Friday, November 27, 2015

A very brief summary of Vedanta

Happy Thanksgiving weekend every one! I want to thank Bill Rosar for giving me opportunity to participate in the discussions on this blog.  I found references to Hindu philosophy and computers (in particular to chess playing programs and calculators) in some posts in this blog and found that interesting because in my articles which propose that the "phenomenal information" (PI) in our brains consists of superluminal matter, I use ideas from Vedanta and arguments why and how chess playing programs and calculators are "fundamentally" different from living beings. 

To introduce myself briefly, I am a consciousness researcher with background in mathematical physics and computer science.  As we all know, after having developed various artificial intelligent programs and superfast computers which perform many intelligent tasks better and faster than human beings and perhaps some of which humans are not even able to do, some computer scientists started claiming that they are very close to building a conscious computer.  Being born as a Hindu, I could not believe that. My philosophy tells me that not only matter is not conscious but PI is also not conscious; while matter is perceivable by the physical senses, PI is not directly accessible to senses and physical measuring devices. The latter statement agrees with our experience as well as science; how PI is created in the brain became the "hard problem" of Chalmers because of the inaccessibility. 

Brief summary of Vedanta’s characterization of Consciousness, mind, body, and their relations:
There exists Universal Consciousness (briefly called Consciousness with Big C in front hereafter), which is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.
  • Every living being is associated with its own soul (Jiva) which is a bit of that infinite Consciousness, who draws to itself the senses and the mind that are part of Nature (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 15, verse 7). Being part of the eternal Consciousness, the soul is eternal also and survives the death of the physical body. 
  • Nature (called Prakriti in Sanskrit) is dumb. Although it seems to carry on many processes all by itself, it does not "know" what it is doing and needs initiation.  Consciousness gives that initiation of its own will; it is free will. It can look into one subject or two subjects or more subjects at the same time or look into none; It can initiate Prakriti to do things or not initiate. Nobody can tell Consciousness to do anything. It is above all rules and logic. 
  • The Self (Atma) is Consciousness seated in the hearts of all beings (Bhagavad Gita chapter 10, verse 20).  Kenopanishad (Swami, 1920) says that the mind and senses are able to perform their respective functions willed and initiated by Consciousness and without It, the senses and the mind cannot function.  
  • The mind is an accumulation of thoughts or information. It consists of a memory of experiences, desires, aversion, emotions, etc. (chitta), ability to think (manas), intellect (buddhi) which includes the ability to make decisions based on memory, and the sense of ‘I’ or ego (ahankara). The mind is subtle unlike the body but it is also part of Nature, in other words, it is not conscious but as dumb as lifeless matter. 
  • The five elements are the earth, water, fire, air and the space. The five senses are hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling; objects of the senses are sound, touch, form and colour, taste and smell.
  • Bhagavadgita describes the distinctions between the body mind complex and the one who ‘knows’ them (shetrajna).  The Field (shetra) consists of the body, the senses and sense objects, the body's environment (Nature), and the mind.
  • All contents of the Field, namely, the body, its environment, and the mind are part of Nature and therefore inert (Bhagavad Gita, 7:4).
  • The knower of the Field (shetrajna) is Consciousness Himself and His infinitesimal projection, jiva who assumed this function within this body.
As to the interaction of the body and the mind, in the chapter called Karma Yoga, Gita says that the senses influence the body, and manas and chitta influence the senses; buddhi influences the manas and chitta, and jiva influences buddhi, which is in its turn, influenced by  jiva.
All schools of Indian philosophy emphasize the distinction between what we usually perceive in living beings and call consciousness, and Consciousness itself. The difference is that the former is fragmented. An individual’s consciousness exists only in wakeful and dreaming sleep states and knows only one thing at a time, and in general one individual does not know the conscious experience of another whereas Consciousness knows everything everywhere all the time.

Vedanta and computer analogy
The above descriptions of Consciousness, mind, and body, suggest the following analogy:
  • A living being is similar to a computer whose hardware is the physical body. The body is made up of matter. The living being has an accumulation of experiences, desires, etc. i.e., an accumulation of information in a memory which we call the mind in this paper. The mind is like a computer memory containing data and programs.
  • Just like a computer's hardware and software do not know what they are doing, their own existence, and the meaning of their memory contents, both the body and the mind of a living being also do not “really know” anything but there is a certain Consciousness (apart from the mind mentioned above) that "knows". Consciousness is like the computer operator, as it were, and the one who "really knows" everything that is going on in the living being’s life.

Similar to the computer software, the mind being an instrument, cannot act as an agent all by itself and needs initiation from an external agent, which is often, a desire/purpose (thoughts), or sensory inputs; the soul being a part of the omnipotent Consciousness can also intervene just like a computer operator can intervene in the operations of the computer.  Mind and body act on each other according to Vedanta.

One may ask, “If the mind is not conscious, how is it that we have conscious experiences in our lives?” The answer is that “appearance of consciousness” (called Chidabhasa in Sanskrit) happens because of the underlying Consciousness which produces a reflection in the mind, the memory of the living being.  The next post illustrates the answer.

1 comment:

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