CONSCIOUSNESS AND SCIENCE
Consciousness is a mystery for a common person. Ancient Sages and Rishis of India explored consciousness in deep meditation and they recorded their observations in the Upanisads and in other scriptures. The Rishis wanted everyone to explore deep into it, to find the truth. They called consciousness as “chaitanya”, because it illumines everything. Chaitanya is an experience and it is not known in any other way. Science and other philosophies ignored consciousness.
Knowledge must include the ‘knower'(subject), beyond the ‘known'(object). Science explains the known, Upanishad explains the knower. Without the knower, the knowledge is incomplete. Knowledge about the knower, is not a superstition, in fact it is the real science. The known is always changing and there is only one truth, which is unchangeable, and that is the knower, the pure consciousness. According to Mundaka Upanishad, there are two types of knowledge. They are
2. Apara vidya.
Para vidya, is the external knowledge, which means knowledge about which the five senses come into contact. This is called the object knowledge. Science, technology, literature etc. are some of the examples of this knowledge.
Apara vidya, is the research done internally. The chaitanya knows about itself and also about its manifestations. This is called the subject knowledge. Brahma vidya(science of the consciousness) is the subject knowledge.
Upanisad says that, man is not a mere body. He is Sat-Chit-Ananda swarupa, meaning truth-consciousness-bliss. The aim of the Upanishad is to make a person realise that the self in him is non-dual infinite consciousness.
Science is concerned with the body and brain; Spirituality is concerned with mind and its source. According to spirituality, the source of every object is infinite. There is an unknown factor behind every known object, which unfortunately science cannot explain. The unknown factor can be realised by Advaita philosophy, it can only be realised and cannot be exhibited. Science needs visual proofs. Consciousness(Brahman) is beyond the five senses and the results can be experienced after a very long journey.
A person does not know an object, until the consciousness illumines the mind. A thought becomes active, only when consciousness is drawn to it, else, the thought will not have any value. Consciousness manifests itself, and it is independent. Creation is dependent on consciousness else, creation will not exist. Beyond this chaotic system, there is a serene source called consciousness. Consciousness is not an object; It is the subject. Existing in the subject, we have to analyse the subject.
It is very difficult to give a scientific explanation for consciousness, because without knowing his own self, the researcher cannot complete his research. Different manifestations are different levels of consciousness. In Hindu philosophy, Bhagavan Shiv is the highest level of consciousness(various religions have their own highest level of consciousness). Mountains and stones are the lowest level of consciousness. “The all pervading consciousness, Brahman interpenetrates everything living and non-living”(Chandogya Upanisad). If the consciousness manifests completely, then the person is a divine person (God). If consciousness manifests partially, then he is a normal person. If consciousness is dormant, then it is a matter alone (example stone). Swami Vivekananda said, ‘Mind at a very low rate of vibration is what is known as matter. Matter at a high rate of vibration is known as mind. Both matter and mind is the same substance”.
Mental states are the different kinds of vibrations that emanate from consciousness. Some mental states vibrate in a calm and serene mode. They reflect consciousness in the pure form. Most of the mental states are agitated, and they reflect consciousness according to the mind. A pure mind will portray consciousness in a pure form. The manner, in which the consciousness emerges from an object, cannot be exhibited scientifically. Science can be realised by the five senses, whereas Consciousness is non-divisible, non-dual, and infinite. Consciousness cannot be measured, whereas, science needs exact measurements. Science can only understand the outward manifestation of consciousness.
The role of the observer, his nature, and his observations are very important to complete the research, which science or quantum theory cannot explain.
The uncertainty principle of Werner Heisenberg states that,
1. Sub-atomic particles, in the ultimate analysis, can never be known with perfect precision. Heisenberg determined that our observations have an effect on the behavior of quanta
2. Strict causality is impossible in sub-atomic world.
3. Purely objective description of reality is not possible.
The reason stated above forced the quantum physicist to create thought experiments based on the observations from real experiments conducted at the quantum level. Scientist feels that “there is a limit to how well we can ever really understand the universe”. World is not complete without the observer, though the observer is unattached to the happenings of the world. When a matter is explained, the influence of the observer on the matter also is to be explained, else the explanation is incomplete. This incompleteness is reflected in the different fields of science. For example, with all due respect for the remarkable achievements in the medical field, I would like to point out that, medical science is unable to cure all. Medicine and treatment works depending on the mentality of the patient. Self-confidence, which is the reflection of the consciousness, works along with medicines. Mostly, along with the medicines and treatment, a disease is cured depending on the mentality of the patient and the doctor.
Consciousness is complete, fully content, and infinite. Then, what could be the reason for this manifestation? Sri Gaudapada says ‘there cannot be any other reason, other than; it is the very nature or essence of Brahman’. If Brahman exists, then manifestation will also exist. If Brahman decides, it will retreat the manifestation and make it dormant.
Science takes a diversion outside, and philosophy takes a diversion inside. However, some factors are common both for science and for philosophy. Science explains the creation in its own terms as atoms, protons, neutrons etc. Similarly, philosophy explains the creation as prakriti, purusha, ahamkara, mahat tattwa, and their twenty-four evolutes as best explained by sankhya philosophy. Philosophy will never explain about the atoms, nuclear reactors, spacecrafts or the other comforts of the material world, because the aim of the philosophy is to understand and explain the very existence. If the basics are not clear, there will be flaw in further research. Philosophy aims at the fundamental concepts of the material world.
A person who experiences consciousness cannot exhibit it before anyone. A Rishi will be “content with what comes to him without effort, free from the pairs of opposite and envy, even minded in success and failure, though acting he is not bound”(Baghavad Gita,4,22). We can understand that a person has realised Brahman from his behavior. He transcends the three gunas(sattwa, Rajas, tamas) and establish his mind in that infinite consciousness. The Rishis of India are of this nature. They meditate and realise the truth, and they record their experiences in the form of slokas(couplets) and as poems. They help others to understand about the unknown.
Mind, in the form of thought activates the brain. Mind is subtle and brain is physical. Medical science explains the brain as an information processing system. The brain is divided into the right and left cerebral hemispheres. The cerebral cortex is divided into numerous sensory receiving areas and motor control areas. A human brain contains approximately 100billion neurons. All types of thoughts, emotions, and variety of impressions depend on the function of the neurons. Neurons receive signals through dendrites, and send the information through axons. Dendrites and axons are the extension of the neuron bodies. The dendrites are highly branched and the axons are not branched. Chemical transmitters called synapses mediate communication between different neurons. Information moves along axons in the form of electrical impulses, known as action potentials. The neurons connect with each other through the dendrites and axons, and this gives rise to various thoughts and memories. A single thought connects many neurons. Neuroscientists say that, the connection of the neurons gives rise to thoughts. On what basis, are the neurons connected? The neuroscientists say that, the connection of neurons is a direct neural correlate of awareness. What causes the awareness to select those particular neurons to connect? Philosophical answer to this is, “the mind”. Mind is the storage of information, which stores the experiences as impressions. The impressions, one after the other send waves to the surface of the mind, and creates ripples on the mind stuff. The ripples activate similar mental impressions and within seconds, the whole mental layer is filled with similar thoughts waves. Each thought is a vibration with a definite frequency. The thought waves stimulate the brain, and the brain functions as explained above. The mind has to be controlled, to control the activities of the brain. The mind is based on consciousness. Mind is the connection between the soul and the body. Thought waves from the mind directly affect the brain. A human being is a mind and body complex, where the body and its related parts can be explained by science, whereas the mind its related part is explained by philosophy. We view the world according to our mentality. The mind expands by gathering information.
In ancient times, there was a wide gap between science and philosophy. Advaita philosophy remains the same as explained in the Upanishad. Today, with the advancement of science in many ways, the gap seems to decrease. Science feels that the universe is matter and energy. Advaitam says that consciousness is inherent in the universe. Science may find it difficult to accept this philosophy. What philosophy says is, even though science is highly advanced and acceptable it has to borrow more from philosophy to understand the basic facts about the universe. By the exploration of the quantum theory scientist try to understand philosophy through science. Swami Vivekananda believed that, physics will accept the conclusions of Advaita vedanta, but for this, the research in both physics and Advaita vedanta has to go deep into the grass root level. The famous Indian scientist Sir J.C.Bose discovered that the same consciousness pulsates in man, plants, and even metals but in different ways. Three decades after Sir J.C.Bose, Erwin schrodinger wrote, ‘how does the idea of plurality arise at all?’ Upanishad says that “sarvam khalvidam Brahma”, meaning everything in this universe is Brahman (consciousness).
In an altered state of consciousness, we experience the universal presence of the non-dual consciousness. Only a human being can express consciousness in a better way. “Creation is the appearance of name and form of the infinite Brahman, which is of the nature of absolute existence-consciousness-bliss, like foam on the surface of an ocean”( Drig Drishya Viveka).
Energy or force in the universe is derived from one cosmic energy( prana). Prana is also a manifestation of Brahman(consciousness). Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa compares Brahman -the absolute consciousness as a ripple less sea, and compares cosmic energy(shakti) with a ripple less sea creating typhoons. Consciousness is called Siva and the cosmic energy is shakti. Consciousness works through the ego, mind, and body. Brihadaranyaka Upanisad says “one universal imperishable consciousness has penetrated everything in this universe” Br.Up 3,8,11
Many scientists believe that mysticism is a weakness, but Albert Einstein believed that ‘It is the theory which decides, what can be observed’. Einstein also said that ‘pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamt’. Indian Rishis during meditation came face to face with reality. They did not depend on anything external, yet they were able to understand the whole universe.
Advaita philosophy states that, ‘you are not the part of the whole, you are the whole’. Powerful statements like “Tat Twam Asi”, “Aham Brahma Asmi”, proves it. Pure consciousness cannot be divided. When I am that pure consciousness, then I have to be the whole. I cannot be part of the whole, because consciousness is undivided. The goal of Advaita vedanta is to realise this factor. Swami Vivekananda said,”Religion is the manifestation of the divinity already in man. Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest the divinity within”.
Great scientist like Niels Bohr, Prof.John A.Wheeler, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and Edwin Schrodinger believed in philosophy, especially the vedanta philosophy.
Swami Vivekananda says, “Religion is the science which learns the transcendental in nature through the transcendental in man. We know little of man, consequently, little of the universe. When we know more of man, we shall probably know more of the universe. Man is the epitome of all things and all knowledge is in him”.
Mind is the cause of dualism. When the mind vanishes, only consciousness remains. Philosophy and Science cannot converge in dualism(dvaitam). Only in Advaitam, philosophy and science can converge. According to Advaitam, there is no attributes to the absolute. Consciousness is a deep ocean, whereas science is a ship sailing on that ocean. Science is external and limited; consciousness is infinite, non-dual, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. Science emanates from consciousness; manifestations of the consciousness are intelligently explained by science. Science and consciousness cannot be separated. Until this fact is realised, arguments and misunderstandings will continue.
The Bhagavad Gita(Swami Sivananda, Trans.) Uttaranchal, Himalayas, The Divine Life Society(2003).
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad(Swami Sivananda, Trans.)Uttaranchal, Himalayas, The Divine Life Society(2002).
The Complete Works Of Swami Vivekananda, Mayavati, Himalayas, Advaita Ashrama(22ndreprint,2011).
Papers read at a seminar held at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, KolKata, India, on February 8 and 9, 2002.
Philosophy and Science – An exploratory Approach to Consciousness, Kolkata, The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture(2003).