Saturday, December 26, 2009

CONVERSATIONS WITH A LIVING GAUDAPADA

[FIRST A WELCOME: Trey, Neil and Juhana and a FaceBook user are the new members to our Blog. A VERY HAPPY WELCOME TO ALL OF THEM. Trey has been kind to introduce the Blog at the FaceBook; I am grateful to him for this -- ramesam.]


CONVERSATIONS WITH A LIVING GAUDAPADA:

As we end the year 2009 to snuggle cozily into the welcoming arms of 2010, thoughts on the Past, Present and Future do hover in our minds. We accumulate our experiences as memory. Our brains decipher certain inviolable patterns in those experiences. The patterns and their recurrence go to reinforce and solidify our belief in the reality of our experience.

Ancient Indian scriptures talk of three levels of ‘reality’ – (i) Absolute; (ii) Transactional and (iii) Dream. The Absolute Reality is the ultimate, unchanging Truth. Transactional reality is what we live with in our daily life. The ephemeral reality is the one we experience in a dream world.

Vedanta shouts from roof-tops: The dream and transactional experiences are equally FALSE and UNREAL. There is nothing like a past and future of things happening. Everything just happens in the NOW. There is NO thing other than Nowness, the Aliveness, the very Beingness. It is Alone. No second one is there. And that is Advaita.

That is the view from the Absolute Reality that Gaudapada gives us.

Venerable Gaudapada was a Great Sage of the 8th Century. He expounded the above philosophy of Ajativada (nothing is ever born), the true gist of Vedanta, in his classic Karika (commentary in verses) on Mandukya Upanishad. The Second Chapter of the Karika discusses the illusory nature of the world that we experience and the non-difference of dream and awake states of man. The Mandukya Upanishad and Karika hold these two states to be mere 'arisings' in the deep sleep state.

Quoting Gaudapada Karika:

A question arises then: who cognizes the illusory objects of dream and wakeful states, if the objects cognized in both the states are unreal? (Karika II – 11).

The 12th verse of the Chapter II goes to answer (Swami Nikhilananda’s translation, Advaita Ashrama, 1995):

“Atman, the self-luminous, through the power of his own Maya, imagines in himself by himself (all the objects that the subject experiences within or without). He alone is the cognizer of the objects (so created). That is the decision of the Vedanta.”

Gaudapada further explains that internally conceived things like thoughts, ideas etc. are no different from objects seen ‘out there’. He says in the 14th verse:

"Those that are cognized within only as long as the thought of them lasts, as well as those that are perceived by the senses and that conform to two points of time, are all mere imaginations. There is no other ground for differentiating the one from the other."

Swami Nikhilananda amplifying on the word “imaginations” writes as follows:

“That a thing exists independently of the perceiving mind is also an idea. …. Past, present and future are nothing but ideas present in the mind at the moment.”

Peter Dziuban provides us, like Gaudapada, the worldview from the stance of and as Absolute Reality. His teachings echo Gaudapada’s Ajativada.

We are fortunate that he explains with great clarity, irrefutable logic and inimitable expression our questions at his Blog: Reality Check.

I posed him the following question:

Though we seem to understand intellectually the non-dualism, how is it that a sense of ‘lack’ continues to haunt us?

I want to get to the root of this 'lack' - a lack not for any objective 'thing' but that gut feeling of "not satisficing".

One way is to see the 'lack' to be "ALL", the very Being. However, this looks to be a mere explanation.


Peter’s response is available at his Post of 23rd Dec 2009.

What Peter said, in brief (as I understood in my words) was:

1. Notice that "something" has cognised that sense of 'lack'.

2. Be that very "Cogniser" rather than claiming ownership for that sense of 'lack'.

3. The sense or gut feeling of 'lack' is time dependent (hence transitory) and therefore, sure to 'dissolve'.

4. The sense of 'lack' has its origin because of an 'assumed add-on' i.e. some unspelt 'expectations' of a person in 'me' looking for 'object-oriented experience'.

Later Peter answered in three Posts of 25th Dec 2009, the following question of mine:

I do not find anywhere, either in the ancient Indian lore or in the modern non-dualism teachings, anybody explaining the emergence of the wakeful state with all the phenomenal 'world' and its goings on.

Words like 'Maya', 'Leela' (play), 'Freedom', [Vibhuti, Karma, Cyclicity] etc. are used to explain how from that Immutable Oneness the first 'I-thought' is engendered to manifest later as the variegated manifold. But these are admittedly just explanatory fictions. Such explanations take all the mathematical precision and scientific regularity in the phenomenal 'world' as 'given'. They accept the inevitability of inexorable natural laws and never provide any clue as to why a law is the way it is.

[.....,] we see a 'signature' of dream state in a dreaming brain (REM sleep). How do you think the brain state would be when one is "abiding" as ALL, One, Consciousness, Brahman.


I would like to draw the attention of the readers of this Blog to the excellent Posts of Peter in reply to my query, a befitting way to end the year 2009.

[The possible state of the brain of a “realized” man (Jivanmukta) is obviously something he cannot comment. It would fall under Neuroscience. However, his surmise is that there would be no thinking activity, and little or no experience of sensations — so he speculates that those apparent related areas of brain activity would be greatly reduced or inactive. Meanwhile, in such states the body usually still appears to breathe, pump blood, etc. so it would seem that whatever brain activity is involved in these apparent functions would continue.

This topic can be a good study for Barrow Neurological Institute, Arizona, U.S.A. One of their Directors attended the Oct 2009 'Science and Non-dualism Conference' in San Rafael, California.

As no thinking can happen without stored information, it will also be interesting to see how memory will behave in a Jivanmukta. Our ancient scriptures say that vasana-s (past stored impressions) will become ineffective like burnt out seeds. Memory is still an active on going research topic in Neuroscience.

Information we have from Neuroscince on retention, loss or erasure of memory, abnormal memory of a savant brain and related issues will form the subject of a future Blog Post.]

WITH BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR

Saturday, December 12, 2009

RE-ENGINEERING YOUR 'self'

HEARTY WELCOME:
[I am happy to welcome Sivavasanta, Katie and Dr. Kirk Crist to our Blog. It is particualry noteworthy that Katie Davis chose to join us. She herself is a Non-Dualism teacher who spontaneously realized the Oneness of Brahman in 1986.  We look forward to their active participations/contributions.]


BODY ILLUSION, BRAIN PLASTICITY, MEDITATION AND LIBERATION:

"Re-engineering your 'self'" was the title of a Talk I gave a year ago. I sent a copy of about 40 supporting ppt slides to Jerry Katz at that time. He was quite appreciative of the material. I thank him very much for the encouragement.

The principal argument of my presentation was as follows:

Our usual sense of 'self' is quite fragile and illusory. Neuroscience as yet does not know how this sense of self is generated. Certain gateway nodes of neuronal networks in our brain processing autobiographical information can be understood to be the correlates of 'self'. But no specific part of the brain contains a spot for 'self'. It was proposed by me that if a particular gateway node represents the 'self' node, there could be another gateway node which represents the feel of Oneness, obliterating all perceived boundaries between 'me' and 'the other'. We could call it the "Universal Self" node.

For example, Dr. Jill B. Taylor, a neuroscientist graphically described her experience of losing the sense of individuating 'self' when the left hemisphere of her brain was non-functional (due to an hemorrhage) in 1996. She felt a universal Oneness when the right hemisphere of the brain alone was functioning.

Recent developments in Neuroscience have shown that our brain is not like a fixed pre-programmed printed circuit board. The neural connections are not rigid but highly labile. This is called by neuroscientists as the "plasticity of brain." In view of this, it is suggested that we can retrain our brain to process the perceptions to go through the Universal Self node instead of the usual self node gateway. Dr. Greg Goode would describe it as "Standing as Awareness."

Direct Path Advaitins tell us clearly that the 'collapse of the sense of separate self' is enlightenment. Many of them describe it as re-orientating, or a shift in, the way we perceive (i.e. without a 'me' as perceiver). This would obviously involve (i) a clear understanding of the percepts (= what is perceived) , (ii) be thoroughly convinced that the percepts to be no more than mere thoughts, sensations and perceptions in our brain (and not to be any solid objects to be 'existing' out there) and (iii) finally retraining the brain through practice in this worldview. Therefore, the re-engineering involved is to manage a shift from the 'self' gateway node to the "Universal Self" node.

Even traditional Vedanta advocates Shravana (Gaining Knowledge), Manana (Reflection on what is learnt) and Nidhidhyasana (constant contemplation and remembering), corresponding to the three steps spelt out in the above para.

Bhagavad-Gita too lays considerable emphasis on Practice (abhyaasa) and giving up a claim of  'ownership (of possessions) and doership (agency for actions)' - i.e. vairaagya  (Chapter VI Sloka 35; VIII-8; XII-9).

Practice evidently takes advantage of the plasticity of the brain.

Neuroscientific Findings:

We all experience our body to be part of ourselves. It is a fundamental aspect of self-awareness. But this sense of self can be easily altered by manipulating our perceptions. It is illustrated by the "Rubber Hand Illusion." In this experiment we feel that 'a rubber hand is our own, when our corresponding real hand is hidden, and both the rubber hand and the real hand are touched synchronously for a few seconds by a friend. Not only that, our brain starts disowning our own real hand. The body temperature in the real hand drops down! Can you believe it!!

Such perceptual phenomenon does not happen just for a limb. It can happen to your entire body as proved by Swedish scientists a year ago.

See the video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=rawY2VzN4-c

You feel the body of another person or of a mannequin standing in front of you as your body. Sort of "Parakaaya pravesha" (entering some other's body)!

Videos of the studies along with the virtual reality studies being carried out by Prof. Mel Slater are available at:

http://www.bodyinmind.com.au/mel-slater-on-inducing-illusory-ownership-of-a-virtual-body/

Meditation:

Various forms of meditation have been found to be quite efficient tools in bringing about a change in the texture and structure of the brain. Dr. P. B. Reiner reports on the work at Stanford and MIT in November 2009 as follows:

"Regular deep meditation changes the brain in positive ways. This type of meditation seems to be associated with gamma waves, the electromagnetic rhythm of neurons firing very rapidly in harmony.

Neuroscientists have pinpointed the cells responsible for producing these gamma rhythms and demonstrated a technology that can induce the brain-wave pattern in mice... In the future it might be possible to use this technology to reproduce some of the beneficial effects of meditation."

The Stanford and MIT scientists further say: "...it is worth remembering that both deep-brain stimulation, whereby implanted electrodes act as a kind of pacemaker in the brain, and transcranial magnetic stimulation, in which powerful magnetic fields are transmitted through the skull to affect brain activity, are rapidly moving from the lab to the clinic. Both these techniques represent relatively crude forms of brain stimulation."

Carnegie Mellon University scientists Timothy Keller and Marcel Just have uncovered in December 2009 the first evidence that intensive instruction to improve reading skills in young children causes the brain to physically rewire itself.

Dr. E. Phelps and her colleagues reported in Dec 2009 Nature, "A drug free, non-invasive method for semi-permanently blocking the return of fear memories in humans" by training their brains. These works are still in development stage. Yet their research is significant towards erasure of fear memories.

A video of their work can be seen at:

http://www.nature.com/nature/videoarchive/memory/

In this context, we may note that Bhagavad-Gita says that surmounting fears is an important step towards ‘liberation’.

(This Blog is actually Posted on 12 Dec 2009).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CONSCIOUSNESS IN COMA

"I Screamed, But There Was Nothing to Hear"

[FIRST A WELCOME:
I am happy to welcome to our Blog Mohan Suswaram and another member who gave only a link. I eagerly look forward to your inputs.]

"I Screamed, But There Was Nothing to Hear"

Many times discussants on Advaita raise the question about Consciousness in a Coma patient.

It is true, we do not have a clearcut definition of coma to be able to discuss the state of consciousness under comatose condition. In our Post dated 27th Sept 2009, how a patient in a vegetative state could 'learn' was talked about.

Now we have the shocking report of a patient who was in coma for 23 years but had been conscious all the time!!

What a horrific misery he must have gone through. Unimaginable and heart wrenching even to think!

"For 23 years Rom Houben was ­imprisoned in his own body. He saw his doctors and nurses as they visited him during their daily rounds; he listened to the conversations of his carers; he heard his mother deliver the news to him that his father had died. But he could do nothing. He was unable to communicate with his doctors or family. He could not move his head or weep, he could only listen.........

"I screamed, but there was nothing to hear", he said, via his keyboard.

The Belgian former engineering student said he coped with being effectively trapped in his own body by meditating. ... Sometimes, he said, 'I was only my consciousness and nothing else'.......... 'Powerlessness. Utter powerlessness. At first I was angry, then I learned to live with it,' he tapped out on to the screen during an interview with the Belgian network last night, AP reported.."

The following is from The Guardian:

"In 1988 Jan Grzebski, a Polish railway worker, fell in front of a train and was diagnosed as being in a coma. In 2007, he "woke up" to learn the iron curtain had fallen and he had gained 11 grandchildren. Doctors discovered he had been conscious throughout.

Terry Wallis of Arkansas fell into a coma after a road accident in 1984. When he woke up 19 years later, his wife had gone off with another man, had three children and was embroiled in a legal battle over who was deemed his legal guardian. His mother was with him the day he woke up and a nurse asked: "Terry, who is that?" He opened his eyes and replied, "Mom".

In 1996 Patricia White Bull from Albuquerque, New Mexico, woke after 16 years in a persistent vegetative state, scaring the life out of a nurse who was tucking in her bedding by shouting, "Don't do that!". She had fallen unconscious during the birth of her fourth child.

Twenty years ago, Carrie Coons, an 86-year-old from New York, regained consciousness after a year in a coma. Only days before, a judge had granted her family's request for the removal of her feeding tube.

Mark Newton from Hertfordshire fell into a coma in 1996 after surfacing too quickly while diving. Doctors considered him brain dead and recommended turning off his life support. His mother resisted and he woke up after six months. He had been aware of what was happening around him, but could not communicate."

From Associated Press:

"A coma is a state of unconsciousness in which the eyes are closed and the patient cannot be roused. A vegetative state is a condition in which the eyes are open and can move, and the patient has periods of sleep and periods of wakefulness, but remains unconscious and cannot reason or respond.

"It makes you think. There is still a lot of work to be done" to better diagnose such disorders, said Caroline Schnakers of the Coma Science Group."

Consious Under Anesthesia:

Patients under anesthesia too may oftener be conscious, said Dr. Wong, a surgeon a couple of years ago. The patient cannot express because his/her muscles are paralysed/too relaxed and do not move under his/her command though he/she may be conscious.

Mr. Rom Houben's condition came to light through brain scanning. His case has only just been revealed in a scientific paper released by the man who 'saved' him, top neurological expert Dr Steven Laureys, says a report in Mail Online.

So we can reasonably say 'consciousness' exists even under comatose condition. Modern scanning techniques can tell us many things about the brain as the case of Mr. Houben proves. Can the scans help us understand the brain of a Jivanmukta?

[Neuronal Correlates:

Please see my Posts on Neuronal Correlates of a Jivanmukta. My argument, in short is as follows:

We perceive a world.

But neuroscience clearly shows through studies on illusions/magic etc. that we hardly perceive what really exists 'out there.'

In other words, there is a disconnect between the ‘reality out there’ and our perception. This means that the sensory apparatus (senses and the respective cortical neurons) are inadequate to show what "exactly" is 'out there.'

2. Our brain makes a “map” of the perceptions received from the senses and interpretation made by the sensory cortex. We are actually aware of that map formed in our head. We don't have a clue what "exactly" is out there.

This “map” in our head is obviously made up of ‘thoughts’ (generated by neuronal electrical pulses as waves), or thought-stuff - whether it is beautiful girl or an ugly duck or a river or a table, these are all represented as thoughts in brain. So the constituent of all so called perceived ‘objects’ is thought-stuff.

3. The thought itself is cognized by us because we have "consciousness." Or as philosophers put it, consciousness illuminates (shows up) the thoughts.

4. A ‘me’-thought acts as the ‘seer’ of the map in our head. This is the ego providing continuity in time, coherence to experience and ownership to knowledge. It gets generated based on autobiographical information.

5. Neuroscience is as yet unable to understand how "Consciousness" is engendered in us.

6. Non-dualists find a shift in their perception. Instead of seeing the 'map' of the world in their brain with ego at the center, they identify themselves with the illuminating Consciousness. And this shift happens within and to an individual.

7. Can this shift then not be a play or happenstance in the brain itself of a Non-dualist ?

8. I wish we could get some brain scans of a Jivanmukta to see if the autobiographical memory based I-thought (i.e. 'self') collapses in him/her to give place to a "Universal Self."]

Comments are welcome.

***
Comment Added on : 19 May 2011:  Vegetative and minimally conscious states:
"A person in a vegetative state will open their eyes spontaneously and make reflexive movements, but has no cognitive function and likely does not feel pain. Recovery is possible, but the chances of improvement are greatly diminished after a year. Someone in a minimally conscious state, by contrast, has intentional, non-reflexive but inconsistent responses to stimuli. They might speak a few words or track their image in a mirror, and they feel pain. In minimally conscious and healthy people the frontal cortex would then send a message back to the temporal cortex. The reason for this is uncertain; it may be to let the temporal cortex know what to expect in the future. But for people in a vegetative state, the communication was one-way: signals passed from the temporal to frontal area, but not back."
http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110512/full/news.2011.287.html?WT.ec_id=NEWS-201\
10517


Comment Added on Sept 1, 2011: REM Sleep could prompt life-saving Decision:
The minimally conscious state, persistent vegetative state and coma are all disorders of consciousness caused by severe brain damage. Minimally conscious individuals tend to have better outcomes than vegetative individuals, but distinguishing between them is difficult and misdiagnosis is common. Getting it wrong can sometimes mean that a person who might otherwise recover has their life-support machine switched off.
The brain waves associated with sleep and dreaming could be helpful for distinguishing between people in a persistent vegetative state and those who are minimally conscious – a distinction that could seal the fate of the individual.


Comment Added on Dec 01, 2011: The mystery of anaesthesia:
"For years we had been looking at vegetative and coma patients whose brains were
responding to speech and getting terribly seduced by these images, thinking that
they were conscious," says Owen. "This told us that they are not conscious."

Similar findings are coming in from studies of people in a coma or persistent
vegetative state (PVS), who may open their eyes in a sleep-wake cycle, although
remain unresponsive. Laureys, for example, has seen a similar breakdown in
communication between different cortical areas in people in a coma. "Anaesthesia
is a pharmacologically induced coma," he says. "That same breakdown in global
neuronal workspace is occurring."

Comment Added on Dec 05, 2011:  Ambien Revives the Unconscious:
"In 1999, Louis Viljoen was hit by a truck and declared vegetative, kept alive by machines for three years before his doctor prescribed him zolpidem thinking it might stop him from clawing his mattress in the middle of the night. Twenty minutes after receiving his first dose, he woke up and started talking to his mother. He floated in and out of consciousness over the next several days, waking up for increasingly long periods after receiving his zolpidem until he stayed awake without the drug."
http://the-scientist.com/2011/12/05/sleep-aid-revives-unconscious/

Added on Apr 06, 2012: As you awaken from anesthesia:
"We expected to see the outer bits of brain, the cerebral cortex (often thought to be the seat of higher human consciousness), would turn back on when consciousness was restored following anesthesia. Surprisingly, that is not what the images showed us. In fact, the central core structures of the more primitive brain structures including the thalamus and parts of the limbic system appeared to become functional first, suggesting that a foundational primitive conscious state must be restored before higher order conscious activity can occur."
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-04-primitive-consciousness-emerges-awaken-anesthesia.html

Added on 16 Jun 2012:  Communicating with people in a vegetative state:
"Despite highly controversial debate of consciousness, Owen believes that up to20 percent of people in a vegetative state in the United States are capable of communicating. "What we're seeing here is a population of totally locked-in patients. Over the past decade, he has used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as a sort of interrogation tool—mapping the brain activity of comatose people as he asks them a series of questions. He has found that in a subset of patients thought to be far gone, the brain activity in response to questioning was comparable to what's observed in healthy people."
http://the-scientist.com/2012/06/14/fmri-mind-reader/
(See also: Brain Scans of Comatose Patients 
 http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-brain-scans-comatose-patients-reveal-conscious-state)

Added on 14 Nov 2012:  An “Unconscious” Man Talks:
"Scott Routley, a 39-year-old Canadian patient that doctors had considered vegetative and incapable of communicating following a car crash 12 years ago, was able to tell doctors that he’s not in pain via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of his brain. Scott has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind."
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/33264/title/An--Unconscious--Man-Talks/

Added on 27 Nov 2012:  Brain in a Coma:
"Compared with healthy patients in the study, high-traffic hubs of brain activity are dark in coma patients while more quiet regions spring to life. Scientists still don't understand exactly how human consciousness works, but the twilight state of a coma could reveal some insight. Past research revealed that a person in a coma is closer to being anesthetized than being asleep. Other studies have found that vegetative and minimally conscious patients have very different brain activity. But for the most part, it was hard to find obvious differences in brain functioning between healthy patients and those who have lost consciousness. In healthy patients, about 40 regions lit up in concert with many other parts of the brain. These high-traffic hubs, like busy airports, apparently process much of the electrical firing in the brain. But in the coma patients, many of these hubs were darkened, and other, normally peripheral regions took their place. Intriguingly, coma patients had fewer hubs in a region called the precuneus, which is known to play a role in consciousness and memory."
http://www.livescience.com/25030-coma-brain-reorganized.html

Added on 05 Dec 2012:  Brain networks restructured in comatose patients:
"By analysing the connectivity at a local level, the authors of the study have observed that some brain regions ("hubs"), which are highly connected in healthy volunteers, are less well connected in comatose patients. Conversely, the less densely connected regions in the network in healthy subjects become "hubs" in comatose patients."
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-12/ind-trr120412.php

Added on 19 Apr 2013:  Measuring Consciousness: 

"Over the past 5 years, researchers have made significant progress in understanding what happens in the brain as consciousness departs and returns. Peering into the anesthetized brain with neuroimaging and electroencephalograph (EEG) recordings, scientists have found evidence to support the "integrated-information theory," which holds that consciousness relies on communication between different brain areas, and fades as that communication breaks down. EEG studies have also revealed distinctive brain wave patterns that signal when consciousness is lost and regained, offering easily identifiable markers for this impairment of communication. Though many questions remain, advances in brain activity monitoring promise to shed light the neural basis of consciousness."
http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/35140/title/Measuring-Con\sciousness/


Also See:  http://beyond-advaita.blogspot.com/2010/09/research-on-non-dualism-self-and.html



Thursday, November 19, 2009

HAPPY END TO DUKHI’S SORROWFUL SAGA

HAPPY END TO DUKHI’S SORROWFUL SAGA
It is one more of the ostentatious gala functions of a jet set Swami who claims to possess the secret key for happiness. The pompous guru mumbled some mantra, loyal assistants furiously clapped and basketfuls of flowers were strewn all around him. Matching with the scene, the background music reached a tumultuous crescendo. The Swami obviously mastered the history, geography, science, linguistics and what-not of living happily. With condescending looks he began the sermon. He exhorted people to play-act thumping hay, pounding rice, grinding pulses and washing clothes. Dukhiram was one of over a hundred thousand who attended, every one trying to steal a slice of happiness from the Swami. Dukhi, however, returned home disappointed.

Dukhi has been on antidepressants for some time. Neurologists shifted him from simple tranquilizers to more impressive sounding 'serotonin re-uptake inhibitors'. Dukhi has a cushy job with handsome emoluments and all the perks that a modern society can offer - air-conditioned house, chauffeur-driven cars and latest gadgets that operate by a remote switch for all and sundry household chores you can name. He doesn’t have to exert nor strain the body for anything. There is no obvious reason for his unhappiness or depression.

The problem is we human beings seem to come with two-in-one personalities. Philosophers interpreted this in the east and west in their own style. Vyasa said that the ‘mind’ was irrepressible for ‘us’ like wind. Buddha compared our mind to an uncontrollable elephant. St. Paul said that the Spirit and the flesh were perpetually opposed to one another. Freud took this dualistic approach a step further. He designed a psychoanalytical system to strengthen ‘us’ (conscious self) to take control of the id (basic instincts). Psychologist Dr. Haidt compared ‘us’ to a meek rider sitting on a mighty elephant called mind.

Strictly speaking, we do not come with two (as many suppose) or three (as Freud hypothesized) or four (as ancient Indian scriptures said) parts of mind. It is all one mind, one brain and one purpose. Mind is simply what the brain does and its purpose is to protect the organism (you). The brain has been developing, learning its tricks of trade through evolution over several hundreds of millions of years. Like a renovated house with more rooms added upstairs utilizing same old type of building material, brain too has grown adding new layers over the pre-existing structure using the same old neurons.

The older part of the brain structure, however, perfected the art of living for the moment on a ‘here and now’ basis. It learnt to work on autopilot in preserving and protecting the organism without the need for ‘our’ conscious intervention. After all it comes with time-tested proof of its worth through millions of years of evolution and so we and other animals continue with it. Our brain suited us particularly well in our primitive living conditions in caves or in the wilderness where we never knew to which beast we could have possibly become dinner the next moment.

Group living, tool usage, agriculture, trade and allied skills gradually contributed over time for our greater security. These changes helped the new layers in our brain to develop confidence in ‘planning for future’ instead of ‘living for the moment’. A language module too coevolved in the brain. But the new modules vested with higher cognitive abilities have not yet had enough time in evolution to be perfected in their functioning. Consequently, the lower brain layers still continue to work for our protection. Because of this, an apparent clash of interests takes place between these two modules – the conscious ‘us’ with our plans, social niceties and etiquettes and the old proven devil working on autopilot. We find the base animalistic pulls of the old brain antagonistic and some times embarrassing in today’s secure environment where we do not have to struggle as much for food or mate. However, as Noble laureate Prof. Kandel said almost ninety percent of our functions are even now taken care of by the old brain without our conscious thinking or intervention.

When the body works hard for its needs – whether obtaining food (for sustenance) or sex (for procreation), the old brain rewards with a squirt of dopamine spray, a neurotransmitter. The spray produces a ‘feeling of happiness’. It is this ‘feel good’ mechanism that primes the organism to act. When the body gets all its requirements fulfilled without any exertion, this spray of dopamine doesn’t kick in. Consequently, the body feels unrewarded, bored and therefore unhappy. Continuous unhappiness depletes another neurotransmitter called serotonin and we begin to feel depressed. To avoid this trap it is necessary to make the body work for its needs and let it feel ‘Ha, I-earned-my-reward!’

It so happened that Dukhiram’s office arranged a retreat for their staff in a remote jungle far away from phones, conveyances or packed fast foods. No electric power, nor time-pieces. Participants had to depend on the sun for time, gather firewood, cook their meal and spend the day in hard labor while keeping the ‘planning, language etc. modules’ of the brain busily occupied with a constant vigil on issues of safety. At the end of the day, the body had earned its ‘reward.’ It slept soundly and was fully refreshed to face the challenges next morning. Dukhiram was so happy during the fifteen days of the camp-life that he resolved to give up a whole lot of his modern gadgetry at home. He decided to let his body do that little bit of extra work and earn its brownies. He also learnt that Psychologist Dr. Bargh discovered that even subliminally suggestive words like sad, sorrow, old etc. can impact our attitudes without our conscious knowledge. So Dukhi (sad) changed his name too fittingly to Santosh (happy).

Dr. S. Ilardi, author of “The Depression Cure” published in June 2009 says: “As a species, humans were never designed for the pace of modern life. We're designed for a different time — a time when people were physically active, when they were outside in the sun for most of the day, when they had extensive social connections and enjoyed continual face time with their friends and loved ones, when they experienced very little social isolation, when they had a much different diet, when they got considerably more sleep and when they had much less in the way of a relentless, demanding, stress-filled existence.” It was also found by anthropologist, Dr. E. Schieffelin “that the Kaluli people of the New Guinea highlands — whose day-to-day existence of foraging and gardening is akin to that of our remote ancestors — are almost completely free of depressive illness.”

Prof. Y. Shoenfeld believes “that depression has biological roots and may be an immune system response to certain physiological cues.” He finds that certain aromas are effective in relieving depression. Dr. J.S. Gordon says in his book “Unstuck” that depression isn't really a disease, but “a life out of balance.” He advises a change in life-style with adequate exercise, nutritional supplements and self-help strategies. Antidepressants should be the last resort according to him.

*****
Added on 20 July 2011:
"We found that the more these drugs affect serotonin and other neurotransmitters in your brain -- and that's what they're supposed to do -- the greater your risk of relapse once you stop taking them. All these drugs do reduce symptoms, probably to some degree, in the short-term. Our meta-analysis suggests that when you try to go off the drugs, depression will bounce back. This can leave people stuck in a cycle where they need to keep taking anti-depressants to prevent a return of symptoms. Depression may actually be a natural and beneficial -- though painful - state in which the brain is working to cope with stress.. Longitudinal studies cited in the paper show that more than 40 per cent of the population may experience major depression at some point in their lives."
From: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-07-patients-anti-depressants-relapse.html

Added on 09 Aug 2011:
"Making music might help lift more depressed people out of the dumps than common antidepressant medications do, the results of a new study suggest. Music is known to have a strong effect on the human psyche. Learning to play an instrument boosts the brain's auditory ability and even makes it easier to learn foreign languages, studies show. Music can also trigger memories by activating the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the brain just behind the forehead. This region is one of the last areas of the brain to atrophy during Alzheimer's, explaining why many Alzheimer's patients can recall songs from the distant past.
These emotional and communicative effects may explain the mood-boosted effect found in the new study."
From: Click

Added on 07 Jan 2012: Low vitamin D levels linked to depression:
"Low levels of vitamin D already are associated with a cavalcade of health woes from cardiovascular diseases to neurological ailments. Higher vitamin D levels were associated with a significantly decreased risk of current depression, particularly among people with a prior history of depression. Low vitamin D levels were associated with depressive symptoms, particularly those with a history of depression."
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-01-vitamin-d-linked-depression-psychiatrists.html

Added on 2 Mar 2012: Depression could be evolutionary byproduct:
"Infection was the major cause of death in humans' early history, so surviving infection was a key determinant in whether someone was able to pass on his or her genes. The authors propose that evolution and genetics have bound together depressive symptoms and physiological responses that were selected on the basis of reducing mortality from infection. Fever, fatigue/inactivity, social avoidance and anorexia can all be seen as adaptive behaviors in light of the need to contain infection."
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-03-depression-evolutionary-byproduct-immune.html

Added on 26 Apr 2012: A few days steeped in nature boosts creativity, insight and problem solving:
"We’ve got information coming at us from social media, electronics and cell phones. We constantly shift attention from one source to another, getting all of this information that simulates alarms, warnings and emergencies. Those threats are bad for us. They sap our resources to do the fun thinking and cognition humans are capable of. Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses. Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.There’s growing advantage over time to being in nature."
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-04-wild-boosts-creativity-insight-problem.html

Added on 15 May 2012:
A walk in the park gives mental boost to people with depression:
"Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature, compared to a walk in a busy urban environment."
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-05-mental-boost-people-depression.html

Added on 16 Jun 2012:
Socialising helps to alleviate symptoms of depression:
""Simply going out for a coffee or chatting to a friend can reduce the symptoms of depression experienced by people with mental health problems. Increased social interaction helps sufferers to rebuild their self-esteem which in turn enables them to maintain and develop positive relationships and friendships."
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-06-socialising-alleviate-symptoms-depression.\htm

Added on 01 Jul 2012:
Why Stress Makes You Miserable:
"Stress really does mess with your mind. A new study has found that chronic stress can create many of the brain changes associated with mood disorders by blocking a gene called neuritin—and that boosting the gene's activity can protect the brain from those disorders."
http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/06/why-stress-makes-you-miserable.html?ref=em

Added on 31 Aug 2012:
Depression Linked with Hyperconnected Brain Areas:
"Scientists found that the limbic and cortical areas, which together produce and process our emotions, sent a barrage of neural messages back and forth to one another—much more than in the brains of healthy patients. These signals can amplify depressed people's negative thoughts and act like white noise, drowning out the other neural messages telling them to move on.”
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-depression-connection&WT.mc\_id=SA_CAT_MB_20120829

Added on 06 Oct 2012: 
The Evolutionary Advantage of Depression:
"Increasingly, researchers are identifying how genes contribute to depression. As we learn more about the human genome, scientists are finding evidence that while depression seems incredibly maladaptive, it was actually adaptive (helpful) to our ancestors. Some of the alleles (forms of genes) that increase one's risk for depression also enhance immune responses to infections. Depressive symptoms are inextricably intertwined with -- and generated by -- physiological responses to infection that, on average, have been selected as a result of reducing infectious mortality across mammalian evolution. While immune-modulating therapies may be effective in treating some cases of depression, these therapies may not be effective against all types of depression."
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/10/the-evolutionary-advantage-of-depression/263124/

Added on 06 Nov 2012:
ANGST - Origins of Anxiety and Depression by Jeffrey P. Kahn, OUP, 2012, pp: 312
"Basically, we are built to be sheep, but for some reason prefer to be human. The downside of this is that our sheepish instincts complain in the form of Anxiety and Depressive Angst. ANGST provides a reasoned and entertaining new framework for understanding our knowledge of psychiatric neuroscience, clinical research, diagnosis and treatment. Ranging from Darwin and Freud to the most cutting-edge medical and scientific findings—drawing from ancient writings, modern humor and popular lyrics, and with many amusing cartoons— ANGST offers us an exciting new slant on some of the most pervasive mental health issues of our time."
Sourced from: http://www.amazon.com/Angst-Depression-Jeffrey-P-Kahn/dp/0199796440


Added on 27 Nov 2012:  Lack of nutrients and Depression:
"A low intake of folate and vitamin B12 increases the risk of melancholic depressive symptoms, according to a study among nearly 3,000 middle-aged and elderly Finnish subjects. On the other hand, non-melancholic depressive symptoms are associated with an increased risk for the metabolic syndrome. Based on these new observations, melancholic and non-melancholic depression may be separate depressive subtypes with different etiologies in terms of proinflammation and diet. Melancholic depression involves typical depressive symptoms, such as a depressed mood. Non-melancholic depression is characterized by other types of symptoms, such as low self-esteem and feelings of worry and anxiety."
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-11-lack-nutrients-metabolic-syndrome-linked.html


Added on 07 Dec 2012:  Pathway leading to depression:
"Scientists have identified the key molecular pathway leading to depression, revealing potential new targets for drug discovery. The study reveals that the 'Hedgehog pathway' regulates how stress hormones, usually elevated during depression, reduce the number of brain cells. The severity of symptoms can range from feelings of sadness and hopelessness to, in the most severe cases, self-harm or suicide. Recent studies have demonstrated that depression is associated with a reduction in a brain process called 'neurogenesis'- the ability of the brain to produce new brain cells. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, are generally elevated in stress and depression. The researchers discovered that a specific signalling mechanism in the cell, the 'Hedgehog pathway', is responsible for damaging the production of new brain cells."

Added on 08 Dec 2012:  Drug fights hard-to-treat depression:
"A first-of-its-kind antidepressant drug discovered by a Northwestern University professor and now tested on adults who have failed other antidepressant therapies has been shown to alleviate symptoms within hours, have good safety and produce positive effects that last for about seven days from a single dose."

Added on 08 Dec 2012:  CBT proves effective at reducing depression:
"Studies done on 469 adults (aged 18 years) who had not responded to at least 6 weeks of treatment with an antidepressant from 73 general practices across the UK. Participants were randomised to either continue with usual care provided by their general practitioner, which included continuing on antidepressant medication (235 patients), or to receive CBT in addition to usual care (234 patients) and were followed up for 12 months. After 6 months, 46% of participants who received CBT in addition to usual care had improved (reporting at least a 50% reduction in depressive symptoms) compared to 22% of those who continued with treatment as usual."

Added on 13 Feb 2013: Most Common and Powerful Triggers of Depression: 
"Certain painful experiences are more likely to precede depressive episodes than others. And some forms of loss can trigger depression more quickly than previously realized. For people who are especially vulnerable to depression, even mild stress or a minor loss can spark a depressive episode relatively quickly."

Added on 23 Feb 2013: Antidepressants alone are not enough:
"The latest studies have shown that antidepressants restore the capacity of certain areas of the brain to repair abnormal neural pathways. Recovery requires redirection of these pathways through practice, rehabilitation or therapy. Antidepressants reopen a window of brain plasticity, which allows the formation and adaptation of brain connections through the patient's own activities and observations, similarly to a young child whose brain and experiences about the world develop in response to environmental stimuli.When cerebral plasticity is reopened, problems caused by false connections in the brain can be addressed."

Added on 17May 2013: Body's clock (circadian rhythms) linked to depression:

 "The disruption of sleep and other bodily rhythms that often accompanies clinical depression may leave a mark on the brain. A study of gene activity in the brains of people who suffered from depression reveals that their daily clocks were probably out of whack. In mammals, daily rhythms such as sleep,hormone cycles and eating patterns are guided by a master clock in the brain whose rhythms are maintained in part by genes and patterns of light and darkness. The master clock can get out of sync with clocks elsewhere in the brain and body. This discord, for example, produces the out-of-sorts feeling of jet lag. People with depression also often have off-kilter body rhythms. But the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind these disrupted cycles have been hard to pin down."http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/350401/description/Bodys_clock_linked\_to_depression_


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

HOW MANY UNIVERSES MAKE A MULTIVERSE? – THE STORY OF BHETALA

First A WELCOME:

A Warm Welcome to The EMPEROR, Irene Harvey and Mark. We thank you for joining the Blog and look forward to your valuable contributions.


ONE UNIVERSE FOR EACH CREATURE!

We come across several instances in Yogavaasishta where the concept of multiverse (many universes) is exemplified. One such story is that of the enigmatic questions of Bhetala in Sarga 70, Book-I of Chapter: Nirvana.

Bhetala, the enlightened poltergeist, posed six questions to the King who was about to become Bhetala’s dinner with the promise that the King could save himself if he (the King) answered the questions correctly.

The first question was: What is that beginingless Star in whose illumination all the Universes appear as mere specks of dust?

The King replies poetically comparing the universe we live in to a fruit.

King: "Bhetala!

Think of the universe that we are all living in to be a humongous fruit.

There is a bough with thousands of those fruits.
There is a tree with thousands of such boughs.
There is a wood with thousands of such trees.
There is a mountain with thousands of such woods.
There is an island with thousands of such mountains.
There is a huge globe (mahi peetha) with thousands of such islands.
There is a huge star system with thousands of such globes.
There is a heavenly egg with thousands of such star systems.
There is a sea with thousands of such heavenly eggs.
There is an ocean with thousands of such seas.
Thousands of such oceans will be the waters in the stomach of a man.
That man’s name is Vishnu.

Another great man wears a necklace of a hundred thousand of Vishnus.
His name is Rudra.

Millions of Rudras shine in the form of hair-follicles on the body of a very great man. His name is Aditya (= one who has been there right from the beginning; sun).
He is none other than the Supreme Consciousness.

He illuminates all the universes of my gargantuan conception.
He is the Brahman with attributes.
He has also an absolute form that is much more fundamental.
The qualities of ‘doership’ and ‘experiencership’ which seem to exist in the Brahman with attributes do not at all affect the Absolute Brahman.

The star you are referring to is the Brahman with attributes."

Thus the King shows that Bhetala’s knowledge was as yet incomplete because Bhetala was still conceptualizing in terms of Brahman with attributes and not the attributeless (Nirguna) Brahman who is beyond. As long as one conceives of Brahman with attributes, worlds appear. Worlds cease and there is no "doer" or "experiencer" in attributeless Absolute Brahman.

Dr. Einstein had always been uncomfortable with Quantum Theory which states that multiple states exist until a measurement collapses the system to give raise to a single observed event. Dr. Schrödinger who helped in the development of quantum mechanics was himself puzzled with the possibility of multiple states. He designed the well known thought experiment: The Schrodinger's Cat. As per Quantum theory, the cat would both be living and dead at the same time until one actually lifts the lid and observes it either to be dead or alive in the cage. Dr. Niels Bohr explained it saying that our 'consciousness' influences the decision whether the cat is dead or alive. Thus we would become a partner in the system instead of a distant observer.

Hugh Everett, a young physicist at that time tried to resolve this problem of uncertainty in Quantum theory by proposing a theory of multiple worlds. According to him the world goes on splitting into many worlds at every moment and we exist in one of those daughter worlds. That is to say, as Dr. Tegmark expalined, "You are in Universe A as you read this sentence. Now you are already in Universe B as you read this sentence." Or saying it differently, you could be a little baby in some other universe at the time you are reading this Blog in this universe and 500 years old or dead in a different universe! That means all possibilities co-exist at the same time! This theory did not get much support at that time.

However, developments in String Theory showed the mathematical possibility of the existence of multiple universes (multi-verse instead of uni-verse). The calculations indicated that there could be 10 raised to the power of 500 ( i.e. one followed by 500 zeroes) universes in existence with different physical laws. Dr. Susskind called it a "lnadscpae" of universes. We live in one such universe where the conditions are favorable to our type of life.

This week "Cosmologists Andrei Linde and Vitaly Vanchurin at Stanford University in California raised the provocative notion that the [number of universes] may depend on the human brain.

If observers are an integral part of the cosmic formula, then it may not matter how many universes exist - just how many a single observer can tell apart. If the observer is a person, that depends on how many bits of information the brain can process. "Based on the number of synapses in a typical brain, a human observer can register 10 to the power of 16," says Linde. That means humans can differentiate 10 to the power of 10 raised to the power 16 (10^10^16) universes."

While discussing the neural circuits involved in the formation of memories in flies, Dr. Gero Miesenböck of the University of Oxford said that "even simple organisms may turn out to have a ‘surprisingly rich mental life.’"

Recently Non-Dualist Rupert Spira observed: "In fact each person's thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions are entirely private and personal, even when we are sitting next to one another conversing in a room." He further clarified: "[T]here is no evidence of a world outside perception and perceptions themselves are not ‘shared.’ They cannot perceive one another. In other words there is not one world shared by six billion people but rather there are six billion simultaneous ‘worlds’ shared by one Consciousness. It is the mind that says six billion, whereas Consciousness sees only One." [emphasis by me.]

Thus each universe may just be an imagination of that creature as Yogavaasishta holds! And every creature lives in its iamginary world!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

YOU CREATE YOUR OWN WORLD!

Recent Advances in Understanding the Working of Brain – Two TED Videos of about 15 mins

Neuroscience already debunked the existence of a 'self' (the small separate "me" we think we have inside us). It also established that there is a 'disconnect' between 'reality' out there and our 'perception.'

Your brain shows an interpretation of what is perceived depending on what it learnt in its past, the stored impressions. The brain even fills gaps in the information to show you what you need to know. Even the colors you see are not necessarily what exactly are out there. We know only what our brain ‘maps’ as what is out there rather than what exactly IS there!

Watch this entertaining and informative TED talk of Beau Lotto at:

http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_optical_illusions_show_how_we_see.html

Scientists are now able to tease out how the 100 billion neurons and their interconnections in the brain create a world for you. Dr. Henry Markram "uses complex models to precisely simulate the human brain top layers in 3D..... it has been edging up on some deep, contentious philosophical questions about the mind ."

You can have a peek at his work in the TED video at:

http://www.ted.com/talks/henry_markram_supercomputing_the_brain_s_secrets.html

Advaita philosophy tells in unequivocal terms that the perceived world is an illusion. The world we create is nothing more than a thought. It is merely a "castle in the air." We build the castle because of the force of our past impressions – the Vedantic term is vasanas. We trap ourselves in that bubble of a castle, our own creation. And being caught up in the imaginary world of ours is described as "bondage." You cannot even destroy this world because you cannot physically hammer to pieces a purely imaginary construction which is not really there. "Freedom" or "Moksha" is to jump out of it and just “Be.”

Will modern neuroscience take us nearer to the Truth that advaita has been telling us for millennia of years?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

“SEEING IS BELIEVING.” IS IT REALLY SO?

[First a Welcome:
It is a pleasure to Welcome Satya and Girish Duvvuri to the Blog. We look forward to the inputs and inquisitive questions from these young minds -- ramesam.]

Is What We Perceive Out There Solid And Substantial ?

If we look at the tree in the lawn or hear the screech of a car tyre on the road, we think there is a solid object out there.

The ancient Indian Sages doubted it. They said that what we see as the world is an illusion. It is like seeing water in a mirage or still worse it is like mistaking a rope to be a ‘snake.’ In fact there is or was never a snake in that place. The appearance of a snake was merely an assumption in twilight. It has always been a rope only.

Latest Neuroscientific research too tells us that we do not "see" really what is out there. Dr. S. L. Macnik and Dr. S. Martinez-Conde wrote in 2008:

"Whether we experience the feeling of "redness," the appearance of "squareness," or emotions such as love and hate, these are the results of the electrical activity of neurons in our brain."

It is so because our senses and nervous system extracts only certain info. from the natural world.

 We hear fluctuations of air pressure not as waves but as sounds.
 We see electromagnetic waves of different frequency as colors.
 We perceive chemical compounds dissolved in air or water as smells or tastes.

Peter Dziuban in Chapter 13 of his book, "Consciousness Is All" graphically describes how mistaken we are in thinking that the world is made up of solid substance. Take for example that you "see" a red apple.

Quoting from his Book:

"How does the "mind" know anything about that apple — or even claim an apple is there in the first place?

The sensing "mind" experiences a specific visual sensation, which also could be called an appearance, or a mental image of the apple. That particular visual sensation of red color and roundish shape is one way the mind differentiates an apple from other items, such as a book or a hand. Simultaneously with this visual sensation, the mind experiences a particular tactile sensation of the apple; there is a feeling of weight and texture when holding it. Also simultaneously, there may be a sense of sound associated with an apple, such as crunching when a bite is taken. There also is a sensation of taste, and a scent.

Each of the five senses contributes its particular "aspect" of the apple to the mind. As a result of all the sensations it experiences, the mind instantly says to itself, "An apple is here."

Now look again.

A question long pondered by philosophers concerns the nature of the substance of this whole apple experience. Exactly what kind of substance is one dealing with here?

The entire and only basis on which the mind would say an apple is present, is by way of the senses. Absolutely everything the mind would know about the apple is thanks to a visual sensation, a sensation of touch or feel, a sound, a taste and smell. The mind’s entire "evidence" is sensations.

Now ask yourself, what makes up the apple itself — that supposedly is giving off this sensory experience to the mind?

Really stop a moment. Ask yourself what the apple itself consists of, apart from those five sensations.

When you try to think of what an apple is, entirely apart from those five sensations — what happens?

You can’t think of anything.

And why can’t you think of anything besides the sensations?

Because there isn’t anything.

There are only the sensations!

There are not the sensations of an apple and an apple! Sensations are the entire and only "substance." There is no apple that is a standalone physical object "out there," with its own substance, in addition to the sensations experienced by the mind. The "apple" would be entirely mental — consisting one hundred percent of sensations only.

Go ahead. First take away those five sensations. Then see if you still can come up with an "apple." Poof! The "apple" is non-existent. The "apple" as a separate, solid object didn’t go anywhere. It never was out there as a separate object in the first place!

The mind’s experiencing of sensations results in what is called an apple, but never is there a separate item "out there." All there would be is a series of images, feelings, tastes, sounds and smells — experienced entirely by the mind.

There is nothing else there."

We think we see something when there is actually something else or nothing is there. That is the reason why we get fooled by a lot of magic tricks.
Macnik and Martinez-Conde’s article on "Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research" contains many links to magic shows. Their article is at:

http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nrn2473.html

Prof. R. Wiseman, a Neuropsychologist and himself a Magician gives many hilarious examples of how our mind deceives us. His site:

http://www.quirkology.com/
http://www.richardwiseman.com/

These web sites are quite enjoyable to elders as well as youngsters.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

ON FEAR, HYPNOSIS, CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN

[WELCOME:
At the outset, a Hearty Welocme to Mr. Rafael Stoneman, Ms Cathy Ginter and 'Emptynessdancing' to the Blog. I look forward to their thoughtful contributions / comments -- ramesam.]

ATTACHMENT, FEAR AND ANGER:
Bhagavad-Gita Chapter IV, Verse 10 provides an important key for attaining Oneness with the Supreme Consciousness through Self-Knowledge. The Sloka says: "Many have attained Beingness in "Me" (= Consciousness) having freed (themselves) from Attachment, Fear and Anger and staying absorbed in Consciousness."

Attachment (likes and dislikes), Fear and Anger are the innate emotions acquired by an organism in evoution to help in its self-protection and survival. These traits are reflected in the more primitive parts of the brain, chiefly the neural circuits known as the 'limbic system'. If the limbic system is damaged, an animal loses the capability to express these emotions. A person less prone to anger, fear and attachment will obviously be in a much happier state. Recently an interesting case of a patient with damage to these components is reported by Dr. J. Feinstein et al.

Roger lost almost his entire "limbic system" due to viral infection. What happened to Roger's mind when his brain suffered such injury?

"Roger's IQ is above average; his speech and language abilities are excellent; his vision and hearing are normal, although he has no sense of taste or smell. His short term (working) memory, attention, and reasoning abilities are unimpaired. His motor abilities are fine - he is reportedly an excellent bowler. [However,] he is unable to remember anything that has happened since the infection, which was 28 years ago..... Roger's personality and emotional life seems to have been changed by the infection as well, but in a rather fortunate way:

Roger appears remarkably unconcerned by his condition. He hardly ever complains and, in general, shows little worry for anything in life. Both of his parents and his sister fervently claim that Roger is always happy. Moreover, based on his family’s report, Roger is paradoxically happier now than he was before his brain damage. ... His premorbid disposition of being somewhat reserved and introverted has shifted to being outgoing and extroverted... Most conversations with Roger involve animated speech that is replete with prosody, gesture, and, often times, laughing. He readily displays signs of positive emotion including happiness, amusement, interest, and excitement. As previously noted, Roger’s positive mood has remained essentially unchanged over nearly three decades.

Another case is that of a lady referred to as "SM." Her amygdala (an important part located in the medial temporal lobes) known to process strong negative emotions, such as anger and fear, and considered to be the seat of emotion in the brain was damaged. Dr. R. Adolphs and his coleague noticed that SM was "very outgoing and is almost too friendly, to the point of "violating" what others might perceive as their own personal space. She is extremely friendly, and she wants to approach people more than normal."

Added on 10 June 2011:
"At one point they took SM to a pet store to see how she would behave around snakes, an animal she had earlier told them she hated. When she saw the snakes, she was immediately drawn to them. She even picked one up and began playing with its tongue. When asked to explain her behavior, she said that she was overwhelmed with curiosity."

HYPNOSIS:
(Excerpts from Science News, October, 2009)
"Using the latest neuroimaging tools, scientists are getting a look at what goes on in the hypnotized brain. The findings are mesmerizing. When hypnotized people act on a hypnotic suggestion, they really do see, hear and feel differently, such research shows."

"New research at the University of Geneva suggests that hypnosis alters neural activity by rerouting some of the usual connections between brain regions. Such neurological detours don’t happen when subjects merely imagine a scenario."

"David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine says: "Ten to 15 percent of adults are 'highly hypnotizable,' meaning they can experience dramatic changes in perception with hypnosis. A person’s ability to become hypnotized is unrelated to intelligence, compliancy or gullibility, but may be linked to an ability to become deeply absorbed in activities such as reading, listening to music or daydreaming."

" In 2005, scientists at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City used functional MRI to show how hypnotic suggestions can override "automatic" processes in the brain. The fMRI results were also striking. Highly hypnotizable participants showed less activity in a brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is active when people are trying to sort out conflicting information from different sources."

"In the June 25 issue of Neuron, Yann Cojan of the University of Geneva and colleagues report: Hypnotized people who are told that their left hand is paralyzed show brain patterns that differ from those who aren't hypnotized and from those who aren't hypnotized but are told to pretend their left hand is paralyzed. Under hypnosis, neurons in the brain’s motor cortex fired up as usual to prepare for the task. But when instructed to use the left, or “paralyzed” hand, the motor cortex failed to send signals to motor execution regions. Instead, it directed its signals to another brain region, the precuneus. The precuneus is a sort of center for self-consciousness. ... By rerouting motor signals to the precuneus, hypnosis appeared to decouple the typical relationship between brain areas that generate the signals for hand movement and the areas that carry out such movements. Subjects who were not hypnotized and were asked to fake paralysis showed no such disconnect between these regions."

SEAT OF CONSIOUSNESS IN BRAIN:
"Consciousness" is still an Achiless heel or a Holy Grail in Neuroscience. There is no agreed definition even for the word consciousness. However, it may be quite safe to say one thing. The word "Consciousness" as used in the Bhgavad-Gita verse quoted at the beginning of this Post and the "consciousness" that science is probing may not be the same.

Medicos have their own working definition for consciousness, though it is difficult even for them to categorize who is truly in a vegetative state when it comes to edge cases. A recent report by Dr. T. Bekinschtein and others showed how a patient supposed to be in a vegetative state has exhibited a remarkable capacity "to learn." By repeated training, the patient began to respond to a tone before blowing puffs of air on to his eyes. Some others are, of course, skeptical of the results and think it could be a Pavlovian conditioning.

In the meanwhile, anesthesiologists have scored a point. They seem to have found a "spot" for consciousness in the brain. Prof. Marshall Devor and Ruth Abulafia described this month (September 2009) their discovery of an area of the brain that participates in the control of "alert status."

"Loss of response to painful stimuli and loss of consciousness are the most striking characteristics of surgical anesthesia and anesthesia-like states, such as concussion, reversible coma, and syncope (fainting). These states also exhibit behavioral suppression, loss of muscle tone, a shift to the sleep-like "delta-wave" EEG pattern, and depressed brain metabolism."

"A small group of neurons near the base of the brain, in the mesopontine tegmentum, has executive control over the alert status of the entire cerebrum and spinal cord, and can generate loss of pain sensation, postural collapse and loss of consciousness through specific neural circuitry."

They described it as "center of consciousness" at least in the laboratory rats that they experimented with.

Added on 28 July 2011:
I have come across a very absorbing discussion on Defining Consciousness by J. Bogen (Neurosurgeon), C. Koch (Neuroscientist), S. Hameroff (Anesthesiologist), L. Brothers (Psychologist) and R. Kuhn (Moderator) at: http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/312-Is-Consciousness-Definable-/343

Added on Apr 06, 2012: As you awaken from anesthesia:

"We expected to see the outer bits of brain, the cerebral cortex (often thought to be the seat of higher human consciousness), would turn back on when consciousness was restored following anesthesia. Surprisingly, that is not what the images showed us. In fact, the central core structures of the more primitive brain structures including the thalamus and parts of the limbic system appeared to become functional first, suggesting that a foundational primitive conscious state must be restored before higher order conscious activity can occur."
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-04-primitive-consciousness-emerges-awaken-anesthesia.html

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NONDUALITY AND COMPASSION

(aka FEEDING THE STARVING CHILD)

A Post titled "Nonduality and Compassion" subtitled as above appeared at:

http://nonduality.com/hl3645.htm

Background: Nondualist Jeff Foster talked in an earlier writing of his about an African girl starving with hunger that he saw on a TV show and how the scene changed as the channels were flipped. A question was then raised: (in Jeff's words reproduced from the NDHighlights # 3645)

"Jeff, in your latest piece of writing you talk about seeing a starving African girl on the TV. But how can that be Oneness? I mean, it's okay for you to say that, you're not starving, after all. But she is. Couldn't "Oneness" just be a concept you're using to push away or deny the reality of living in this world? A way for you to cope with the harsh realities of existence and suffering?"

Jeff continued a long response ending with the sentence:

"Feed her, damn it. What else is there to do, when there is no longer anything to defend?"

A rejoinder to this appears at : [NDhighlights] #3663 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009.

The rejoinder is reproduced below:

"I have reasons to believe that the first Question that Jeff referred to regarding the hunger of the African girl was the one posed by me, though understandably he did not mention names. He acknowledges it to be a great question. And thanks for that.

And what does come out at the end of all that long-winded blow hot blow cold response about the hunger?

A frustration that clearly stands out glaringly in our face as apparent from the two interrogatives in additon to the the swearing words in the ultimate sentence of his.

And just before venting the frustration, he says, "Feed her."

Can anything be more naive? Was it not our very beginning question? Is not the "feeding" the very problem in the world? Have we not come back to square one?!

Whether it is the roach running to save its life from the lizard on the wall over there or a pack of panthers chasing a bison cruelly biting into the delicate parts of its butt in the forest, it is all about "feeding." The prey-predator struggle, the cunning methods of aggression of the predator, the camouflage of the prey to save itself, the violence of the killer and the guaranteed misery for the victim are all about "feeding."

Humans continued this evolutionarily ingrained nature of biological systems to appease their dependence on food with their own covert and overt tricks of exploitation and victimization.

The non-exclusivity or all-inclusivity of Advaita hardly eliminates any of these dependencies and the inevitable violence beyond numbing certain qualia / reactions. That is why it appears to me that Advaita eliminates the "sufferer" rather than "suffering" per se.

When the "sufferer" ends but the body organism continues to live, he/she becomes a Jivanmukta. His/her body, apparent or otherwise, needs oxygen, food, water etc., though he/she sees a Oneness and the snake-like illusiory appearance of the world has ceased [for him/her]. It should really be quite revealing if we can investigate how the neuronal networks in the brain of a Jivanmukta function."

Readers may kindly send a copy of their Comment also to: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NDhighlights

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

EVOLUTION OF RELIGION

Is Religion A Conspirancy?


[First a Welcome: I am pleased to welcome Mr. Anjanna to the Blog. He raised some interesting questions on the Post "Nothing is Ever Born." I have given my response in the Comments section and look forward to his continued contribution. 
(The length of my repsonse is over 1170 words long and can almost be treated as Advaita 101).]

*****

Dr. M. Shermer wrote a brief article on "Why People Believe in Conspiracies" in the September issue of Scientific American. One of the readers observed that religion was perhaps the oldest conspiracy.
Consciousness is a word captured by philosophers and monopolized by the religious lot to the extent that scientists remained for a long time reluctant even to touch any thing that has to do with consciousness. Science is now teasing out consciousness slowly and hesitantly because of the baggage the word has accumulated in history.

The two words Consciousness and Conspiracy are in fact derived from the same root as explained in detail by Dr. A. Zeman.

Dr. Pascal Boyer published a book, "Religion Explained" a few years ago. It had the subtitle: The Evolutionary Foundations of Religious Belief. Of late many universities are carrying out research on the Evoluion of Religion.

The points raised by Dr. Shermer with regard to conspiaracy are quite relevant in the context of religious evolution too. An extract from his article is given below:

"Why do people believe in highly improbable conspiracies? In previous columns I have provided partial answers, citing patternicity (the tendency to find meaningful patterns in random noise) and agenticity (the bent to believe the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents). Conspiracy theories connect the dots of random events into meaningful patterns and then infuse those patterns with intentional agency. Add to those propensities the confirmation bias (which seeks and finds confirmatory evidence for what we already believe) and the hindsight bias (which tailors after-the-fact explanations to what we already know happened), and we have the foundation for conspiratorial cognition."

To the above I will add "Endowment Effect" which was initially proposed by Chicago economists. I think it has a powerful psychological role in sustaining religious belief. Man does not like to give up anything he has (perhaps including his memetic infections) and hence continues with unfalsifiable belief structures in the name of religion.

Added on 08 Oct 2011:
Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief, in PNAS, Mar 09, 2009:
"We propose an integrative cognitive neuroscience framework for understanding the cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief. Our analysis reveals 3 psychological dimensions of religious belief (God's perceived level of involvement, God's perceived emotion, and doctrinal/experiential religious knowledge), which functional MRI localizes within networks processing Theory of Mind regarding intent and emotion, abstract semantics, and imagery. Our results are unique in demonstrating that specific components of religious belief are mediated by well-known brain networks, and support contemporary psychological theories that ground religious belief within evolutionary adaptive cognitive functions."
(http://www.pnas.org/content/106/12/4876.short)


Added on 15 May 2012:
Why religion exists:

"The primary purpose of religious belief is to enhance the basic cognitive process of self-control which in turn promotes any number of valuable social behaviors. Volunteers were primed in four experiments to think about religious matters. Those volunteers showed more discipline than controls, and more ability to delay gratification."
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-05-religion-replenishes-self-control.html

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NOTHING IS EVER BORN -- ENLARGED

[WELCOME: At the outset a very HEARTY WELCOME TO CHRIS AND ASTRID SCHUMACHER. I look forward to their active interventions and contributions.]

ADDITON OF A COUPLE OF PARAS TO MY POSTING of 14TH SEPTEMBER 2009

In order to retain the main thrust of the Non-Dual teaching in Peter's book without getting deflected in emphasis, I replaced the last para in my Posting of 14th September 2009 with the following paragraphs:

Peter’s book is a well-reasoned out presentation from the position of Supreme Oneness about our Presence, the only thing that is present at the present. This is unlike the more familiar approach of leading a seeker from the visible world to the sensory perceptions, to mind and finally to the One Universal Self. The breathtaking view from the position of Oneness suddenly dissolves all our perceptions and implodes our sense of time-space dimensions, into an undimensional Infinity (which becomes one more term for Consciousness in his deft argument).

Those of us who understand Non-Duality intellectually feel at ease with the metaphor of a mirage to describe the unreality of the world. We comfort ourselves that we continue to see the mirage though we know it is unreal. But Peter uncompromisingly sticks with the more fundamental and more famous snake-rope metaphor -- the world disappears like the seemingly appearing snake on realization of it being actually a rope. Speaking like one abiding in that Consciousness, Peter nonchalantly proclaims that the tree all of us see in the yard across has not arisen at all! That leaves us gasping for breath at the very pinnacle of Advaitic teaching.

That Advaitic position is perhaps incommunicable and only to be known by the Presence, of itself and by itself. Upanishads describe this as “Drik” state (Turiya) and one who abides in this permanently is a Jivanmukta.

Monday, September 14, 2009

NOTHING IS EVER BORN

Consciousness is All: Peter Dziuban


Mandukya Upanishad comprising no more than twelve mantras is truly unique amongst the ancient Indian scriptural texts. The seventh mantra contains the core inexpressible Philosophy of Non-Duality. While other Upanishads may deal with religion, theology, mysticism in addition to philosophy, Mandukya concerns itself with pure philosophy. It is most truly and very deservingly said that “Mandukya alone, among Upanishads, is sufficient for liberation.”

The commentary by Gaudapada (7th Century (?) on Mandukya is well known. Gaudapada affirms in no uncertain terms in his Karika (commentary in verse form) that “No body is ever born; no cause exists for any origin. The highest Truth is nothing is ever born” (Chapter III Verse 48). This astounding and counterintuitive conclusion is repeated by him towards the end of the Karika (Ch. IV – 71) to convey, in full force, the only Truth, Nothing is ever Born. Further he declared boldly that “there is none in bondage nor any seeker for liberation nor any one liberated” (Ch. II – 32).

“You were never born” is the hidden message that lies behind Vyasa’s declaration in the words of Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita, when understood in proper context and depth. Quoting from Gita:

By the Maya of the Supreme, we revolve like puppets mounted on a machine (Ch XVIII - Sloka 61);

We are only an apparent cause and whatever has to happen has already happened (Ch XI - Sloka 33);

Because of the reason that Prakriti produced everything, the world goes round and round (Ch IX - Sloka 9-10);

Prakriti performs all actions and only an egoistic fool thinks that “I am the actor” (Ch III - Sloka 27).

The above veridical words unmitigatingly demolish the conceptions "I" can do, "I" have to do or "I" do any thing and point to the non-existence of a 'me as a self'.

The four words “You were never born” encapsulate the core wisdom expounded by Sage Vasishta, if you distill the 32,000 verses in the six chapters of Yogavaasishta by Sage Valmiki.

“You were never born” is the secret key for Happiness and Happiness is what you are!

John Wheeler wrote a book in 2007 with the title “You Were Never Born” (click for a review of mine

http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/wheeler_ramesam.htm)

Still we remain unconvinced and those four words continue to haunt us as an enigma, a conundrum, hard to digest.

And now comes Peter Francis Dziuban (pronounced Jubin) laying bare the Truth of it in his book “Consciousness is All.” It hits straight in our face. We cannot run or hide anywhere. For, there is nowhere to go.

Peter was not exposed to Mandukya or Gita or even Advaita. He followed theistic Christian doctrine initially and through his own Self-inquiry stumbled on to the Great Truth of Non-Duality. And he likes to spread the joy of what he found. He does it gently, unambiguously and non-dogmatically in plain simple English, no special argot nor any abstruse scriptural quotes in obscure lingo to impress.

But simple words like You, All, Is, Presence, Happiness all stand out with self-effulgence and a new brilliance in his delicate persuasive prose and they become synonymous to Consciousness, the only Thing (No-thing) that Is! It is all unblemished Pure Oneness, Non-duality, Advaita!

Scott Kiloby’s interview (audio) of Peter is at :

http://www.kiloby.com/uploads/PeterDzuibanJune2009Part10.mp3

Peter comes out in the discussion as the guy next door, like you or me or anyone on the other side of the road, in his humility, politeness and the story of his life. But his words carry mind-boggling, nay, mind-shattering, profound truth. First timers may get confused or amused when he talks of is-not being not is when Is is all that Is! The message sounds simpler if you have pre-read at least Chapter I of his Book – he makes a few Chapters from his book available free at his website:

http://www.consciousnessisall.com/peter-dziuban-writings.html

Peter’s book is a well-reasoned out presentation from the position of Supreme Oneness about our Presence, the only thing that is present at the present. This is unlike the more familiar approach of leading a seeker from the visible world to the sensory perceptions, to mind and finally to the One Universal Self. The breathtaking view from the position of Oneness suddenly dissolves all our perceptions and implodes our sense of time-space dimensions, into an undimensional Infinity (which becomes one more term for Consciousness in his deft argument).

Those of us who understand Non-Duality intellectually feel at ease with the metaphor of a mirage to describe the unreality of the world. We comfort ourselves that we continue to see the mirage though we know it is unreal. But Peter uncompromisingly sticks with the more fundamental and more famous snake-rope metaphor -- the world disappears like the seemingly appearing snake on realization of it being actually a rope. Speaking like one abiding in that Consciousness, Peter nonchalantly proclaims that the tree all of us see in the yard across has not arisen at all! That leaves us gasping for breath at the very pinnacle of Advaitic teaching.

That Advaitic position is perhaps incommunicable and only to be known by the Presence, of itself and by itself. Upanishads describe this as “Drik” state (Turiya) and one who abides in this permanently is a Jivanmukta.