Part One. The Limits of Science (See earlier blog. Go to Search in top right-hand side of page)
PART TWO: A CRITIQUE OF THE LIMITS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Science and the Problem of Consciousness
The cover of the New Scientist reflects a widespread view in the science community of the mystery of consciousness. The language of mystery appears regularly whenever science endeavours to address consciousness. I have looked at books of science where the author(s) have omitted the word consciousness altogether because the concept does not fit comfortably into a scientific viewpoint. I regard the absence of consciousness from reality as a form of denial or avoidance. Science has great difficult to explain consciousness but that does not negate its importance.
The concept mystery puts a positive spin on consciousness. Consciousness exposes an ongoing problem for scientists, which they cannot resolve. Certain scientists claim they are getting closer to resolving the mystery/problem, but I find it hard to track down enduring scientific statements on the nature of consciousness.
The problem of consciousness applies to every major branch of science, including biology, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, medical science and neuroscience.
Western science limits its knowledge to Western thought. Science boxes itself into the hubris of its own approach. Literature in the West rarely refers to the experiential approach to consciousness, as found in Indian/Oriental tradition of the East.
Subject-object, consciousness-content and the witness-witnessed provide an essential foundation to know the inter-face of consciousness with what presents itself to consciousness. I cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of this approach to know the reality of this world and a wise response to it. Subject-object depend on each other and mutually influence each other in subtle or gross ways.
A single event in the mind/body or from outside the body can change the condition of consciousness in deep sleep, dream state to waking state or vice versa.
With supportive conditions, consciousness impacts on the condition of the mind, body and material world. Spiritual/mystical and meditation experiences confirm experiences of consciousness unrelated to the norms of states of mind, body and sense perception of past, present and future.
Science depends upon the scientist to bring their scientific mind to the object.
- Does the specific field of science and prior knowledge of the field set a limit to knowing reality?
- Does the scientist carry any preformed views?
- What is the intention?
- What is the methodology to examine reality?
- What are the views of the scientific mind in its interpretation of the outcome of research?
The mind of the scientist influences the priorities of science and the science.
Why Science cannot Resolve the Mystery of Consciousness
New Scientist starts its essay with the words. “How a physical brain creates the feeling of being is one of life’s greatest mysteries.”
12 Issues on Consciousness and the Brain/Matter
- Science relies upon the breakdown of matter to explain consciousness.
- Science cannot locate consciousness in matter or under the microscope.
- Science claims the brain creates consciousness. How does the brain stop creating it once it has s created it?
- When did the brain create matter and where did it create it in the brain?
- If the brain creates consciousness, then why can’t we see its creation in the laboratory?
- We cannot separate matter from consciousness.
- We cannot separate consciousness from matter.
- If consciousness is a branch of physics/chemistry/biology, or one kind of material in the brain, why can’t scientists isolate consciousness from other matter?
- A human being can only view the world through the subject called consciousness.
- Consciousness cannot look at consciousness as an object of itself.
- Consciousness cannot become both subject and object. It would lead to the chaos of reflecting mirrors…
- Consciousness is the light revealing objects.
Consciousness continues to be a major mystery/problem for science, but not for those engaged in an experiential relationship of consciousness/mind/matter.
The authority of depth of experience dissolves the mystery/problem of consciousness in the field of conditionality. Consciousness fits into the scheme of things, effortlessly and naturally.
Scientists will need to change their modus operandi if they wish to dissolve the so-called mystery of consciousness.
You cannot explore the roots of a tree by looking down from the sky.
If there is a mystery/problem, then it lies in the mind of the scientists trying to fathom out consciousness through a biological means (see 12 issues above) not suited for the purpose.
Neuroscience can explain to a moderate degree sensory information, via the brain. The science shows stimulus and reactivity in the neurological pathways. This approach reveals one small feature of consciousness.
Yet, we can end the greatest mystery in the universe through insights, realisations and wisdom.
Holism and Reductionism
Consciousness and the brain have no independent power to create. Neither the brain nor consciousness have any self-existence. Both arise and pass dependent on conditions. We sometimes summarise dependent arising as the natural world, elements, life, the universe. Our generalised concepts do not confirm the Earth, Life, Nature as having self-existence. These views arise primarily according to the conditions in the mind forming a generalised or absolute viewpoint.
There are two primary views
- Holism reveals one extreme approach to define reality, such as oneness, nature, fullness or the universe.
- Reductionism, the determination to break phenomena down to the tiniest of components, reveals another extreme approach to define reality.
Both standpoints obscure our capacity to see and know a middle way between these two to uncover an unfolding process. This uncovering also reveals immeasurable freedom from the dogma of views around consciousness and matter.
Conditions, such as views, memory, tendencies, beliefs, insights and intuitions affect consciousness. Past accumulations and impressions influence consciousness.
Determinism is an extreme view tied up with causation from the past. Free will is the other extreme denying the past. A free will does not depend upon conditions because it would need to be free from the past. The will cannot arising from nothing. There is a middle way between free will and determinism.
Consciousness inter-acts with conditions, past and present, and conditions inter-act with consciousness.
Twelve Concerns about Consciousness, Free Will and Choice
- Can consciousness exercise free will out of the reach of mind/matter? That does not ring true. If so, we could live and act for eternity without mind, nor body.
- If we possessed free will, then why suffer from migraine, neurological issues, brain tumours, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease?
- If part of consciousness finds itself under the influence of habits, patterns and addictions, which part of consciousness is that?
- If part of consciousness stands free from the influence of neural activity, which part of consciousness is that?
- If we possess free will, how can our will be free if brain activity shapes the will?
- Can our will be free from changing energy, intention, images, views and values, even if the pathways of the brain reveal harmony and integration?
- Is ‘choice’ a substantial truth, an impression or neither?
- If what arises in consciousness occurs spontaneously, then this experience also confirms the absence of free will.
- Does choice mean we follow through with the movements and views that arise most frequently or most strongly, giving the impression of a free choice?
- If we really possess freedom of choice, why on Earth do we suffer, make our life so difficult for ourselves and others?
- If we have no freedom of choice, how can we change possibly the dynamics of mind/body and environment?
- Freedom of choice must stand outside neural activity to be freedom of choice. Absence of freedom of choice seems bound to neural activity. Do these two extreme standpoints belong to the dogma of views?
Twelve Concerns about Consciousness and Determinism
- A deterministic view of the natural world reveals a way of conceiving. Is this a deterministic without a choice?
- Depths of consciousness have the potential to transform fixed views of reality, unbound to a dogmatic position.
- If the brain created consciousness, consciousness would not have the power to transform the brain/matter and the natural world.
- Why do neuroscientists try to convert consciousness and mental processes into physical processes and want to increase identification with a deterministic view?
- Do we believe that consciousness abides on the receiving end of neural impulses until death?
- If we only live out our neurological impulses, then we could not arrest them, change or dissolve them.
- How can an effect (consciousness as nerve endings) make itself into a cause?
- Why do certain influential scientists explain consciousness as an outcome of chemical reactions, energy, neural endings, heat, and biological/physical impulses? Is it due to prior identification with matter/atoms as the true basis of reality?
- If consciousness ranks as only an effect or a by-product of neural activity, then consciousness finds itself completed determined by what preceded it. Why feel concern about personal suffering or making others suffer if this is just how it is.
- Being on the receiving end of habits, patterns and movements in the brain, how can consciousness turn itself around and change these impulses shaping mental, verbal and physical behaviour?
- How could anyone else help people to change/dissolve their impulses?
- How can determinism of consciousness allow change, inwardly or outwardly?
Why are these points made and repeated in this essay?
The purpose of the essay shows the limits of common scientific and social viewpoints. The essay also shows consciousness as a condition of reality and matter as another condition. Both influence each other due to dependent arising.
It seems unworkable to claim consciousness as a kind of by-product of matter. It also seems unworkable to claim consciousness exists independent of matter.
This essay shows the limits of trying to minimise or elevate consciousness in relationship to matter. Our species cannot understand consciousness via a scientific laboratory.
Consciousness/mind/matter depend upon conditions for their interaction. None have primacy over the other. Yet we have the potential to understand dynamics of subject-object and its relevance through an experiential approach. This requires a suitable teaching, methodology and environment – just as in science.
We can see and know the end of the mysteries of consciousness through first-hand direct experience. Consciousness abides closer than the thoughts in our mind. The confirmation of wisdom of consciousness expresses as the end of our suffering. (This requires another essay).
Let us explore and apply an illuminating wisdom, liberating and unbound to dogma. Reductionism to matter/energy and holism drop away to know reality.
Consciousness has no greater significance than matter. Matter has no greater significance than consciousness. The state of the world confirms the mutual impact of both upon each other according to the conditions, including human behaviour and environmental influences.
What are the benefits of understanding Consciousness and its Conditions?
- Capacity to overcome suffering and know peace of mind
- Depths of meditation for fresh realisations
- Dissolution of egotism, self-pity, control issues and more.
- Power of empathy, love and compassion
- Power of transformative perceptions
- Range of experiences, secular, spiritual and religious
- To express originality and vision
- Willingness to co-operate to end wars, violence, abuse of creatures and exploitation of resources above the ground and beneath the ground.
First Steps for a Beginner to Understand Consciousness
- Sit still.
- Let the mind/intellect rest.
- Just be conscious.
- May experience subtle vibrations of the body as the primary object.
- Stay still.
- Rest in consciousness revealing subtle vibrations.
- Continue to stay still.
- Consciousness abides in a state of receptivity to objects.
- Abide in such receptivity.
- Be patient.
The above 10 points serve as the first step to know consciousness, like the first year of science study at university. Wiring up the heads of Buddhist monks to measure brain activity reveals exercises in futility. First-hand experience of the consciousness of the subject takes priority to see objects in fresh ways. The view of science will undergo a profound change through a major change in the condition of consciousness. This change will offer immense support for the welfare of life on Earth.
We can know a reality based on realisations of the whole person, not just the scientific mind.
Depths of realisations, via consciousness, shows an open doorway to freedom and the deathless.
Consciousness is a dependently arising condition for science. Consciousness sets a limit on science.
Science is a dependently arising condition for consciousness. Science sets a limit on consciousness.
The methodology of science and consciousness require a different approach. One employs intellectual research about the object and the other explores and applies experience. The difference requires respect from experts in science and experts in consciousness.
This discipline for consciousness distinguishes itself from the scientific discipline of research, knowledge and application.
The scientist will need to apply herself or himself with the same rigor and dedication, and as long, to experience the presentations of consciousness, the depths of consciousness and the transformative/awakening that occurs. It is a shift from objectification to consciousness to direct experience of dependent arising.
Awakening ends the mystery of consciousness.