Year : 2010 | Volume
: 3 | Issue : 2 | Page : 71--72
Understanding consciousness: Recent advances
Thaiyar M Srinivasan
Dean, Division of Yoga and Physical Sciences, S-VYASA Yoga University, India
Thaiyar M Srinivasan
Dean, Division of Yoga and Physical Sciences, S-VYASA Yoga University
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Srinivasan TM. Understanding consciousness: Recent advances.Int J Yoga 2010;3:71-72
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Srinivasan TM. Understanding consciousness: Recent advances. Int J Yoga [serial online] 2010 [cited 2020 Sep 22 ];3:71-72
Available from: http://www.ijoy.org.in/text.asp?2010/3/2/71/72634
[AUTHOR:1]Published by Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture,
Gol Park, Kolkata 700 029; 2009,
Pages 469; Rs. 175.
Reviewed by T. M. Srinivasan, Ph.D.
The above book is an outcome of 21 papers presented at a seminar held at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata, during January 18-20, 2008. The seminar is the fourth in the series related to consciousness, held from time to time at the above institute. The presentations are uniformly of high order from both philosophers and scientists who took part in the seminar. While it is difficult to define consciousness, it is possible to make a transactional difference between "…essential Consciousness or Awareness and extended consciousness proper. Awareness is more basic than Consciousness and the latter depends on the former" [p. 7]. It is not sure if all the speakers maintain this definition; however, the general notion that consciousness is not just the epiphenomenon of the brain is clear. It may be a higher property of a complex brain, such as that of humans. In evolution, it is likely that the complexity of the human brain has given rise to the property of consciousness. This of course implies that only humans have the said property and other animals may not have it and hence they need to be taken care of by humans.
The book starts with a Welcome Address by Swami Sarvabhutananda who points out three approaches to the study of consciousness, namely, the experimental, the expositional and the experiential. The first one is the domain of the scientists, the second one is that of the philosophers and the third one is that of the mystics. The fond hope of the first two groups is that all three aspects of consciousness are merged into one single entity. In the inaugural address, Swami Prabhananda succinctly points out to the philosophy of Upanishad, wherein chaitanya or cit is the ultimate consciousness that is the witness and observer of all activities while itself being inactive [p. 7].
Sri Swami Bhajanananda has presented a long paper on "Knowledge and consciousness: An integral approach", and in the opinion of this reviewer, this book is worth studying just for this one paper. There is a very important analysis of the Western concept of consciousness and the Indian contribution to this subject. The epistemological ideas of the West in understanding consciousness and the ontological ideas of consciousness in Indian thought are brought forward to focus on the diverse approaches taken by the two groups. Needless to say, the approaches contain the goal within itself. Thus, if philosophers are grappling with the first aspect, the mystics have experienced the second. Here perhaps we see the usual dichotomy between the left and right hemispheric activity of the brain being represented.
Many prominent scientists have contributed to this meeting, most of them dealing with the latest advances in quantum physics. Physicist Prof. Ulrich Mohrhoff who is also an Aurobindo scholar says, "the laws of physics merely serve to set the stage for the drama of evolution, the drama itself isn't directed by the same laws" [p. 117]. There is some other force that is responsible to direct evolution. Physics cannot explain the transactions between mind and matter; in fact, Prof. Mohrhoff maintains, "physics don't even understand how matter interacts with matter!" [p. 118]. He recommends psychology - and Indian psychology at that - to deal exclusively with problems related to consciousness and mind-body issues. This is a very valid point raised by this author and the Indian psychologists should take it to heart to apply Yoga and other psychological texts to uncover the role of consciousness in maintaining homeostasis.
There is an illustrative paper on Jain philosophy of non-absolutism that is termed "a positive pluralism of perspective" [p. 149]. This metaphysical position, also referred as "doctrine of many-sidedness", maintains that as reality is very complex, many views of describing (or even negating description of) reality are acceptable. This is the ultimate in the application of ahimsa even in thought, introduced by the Jain philosophy.
The nature of functional consciousness (dharmabutajnana) is to interact with the world and present knowledge to the atman. This is functional since through this only we obtain knowledge of the world. It could expand as we acquire knowledge and interact with the material universe. "It is self-luminous, but at the same time, it shines forth for someone else, i.e., for the substantive consciousness" [p. 175]. There are interesting consequences of this model presented in Visistadvaitha philosophy and the chapter discusses some aspects in detail.
There are many other interesting papers presented at the conference; the one on dynamic geometry is an important contribution. The author states that this dynamic geometry places "an important role in understanding the role of mantra, yantra and mandala in Tantra within the framework of modern science" [p. 289]. The neural correlates of consciousness could also be studies within the framework of dynamic geometry and these could be extended to understand Yoga and Buddhist philosophy. Tantra provides a means to expand the mind (increasing the degrees of freedom) and is related possibly to availability of extra energy under some condition. These statements could be tested as a person practices stages in Tantra along with yantra and mantra. It is stated by the author "by chanting mantra in mandala meditation, one can reduce the fluctuations of geometric structure associated to CNS of the brain" [p. 301].
The last section of the book presents discussions held with respect to every paper presented; this makes the book even more valuable since the authors bring out some finer points in this section.
An index section could make the book even more valuable as a textbook for students and teachers alike. Explanation of certain Sanskrit terms at the end of the book could also make the book more reader friendly, especially for an international audience.
All in all, here is an excellent presentation and the compilation is valuable for many who have been talking about consciousness and its models in many tongues. A clear presentation of the topics makes this work an outstanding contribution in understanding consciousness and its myriad nuances.