related. For example, when we walk we do so without much conscious thought about it.  We don’t think of every step we take when we walk.  It is automatic. Similarly, when we eat. We don’t consciously think of every movement of the hand or mouth when we eat. It is automatic. Similarly, when we brush our teeth or drive our car, we do these activities without any conscious thought. We could even be thinking of other serious matters while doing these things. 

But are these automatic actions a part of the unconscious mind. I don’t think so.  

Regardless of however automated our habitual activities may be, we are not really unconscious of them. For example, as we eat we are conscious of how much we are eating and what we are eating. We like certain foods and don’t like certain other foods. If there is less salt we react to it. If we find some bug in the food, we immediately stop and remove it. When we drive we are conscious of where and how we are driving. If some child crosses the road we will immediately apply the brakes.  When we walk we are always conscious of potholes or objects on the pavement. 

So our conscious awareness does not disappear during such activities. It is very much present and alert during all such activities. It merely takes on an automated form so that we can do other things at the same time.  It is a form of energy saving and multi tasking. This automated consciousness is therefore only a part of the conscious mind and not a part of the unconscious mind, in my opinion.

So, what is the Unconscious mind then?

Unconscious mind:

It has long been believed by philosophers and thinkers that even though we are not aware of its presence, the unconscious mind  is a very large part of our whole mind while the conscious mind is much smaller. Our mind is believed to be like an iceberg where a small part (the Conscious mind) is visible outside the surface while more than 90% (the Unconscious mind) lies hidden beneath.    

Very often the unconscious mind is compared to a parallel processing computer while the conscious mind is compared to a sequential processing computer.  That is, the unconscious mind is much more powerful and is capable of much more complex processing than the conscious mind. The conscious mind is also distracted with limited observation and focus while the unconscious is said to be undisturbed and tranquil. What we normally call ‘intuition’ or gut feeling could be a part of our unconscious mind. 

Some psychologists like Carl Jung believed that our intuition and insights are largely determined by the unconscious mind.  The unconscious mind is said to observe, understand and retain much more than the conscious mind

Jung’s friend and senior colleague, Sigmund Freud, believed that the unconscious mind  contained most of our repressed desires which surfaced in our dreams and emotional reactions.    He believed that the entire Id and major parts of the Ego and Superego were unconscious and were driven  largely by sexual related urges.

It was generally thought by scientists of this time that the unconscious mind was only a store house for the conscious mind wherein most of our repressed, subliminal and childhood memories get stored.

These hidden memories were said to influence our personality and behavior unconsciously. Many phobias, emotions and relationship issues could be traced to repressed memories.  This idea therefore became an important part of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. 

In this sense, the Unconscious mind was regarded as only a back office and store room while the Conscious mind was regarded as the main active part. The Conscious mind was considered the leader and the Unconscious mind was believed to only support it passively.

Is this correct?!

In recent years, people have realized that the Unconscious mind is much more active than had been thought earlier.   It seems to be far more important, powerful and influential than the Conscious mind.

To quote David Eagleman, a prominent neuroscientist,  

The conscious you, which is the part that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning, is the smallest bit of what’s happening in your head. “It’s like a broom closet in the mansion of the brain.”

More and more scientists today regard the Unconscious mind as a large workshop where most of the work goes on and the Conscious mind as only the ‘front office’.

Through experiments conducted by Benjamin Libet, a psychologist, it has been found that the unconscious mind takes decisions several seconds before the conscious mind even becomes aware of them.  In other words, much before we make conscious decisions, our unconscious mind has already made them for us. 

And even certain actions such as moving a hand or finger are decided by the unconscious mind before we become conscious of it. Unconscious processes are involved in our actions much more than we had thought earlier.

Unconscious processes could involve many different levels and stages and could be extremely complex.

To begin with, much of our instinctive behaviors such as survival, reproduction and parental instincts could be driven by unconscious processes. Many of the placebo effects of certain foods, medicines, procedures and rituals are said to be generated by the unconscious mind. Spontaneous remission of deadly diseases could also be driven by the Unconscious mind. The innate abilities of many  species such as the innate ability to self medicate, could also be due to the unconscious mind. 

Some scientists even suggest that we should leave much of our futuristic decision making to our unconscious mind which seems to have a better grasp of the complexities of forecasting than the conscious mind. Please refer to ‘Science Daily’ site for detailed articles on these matters.   

It can therefore be seen that the Unconscious mind possibly directs our motivations and behaviors at many levels from basic instincts to maintaining our health to higher level intuitions and forecasting.  Most of our ideas, insights and theories could also be generated in the Unconscious Mind. In this sense, our intellect and our ‘Eureka’ moments could be getting fed from the Unconscious Mind. 

Therefore, even though we simplistically lump everything together as the ‘Unconscious Mind’, it is likely that there are many complex layers and  a variety of mechanisms through which all this takes place. 

Ok…so we have a large and powerful unconscious mind and a much smaller Conscious mind. But what is Consciousness itself and how is it generated?

What is Consciousness itself?

Consciousness is a property of Life itself.  All living things are conscious to one degree or the other. Plants, insects and even microbes are conscious. They react to their environment and fight for self preservation and reproduction. 

How does Consciousness arise and what is its nature? 

Mainstream scientists, regard all Consciousness as an emergent property of the functioning of the brain. Consciousness is seen as only a product of the brain and the chemical and electrical activities that go on there. It is believed to be an outcome of evolutionary processes where significant complexity gets built into brain functions through random variations and Natural Selection.

Is this correct?! 

Actually, we have very little idea of what Consciousness is, but in recent times, some modern philosophers have expressed their opinion on what Consciousness could be.

According to David Chalmers, a Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist,  the study of Consciousness can be divided into two parts. The Easy Problem and the Hard problem.

The Easy problem of Consciousness represents our ability to understand conscious activities such as the ability to discriminate, integrate information, manage different mental states, focus attention etc. We can understand these activities by outlining a mechanism or process within the brain that can perform these functions.   However complex the function, it can be explained through an  understanding of natural processes and mechanisms.  

But the subjective experience of phenomena itself cannot be explained by processes and mechanisms. This is the Hard problem.

The problem is about explaining personal experience and qualia.  The problem of ‘subjective experience’ continues even when all the functions are explained through mechanisms. Chalmers treats the problem of explaining ‘experience’ as distinct from that of explaining ‘functions’. This is what he calls the Hard problem of Consciousness. He considers this a difficult problem to surmount.

Besides this, there is also the problem of ‘understanding’  Consciousness objectively. Consciousness by its very nature is subjective while scientific analysis is objective.  This is the fundamental dichotomy. Consciousness can only be experienced, not observed and understood as though it is an external thing. It is the ultimate essence of subjectivity itself.

Therefore there is no real possibility of understanding  Consciousness  in an objective sense. This is the current position. 

At this point, another important question….Is the Unconscious mind an individualized mind that each of us has individually or is there more to it?! 

The Common Unconscious:

It is possible that we have two parts of the Unconscious mind. One that is personal and another part that is common to all humans. 

Carl Jung believed that we have a large Unconscious mind part of which is personal  and part  of which is a Common Unconscious mind.  While the Personal Unconscious mind contained forgotten memories and reactions to specific events… the Collective Unconscious was believed by him to contain the memories and knowledge of an entire race or species.  He believed that we shared the Collective Unconscious with the entire human community.

It could possibly be like computer networks, where the individual mind has its own individual processing but also connects all minds together in a network.   This networking could exist at various levels with separate networks connecting family and dear ones, then larger ones connecting the community and finally, like the Internet, a larger network connecting all humanity and perhaps even all life forms.

David Chalmers also proposes a philosophy of Panpsychism (Universal consciousness) which treats consciousness, mind and soul (psyche) as a universal primordial feature of all things. Individuals are seen as minds within a universal mind.

Chalmers seems to believe that Consciousness is fundamental.  It is possibly Universal, existing everywhere and possibly gives rise to the universe itself. 

Science:

Though most mainstream scientists of today continue to believe that Consciousness is just an emergent property of matter and that Consciousness arises from the brain,  the idea of Consciousness being some kind of a fundamental element responsible for the universe, is slowly gaining ground.

There have been some surprising findings concerning Consciousness even in the early part of the 20th century.

In Quantum Mechanics for example, Consciousness is given great prominence. The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics proposes that an observer (Consciousness) is essential for any probability distribution function to collapse and take on definite values. 

Max Planck, the father of Quantum Mechanics has said…

“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

The Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP) developed by John Wheeler proposes that Consciousness probably participates in the formation and development of the universe. Please refer to my article ‘Anthropic Principle’.

Giulio Tononi, a young neuroscientist and Professor at the University of Wisconsin, has proposed in 2004 an Integrated Information Theory (IIT) in which he says that the Hard problem of Consciousness may be difficult to solve if we approach it from individual functions and material mechanisms. By inverting the relationship he has mathematically derived the possibility that individual functions and mechanisms could arise from consciousness.

He considers Consciousness as primary and individual  physical structures and processes as derived. Tononi begins with experience and derives the requirements for physical structures. IIT also considers how widespread consciousness could be in Nature and at what scale it could exist.  In this sense, IIT scientifically supports the philosophical idea of Panpsychism.

Traditional ideas:

It is possible that Consciousness is a property of the Atma or Spirit supported by prana, the life element that is present everywhere. Prana could help in inducing  life and Consciousness into organisms.

Prana is like electricity that gives life to almost all man made products, while the Atma or spirit is like the user of the product. 

Many ancient philosophers have talked about the presence of a Common Consciousness or a Universal Spirit that is at the substrata of all existence.

The Hindu Upanishads as early as 1000 BCE, speak about Brahman, the Universal Spirit which is the source and final refuge of all creation. The idea of the Paramatma or the highest spirit, is also similar. Hindus believe that the highest soul or spirit resides within all things in the universe. The ultimate goal of life is to recognize the presence of this universal spirit and to lose all of ones individuality by dissolving oneself within it, like rivers flowing into the ocean.  

All Hindus, regardless of whether they are devotees of certain deities or whether they are Yogis or Vedantists, they all aspire eventually to merge with the Universal Spirit. This is Mukti or Freedom.

Consciousness at the highest level, is simply the Self, the Subject that is at the heart of all life and experience.  Achieving the highest level of consciousness is the same as Self realization, the goal of spirituality.

Certain schools of Mahayana Buddhism speak of the Dharmakaya, which is similar to the idea of Brahman. Even the Tao of Taoism is similar to a common universal consciousness.

Christianity teaches that ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’. Gnostic Christianity taught of the need for Inner illumination. Islamic Sufism and Kabbala of Judaism also teach a similar process of inner development to attain the Divine within.

Conclusion:

Consciousness is a basic feature or property of Life itself.  All living things have some degree of consciousness. 

Our conscious mind that we are normally aware of during wakefulness, is only a small part of our overall Consciousness. The Unconscious mind that lies beneath the surface of our awareness, is far more powerful and influential than we realize.

Most of our normal activities and decisions are powered by the Unconscious mind.  It is possible that even placebo effects and spontaneous remission of diseases are driven by the Unconscious mind. Most of our ideas and insights could be induced  by the Unconscious mind. 

The Triune Brain system probably plays a role in the working of the Conscious and Unconscious minds. Please refer to my article on ‘The Truine brain’. 

Secondly, at a broader level, our individual Unconscious mind is probably only a part of a common and universal Consciousness that forms the substratum of all existence.

There have always been some philosophers and mystics who have thought of Consciousness as a primary and elemental property of the universe.  Quantum Mechanics suggests that Consciousness is fundamental and is required for the formation of the universe.  Some current philosophers propose the idea of Panpsychism. Some recent scientific theories also seem to support the idea of a Consciousness that is fundamental and widespread in nature.

Consciousness probably participates in the formation of the universe itself and is probably  a fundamental and elemental substratum of the universe, as many ancient Hindu sages have proposed.  

Best Regards.

T.Sriram Rao

26.12.2018

Evidence

Evidence

In this scientific age there is always a demand for ‘evidence’.  Nothing is accepted based on an opinion or even anecdote.  Evidence is everything.

If you believe in God…where is the evidence? If you believe in life after death…where is the evidence? If you believe in a spirit or soul…where is the evidence?

This is a welcome development no doubt because it helps to separate fact from fiction and reality from imagination.

But what does ‘evidence’ mean? Is ‘evidence’ so easy to obtain and provide?  Is ‘evidence’ really as straight forward as we think it is?  

Not really!

a) How does anyone provide evidence that the Sun is not a tiny one inch disc floating in the sky, but is a huge burning ball of hydrogen and helium, 93 million miles away?! How does anyone provide evidence that the earth is orbiting the Sun at 1,07,000 kms per hour?!  How does anyone provide evidence that the stars are not just diamonds hanging from the sky but are huge balls of burning hydrogen millions of light years away?!  How does anyone provide evidence of black holes or large galaxies containing millions of stars? How does anyone provide evidence of the Big Bang?!

Has anyone seen all this directly? Can anyone take us to some vantage point in outer space and actually show us the planets orbiting the sun or huge galaxies receding away from one another in the universe?

No!  That can’t be done.  But we nevertheless think that most of this is factual.  

We accept all the above, entirely on faith. Faith in Science, faith  in scientists and in the scientific method. We take artists impressions and computer animations as representative of the real thing. No questions asked! 

So…where is the real evidence for all these things? The evidence is there of course, except that it is not direct. It is indirect. It is all largely derived mathematically.

To be able to understand the evidence, we need to have a suitable background!

We need to spend years studying physics and mathematics. We need to understand geometry and measurement techniques.  We need to know how to use a telescope and other sophisticated instruments.  We need to understand and work with computer generated models.

Once we study and understand all this, we can then understand how and why people have concluded that the Sun is the centre of the solar system and why the sun is said to be a huge ball of burning hydrogen and why we think that planets orbit the sun and so on…..

We need to price out the evidence bit by bit and then put it all together to form a reasonable theory.  

Evidence doesn’t come easy, in other wordsIt takes lot of hard work and perseverance.

b) Secondly, evidence doesn’t come with a label saying that ‘such and such is the evidence for such and such’. Evidence may not always be directly associated or linked with any specific phenomenon.  I mean to say that there is evidence for lots of things all around us every day, but we may not recognize them as such.

For example….a fundamental force such as gravity that we experience every day, was not noticed as a force exerted by the earth till recent times.  Why?  People have been walking, running, jumping and falling for millennia. Fruits have been falling from trees and everything that is thrown up comes down. Humans have observed all this from the beginning of the human species and yet, no one thought of gravity as a force till Newton came along!  

The idea of gravity did not come about because someone suddenly produced the evidence! The evidence was there all along!

It is about an idea, a vision!   It is the thought and the association of the evidence with the phenomenon that made the difference. A very common experience was suddenly put together with the possibility of a natural force. 

It is about mental preparedness. Having a suitable frame of mind and vision.

There are many other such natural phenomena  that have been obvious and yet no one knew about them for centuries.  People just took them for granted.

Which means that in spite of evidence being available all around us, we may not notice or associate them with specific phenomena because we do not yet have the idea or thought.  Even today there are many things happening in and around us that could represent the influence of many strange forces and patterns but we have no idea of them.

We cannot understand them because we are not yet ready to see the cause and effect in the right context.

c) Thirdly, most natural phenomena require certain faculties that are necessary for the phenomenon to be detectable by people.

As an example…. for a born blind man, ‘light’ does not exist! This is true even though ‘light’ exists all around him and is falling on his skin every minute. He simply cannot detect it!  This is because the blind man lacks the faculty to discern the existence of light.  In an isolated village with generations of only born blind people, the people could live out their entire lives without being aware that there is something called light existing all around them.  Isn’t that remarkable?!  

In other words, we need to have certain faculties to detect and observe certain phenomena. If we lack the faculties we could spend an entire lifetime without being aware of phenomena that could be very common.  

Therefore, even though evidence is readily available, we are sometimes inherently incapable of detecting or understanding it. 

d) Technology development can often help us to observe phenomena that we cannot otherwise observe. Technology enhances our sense perceptions. Technology can provide the evidence and the means of observing many phenomena that are otherwise inaccessible to us. 

X-Rays, UV rays, Cosmic rays and even the earth’s magnetism for that matter.  No one knew that these things existed, for centuries. Modern techniques made us aware that such radiations and fields exist.

Without telescopes most astronomical and cosmological discoveries would not have been made.

No one knew that bacteria and viruses existed even though people have been falling ill and have had various infections for millennia. Without microscopes these discoveries would not have been possible. 

People earlier did not have the technology and the requisite instruments to detect  such unseen phenomena. It was only through some chance technological innovations that we have detected and discovered these things in recent centuries. 

It is possible that we are today unable to detect many phenomena because the required technology is not available.

e) Sometimes people have  preconceived ideas of something  which they are unwilling to change. Even if  people are able to observe certain new phenomena  they might disregard them because the new observations or ideas do not fit in with their own established  views. People may find it difficult to come out of their comfort zone. In such cases the evidence will be disregarded and even convoluted theories could be presented such that the new evidence  does not impinge on peoples long held ideas.

Examples are, religious people who are unwilling to abandon their ideas in spite of evidence to the contrary. Even certain ‘scientific theories’ could become so entrenched in the minds of scientists that even if some evidence is unearthed that contradicts the old ideas, the scientists could disregard the new evidence. Scientists are not above being hard headed fanatics in some instances. 

f) Things are not always what they seem. What we might think of as ‘evidence’ could be deceptive. There could be many levels of evidence such that the deeper we go the more our understanding changes.  

An example is the apparent solid nature of the world. All things around us appear solid to us, which is true at one level. But if we go deeper we realize that all things are made of atoms that are largely empty space with only tiny particles moving about inside them. As we go even deeper, we  find many bizarre aspects of reality such as the wave-particle duality, Strings, multi dimensions etc. So, which level of ‘evidence’ is the real one?!

Conclusion:

Evidence therefore, is not a simple matter of just asking for it. It can be very complex, needing significant effort and focus to collect and understand. 

  1. It is about having enough background information about some subject. Many aspects of reality need a suitable background and detailed knowledge of specific fields of study to understand. Evidence for most natural phenomena is not directly available. The nature of the sun and stars is one example.
  2. Even if the evidence is readily available, we are often unable to recognize it as evidence because we do not have the necessary vision. Many common observations can be evidence for  natural phenomena that we know nothing about today. We don’t yet have the vision or idea that can position the evidence in the relevant context. Certain ideas need to be born that can see the connection.  Gravity is one example.
  3. We should have the requisite natural faculties to detect certain natural forces. If our basic faculties do not allow us to detect certain phenomenon, we will not know of its existence. Blind people and their inability to detect light is one example. Dark Matter and Dark Energy are also major examples for which there is only indirect evidence, even though these things are said to be present everywhere around us.  95% of the universe is said to be composed of these two substances and yet we have no clue of their existence.
  4. Very often technological advancements need to catch up and help us in detecting certain phenomena that are otherwise outside our sensory perception.  Microbes, astronomical and cosmological phenomena, genetics, DNA, quantum events are some examples. 
  5. Preconceived ideas and long held views can prevent people from accepting certain new observations or hypotheses simply because the new ideas do not fit in with their own views. Phenomena such as Near Death Experiences,  reincarnation cases, ESP cases,  cases of ghost sightings etc, even when well documented, are summarily disregarded because they don’t fit in with currently accepted ideas of the world.
  6. Things are not always what they seem There could be many levels of reality and therefore many levels of ‘evidence’. One example is the apparent ‘solid’ nature of the world which on deeper analysis is largely empty space with only tiny particles inside. Further examination makes the reality even more bizarre. 

In matters of spirituality, the same arguments apply. Neuroscientists like Andrew Newberg have identified  certain neural connections in the brain that enable spiritual experiences. Some people have them, some don’t.  Quite clearly, people without such connectivity will not be able to have certain experiences. 

The ability to introspect and connect to one own inner self also requires certain  anatomical and physiological conditions which can enable such processes.  

Evidence is not as simple and straight forward as we tend to think.

Best Regards.

T.Sriram Rao

10 December 2018

Beyond Science

Beyond Science

Science has been dominating the world scene for more than a century. It has taken over from religion and is seen by many as the panacea for all ills. Scientists are the new sages and prophets.

But can Science investigate everything and analyze all phenomena? Are certain things beyond the scope of Science? We shall examine.

No doubt, science has made amazing strides in recent centuries in the fields of Evolution, Genetics, Cosmology, Quantum Mechanics and so on.   Many discoveries have been made that have changed our perceptions of ourselves and our universe.  Science has also seeded the growth of technology in amazing ways in areas like travel, communication, information technology, robotics etc.

All this has had a drastic effect on long held religious beliefs.  The influence of religions, especially the Abrahamic Religions, has been diluted significantly by the amazing strides made by Science. There are serious and irreconcilable differences between the theology and mythologies taught in most religions and recent scientific discoveries.  

It might seem that religions would therefore lose their hold over people and slowly become irrelevant….

However, this is not as black and white and clear cut as earlier thought. The rejection of religion is not as widespread and comprehensive as people had imagined would be the case some decades ago

A vast majority of the people are still holding on to religious faith even though they may not accept, any more, a literal interpretation of scriptures or take mythology and legend very seriously.

There is a reason for this hesitation in rejecting religion! 

Science has not lived up to its promise! Most people are significantly disappointed with what science has to offer.   

Scientists had thought some decades ago that they could understand and explain all aspects of life very easily, but the universe has turned out to be much more complex and intriguing than imagined.

Science has provided conveniences and comforts but has failed in offering a meaningful explanation of life. It has failed  in integrating the objective realities of life with our subjective experiences. In fact, Science dismisses most subjective aspects of life altogether from its world view! This is a major failing of Science! 

For all its flamboyance, Science does not touch the inner core of our being and does not explain our hopes and aspirations or morality or life and death. It remains at arms distance, detached and unconnected, merely tinkering around with the externally observed world. 

Also, Science  has a very fragmented view of the world. Infinite and diverse bits of information about infinite different things get generated through the process  of scientific investigation. Putting them all together to get a reasonable idea of the world is not possible.

It is like blind men who have never heard of an elephant, touching an elephant in different spots and putting their individual  ideas together to get a picture of the whole. They end up with a picture of a tree with a snake hanging on  it and a boulder next to it.  Hardly a meaningful picture! 

Science therefore has not been able to replace religion completely. 

This presents an existential problem! 

There is a vacuum! Given the disillusionment with science and the decline of religions, what do people do?!  Many people have been left with no anchor or support! There is nothing to give life a meaning and purpose. 

Unfortunately, globalization and the resultant cultural mixing has only added to the confusion.

This has made people look for alternatives. They want something comprehensive and reliable that will give their life a meaning and purpose. Possibly, a religion or a similar institution, that is personally fulfilling, common to all humans around the globe and is also in line with our scientific understanding of the physical world.  

There is a move towards secular spirituality, in other words.  Secular spirituality is the obvious answer to fill this void.  It is in fact, the foundation of all religions, behind the mythology, legend and social control.  (Please refer to my article on ‘Spirituality and Religion’).

In this connection, India and Hinduism have played a major role by introducing to the world, Yoga, meditations and Atma Vidya (spiritual science)…. removed from religious dogma.  These are systems and techniques following which people can undergo spiritual development while experiencing significant change in their consciousness, mental make up and physical well being. 

Most Western people are for the first time understanding and experiencing spiritual development outside religion. This is a very new and welcome development for them!

However, while the general population is striving to find meaning and fulfillment, the mainstream scientific community continues to be  focused on objective and empirical observation. They are stubbornly indifferent to personal requirements because these are believed to be mere internal processes within individual brains  that are of no consequence whatsoever to external objective reality.   

And unfortunately, due to the authority yielded by science over the last few centuries, mainstream scientists tend to have significant influence over society.

Can we continue with this large gap between peoples aspirations and the stubborn materialistic view taken by scientists?! No!  It is dysfunctional and regressive, creating an ideological tension between two groups of people. 

A change from this narrow ‘old science’ to a more expansive and inclusive ‘New Science’ is overdue.

Or beyond Science itself! 

And right on cue, many young philosophers and scientists are now trying to go beyond the old science! It is possible that the next generation will go much further, possibly beyond science itself as it is currently defined.

So, how do we try to understand what lies beyond science?   What are the areas that we can focus on?

I have written in separate articles about many of these areas that require specific analysis but I will attempt to summarize them here briefly.

There are two ways to look at this…the Objective aspects and the Subjective aspects.

1.Objective Reasons (briefly):

a) Life itself:  The origin of life itself is something extraordinary and is sufficient reason to look beyond science. Scientists regard Life as just an emergent property of some molecular structures and chemical compounds. This is rather a cop out and just another way of saying that ‘we don’t know’. Life is a strange and mysterious phenomenon that is also extremely pervasive and unrelenting. Life always finds a way, at least on earth!  So, what is this thing we call Life? Science currently does not know.

It is possible that Life is an elemental energy or substance of some kind that is present everywhere and interacts with organic compounds inducing them with life. A very good area for some lateral thinking. Please refer to my article on ’Life’.

b) Evolution: Even if Life originated for whatever reason, why did it not end soon after it originated? Why did it evolve? Evolution involves qualities such as a need to survive, need to replicate & procreate, need to protect ones progeny, rise of complexity and fitness and so on.   All these are complex characteristics for which there is no explanation in science except ’emergence’.  Mechanisms such as random genetic variations and Natural Selection  are given as ‘explanations’. This is hardly satisfactory. Please refer to my two articles on ‘Conversation on Evolution-the Science’ and ‘Conversation on Evolution- Beyond the Science’.

c) Randomness:  According to scientists, randomness is a major factor in all aspects of life. In fact, all of evolution, including development of complexity and speciation is attributed to ‘random variations’.  Religious people normally tend to explain everything in terms of God. This is mockingly dubbed  as ‘God of the gaps’ ie. any gap in our knowledge is filled in with ‘God’. Similarly, scientists tend to explain everything in terms of ‘randomness’Anything they don’t understand or can’t tie up, is called ‘random’. A case of ‘randomness of the gaps’, in my opinion. This is clearly not enough. So, what exactly is randomness? Is there any true randomness in the world?!  The idea of randomness also conflicts with the idea of determinism that is fundamental to a world governed by natural laws. We need to examine what these ‘random’ variations’ or ‘random events’ really are and what causes them. This is a major challenge for Science and Philosophy. 

d) Natural selection: Evolution is usually ‘explained’ through random genetic variations and Natural Selection. Natural Selection is a ‘catch all’ term that doesn’t really explain anything at all. It is a metaphor rather than a real process. The environment is believed to ‘select’ traits and characteristics of organisms on the basis of their ability to survive and reproduce. But since according to scientists,  there is  no goal or direction to evolution, all environmental changes have to be largely random. This implies that any ‘selection’ that happens due to environmental factors, is also random. None of this ‘selection’ therefore, is based on any immutable law of nature or any fixed process. There is no long term predictability.  Anything that happens to survive is taken as ‘selected’. The same  species could thrive in one end of a forest but get eradicated in another end of the forest because of  local environmental conditions.   These are chance factors.  But in both cases it is termed as ‘Natural Selection’. Obviously, the term ‘Natural Selection’  doesn’t really explain anything at all.  Please refer to my article on ’Evolution-Beyond the Science’.

e) Emergence:  This is the mysterious phenomenon present everywhere that, according to scientists, makes Life possible. It also enables evolution, complexity, human intelligence and every other thing for which scientists  have no reductionist explanation!  Any property that we observe in inorganic or organic compounds that cannot be explained through a direct understanding of its constituent parts, is termed its ‘Emergent Property’.  This is another way of saying that ‘that’s the way it is’. For example, human beings are said to be intelligent simply because it is their emergent property. Apparently, if you put a brain and a heart and other organs together in a specific way, Intelligence will automatically ‘emerge’.  No need for any other explanation at all, according to scientists!  But we can see that this is a cop-out!  Complex qualities that cannot be explained through the constituent parts of an organism, are precisely what need an explanation! Another area for lateral thinking.  

f) Humans & Civilization: Humans are an enigma in themselves.  The fact that humans have arisen with such immense complexity and ability to think beyond themselves, is itself sufficient reason to look beyond science for answers. The development of civilization, culture, a humanistic global philosophy and spirituality, is a clear pointer towards a direction, purpose and goal to evolution and human development. Understanding this is beyond science and needs philosophical support.

g) Anthropic Principle:  While the Copernican Principle had removed humans from the centre of creation, the Anthropic Principle places humans right back around the centre.  It highlights the narrow range of natural possibilities within which humans seem to have developed. The universe seems ‘fine tuned’ to produce Life and Consciousness. The Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP) in fact postulates that Consciousness could be participating in the creation of this universe. Please refer to my article on ‘Anthropic Principle’. An interesting idea that needs further research. 

h) Copenhagen Interpretation of QM:  According to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, spearheaded by Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, observation plays a major part in the way the world operates.  The elements of the physical world do not have definite properties prior to being measured. This makes the observer an important part of the way the universe functions. This puts Consciousness in a fundamental position in the universe. An idea that made even Einstein uneasy.  No one has yet proposed any comprehensive theory to explain Quantum behavior. Max planck, the father of Quantum Mechanics, has said… “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.” This raises many philosophical points. 

i) Mind and Brain: Traditionally, the mind and the brain have been regarded as distinct from one another. But current mainstream science seems to equate the mind with the brain almost completely.  The mind is seen as a product of the brain. There are however, several reasons to believe that the mind is something different from the brain and only uses it as a platform. The mind is supported by the brain. Though we don’t know its real nature, the mind cannot be a mere product of the brain.  The mind is independent of the brain the same way that software is independent of hardware even though they  work together and are useless without one another.  Please refer to my article on ‘Mind and Brain’. Lot more research in this area is required. 

j) Unconscious Mind:  Many people from ancient times have written about an unconscious part of our mind that influences our conscious decisions and also influences us in many subtle ways.  In line with what psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung believed, many recent neuro-scientists like David Eagleman also believe that the unconscious mind is far more important and influential than we normally realize.  The conscious mind is like a front desk in the workshop of the unconscious mind. Also, some modern philosophers like David Chalmers believe in Panpsychism which is the idea of Consciousness being universal and fundamental in the universe.  Some scientific theories like Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory seem to support this philosophy. Please refer to my article on the ‘Unconscious Mind’. A very potent area for research and philosophy.

k) Alternative Medical systems :  Modern medicine views the human anatomy and physiology as similar to a machine. However, many alternative systems of medicine are also in vogue which have a very different understanding of human physiology, disease and treatment. And these systems also work and help in preventing and curing many illnesses.  There are many areas where certain alternative systems of medicine are in fact, more effective than modern medicine, in spite of their different theory.  This means that our understanding of the human system is not complete. The human body is much more complex than what modern medical system assumes. Also, looking at animals, we find that they have an innate ability to identify medical plants and other minerals to cure their illnesses. Many subtle mental and unconscious processes need to be taken into account before we can understand human health and medicine more clearly.  Please refer to my articles on ‘Alternative Medicines’.

l) Near Death Experience cases:  Thousands of Near Death and Out of Body cases have been researched, analyzed and documented by psychologists and doctors around the world. These experiences point to the possibility of people living on beyond death in another world. These cases are currently dismissed as anecdotal and of no value in scientific analysis. Clearly lot more research and lateral thinking is needed in this very important area. Human life and human priorities could change significantly if these experiences are proved to be correct. Please refer to my article on ‘Near Death Experiences’.

m) Reincarnation cases: Researches like Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker have documented thousands of cases of reincarnation around the world in different cultures.  These cases point to possibilities of post death survival and continuity  of Consciousness into future lives. If established as fact, this could change our view of life itself. Our sense of morality and goals of life could undergo significant changes.

n) Extraordinary Phenomena:  There are many extraordinary experiences such as ESP (Telepathy, Clairvoyance,  Premonition etc) that are experienced by many people around the world for which science has no explanation.  People experience spontaneous cures of deadly diseases for which doctors have no explanation. Sightings of ghosts and spirits in all cultures around the world, is another phenomenon that has no explanation. Please refer to my article on ‘Extraordinary Phenomena’. 

o) Common connection: Without any mystical experiences, we can see that the entire world is connected and coordinated. The ecological system and the global interdependence  of all life and the environment, cannot be explained through chance factors.  There is a common thread that ties together all life forms and their environment. This is something that science does not understand, though the Gaia hypothesis does make an attempt. This requires lot of research and lateral thinking. 

p) Limits to Science:  The Scientific Method was developed by scientists during the 19th century and involves empirical testing of all hypothesis. Observation, experiments, measurements and impartial analysis are the key points.  This is the basis of all scientific theories and forms the foundation on which the credibility of science and its discoveries are built.   Falsification is another important factor in science. If any theory is not falsifiable then it cannot be considered as reliable. Falsifiablity or refutability means that there should be some possibility of the theory being refuted or falsified through some observation or event. If not, there is no way of knowing whether the theory is correct or not.   These are the two fundamental principles on which science is built.  ‘Occams Razor’ is another factor that is often sited to choose simplest and ‘most reasonable’ explanations for a given phenomenon. Occams Razor is a principle for selecting the least speculative, with least number of assumptions, of two or more explanations that may be available for any given phenomenon. 

However, there are many observations and hypotheses of an exotic nature,  that do not fall within the scope of the scientific method or falsification or Occams Razor. Conjectures concerning  String Theory, Multiverses and so on, currently form an important part of scientific inquiry and analysis.  These are phenomena that do not fall within the scope of rigorous scientific testing.  Many people therefore believe that the ‘scientific method’ has its limitations.  Many exotic phenomena cannot be tested or falsified and nor are they simple. The world is far too complex to be understood based entirely on currently defined scientific principles. Therefore, either science expands its scope and upgrades its methods and principles suitably to accommodate the observation of exotic and abstract phenomena or it should limit its analysis to only that which can be observed by our senses and instruments and avoid commenting on those aspects that are beyond its scope.

There was a stage when Science perhaps needed, for its own development, to focus on microscopic aspects and therefore  had to ignore the larger questions. Not any more! It is time Science stopped ignoring philosophical and experiential realities and started trying to integrate them with physical discoveries. 

2.Subjective Reasons:

Besides the above objective reasons which anyone can observe and study, there are many subjective reasons that people experience personally which point to phenomena that are beyond science.

Why are subjective experiences and impressions important, in the first place?

Because, ultimately it is the subjective aspects of life that truly matter to all of us. What do distant stars, black holes, multiverses and Dark Energy mean to anyone?! Nothing at all!

Most people in the world don’t know anything at all about such matters and do not care.  Even those few who do understand these subjects, wouldn’t in the final analysis, care significantly about them. Life is always about ones own peace, fulfillment, sense of well being, humanity, relationships and love. That is what really matters and that is what is of real significance to everyone.

It is our personal physical and mental well being that is important to each one of us. 

In fact, more than physical health it is ones mental health and well being that is very important. Even with good physical health, if the mind is unstable or anxiety ridden, it can make a person miserable. On the other hand even with physical ailments if a person’s mind is alert, joyful and exuberant, it can make life worthwhile. 

If a person is lonely, depressed, ill, fearful and confused, what is the use of all the knowledge of stars, atoms and singularities?!! All of ones knowledge,  wealth and  successes become meaningless. 

On the other hand, if ones mind is disciplined, in control, balanced, emotionally stable and well integrated with the body, that is true success and true knowledge!

I am not talking about happiness or bliss, which are vague and fleeting.  I am talking about mental balance, integration and stability. 

Unfortunately, the Mind-Body relationship is not currently understood by science. In fact, the nature of the mind itself is not currently understood. How then can we manage, analyse and monitor it?  

We have to go beyond science…!

Fortunately, there are many techniques such as Yoga, Pranayama and meditations using which  the mind can be monitored and analysed subjectively  to gain insights into its nature. Even certain religious activities such as prayer, chantings and rituals can be extremely elevating and can provide solace, peace, reassurance and freedom from uncertainty, fear and anxiety.  

Besides finding peace and emotional stability, people can also experience certain energy flows that can be quite surprising and exotic.  Something that people might call mystical. 

People who pray and meditate routinely experience certain energy flows within their system that point to the existence of  very subtle forces and fields within and around us that we are normally unaware of.  Similar energy flows can be experienced while doing Pranayama & Yogic exercises. 

Science is not familiar with such matters and these experiences are usually dismissed as delusional and imaginary.  

It is true that some of the experiences of elation and happiness could be explained by hormonal and chemical changes in the body but the flow of energy that is commonly experienced cannot be explained through any known ideas.

Neuroscientists like Andrew Newberg have identified certain connections in the brain that make spiritual experiences possible. People who do not have this type of wiring will be unable to have certain spiritual experiences, just as born blind people will not be able to experience light even though it is all around them. 

Are these energy movements useful, besides providing peace and joy? Yes…extremely! 

What are the ways in which these techniques of energy regulation can help?

These energy flows can actually alleviate body pains and discomfort. They can relieve anxiety, depression and fear.  Many mental illnesses can be relieved through practice of such techniques. Even some physical ailments can be cured speedily through such methods. They can improve alertness and awareness. 

So, there are some real and possibly measurable outcomes of such techniques that cannot be disregarded.

What are these energies? Are their any theories or hypotheses related to all this? Yes! 

Yogic science and its theories of the Biofield (aura), Prana and Chakras are relevant here. Please refer to relevant sites on this.

All our feelings and emotions can be identified with individual Chakras which we can learn to regulate and control.  Our feelings of anger, hate, passion, fear can also be controlled and  moderated using Chakras and prana.

Some of these techniques are more useful for mental & emotional problems than  counselling, psychiatry or medical intervention. 

These phenomena point to human experiences and observations that go beyond the scope of science as it has been currently defined.  The picture of the world that Science currently gives us  is obviously  very limited and does not take into account many aspects of reality that are of fairly common experience and also of great importance to us. 

We should try to understand all these aspects and try to integrate them with what science has discovered so that we can have a clearer idea of the big picture. 

Best Regards.

T.Sriram Rao

22 December 2018

 

The Triune Brain

The Triune Brain.

Did you know that we have three brains…?!

It is known as the Triune brain!

In the 1960’s, a neuroscientist named Paul MacLean came up with a view of the human brain that is called the Triune system. He saw the human brain as three different systems….as three brains in one! 

In my view, this finding has an interesting fallout in terms of understanding our mind, our emotions and spirituality. We will see how that idea develops….

But first, the science….

During his research, MacLean identified separate structures within the brain that he said had evolved at different stages of the evolutionary process.

  1. The Reptilian Brain. (The survival brain)
  2. The Limbic system. (The emotional brain)
  3. The Neo Cortex. (The thinking brain)

Remarkably, we find that in the human brain the three structures are built on top of one another, retaining the earlier structures such that they can almost be identified separately.  The reasons for retaining  these separate structures, is not clear.

However, it must be remembered that we humans use the brain as a single unit in which all its functions are coordinated and integrated through several neural pathways and connections. They don’t function as three different brains.

The broad functions of these three systems are given below…

1.The Reptilian Brain : Also called the Reptilian Complex, is composed of the Brainstem, Basal Ganglia and mid brain.

These structures are originally believed to have developed in reptiles.  Probably originated in the common ancestor of vertebrates in general because similar structures are found in reptiles as well as  birds, fish, amphibians and mammals.

This brain system regulates basic instincts, feeding, exploration, aggression, territorial, sexual urge etc.  This is considered the oldest brain in evolutionary terms.

2. The Limbic system : Also called the Paleomammalian Brain, is composed of the Hippocampus, Hypothalamus, Amygdala and some other structures.  

This system is said to have developed in early mammals in addition to the reptilian brain.  Mammals have both the reptilian brain and the Limbic system. This system also probably originated in a rudimentary form in early vertebrates because some of the traits are found in birds and fish as well.

This brain system regulates emotions, values, memories, social behaviour, nurturing  and other habits that are linked  with survival, procreation and parental instincts.  Particularly important for social and group behaviour.

3. The Neo Cortex : Also called the Neomammalian formation, is composed of largely grey matter.  It is the newest part of the cerebral cortex and is present as several folded layers on the outer side of the brain structure.

These structures probably originated in early mammals. Somewhat prominant in primates and most pronounced in humans.

This brain structure regulates cognition, language, abstract thought, spatial reasoning, imagination, metaconsciousness.         

(Please google for appropriate sites to see visual diagrams of the three brain structures. I am unable to present the illustrations at this site).

Many scientists  today feel that the above distinction of three different brain systems is not useful  in understanding the functioning of the brain and that the functional differences in the brain are not as clear cut as some people  believed earlier. Neural pathways between the Neo Cortex and the Limbic system are very well developed and they influence one another.   Our emotions for example cannot be identified entirely with any one single brain structure.  Emotions being  very complex,  are probably influenced by all parts  of the brain with the endocrine system also having a very important role to play.

The Triune system therefore is currently not very popular among scientists and medical professionals.

However, it is acknowledged that the Triune system does have its merits and is useful in understanding how the brain  evolved over several million years. It is a  basic model that has an intuitive appeal and is useful in understanding primary brain functions.

Many psychiatrists for example, are said to find the Triune model very useful even today.  It could be important in understanding and treating  mental illnesses, internal conflicts, personality disorders and multiple personalities (DID). Even criminal mentality could be studied using this system.

(Each of the brain systems has its physiological functions based on which the nervous system and all other systems work. But this is not something that I will be going into here. The mental and cognitive aspects only will be discussed. The brain can also be segmented in various other ways depending on its varied functions. These are not relevant to this discussion).

So much about the science!

My views on the Triune system:

Most people who practice Yoga and meditations will know that we try to understand our mind in purely abstract and subjective terms. We don’t have a biological basis using which we can understand our mind and behavior…..even though hormonal and chemical influences are fairly well understood.

The Triune brain system, probably for the first time, provides us with an anatomical and biological basis to understand our mind and its varied motivations. 

This is nothing short of revolutionary!

The Triune system’s usefulness from a philosophical perspective cannot be denied. Viewing survival traits, social & emotional traits and intellectual traits as successive evolutionary developments in that order, is extremely meaningful. It makes perfect sense from a spiritual development point of view and can be seen as a ladder that enables our mental progression stage by stage.

 (I have personally found it to be useful in my understanding of my own emotional and instinctive behaviours  and I am convinced of its usefulness).

Internal conflicts:

We humans suffer from several conflicting thoughts, emotions and mental states. We have different parts to our personality where one thought or emotion drives us in one direction while another drives us in the opposite direction. 

We have conflicting thoughts. We have conflicting moral and ethical values. We have conflicting loyalties. We have conflicting ideals.  We even show conflicting behaviour.

We can proceed from deep love to strong hate. From peace to agitation. From happiness to sorrow, From good to evil. From stability to anger. From selfless sacrifice to selfish ego. From Cooperation to Competition. 

Taken to extremes, these internal conflicts can even result in mental illnesses and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

If we are able to understand why and how these conflicting values, emotions and thoughts arise within us, we might be in a better position to manage them.

The Reptilian brain drives the basic instincts that make us fight for our own survival, procreation and protection of our progeny. It probably supports the Ego which is a protective mechanism for us as individuals, and our DNA.   While safeguarding us, it can also make us insecure, cautious and suspicious, thereby driving  us to violence and aggression.  

The Limbic system generates our group behavior and makes us gregarious and cooperative. Many of the qualities required for social integration are probably produced here. This system therefore drives our cooperative, altruistic and non violent behavior.  It also probably produces our creative aspects. Problem is that, social interactions can be both positive and negative. Coupled with the Reptilian brain these interactions can lead to multifarious emotions and behavioral traits. 

The Neo Cortex drives our intellectual, abstract and imaginative qualities. This also possibly makes us  detached, reclusive and introspective. Coupled with the Limbic and Reptilian brains, this system can generate many idealistic conflicts. The Neo Cortex can control and oversee the other two systems to some extent. 

The three systems could combine through neural connectivity in various ways  to produce the almost infinite range of human behavior that we see around us. 

Our individual exposure to specific environments and their demands could produce many types of neural connectivity between the three structures resulting in varied combinations of the three characteristics and their motivations. This is what gives rise to the complexity of the human psyche. 

Mind:

I am not for a moment suggesting that the brain structures themselves determine our mental make up.  Rather I am suggesting that they serve as platforms for our consciousness and mind which determine their neural connectivity and development. 

We don’t know what exactly the Mind is. Its nature is still a mystery. 

Is the mind made up of several layers of some sort of an energy or is it just chemical and electrical activity in the brain? Currently it is a matter of belief. 

Did the brain structures develop through random genetic variation and chance environmental factors (NS), thereby giving rise to the different layers of the mind as an emergent property? Or did the structures develop as a supporting platform for a pre-existing mind and consciousness? 

I believe the latter while most scientists believe the former.  (Please refer to my article ‘Mind and Brain’)

Though scientists believe that the mind is generated by electrical and chemical impulses in the brain, this is far from confirmed. We do however know that the brain and its structures provide support for the mind to work on (like computer hardware supports software). 

Spiritual and religious significance:

From ancient times, we humans have felt unhappy about our inner conflicts and contradictions. We have never been comfortable with them.  We have for centuries tried to understand and resolve these conflicts.

We have prayed, visited temples, performed rituals, done Yogic exercises, meditated…all to discipline our own mind and find inner peace and stability.

Inner peace is nothing but control over basic instinctive reactions like fear, insecurities, lust, anger, greed and hate. Once these are disciplined, the mind becomes stable.  Even some of our positive emotions such as attachments and relationships can lead to conflicts and stress.   Controlling all these emotions and thoughts leads to mental stability and peace.

When our spiritual leaders teach us to eliminate base behavior, avoid attachments and urge us to rise up to higher levels of thinking….what exactly do they mean?!  They mean that we should reduce the influence of our reptilian brain and also that of the Limbic system  while  identifying more with the Neo Cortex.  

We are taught to move away from basic instincts, emotions and attachments and move towards objectivity, detachment, intellect and universality. This has been the mantra for millennia! This is what the Triune system appears to facilitate. 

In future generations, we might perhaps evolve towards a further reduced Reptilian brain with also a smaller Limbic system but a more elaborate Neo Cortex. Internal conflicts are thereby likely to be reduced! We could become less animal like and more balanced.

More about Evolution and Spirituality in another article, but suffice to say that our spiritual development, stage by stage, can be understood fairly well in terms of the Triune system. 

For those who understand the Chakra system, we could even identify each of the brain structures with different Chakras. The Reptilian Brain with the Basic, Sex and partly the Solar plexus chakras. The Limbic system with partly the Solar plexus, the Heart and partly the Throat chakras. The Neo Cortex with partly the Throat chakra and the Forehead chakra.  The Crown (Sahasrara) could be  beyond the three structures and their mental levels.

These are very complex phenomena, not easily amenable to rational and logical categorization and understanding.   But we can keep trying!

Self:

Each of us has a ‘Self’ or ‘Subject’ around which our individual personality is built. This Self forms the core of our personality and is the basis of our subjectivity and  consciousness. 

Do each of the three brain structures have a separate sense of ‘Self’ that protects and enforces the behavior patterns of that domain?  Maybe!

It is possible that each domain develops its own sense of self  which makes us identify with that part of our personality. Each of the ‘self’s’ could thereby conflict with the other self’s….which could explain our constant inner struggle to identify ourselves. 

It is also possible that the same Self identifies with different domains at different times leading to the illusion of different subjects or Self’s. 

The Reptilian brain  probably supports the most powerful and basic ‘Self’ because it deals with survival and procreation of the individual. The other two ‘self’s’ could be more subtle and less domineering. 

In any case, our sense of Self is clearly identifiable with each of the separate brain structures. The basic self, the social self and the intellectual self. 

What is the true me?!  Am I the instinct driven lustful, violent, angry, insecure and selfish person or am I the emotional, loving, attached, approval seeking social person or am I the detached, intellectual, controlled and disciplined person?  

Or am I something beyond all three experiential levels….. merely watching?! Something that has all the three attributes in a subtle and integrated form but is beyond it?! 

This is the age old spiritual dilemma. What am I, how do I find myself and how do I rid myself of what I am not?!

Conclusion:

Understanding the Triune system  does not change  our aspirations or our conflicts  or our doubts or our need to find ourselves.  But it does give us a physical & biological basis to understand  the conflicts that we experience within ourselves and which form a major part of our psychological, social and spiritual personalities.

In this sense, the Triune brain system  can go a long way in helping us to identify and segregate our different psychological and spiritual traits and also help us in coming to terms with them.

Best Regards.

T.SriramRao

1st March 2018

 

 

The Two Boxes syndrome:

(This article may please be read along with the earlier one on ‘Extraordinary Phenomena’) 

Science is today dominated largely by western scientists because they are the pioneers in modern science and most advances in Science & Technology have happened in the West. Fair enough!

It is also true that in the West, Science has developed largely at the cost of Christianity. As the influence of Science grew, the influence of Christianity declined. 

This was bound to happen because Science has discovered many aspects of reality that directly contradict Christian mythology and theology. For example, the six day creation, Adam & Eve, Noah’s Ark and many other events mentioned in the Bible are proven wrong by scientific discoveries. Even the historicity of Jesus is questioned by some researchers & historians.

The distrust of the Bible that has been generated because of these scientific discoveries, has led to a complete rejection of all things religious and spiritual.

Unfortunately, the distinction between secular spirituality and religion is not generally understood in the West.  Spirituality and religion are usually considered one and the same. (Please refer to my article on ‘Spirituality and Religion’).

Because of this, there has been no alternative ‘secular’ spirituality to fall back on once Christianity was rejected. 

In this situation, only science could replace religion, which it did! 

In other words, Science and Religion became mutually exclusive in the West. If one is right the other has to be wrong. Because of this bipolar viewpoint, anything even remotely suggestive of religious or spiritual beliefs gets rejected and laughed at by rationalists. 

The problem with this is that, not just scriptural matters but even real phenomena that cannot be directly sensed  or measured, get rejected in the process.  All exotic, experiential and out of the ordinary phenomena get dismissed as imagination or hallucination. Subjective aspects of life are disregarded completely as having no relevance to objective external reality.

Because of this, most people of science have developed, what I like to call, a ‘Two Boxes Syndrome’.

Anything that they perceive and label as ‘Science’, they deposit into one box in their mind. Anything that they might perceive as connected to ‘spiritual’ phenomena, they deposit into another box in their mind. These are two separate boxes with no connection between them. The first is readily accepted and the second is summarily rejected.

For example, take the idea of ‘Soul’. Why is the soul dismissed as nonsense?!

The word ‘soul’ (albeit from religion) is just another word for Self, subject or Consciousness. No one can deny that the Self or Subject or Consciousness actually exists.

It has nothing to do with religion or mythology. 

There are some recent philosophies such as Panpsychism proposed by David Chalmers which view Consciousness as something  fundamental and universal in nature. Some recent scientific ideas proposed by Tononi and Wheeler on Integrated Information theory and Participatory Anthropic Principle respectively, corroborate this philosophy of Chalmers. 

Given this situation, why is the idea of a soul (Consciousness) not taken as a valid hypothesis but is routinely dismissed as a nonsensical religious idea?!

This is because of the ‘Two boxes syndrome’! It is confused as a religious myth rather than as a real phenomenon. 

The idea of a soul is lumped together with other religious ideas such as the six day creation, Adam& Eve and so on and labeled as nonsense. That is why many scientists find it difficult and even impossible to move the idea into the realm of a valid hypothesis.  The segregation is too rigid in their minds.

The question obviously arises about many other such phenomena….

Is everything that we cannot observe or measure, supernatural? Are all ‘natural’ phenomena necessarily observable and measurable? Shouldn’t exotic phenomena for which there is no ready explanation, also be taken seriously? 

Take the example of such scientific hypotheses as Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Parallel Universes or String Theory. All these are mere conjectures meant to ‘explain’ some observations but there is no direct evidence at all that such things actually exist in reality.  Yet…they are considered as serious possibilities by scientists world over. 

To examine these hypotheses a little more closely….

  • Dark Matter is said to be five times more abundant than normal matter and constitutes 25% of the mass of the universe. Right now there could be tons of it sitting on our laps but because it does not interact with normal matter, we cannot sense it at all. How then do we even know that it exists? 
  • Dark Energy is said to occupy 70% of the universe while all the normal matter such as stars and galaxies are only about 5%. But it is not sensed in any way. How do we even know that it exists? 
  • We are said to be living in a eleven dimensional universe of which seven are said to be wrapped around the String. What are these dimensions and how can we even imagine them? Do they really exist? 
  • Parallel Universes are said to exist inches away from us but remain completely insulated from us. There is no way in which we can interact with these universes. These are all mathematical possibilities generated by computer models, with no real evidence at all.  
  • A String is said to be the ultimate ‘particle’ or loop that vibrates in 11 dimensions to produce the universe. It is so small that if the atom is as big as the solar system, the String will be as big as a tree. We are never likely to observe it. It is a theoretical possibility and we don’t even know if it really exists. 

Isn’t all this bizarre?!  

I am not suggesting that these conjectures are wrong. Not at all! They could be perfectly valid ideas, but are certainly speculative with no direct evidence for them at all.

It is true that, as we progress from classical physics into subatomic and cosmic realms, we do encounter many  strange phenomena that are beyond our intuitive and commonsense explanations. They could even seem uncanny and weird. 

That is the way reality is! The universe doesn’t have to fit into our logic and common sense. 

This fact is accepted by Science. The bizarre nature of the universe has been evident from the days of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in the early part of the 20th Century. 

Therefore, regardless of their speculative nature, all these ideas are considered as valid scientific hypotheses and are well accepted by scientists around the world! Fair enough! 

However, when it comes to matters like the soul or Self, after-life or the phenomena that I have mentioned in the article on ‘Extraordinary Phenomena’, it is all suddenly taken as a joke or a fairy tale for which no compelling evidence is available!! Why is that? 

Why can’t scientists try to integrate some of the ‘unusual’ and exotic mainstream scientific ideas with extraordinary  experiences of normal people? Or at least take these experiences seriously and formulate suitable hypotheses for them. 

This is not done because all such ‘extraordinary’ phenomena are lumped together  with religious beliefs and are therefore a strict..No..No!  The Two Box syndrome again! 

It is all about the labeling and classification in peoples minds.  Almost a bipolar mental makeup. It is a Black & White situation with apparently no grey areas in between.

Many phenomena are summarily rejected even though they are a part of  common experience, just because they are labeled as spiritual or religious….while at the same time, certain other phenomena are accepted  wholeheartedly regardless of however bizarre or outlandish they may be, just because they are labeled as Science.

This problem is difficult to resolve. It is only when people without a strong bias against so called ‘supernatural’ matters take up dominant positions in the scientific field, that this situation could change. (Please also refer to my article on ‘Zoom-In…Zoom-Out’)

In Hindu culture for example, there are no two distinct Natural and Supernatural aspects to life. Everything is Natural. There is nothing we can call Supernatural. Such a word does not even exist in Hinduism. All realities are deeply connected to one another with the spiritual aspects merging seamlessly with the mental and physical realities. It is a continuum. 

Reality is a spectrum, not a couple of segregated boxes. Extraordinary and exotic phenomena should be regarded as ‘Natural’ too, though perhaps at a different end of the spectrum as compared to well known phenomena. 

We can think of exact sciences like Physics & Mathematics at one end of the spectrum of reality, gradually moving to more and more inexact areas such as Chemistry, then Biology & Medicine, Psychology…and then maybe Spirituality at the other end of the spectrum. 

Once the discriminatory nature of the mainstream science view is understood and people connect the two distinct boxes in their minds, we might see all aspects of reality being taken seriously. 

Life can then be experienced and studied as one integrated whole instead of artificially breaking it up as ‘scientific Truth’ and  ‘religious belief’.  We will then be somewhat nearer to solving the great jigsaw puzzle of Life.

Best Regards.

T.Sriram Rao

1st March 2018

Extraordinary phenomena

Life is extraordinary!

If we think about it, there is nothing ‘ordinary’ about ‘Life’ arising spontaneously in chemical molecules and then evolving to such complexity as we see around us.  There is nothing ‘ordinary’ about the fact that we are living on a piece of rock that is flying around the sun and around the universe!  

Nothing ‘ordinary’ about life on earth at all!

However we still tend to think of many things as ‘ordinary’ and only certain events as ‘extraordinary’.

Be that as it may, our religions,  legends and mythology are full of extraordinary people and extraordinary happenings.  Most people believe that such events actually happened. 

Even though most of these beliefs do not fit into rational ideas of the world and there is no direct scientific evidence to justify them,  many people nevertheless continue to accept them as true.

Because of this, there is a large gulf between people who entertain such beliefs and people who take a rational view of the world and think such beliefs are just fantasy.

How do we know what is fantasy and what is real? 

This is not always easy. However, there are some phenomena that cannot be brushed off as just fantasy, they actually happen but are extraordinary nevertheless! 

Some events have a profound effect on our lives even though may not be amenable to current methods of scientific scrutiny.  

These events cannot be classified as merely beliefs. They usually transcend cultural, religious and social barriers.  They are secular, common to both genders and common to people of all strata of society around the world. They are in fact fairly common events.  

I will outline a few of these ‘extraordinary’ phenomena that are fairly common around the world…..

1.Spontaneous healing:

Certain people are cured of diseases spontaneously without any medical intervention, even after doctors have washed their hands off the case. There is a sudden and spontaneous remission of cancer or some other serious illness,  to the extent that even doctors are surprised.

Such spontaneous remissions/regressions are not as rare as had been thought earlier. Some studies on mammography for example, have found that almost 22% of all breast cancer cases undergo spontaneous regression. 

How does this happen?

Religious people tend to regard these events as miracles and they credit this phenomena to God.  Scientific people on the other hand,  dismiss it as chance or try to find some biological reason for it. 

But could there be a third reason for it that is neither simply God nor just chance?!

Many ancient theories in Yogic science talk of an aura that surrounds everything.  Some people call it a biofield that not only surrounds us but also connects all organisms together. It is said to be like the earth’s magnetic field and though we do not feel it, it  is a fundamental feature of our existence and is very important for our survival and well being.

This Biofield is said to consist of Prana which is a form of energy that exists in and around our body. Our physical health, mental health and behavior are governed by these energies. Yogic Science has elaborate theories about Prana and about Chakras (or vortices of energy),  that exist at every point around us.

The movement of Prana and the condition of our Chakras are said to determine our physical and mental health.  Yogic Asanas, Pranayama, Pranic Healing, Reiki, Tai Chi and other healing techniques are based on an understanding of these energies.

It is therefore possible that spontaneous cures happen due to the spontaneous or unconscious regulation of these bio energies in patients.

Modern Science  has no background on this at all. No one has ever been able to detect these energies and fields through any instruments.  While subjectively many people experience, regulate  and work with these energies on a daily basis, no objective observation or measurement has been made of Prana or the aura or any Chakras. All this is considered by mainstream scientists as hocus pocus nonsense. 

But is the mainstream science view valid?!

2.Near Death Experiences:

Many people have Near Death Experiences during which they have an Out of Body Experience (OBE). They meet dead relatives, see a bright light that talks to them, they feel peaceful and so on (Please refer to my article on ‘Near Death Experiences’). 

Dr.Raymond Moody, a psychiatrist, first studied these  cases in detail and many other researchers have subsequently taken up research work in this area. Another notable researcher is Dr.Sam Parnia of Southampton University Hospital, UK. 

These researchers have done extensive work by identifying and interviewing many patients who have directly experienced a Near Death situation. They have also talked to their doctors and verified the medical records of the patients.

Many of the NDE’s have been confirmed by checking on the various parameters of the patients who had died and also the activities and conversations that the dead patient is reported to have seen and heard from outside the body, while he was lying dead. 

There is no doubt that the NDE’s are real experiences. The  patients themselves and most other people  around the world  obviously think of these experiences as proof of Life after death.

However, in spite of significant evidence,  mainstream scientists and other rationalists prefer to explain away these experiences as brain related hallucinations rather than as real After-Life experiences. They contend that Near Death Experiences cannot be ‘After death’ experiences.  

They believe that the patient must have been conscious at some level and that  because of the effects of medication or under the stress of the situation, the brain could produce hallucinations which  the patients may believe to be OBE’s and NDE’s.

Is this mainstream science view correct?!

3.Reincarnation:

Psychiatrists like Dr. Ian Stevenson and Professor Jim Tucker of the University of Virginia, US,  have researched on reincarnation and have documented thousands of case studies where children have been found to retain memories of their previous incarnations. The recent case of Ryan Hammons of Oklahoma, is one such instance.  (You can google for that)

Reincarnation envisages the continued development and evolution of individual consciousness through varied experiences in different lifetimes.

While ‘Consciousness’ living on after the death of the body is a common belief among most humans, the idea of consciousness reentering another body to continue its development on earth, is not very common, except in India.

Belief in reincarnation is  common  among Hindus and other Indian religious communities. But some ancient western philosophers like Pythagoras and Plato also believed in reincarnation. The idea  is now catching on in many western countries in the 21st Century  in a  secular and universal form.

Some Jewish sects, especially followers of the Kabbala, are said to believe in reincarnation.  Some early Gnostic Christians and some Sufi saints are also said to have believed in reincarnation. Most Christians and Muslims traditionally do not accept it even though Titus 3:5-7 (NIV) of the Bible does seem to indicate a belief in rebirth. 

Dr.Ian Stevenson, over 40 years, from the 1960’s,  has done significant research to identify cases of past life memories in children around the world.  He has documented many cases where the past life of the child has been identified positively. There are many cases even in countries like Lebanon which are Muslim countries, where  belief in reincarnation is not a part of their culture. (You could google for this)

However, mainstream scientists still regard reincarnation as just a religious belief with no convincing evidence.

Is the mainstream science view correct?! 

4.ESP or Extra Sensory Perception:

This is a fairly common experience in which people are able to sense other people’s thoughts, identify hidden objects and foresee future events without any direct sensory inputs.  Telepathy, Clairvoyance, pre-cognizance or premonition  are quite common, but nothing much is known about them. 

While such experiences are fairly common around the world, scientists dismiss them as just coincidences, delusions, imagination…and so on. Though some rudimentary research efforts on ESP were made in the early 1900’s (mainly in Russia), they were quickly dismissed as unworthy of any serious consideration. 

Is this mainstream science view valid?!  

5.Ghosts and spirits:

Many cases of ghost sightings and similar paranormal phenomena are reported from around the world almost everyday. Some people have tried studying these phenomena by classifying the paranormal experiences into different categories depending on the level and nature of interaction with humans. But nothing much is known about them.  

Though efforts have been made by some fringe groups to study the phenomena, they have largely been ignored by mainstream science. Scientists believe that such phenomena do not exist and are just imaginary. Period!

Is this mainstream science view correct?!

No doubt all these phenomena do not fall within the classical categories of Physics, chemistry, biology or even Psychology.  Some are classified as Parapsychology but are nevertheless  very difficult to study and to perform tests and trials on. Most of these phenomena  are spontaneous and cannot be predicted because of which designing experiments to test them is very difficult.

However, it is necessary that scientists take these experiences and observations seriously and come up with methods by which they can be studied and understood clearly.  Expanding the scope and methodologies of science to include such ‘extraordinary’ phenomena is obviously necessary. 

Even if these phenomena are merely established as factual, without necessarily being understood or explained, that would itself change peoples lives, priorities and  perceptions dramatically!

But we find that many scientists and science enthusiasts are unable to take any of these phenomena seriously, let alone study them in detail. There is a mental block. 

Why is this? Why are scientists unable to take such phenomena seriously regardless of their widespread prevalence and universal interest?!

This has something to do with the way western thinking has developed in recent centuries. I call it the Two Boxes Syndrome!  I will discuss this in the next article.

Best Regards.

T.Sriram Rao 

1st March 2018