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Consciousness Science | briancapleton.com

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Consciousness Science

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I wonder if you would allow me to talk about this idea of a science of consciousness?

The idea is that now that we are going headlong into the scientific investigation of the human brain, the process of science can develop a "science of consciousness".

This doesn't mean a science about whether or not you are "conscious", as for example in the science of anaesthesia. It means understanding the nature of our conditional experience of being, as mind and self, as a human being, in terms of brain function.

Your conditional experience of being, as a human being, is not just your experience of being a body. Nor is it just your ability to experience the world. Nor is it just your ability to think, or imagine. Our conditional experience of being, as a human being is all of these things, and more. Much, much more, in fact, and much of it, whilst we have it, we probably haven't really paid attention to.

The idea is that in principle, we can understand our conditional experience of being, as a human being, in terms of brain function. And, probably much more than most people are aware, science already knows a good deal about how our experiences are constructed, in terms of components of experience, created through various parts of brain function.

In fact, this knowledge was already well underway, in the medical science of neurology, long before we came to the state of science that we have now, in the overall field of neuroscience.

Mostly, what seems to be the straightforward "act" or "experience" of just experiencing something, as a human being, even something simple, like the shape or motion of a ball, is put together by the brain, in ways that are generally counterintuitive. And in general, what is going on in the brain is far more complex than as a layperson, you might imagine.

So there is a popular idea around now, that the brain is a kind of "machine". And in a manner of speaking, of course, it is. As can be seen from the facts we already know, about brain function. But it is a biological thing, and so instead of regarding it as a machine just like a computer, it is quite common now to call it "wetware". Because it is made of biological material including water and cells, that have evolved.

Neuroscientists talk about "neural correlates". This means that certain activities in certain networks of neuron cells in the brain, correlate to certain experiences or components of experience, that we have. What happens is that the activity of a neural correlate, as electrochemical activity in the brain, corresponds to the particular experience in question.

It is not straightforward, or simple, though. On the contrary. The human brain is physically the most complex thing known to science.

So the popular idea is that a sufficient scientific understanding of the brain, can be an understanding of "what makes you, you".

But there is an assumption there, that has nothing to do with the science. The science is about understanding what, in the brain, gives rise to our experiences, such as sensory experiences, thinking, imagination, emotions, and so on. It is about understanding how all that is "constructed" by brain function.

However, the idea that all this, is what or who you are, is an entirely different matter. There is a leap, that takes place, between all the talk of the science, and the idea that this is who you are.

The leap doesn't come out of the science. Rather, it comes out of the mind. In fact, it is none other than an expression of the pre-existing idea of "who I am".

Even before the science there is already the idea that all this experience as it is arising, is "who I am". And that idea of "who I am" then just get projected onto the science. Which, if we are honest about it, is not a very scientific thing to do. It's not very scientific to take pre-existing ideas and beliefs, and then try to make the scientific facts, fit into that mould.

So the idea that an advanced scientific understanding of the brain is, or would be, an understanding of "you", or of "what makes you, you", is an idea that has nothing to do with the science. It indeed corresponds nicely with the ubiquitous personal idea of "who I am", that already widely exists in human beings, and so it is likely to be readily accepted. But nonetheless, it has nothing to do with the science.

Rather, in a sleight of mind, this idea that this is who you are, is being projected onto the science, in a way that doesn't get noticed, which has the psychological effect of making it look like science. In a way, it is a piece of mentalism.

This is a very good example of the fact that when it comes to the science of the brain, being objective in science, is no longer sufficient. The "who I am" idea that hitherto has been irrelevant to hard scientific investigation, is no longer irrelevant. As we move into the science of the brain, in order to interpret the science correctly, we also need to become transpersonal.

What arises through our brain function is our experience of self and world. The self part is everything you experience, together with your idea of "who I am", and the idea that this experience is "mine". The world part that is experienced, is of course the what we call the world, and that world, actually, includes your own body. The "consciousness" of all of this is arising as a construct of your brain function.

The idea that you can separate this out into "me" and "the world" is another piece of thought, that gets projected onto the science.

So all in all, our interpretation of the science is hugely coloured to begin with, by the pre-existing idea of "who I am", that comes from identifying with the arising experience of self. To then come along and say that the science is explaining "what makes you, you", is not science. The science is doing no such thing. What the science is doing is explaining how brain function gives rise to experience. Experience of self, body, and world. It may even one day go as far as explaining how your idea that this is "who I am", arises as a construct of brain function.

Suppose that was to happen. Just for a moment, let's suppose that this is already the state of science. Does this mean that science has now explained to you, who you are, and who "we" are, and where we come from?
Not at all. What it is doing, is showing how science understands the nature of your self experience. You might think that by definition, if it is a self experience, then it must be who you are. But the whole nub of what neuroscience is now revealing, is that this self experience is essentially an illusion, because it is just a construct of brain function.

And the fact is, that alongside the newness of brain science, which is not yet properly understood, there is a record literally thousands of years old, of human beings realising that this self experience is not our true identity. The capacity for that realisation exists within us, even without the need of science. It's just that the kind of intelligence that is currently employed in scientific thought, that is, objective thought, is very different from the kind of intelligence that is employed in the spiritual disciplines through which this realisation is made.

As long as we cling to the unconscious assumption that the personal "who I am" idea is not any kind of obstacle in scientific understanding provided we are still being objective, then we will continue to make the mistake of thinking that what brain science is discovering, is "what makes you, you".

The brain doesn't "make you, you". Rather, it creates your self experience. Which we then very easily, because it is a self experience, make the mistake of presuming that it must by definition, be "who I am".

Furthermore, this self experience is not separable from your experience of the world. If your brain function is sufficiently shut down, your experience of both self and the world, shuts down. When you wake up in the morning, and begin to experience the world, you also experience your self. Both what you experience as the world, and what you experience as self, are the construct of your brain function. There is not one without the other.

If you go to sleep and start dreaming, you experience self, but you also have a dream world. Again, both are a construct of your brain function. In deep, dreamless sleep, or under general anaesthesia, you have no experience of self. But you also have no experience of world. You have no world of being.

Our experience of the world is part and parcel of our experience of self. It is the world of being, of our self. What the brain does, what nature does, through the principle of the brain, is to create our experience of self, by creating the world that we experience. Which includes our own body and brain organ. This is our world of being. This is what nature is really all about. And the way it does it, is not dependent on the functioning of anyone's individual brain. Which is why the world itself, the material world part of it, is "objective".

The reason we don't generally see this about our world, or about nature, is not because scientific data demonstrates otherwise. Rather, it is simply because of the "who I am" idea. Which says that "who I am" is this experience of personal mind and body, but not the rest of the world.

That's not a matter of science. It's just a matter of the mind. Specifically, the personal mind, and the personal ego, which says that "who I am" is this body, but not the rest of the world.

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