Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Serendipity – How the Late Osho and Manasataramgini think alike :-)

Posted by desicontrarian on July 15, 2013

There was a cat who became all-knowing. She became famous among cats – so much so that she came to be looked upon as a tirthankara. The reason for her becoming all-knowing was that she found a way of sneaking into the library. She knew everything about this library. By everything I mean the means of entry to  and exit from the library, which set of books was most comfortable to snuggle against, which books gave warmth in the winter and which were cool in the summer, et cetera.

So the word went around among  the cats that if anybody wanted any knowledge about the library, the all-knowing cat could provide the answer. Naturally, there was no doubt about such a one who knew everything about the library being omniscient. This cat even had followers. But the fact remained that she knew nothing. All that she knew about  books was whether she could sit behind them comfortably, which books had cloth binding, which were warm, which were not etc. She had not the least idea of what was inside the book. How could a cat know what is inside a book?

There are such all-knowing cats among men too, who know how to shield themselves with books.

Osho – Kundalini Yoga

Is that some coincidence, or what? I’m salivating,  trying to guess the identity of the cat-among-men. Any pointers?

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Posted in Philosophy, Science | 2 Comments »

The Primary Axiom of Science is Unscientific

Posted by desicontrarian on July 19, 2012

An out-of-body experience can be replicated in a lab by stimulating parts of the brain. A near-death experience—going through a tunnel with a light at the end—is just a trick of the brain. “We know exactly why it happens. In the visual cortex at the back of the brain, lots of cells are laid out towards the middle of the visual field. At the periphery there are very few cells and poor vision. When you come near death or take certain drugs like LSD or mescaline, the brain cells start firing very fast randomly. And that random noise looks like a white light in the middle where there are lots of cells, phasing out towards the dark of the periphery (which gives the illusion of a tunnel). As it gets brighter and stronger, the light appears to be coming towards you”.

So they say, the scientists.

If we are seeing white light because the middle cells in the visual cortex are firing rapidly, it means that these middle cells exist and not the white light, eh? The peripheral cells exist and therefore cause the tunnel vision, right? As laymen, we can’t empirically verify that this is what is happening. So we accept what the scientist says. Oh yes, we “know” that the neuro-scientist can replicate it by injecting drugs or electrodes into our brain, but again, we did not personally verify it, did we? It just became another belief, since scientists are the authority we accept. How different is it from scriptural acceptance?

What is happening with this neuro-scientific line of thinking? Basically, the brain exists as physical matter, the electrical/chemical energy activity causes experiences for the brain-owner to classify as Real Things, and therefore it is all a panorama of subtle physical matter/energy causing illusory phenomena. This is considered Objective Reality if a large no. of brain owners accept it.

The primary axiom is still that ONLY physical matter only exists, whether gross or subtle. This axiom is not falsifiable, and therefore unscientific. This axiom is never questioned for its lack of rigour.  This is similar to a 2-dimensional being unable to fathom that there are things happening in a higher dimension for which he has no access, even in thought.

An observer standing in the corner of a room has three directions naturally marked out for him; one is upwards along the line of meeting of the two walls; another is forwards where the floor meets one of the walls; a third is sideways where the floor meets the other wall. He can proceed to any part of the floor of the room by moving first the right distance along one wall, and then by turning at right angles and walking parallel to the other wall. He walks in this case first of all in the direction of one of the straight lines that meet in the corner of the floor, afterwards in the direction of the other. By going more or less in one direction or the other, he can reach any point on the floor, and any movement, however circuitous, can be resolved into simple movements in these two directions.

But by moving in these two directions he is unable to raise himself in the room. If he wished to touch a point in the ceiling, he would have to move in the direction of the line in which the two walls meet. There are three directions then, each at right angles to both the other, and entirely independent of one another. By moving in these three directions or combinations of them, it is possible to arrive at any point in a room. And if we suppose the straight lines which meet in the corner of the room to be prolonged indefinitely, it would be possible by moving in the direction of those three lines, to arrive at any point in space. Thus in space there are three independent directions, and only three; every other direction is compounded of these three. The question that comes before us then is this. “Why should there be three and only three directions?” Space, as we know it, is subject to a limitation.

In order to obtain an adequate conception of what this limitation is, it is necessary to first imagine beings existing in a space more limited than that in which we move. Thus we may conceive a being who has been throughout all the range of his experience confined to a single straight line. Such a being would know what it was to move to and fro, but no more. The whole of space would be to him but the extension in both directions of the straight line to an infinite distance. It is evident that two such creatures could never pass one another. We can conceive their coming out of the straight line and entering it again, but they having moved always in one straight line, would have no conception of any other direction of motion by which such a result could be effected. The only shape which could exist in a one-dimensional existence of this kind would be a finite straight line. There would be no difference in the shapes of figures; all that could exist would simply be longer or shorter straight lines.

Again, to go a step higher in the domain of a conceivable existence. Suppose a being confined to a plane superficies, and throughout all the range of its experience never to have moved up or down, but simply to have kept to this one plane. Suppose, that is, some figure, such as a circle or rectangle, to be endowed with the power of perception; such a being if it moves in the plane superficies in which it is drawn, will move in a multitude of directions; but, however varied they may seem to be, these directions will all be compounded of two, at right angles to each other. By no movement so long as the plane superficies remains perfectly horizontal, will this being move in the direction we call up and down. And it is important to notice that the plane would be different to a creature confined to it, from what it is to us. We think of a plane habitually as having an upper and a lower side, because it is only by the contact of solids that we realize a plane. But a creature which had been confined to a plane during its whole existence would have no idea of there being two sides to the plane he lived in. In a plane there is simply length and breadth. If a creature in it be supposed to know of an up or down he must already have gone out of the plane.

In normal states known to us, we have three separate things – The Known, The Knower and the Knowledge (Object, Subject, Process). In Yogic literature, it is said that when the separation vanishes (all 3 merge into one), the knowledge is Real and Complete. There are no mistakes of perception. This is called Turiya. A person who is really interested in knowing should strive to reach this state. Until then, he or she does not really know.

Posted in Philosophy, Science | 7 Comments »

Why Indians were colonized

Posted by desicontrarian on July 13, 2010

We would not have been so impotent if our country had understood Krishna rightly. But we have covered our ugliness with beautiful words. Our cowardice is hiding behind our talk of non-violence; our fear of death is disguised by our opposition to war. But war is not going to end because we refuse to go to war. Our refusal becomes an invitation to others to wage war on us. War will not disappear because we refuse to fight; our refusal will only result in our slavery. And this is what has actually happened.
It is so ironic that, despite our opposition to war, we have been dragged into war again and again. First we refused to fight, then some external power attacked and occupied our country and made us into slaves, and then we were made to join our masters’ armies and fight in our masters’ wars. Wars were continuously waged, and we were continuously dragged into them. Sometimes we fought as soldiers of the Huns, then as soldiers to the Turks and Moghals and finally as soldiers for the British. Instead of fighting for for our own life and liberty we fought for the sake of our alien rulers and oppressors. We really fought for the sake of our slavery; we fought to prolong our enslavement. We spilled our blood and gave our lives only to defend our bondage, to continue to live in servitude. This has been the painful consequence of all our opposition to violence and war.
Osho Rajneesh In “Krishna”
I have been enchanted by Osho’s writings for a long time. His lectures on Zen Buddhism attracted me first. No one explained the unexplainable as well as he did. The quality of freshness was there in his words, like morning dew on a newly blooming flower.

The way he weaves in stories, parables, jokes (vulgar or sophisticated) into his themes are absorbing. There is never a dull moment in the passages. The lectures are actually answers to questions asked by various people in gatherings. They have been recorded and transcribed later.

The inspired insight in passages like these,  feels like a great truth. It cannot be empirically validated, and proved. Nevertheless, I remembered this passage when reading this remarkable study by Anuraag Sanghi.

I used to believe that our Anglophilia and slavish mentality was a result of the Macaulayite Education System. It is true enough, but what caused us to succumb to it in such a wholesale manner – slavishness above and beyond the call of Macaulay 😦  ? What is the force that continues in our collective mind?

Many people have gone deeper into it and found causes in the recesses of our collective mind. The Saraswathi-like insights of   Ms. Bachelet comes to mind.  I do not find any one to compare in depth of root cause analysis on this question.

Yet I am undecided. As a fan of Bhagwan Buddha, I am uncomfortable with a rather strident and negative view of Him as the cause of this decline. Sometimes he is described as a Ruse of the Supreme in the line of 10 Avatars of Vishnu. Sometimes even as a Deluder – which actually describes  Maara in traditional Buddhism! These words are unfortunate, to say the least.  It seems to me that the idea of The Buddha as an opponent of Vedic Hinduism is at work here. I don’t agree with that view. I think that He  found that the Vedas were being ritualized, and Knowledge was becoming  fossilized  under the priesthood.  So any mention of the Vedic truths would have  been trapped in the same mind set.  Thus it was wise to refrain from commenting on the Vedas. He was never against the Higher Hinduism and the Doctrine of Atman. Shoonya Vaada and the Doctrine of Non-Self was an invention of the later Buddhists. This cannot be held against Him.

Posted in History, Ideology, Philosophy | 2 Comments »

Interpreting a phenomenon

Posted by desicontrarian on October 8, 2009

Extracts from “Dancer of Kannur”  (NINE LIVES: IN SEARCH OF THE SACRED IN MODERN INDIA BY WILLIAM DALRYMPLE)

The second dancer is now gazing intently in a small hand mirror at the entrance of the hut, identifying himself with the goddess. As I watch, the dancer stamps his feet, ringing the bells and cowrie shells on his anklets. He stamps again, loudly and more abruptly. Then he jerks his body suddenly to one side, as if hit by a current of electricity, before stretching out his hands and sinking into a strange crouching position. His body is quivering, his hands shaking and his eyes are flicking from side to side. The figure who had been still and silently staring only seconds earlier is now transformed, twisting his head in a strangely eerie series of movements that is part tropical fish, part stinging insect, part reptile, part bird of paradise. Then he is gone, bounding out into the clearing, under the stars, closely followed by two attendants, both holding burning splints.

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“It’s only during the Theyyam season—from December to February. We give up our jobs and become Theyyam artists. For those months we become gods. Everything changes. We never eat meat or fish and are forbidden to sleep with our wives. We bring blessings to the village and the villagers, and exorcise evil spirits. We are the vehicle through which people can thank the gods for fulfilling their prayers and granting their wishes. Though we are all Dalits (untouchables) even the most bigoted and casteist Namboodiri Brahmins worship us, and queue up to touch our feet.”

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As late as the early years of the 20th century, lower-caste tenants were still regularly being murdered by their Nayar landlords for failing to present sweets as tokens of their submission. Today people are rarely murdered for violations of caste restrictions—except sometimes in the case of unauthorised cross-caste love affairs—but in the presence of persons of the upper castes, Dalits are still expected to bow their heads and stand at a respectful distance.

These inequalities are the fertile soil from which Theyyam grew, and the dance form has always been a conscious and ritualised inversion of the usual structures of Keralan life: for it is not the pure and sanctified Brahmins into which the gods choose to incarnate, but the shunned and insulted Dalits. The entire system is free from Brahmin control. The Theyyams take place not in Brahminical temples, but small shrines in the holy places and sacred groves of the countryside, and the priests are not Brahmin but Dalit.

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Two priests, stripped to the waist, approached her, head bowed, with a bowl of toddy, which she drank in a single gulp. It was as she was drinking that the drums reached a new climax and suddenly a second deity appeared, leaping into the open space of the clearing with a crown of seven red cobra heads, to which were attached two huge round earrings. A silver applique chakra was stuck in the middle of his forehead, and round his waist was a wide grass busk, as if an Elizabethan couturier had somehow been marooned on some forgotten jungle island and been forced to reproduce the fashions of the Virgin Queen’s court from local materials. His wrists were encircled with bracelets of palm spines and Exora flowers. It was only after a minute that I realised it was Hari Das.

He was unrecognisable from before. His eyes were wide, charged and staring, and his whole personality seemed to have been transformed. The calm, slightly earnest and thoughtful man I knew from my different meetings was now changed into a frenzied divine athlete. He made a series of spectacular leaps in the air as he circled the kavu, twirling and dancing, spraying the crowd with showers of rice offerings.

After several rounds in this manner, the tempo of the drums slowly lowered. As Chamundi took her seat on a throne at one side of the main entrance to the shrine, still twitching uneasily, the Vishnumurti theyyam approached the ranks of devotees, in a choreographed walk, part strut, part dance. All of the devotees and pilgrims had now respectfully risen from their seats and from the ground, and were now standing with heads bowed before the deity.

In one hand the Vishnumurti now held a bow and a quiver of arrows; in the other a sword. These he used to bless the devotees, who bowed their heads as he approached. With the blade of the sword he touched the outstretched hands of some of the crowd: “All will be well!” he intoned in a deep voice in Malayalam. “All the darkness will go! The gods will look after you!” Between these encouraging phrases in the local dialect, he muttered a series of Sanskrit mantras and incantations. The personality of the deity was quite distinct from that of Chamundi—as benign and reassuring as the latter was disturbing and potentially dangerous, even psychotic.

The deity now returned to the shrine, and taking a throne, looked on as the various priests and attendants now prostrated themselves before him, each offering a drink of toddy. Like Chamundi, Vishnumurti drank the offering in a single gulp. This was the signal for the spiritual surgery to begin and the devotees to queue up, and to approach the deities for individual advice and blessing.

After an hour or so of this, the queues began to dwindle, and the drums struck up again. Such was the reassuring calm of the gods’ surgery that nothing prepared me for what followed. As the tempo rose, the attendants handed both deities coconuts which they took over to a sacrificial altar and threw down with such force that the coconut exploded.

Then the gods were handed huge cleavers. From one side a pair of squawking chickens were produced. Both were held by the feet and were flapping frantically. Another attendant appeared, holding an offering of rice on a palm-leaf plate. Seconds later, the cleaver descended and the chickens were both beheaded. The head of each was thrown away and blood gushed out in a great jet on to the rice. Then, as the drums climaxed, both deities lifted the flapping carcasses up to their faces, blood still haemorrhaging over the costumes and head-dresses. Together, Chamundi and Vishnumurti placed the severed neck of each chicken in their mouth, drinking deeply. Only then did they put the carcass down, on to its feet, so that the headless chicken ran off, scrabbling and flapping as if still alive. Only after another full minute had passed did the chickens pitch over and come to rest at the edge of the crowd.

How one interprets and describes phenomena depends on one’s belief system.

The modern human being has a belief system. It is called Reason. This system is based on the belief that all things experienced by the 5 senses really exist. And that things not perceived by the 5 senses and the mind do not exist.

Science basically operates on this paradigm. Thus the scientist

  1. Observes a phenomenon
  2. Gathers sense data about the phenomenon.
  3. Forms hypothesis, theory or a model of the phenomenon. (S)he may either describe it in these terms or form hypothesis about the causes.
  4. Tests the hypothesis with more sense data of the type observed and gathered, varying the controlling conditions in a measured manner.
  5. Proves that the hypothesis/theory holds for a set of data and conditions.
  6. Gets/allows other people to also repeat the tests and validate the hypothesis.

A diligent, admirable and overwhelmingly successful method no doubt. This is an iron-clad, closed-loop system. Does it have limitations?

Science forgets, disregards or minimizes the following fact. All data about phenomena are sensory inputs experienced by the perceiver. Any perceiver with X number of senses and the step-by-step, sequential reasoning mentality – will tend to experience and think about the phenomenon in question in broadly the same way. It is a highly left-brain oriented thinking style.

Imagine a remote planet where human-like beings exist.  The only thing lacking in them is the sense of sight. They are all blind. Thus shapes, colours, forms, changes of state of these properties etc cannot be perceived. They do not see clouds, the blue sky, the far-away stars, birds flying silently in the sky, distant blue seas, lush green forests and so on. Undoubtedly a greatly diminished life, compared to people like us.

Now, if one or two of them acquire eyes somehow, a whole new world opens up. They start experiencing and describing things that seem incredible to other people. Thye may be considered to have too much imagination, or even mad. They may eventually be persecuted or thrown out of the human community.

The history of science itself has plenty of these happenings. Until radio waves were discovered, Science did not know of its existence, though radio waves have existed for all time. This example extends to x-rays, gamma radiation and many other phenomena discovered at some point in time.

If due to some future catastrophes, suddenly the faculty of colour is lost, then Science will gradually start to deny the existence of colour. If people with long memories, or memories of their ancestors’ tales, talk about these things, they will be considered superstitious.

Another way of looking at it is as a dream. Everything that happens in a dream is unreal outside that dream, but real inside it! The community of scientists and reasoning members can also be considered to be in a collective dream, experimenting, verifying, validating and reinforcing each others’ experiences and belief systems!

Observing, describing and interpreting phenomena like the Theyyam dance, is also an activity dependent on an ideology described earlier, the ideology of Science and Reason. Things will seem bizarre, meaningless, dangerous and barbaric. One cannot begin to understand the ideology that gives rise to these rituals. It induces a remoteness, a separation, a disbelief, and a superiority complex in the modern observer.

Can there be an ideology that gave rise to these rituals? Do they have another kind of logic? If one has a philosophically open mind, one can allow for other ways of knowing and experiencing.

In a book called “Pleasure Cults of India”, Mr. P. Thomas surveys this area from the point of view of Hindu Cosmology. In this belief system the human being is not merely the body. Behind the body is a subtle body, consisting of thoughts, feelings and mental states. Behind it is a causal body, where these things are in a latent form.

External worlds are also many. Our 3-dimensional, physical world is one of many worlds that exist in the Universe. Other types of beings inhabit other worlds. There are worlds “below” and worlds “above” our world.  These may not be accessible to our 3-dimensional perception.

Hindu cosmology identifies 14 such worlds, 7 below and 6 above. These are called Hells and Heavens. Buddhism has a similar scheme, though the names are different. The 7 hells are Atala, Vitala, Rasatala, Talatala and Patala. The 6 heavens are Bhuvarloka, Swarloka, Mahaloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka.

Beings may move from one world to another through trans-migration and reincarnation, driven there by desires and previous actions. Each world has beings having various shapes, faculties, powers and tendencies. There are Devas, Gandharvas, Kinnaras, Apsaras in the upper worlds. There are Asuras, Daithyas, Danavas, Rakshasas etc in the lower worlds.

There are Yakshas and Yakshis who may live in trees in Bhuloka (Earth). There is a special class of beings called Bhoothas, Prethas and Pischachas. These beings inhabit the earth, but without a physical body. This can happen if their “soul journey” after death was interrupted due to some reason, like strong attachment to earthly pleasures – eating, sex, drink etc. These beings are in a difficult state. They have strong, overwhelming desires, but no physical body to fulfill those desires. So they try to possess or enter the body of a human, in order to enjoy their desires.

For the unfortunate human owners of the physical body, this is a like a major mental disease. The possession has to be exorcised. This is the context in which exorcism was born and is practiced. It has its own rules which appear to outsiders as rituals. It has its doctors and sorcerers.  Traditions like the Theyyam dance have their origin, place and operation in this belief system.

Ghosts can inhabit the lonely places where recently they had died as human beings. They may have been murdered, died in accidents, committed suicide etc. They have some unlived life which they crave. So an exorcist tries to find out the character of these ghosts. What kind of people had such mishaps, what their unfulfilled desires and fears were, what attracts them, what repels them etc. Using such data, the exorcist will try to entice, cajole, threaten or drive out these possessions.

There is a popular belief in Kerala in a spirit called Kutti Chatthan. He holds a sword in his right hand and rides on a buffalo. He has a shrine in Avangode, where people afflicted by his activities visit. A sudden death, drowning of children, fire, dementia are attributed to him. Rattling of crockery in a room with no crockery, appearance of filth in kitchen edibles etc are common symptoms of his presence.

These belief-cum-knowledge systems may be true, partially true etc. The degree of truth of these cannot be properly judged by unsympathetic outsiders. As in any system, there may be exploiters, quacks, charlatans, opportunists and half-knowledge practitioners. The system may have been of high quality in the past, and ignorance may have crept in, decaying the knowledge. It can happen to modern medicine one day. These possibilities must be acknowledged. Then one can observe the system from a sympathetic point of view, and get insight into the minds that accept and practice the rituals.

Looking at it from the point of view of caste equations, standards of barbarity or primitivism, will usually produce the interpretation characteristic of Modern Reason. A primitive, ignorant, backward society that needs to be taken out of this state – nudged, pushed, thrust or forced into the Rational System of Belief. In some cases, it is like the power-wielding community of the blind humans pushing the seeing humans to denying their sight faculty. Contempt, antipathy, patronization etc create barriers to emotional understanding of the observed phenomena, its actors and society. It also perpetuates the invisible point of view and ideology of the observer. Broad-minded people need to acknowledge that this is possible.

“There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy”.

Posted in Culture, Mysticism, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Is the world an illusion?

Posted by desicontrarian on July 13, 2009

Francis Crick, An Astonishing Hypothesis.

1. a person’s mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cellsglial cells, and the atoms,ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them.

2. You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules

Descartes, Meditations on first Philosophy

I have formerly accepted as true and certain those things I learn through the senses. Like the fact that I am seated by this fire, in a dressing gown, with this paper in my hands. And how could I deny that this body is mine, unless I was as mad as those whose cerebella are so clouded by black bile that they believe they have an earthenware head or a glass body? Yet, I must remember that I have dreams, which are almost as insane. Often I have dreamt that I was dressed and seated near this fire, whilst I was lying undressed in bed! It seems to me that I am now awake, but I remind myself that I have dreamt that too. Yet even dreams are formed out of things real and true. Just as a painter represents sirens or satyrs from a medley of different animals; even quite novel images are still composed of real colours.

For the same reason, although general things may be imaginary, we are bound to confess that there are simpler objects which are real and true; such as colours, quantity or magnitude and number. That is why Physics, Astronomy, Medicine and those sciences which consider composite things, are dubious; but Arithmetic, Geometry and sciences which treat of things very simple and general contain some certainty. For whether I am awake or asleep, two and three always form five, and a square has four sides. It does not seem possible that truths so clear and apparent can be uncertain.

Meditation two.

I knew that I could eat and walk, but that would be impossible if my body were a deceit. I knew that I had sensations. But one cannot feel without body, and besides, I have dreamt of having sensations. What of thinking? This surely is an attribute that belongs to me; it alone cannot be separated from me. Could it be the case that if I ceased to think, then I would cease to exist?

Putting aside all which is not necessarily true: then I can accurately state that I am no more than a thing which thinks, that is to say a mind or a soul, or an understanding, or a reason.

I am, however, a real thing; but what thing? I have answered: a thing which thinks. I exist, but what am I? I am the I whom I know exists. The very knowledge of my existence does not depend on uncertain things, nor could I feign it; for there would still be the I that feigns things. I am a thinking thing which doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, imagines and feels.

From Slate Magazine

  1. Scientists at a Chinese robotic engineering institute remotely controlled a flying pigeon.First they implanted tiny electrodes in its brain. By activating the electrodes from a computer, they “forced the bird to comply with their commands,” flying right, left, up, or down.
  2. Scientists in Germany used pattern recognition software to predict, from functional magnetic resonance imaging of people’s brains, whether each person had secretly decided to add or subtract two numbers he was looking at. The computer correctly predicted the decision 71 percent of the time.
  3. By implanting electrodes in rats’ brains, scientists have created remote-controlled rodents they can command to turn left or right, climb trees and navigate piles of rubble and maybe someday, with the rats outfitted with tiny video cameras, use to search for disaster survivors.

    “If you have a collapsed building and there are people under the rubble, there’s no robot that exists now that would be capable of going down into such a difficult terrain and finding those people, but a rat would be able to do that,” said John Chapin, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at the State University of New York in Brooklyn.The lab animals aren’t exactly robot rats. They had to be trained to carry out the commands.

    Chapin’s team fitted five rats with electrodes and power-pack backpacks. When signaled by a laptop computer, the electrodes stimulated the rodents’ brains and cued them to scurry in the desired direction, then rewarded them by stimulating a pleasure center in the brain. The rats’ movements could be controlled up to 1,640 feet away, the length of more than five football fields.

The delightful essay by Daniel Dennett, Where Am I ( a must read)

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……  No way had been found to shield the brain from these deadly rays, which were apparently harmless to other tissues and organs of the body. So it had been decided that the person sent to recover the device shouldleave his brain behind.

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The day for surgery arrived at last and of course I was anesthetized and remember nothing of the operation itself. When I came out of anesthesia, I opened my eyes, looked around, and asked the inevitable, the traditional, the lamentably hackneyed postoperative question: “Where am l?”

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“Yorick,” I said aloud to my brain, “you are my brain. The rest of my body, seated in this chair, I dub ‘Hamlet.’ ” So here we all are: Yorick’s my brain, Hamlet’s my body, and I am Dennett. Avow, where am l? And when I think “where am l?” where’s that thought tokened? Is it tokened in my brain, lounging about in the vat, or right here between my ears where it seems to be tokened? Or nowhere? Its temporal coordinates give me no trouble; must it not have spatial coordinates as well?

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Thus, leading scientists, philosophers and lab technicians are confronting the problem of the world experience.  Maaya philosophy of Hinduism, under attack by materialists, gets indirect and tentative nods from such findings and speculations.

Statements like Hindus  have a school-boy philosophy of Maaya –  are questionable. The question is – is Maaya philosophy valid, invalid or partly valid?

We may be like mice in a maze, and unable to look at the maze from the outside. The world that we see is a creation of our brain/mind. If we can “jump ouside the maze”, then we might be able to see the entire landscape of the maze.

What is the maze made up of? Our thoughts, feelings, bodily and mental sensations and perceptions.  Each of them is another sub-maze in itself. We do not know which thought, feeling, sensation or perception will happen to us after 2 minutes, nay, the next instant.

Therefore, we need to closely watch these streams of our mind. They are not static, but dynamic, chaotic and incoherent.  The idea is to watch them like a witness, without interfering with them and perturbing the mind even more. As we watch, we gain the calmness and stillness which allows us to see the mind which creates the experience. If this mind is stilled, the walls of the maze are dissolved and a lofty horizon opens up to us.

This is what the 5 schools of Yoga (Hatha yoga, Jnana yoga, Bhakthi yoga, Raja yoga and Karma yoga) aim to achieve through various practices. The various ways are according to the practitioners’ temperaments. Each human being can chose to follow any of these paths, and understand his true identity and possibilities.

Posted in Philosophy, Science | 3 Comments »

Ancient Indians – some of them were materialists like us!

Posted by desicontrarian on June 6, 2009

There was a discussion a while ago on Carvakas – ancient Indian materialist philosophers. The writers were mostly admiring them for their boldness, bravery and general clarity of scientific thought. It was clear that they were sick of Ancient India’s spiritualism.

Ever since the colonial encounter, the West has associated India strongly with its spiritual tradition—often out of sympathy, respect, and the best of intentions, but sometimes dismissively as “the land of religions, the country of uncritical faiths and unquestioned practices.”[3] But such assessments are problematic. As Amartya Sen has argued, the history of India is incomplete without its tradition of scepticism. To see India “as overwhelmingly religious, or deeply anti-scientific, or exclusively hierarchical, or fundamentally unsceptical involves significant oversimplification of India’s past and present.” The West, Sen claims, focused unduly on India’s spiritual heritage, on “the differences—real or imagined—between India and the West,” partly because it was naturally drawn to what was unique and different in India.

The nature of these slanted emphases has tended to undermine an adequately pluralist understanding of Indian intellectual traditions. While India has … a vast religious literature [with] grand speculation on transcendental issues … there is also a huge—and often pioneering—literature, stretching over two and a half millennia, on mathematics, logic, epistemology, astronomy, physiology, linguistics, phonetics, economics, political science and psychology, among other subjects concerned with the here and now

The problem with materialism is the idea that whatever the five senses and the mind perceive, must be the truth. Not only that, that what is not perceived by these faculties, does not exist.
We also need to look at the perceiving apparatus.
If all communicating human beings were blinded for a few generations, colors, rainbows, clouds and the oceans would not be perceived properly – if at all. If some scientists then invented a seeing instrument, then these things would be perceived according to the capacity of the seeing instrument. As the instruments were improved by the scientists, more and more contours, shapes and sizes would come into perception.
There was a time when we did not know that electricity and magnetism existed. We did not know that x-rays, ultra-violet and infra-red rays, sounds below the hearing threshold etc existed. A Carvaka in those times would be justified in saying that these things did not exist, they were pure speculation to fool the people.
From a neuro-scientific point of view, we could say that any experience is only a matter of neural firings in the brain. Thus we could experience and see things which did not really exist. I believe Francis Crick takes this position in The Astonishing Hypothesis. In that case, nothing exists but patterns in the brain. Then who can verify whether the brain exists? Further, whether you and I exist? This will lead to Descartes!
Immanuel Kant is one thinker who has written about these matters very well. The best development of his thoughts come from P.D.Ouspensky – in his books Tertium Organum and A New Model of the Universe.
Ancient Indians have also contemplated and debated from these alternative models of knowledge. The Idealist schools focused on the instruments of knowledge, based on the reason that precise instruments were needed for proper perception, and poor instruments lead to faulty knowledge. Therefore it was necessary to know and refine the instruments of knowledge. This gave rise to the idea “Know Thy Self”.

Happy Carvakas!

Ajita Keshakambalin, a prominent Carvaka and contemporary of the Buddha, proclaimed that humans literally go from earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust:

Man is formed of the four elements. When he dies, earth returns to the aggregate of earth, water to water, fire to fire, and air to air, while his senses vanish into space. Four men with the bier take up the corpse: they gossip as far as the burning-ground, where his bones turn the color of a dove’s wing and his sacrifices end in ashes. They are fools who preach almsgiving, and those who maintain the existence [of immaterial categories] speak vain and lying nonsense. When the body dies both fool and wise alike are cut off and perish. They do not survive after death.

According to the Carvaka, the soul is only the body qualified by intelligence. It has no existence apart from the body, only this world exists, there is no beyond—the Vedas are a cheat; they serve to make men submissive through fear and rituals. Nature is indifferent to good and evil, and history does not bear witness to Divine Providence. Pleasure and pain are the central facts of life. Virtue and vice are not absolute but mere social conventions. The Carvaka advised:

While life is yours, live joyously;

None can escape Death’s searching eye:

When once this frame of ours they burn,

How shall it e’er again return?

Ever since the European enlightenment, scientific materialism has been the dominant philosophy of the modern age. Thinking people find it easy to accept and internalize. Bertrand Russell and the logical positivists have developed this philosophy to its peak.

The problem with materialism is the idea that whatever the five senses and the mind perceive, must be the truth. Not only that, that what is not perceived by these faculties, does not exist.

We also need to look at the perceiving apparatus.

If all communicating human beings were blinded for a few generations, colors, rainbows, clouds and the oceans would not be perceived properly – if at all. If some scientists then invented a seeing instrument, then these things would be perceived according to the capacity of the seeing instrument. As the instruments were improved by the scientists, more and more contours, shapes and sizes would come into perception.

There was a time when we did not know that electricity and magnetism existed. We did not know that x-rays, ultra-violet and infra-red rays, sounds below the hearing threshold etc existed. A Carvaka in those times would be justified in saying that these things did not exist, they were pure speculation to fool the people.

From a neuro-scientific point of view, we could say that any experience is only a matter of neural firings in the brain. Thus we could experience and see things which did not really exist. I believe Francis Crick takes this position in The Astonishing Hypothesis. In that case, nothing exists but patterns in the brain. Then who can verify whether the brain exists? Further, whether you and I exist? This will lead to Descartes!

Immanuel Kant is one thinker who has written about these matters very well. The best development of his thoughts come from P.D.Ouspensky – in his books Tertium Organum and A New Model of the Universe.

Ancient Indians have also contemplated and debated from these alternative models of knowledge. The Idealist schools focused on the instruments of knowledge, based on the reason that precise instruments were needed for proper perception, and poor instruments lead to faulty knowledge. Therefore it was necessary to know and refine the instruments of knowledge. This gave rise to the idea “Know Thy Self”.

The writer of this article then responded to my comments.

There are many “problems” with materialism depending on how it is defined and who is assessing. Materialistic ontology can range from mechanical to physicalistic, reductive to emergent, or commit not much more than a rejection of supernatural categories. How and what kind of knowledge one gains about one’s notion of reality is another variable (epistemology conditions, and is conditioned in turn by ontology). Two ways we encountered in the Carvaka context are sense perception and inference. So yes, the perceiving apparatus and the mind are pivotal to all knowledge. Even knowing thyself is inescapably shaped by them.

I responded to that.

We can’t know how inescapable this is. Initial conditions would be so. But as the skill in self-observation improves, internal errors could be more quickly detected. Just a hypothesis, since most of us have not even started on this.

There’s plenty of yoga and meditation literature by practitioners that provide detailed maps of stages in self-observation.

In a small booklet called Alternative States of Consciousness, Daniel Goleman has rigorously described a 7-stage process of Buddhist meditation with 4 “rational” and 3 “super-rational” stages in a Self-observer’s journey.

The first 4 stages as I remember are:

1. Initial (on an object of contemplation)
2. Access (to the object)
3. Merger (with the object)
4. Bliss.

The next 3 stages are:

5. Infinite space(or emptiness)
6. Infinite consciousness.
7. Neither perception nor non-perception.

I find the study believable and fascinating.

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