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A Course in Consciousness

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1 A Course in Consciousness
This is a course in questioning and in seeing, not in believing. Question everything (but not necessarily in class)! Believe nothing! See directly!

2 Why are we dissatisfied with life?
We feel separate from our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. We think they should not be the way they are… …so we resist them or try to change them. The more we resist them or try to change them, the more separate from them we feel.

3 We feel separate from the world and others…
We think they should not be the way they are… …so we resist them or try to change them. The more we resist them or try to change them, the more separate from them we feel.

4 We feel separate from Reality
What is Reality, anyway? We yearn and yearn to know it. Yet, the more we yearn for it, the farther we seem to be from it.

5 Who/what is this “me” that is trying so hard?
Maybe “me” is what we should investigate! But, that seems too hard and it might make our heads hurt. (We’ll do that later.) Let’s start with something “easy”, like philosophy and physics. That might give us some answers… …and maybe it will help us answer the hard questions!

6 The concept of objective reality
Objective reality is assumed to exist whether or not it is being observed. The existence of separate objects is assumed to be verifiable by observation, at least in principle. The predominant feature of all objects is that they are by definition separate from each other. This means that separation is a basic assumption… …so the observer-object is assumed to be separate from the observed-object. We will see later that these are all nothing but assumptions!

7 Objective reality (cont.)
In addition to the assumption of separation, objective reality has three other components: 1) Observation of an object or its absence. 2) Communication of the observation to others. 3) Agreement with others on the existence or nonexistence of the object.

8 Still more on objective reality
Agreement is required because… 1) Agreement is required to define the object. 2) The existence or nonexistence of the object must be confirmed by at least one other observer. If it is not confirmed, the existence or nonexistence of the object is indeterminate. 3) The object exists only for those who agree that it exists. For those who disagree, it doesn’t exist!

9 But, what is it that is being observed?
All of our observations consist of sense impressions and/or thoughts. In themselves, sense impressions do not convey a sense of separation. For example, the tactile sense senses only pressures and textures, not boundaries. The visual sense senses only colors and shapes, not boundaries.

10 Similarly for the other senses
The hearing sense senses only quality and character of sound, such as tone, intensity, modulation, etc., not boundaries. The taste and smell senses also sense only quality and character, not boundaries. The internal senses also sense quality and character such as pain and pleasure, not boundaries.

11 So, what is an object? Since sensing itself does not include separation, an object is not sensed. It is thought. An object is a thought that includes an identifier, which is a name or pointer. Thus, if something is thought to be separate from something else, and if we refer to it by a name or pointer, it is an object. (A name may be simply a pronoun, like “you”, “me, “him”, “her”, “this”, “that”, “they”, “it”). Example: I (as an object) might think I am separate from you (as an object).

12 An object is the thought of it
Remember that the definition of objective existence requires only separation, observation, communication, and agreement. Observation need not require sensing of it. It might mean merely thinking of it. Likewise, with communication and agreement. Thus, objective reality requires only thought, not sensing.

13 Other examples of objects
Mathematical objects, verbal objects, visualized objects, imagined objects, remembered objects, fantasized objects, and hallucinated objects. In these case, sense impressions, such as the felt senses of emotions, feelings, and intuition might also be present but they are not necessary for the object to exist.

14 What is it that is aware of an object?
What is aware cannot itself be an object because what would be aware of that object? If what is aware is not an object, it cannot be separate. We can call it Consciousness or Awareness (note the capitalization). By definition, Consciousness, or Awareness, has no limits or boundaries to make it separate.

15 The philosophy of materialism (pure objectivity) (Earliest materialists: Atomists Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus: BC) Everything is assumed to be matter (or, at least, it is governed by physical law). Space and time are assumed to be objective—they are assumed to exist whether or not there is an observer. Matter is assumed to be objective—it is assumed to exist whether or not there is an observer. If consciousness exists, it is assumed to be an epiphenomenon of matter with no independent existence of its own.

16 Personalized statement of materialism
“I am a body.” Do you agree with this statement? If so, are you all of the body or just parts of it? Which parts are you? Which parts are you not? Where in the body are you? What is this “I” that is a body? Is it material? Is it conscious?

17 Other questions about materialism
Which, if any, of the following are conscious, and what is the evidence for it? Cats and dogs? Plants? Microbes? Self-reproducing protein molecules (e.g., prions)? Inanimate objects (e.g., rocks)?

18 The philosophy of Cartesian dualism (objectivity plus subjectivity) (René Descartes, 1596-1650)
Descartes proposed that mind and matter are two fundamental, independent substances. He proposed that a mind is an indivisible, conscious, thinking entity without physical size or spatial location. He proposed that a body is a divisible object that has physical size, i.e., it occupies space. He proposed that mind and body can interact with each other.

19 Personalized statement of Cartesian dualism:
“I am a mind and I have a body”. This implies that “I” am subjective but the body is objective. (Note that the complementary statement, “I am a body and I have a mind”, is a personalized statement of materialism.) Do you agree with this statement of Cartesian dualism? If so, are you all of the mind or just parts of it? Which parts are you? Which parts are you not? “Where” in the mind are you?

20 Other questions about Cartesian dualism
Similar questions as for materialism: Which objects are conscious and which are not: Animals? Plants? Microbes? Prions? Rocks?

21 The philosophy of idealism (pure subjectivity) Plato (380 BC), Berkeley (1710), Kant (1781)
Berkeley’s subjective idealism states that: There are no material objects. Objects exist only as perceptions in the minds of finite spirits. God is infinite spirit that is the source of all perceptions. This is similar but not identical to the teaching of nonduality (next slide).

22 The teaching of nonduality Ramana Maharshi ( ), Nisargadatta Maharaj ( ), Ramesh Balsekar ( ), Francis Lucille (1944-), Greg Goode (1943-) Awareness is all there is. Awareness does not exist in space. Space is a thought in Awareness. Since space is only a thought in Awareness, objects, which supposedly occupy space and are separate in space, are also nothing but thoughts in Awareness. Therefore, separation is also only a thought in Awareness.

23 The mind in nonduality • A mind is a collection of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions that is commonly thought to be separate from other minds. “My” mind is the collection of “my” thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions. “Your” mind is the collection of “your” thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions.

24 However…. If space is only a thought, can there really be separation between minds? If there is no separation between minds, why am “I” not aware of “your” thoughts? If there is no separation between minds, why is communication necessary between them? The ultimate questions: Who are the “I” and the “you”?

25 Classical physics Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
Classical physics was assumed to be both materialistic and objective. Consciousness was not part of the theory. Classical objects were assumed to have separate, independent existences whether or not they were being observed. They were assumed to have definite properties, such as position, velocity, and orientation whether or not these were being observed. These properties were assumed to have no intrinsic uncertainties.

26 Classical physics (cont.)
Classical objects were assumed to be acted upon by classical forces such as electromagnetism and gravity. The laws of classical physics were deterministic. This means that the state of the universe in the future is assumed to be completely determined by the state of the universe in the present, which is assumed to be determined by the state of the universe in the past.

27 Questions about classical physics
How might our lives be different if there were no external objective reality but we did not know it? What if we did know it? How might our lives be different if the world were deterministic but we did not know it? Suppose we really accepted the principle of determinism as truth. How would we feel about our own feelings, decisions, and actions? About other people’s feelings, decisions, and actions?

28 In the late 1800s, problems arose with classical physics
It could not explain certain experiments (e.g., blackbody radiation, the photoelectric effect, and line spectra of atoms). After 3 decades of trying to make classical theory work, physicists replaced it with quantum theory in the 1920s. (Why did it take so long?) In order to get a theory that successfully explained the experiments, physicists had to abandon the basic assumption that objective reality consisted of separate, independently existing, observable objects!

29 The development of quantum theory
Like classical theory, quantum theory was formulated to describe only measurements on objective processes. At first, it was intended to describe only measurements on microscopic processes, but now it is assumed to describe measurements on all physical processes, from those of elementary particles to those of the entire universe. It is the only physical theory we have at the present time. (Classical physics is a good approximation for macroscopic masses.) If it is incorrect, we have as yet no other theory to replace it. In every direct and indirect experimental test of quantum theory so far, the basic principles have never been shown to be invalid.

30 What does quantum theory describe?
Quantum theory is a theory of observation. Most physicists accept that quantum theory correctly predicts the probability that an observation will yield a specific result (e.g., the probability that a position measurement will yield a specific position). This is called the statistical interpretation. But, both predictions and observations can be made without requiring preexisting objects. For example, consider the following three cases: Case #1: If we are not observing an object, how can we assume that it exists? Case #2: If we are making an observation, how would we know we are making an observation on a preexisting object? An observation need not refer to a preexisting object (e.g., a thought, feeling, fantasy, imagination, dream). Case #3: If we assume that a preexisting object exists, how can we verify its existence? The only possible way is to make an observation….but see Case #2.

31 Does quantum theory say anything about objective reality?
Classical physics was the study of the properties of what were assumed to be preexisting objects. Objects were assumed to be preexisting because it was thought that they could be perceived directly with the human senses, and the mind told us that the objects existed even when we did not perceive them. However, quantum theory predicts microscopic phenomena, i.e., those that cannot be perceived directly with the human senses… …and it is not obvious how to relate the predictions to the behavior of preexisting objects, if there are any. An interpretation is needed for this… …but the interpretation is not self-evident.

32 In fact… …there are many interpretations of quantum theory, almost as many as there are those who interpret it. We still don’t know if there is a “correct” one… …and, if there is, we don’t know what it is!

33 Are there any quantum objects here?
Measured probabilities of locations of “iron atoms” forming a circular ring of peaks surrounding probabilities of locations of “electrons” forming continuous circular rings. The “surfaces” are densely packed point measurements. But, only positions were measured, not objects!

34 Richard Feynman (1918-1988) (Brilliant, creative, iconic theoretical physicist, and bongo drummer)
“…I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” The Character of Physical Law (1960).

35 There are three general types of interpretations of quantum theory
Interpretation in terms of purely objective reality (objective interpretation). Interpretation in terms of Cartesian dualism (objectivity plus subjectivity). Interpretation in terms of purely subjective reality (subjective interpretation).

36 The Copenhagen interpretation Born, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Bohr (1925-1927)
Even though the Copenhagen interpretation is supposed to be the “orthodox” interpretation, there is widespread disagreement on it. Some physicists think it is purely objective. Some physicists think it is partly objective and partly subjective. And a few (very few) think it is purely subjective.

37 In the Copenhagen interpretation…
Space and time are assumed to be objectively real. The universe is assumed to consist of a quantum wave that exists over all space plus a macroscopic observer or measurement device.

38 Elementary description of a physical wave
A physical wave is a traveling oscillation. Physical waves carry energy and momentum. Examples: Water waves and electromagnetic waves. Simulation at: However, the quantum wave is not a physical wave! It is a purely mathematical wave!

39 Big paradox: The quantum wave is purely mathematical, but is assumed to be objectively real!
The quantum wave is assumed to exist whether or not there are observations. It represents the probability (not the certainty) that a specific result (e.g., a position) will be obtained if a specific type of observation (e.g., of position) is made. It describes all of the possible results (e.g., all of the possible positions) that could be obtained , but cannot predict which result will actually be obtained.

40 Quantum wave collapse At the moment of observation, the quantum wave is assumed to change irreversibly from a description of all of the possibilities (e.g., of position) that could be observed to a description of only the result that is observed. This is called quantum wave reduction, or quantum wave collapse.

41 Locality and nonlocality
Locality: No physical effects can travel faster than the velocity of light. Nonlocality: Some physical effects may travel faster than the velocity of light. In classical theory, there are no nonlocal effects. Quantum wave collapse is assumed to occur over all space simultaneously, hence it is nonlocal.

42 The next observation After an observation and quantum wave collapse, a new quantum wave emerges. It represents all of the possibilities that are allowed by the previous observation. Another observation results in another quantum wave collapse, etc. In this interpretation, a sequence of observations results from a sequence of quantum wave collapses. Without quantum wave collapse, there are no observations.

43 After 85 years, quantum wave collapse is still not understood
It could be a result of conscious observation (not explainable by physics). This implies that consciousness is nonlocal. It could be a result of the quantum wave of the system interacting with the quantum wave of the measuring device and environment (called decoherence→this results in the many-worlds interpretation). Decoherence cannot explain nonlocality. It could be a result of a modification of the Schrödinger equation, the basic equation of quantum physics (called objective collapse→this also cannot explain nonlocality).

44 Daring prediction! Quantum wave collapse will never be understood objectively because it starts with an impossible assumption, that the quantum wave is objective when every physicist knows that it is just a mathematical formula!

45 Hidden-variables interpretation (A purely objective interpretation) David Bohm (1917-1992)
Particles are assumed to exist as classical particles whether or not they are observed. They are assumed to be acted on by the classical forces, such as electromagnetism and gravity. In addition, the particles are assumed to be acted on by a quantum force, which is derived from the quantum wave.

46 No collapse in hidden-variables theory, however, it is nonlocal
In hidden variables theory, classical particles (real particles) are always present, so no wave collapse is necessary. However, hidden variables theory is intrinsically nonlocal because the quantum force acts at all points in space simultaneously.

47 Many-worlds interpretation (Hugh Everett, 1930-1982)
Many-worlds is a partly objective and partly subjective interpretation. The entire universe is described by a single quantum wave. The quantum wave is assumed to exist as the only reality from the moment of the big bang. Since there can be no observer or observation that is separate from the universe, the quantum wave never collapses. At any moment that “I” (as part of the universe) make an observation, the wave branches to manifest the world that “I” observe with a probability given by the wave. There is no wave collapse, but there is a manifestation of “my” world.

48 Problems with the many-worlds interpretation
At the moment of a branching, “my” observation manifests my world. All of the other possibilities given by the quantum wave are manifested as other worlds. There is a “me” in every one of them. The different worlds cannot communicate with each other. Since there is no wave collapse, the quantum wave of the universe continues forever. A world becomes manifest over all of its own space simultaneously, thus, many-worlds is nonlocal. There is no explanation for how observation manifests the different worlds.

49 Second daring prediction!
Nobody will ever figure out how branching occurs because it is assumed to start from a quantum wave (which every physicist knows is nothing but a mathematical formula) and ends up with a physical world!

50 Mark Everett (1963-), son of Hugh Everett and founder of Eels
“My father never, ever said anything to me about his theories. I was in the same house with him for at least 18 years but he was a total stranger to me. He was in his own parallel universe. He was a physical presence, like the furniture, sitting there jotting down crazy notations at the dining room table night after night. I think he was deeply disappointed that he knew he was a genius but the rest of the world didn’t know it.” Mark’s father, Hugh died of a heart attack at age 51. His sister committed suicide at age 39 and his mother died two years later. His cousin and her husband were flight attendants who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

51 Bell’s theorem (John Stewart Bell, 1928-1990)
Bell devised a way to determine experimentally whether reality could be described by local, real theories (i.e., local, hidden variable theories) by deriving an inequality that was valid only if local, real theories were valid. The inequality depended only on experimentally measured quantities, hence it was independent of any specific theory. Any violation of the inequality would prove that reality cannot be both local and real.

52 Many experiments have shown that reality violates Bell’s inequality
Thus, reality cannot be both local and real. Furthermore, using Bell’s inequality, Aspect, et al. ( ) showed that reality is nonlocal. Then, Gröblacher, et al. (2007) showed that, if hidden variables describes reality, reality must be bizarre and counterintuitive. However, even before these experiments had been done, physicists had largely abandoned the assumption of real particles. Thus, they had abandoned the assumption that particles exist if they are not observed.

53 A purely subjective interpretation of quantum theory
Currently, only the statistical interpretation, which states that quantum theory correctly predicts the probability that an observation will yield a specific result (e.g., the probability that a position measurement will yield a specific position), can be purely subjective. It is purely subjective provided there is no objective wavefunction and provided both the prediction and the observation are subjective. If it is purely subjective, there are no problems of collapse, branching, and nonlocality because they all result from the assumption that the wavefunction is objective.

54 A third daring prediction!
Both the Copenhagen and many-worlds interpretations will eventually either be abandoned or will be made purely subjective by assuming that the wavefunction is a tool for calculating subjective probabilities, instead of being objectively real.

55 The experiments of Benjamin Libet, et al. (1973)
Subject is told to lift a finger whenever he/she chooses. The EEG of subject is measured simultaneously with the EMG from the finger.

56 The results • The subject associates his/her awareness of the urge to act with his/her observations of the time on a clock. No separate muscle action is required. This process is repeated many thousands of times and the results are averaged. Result: The average EEG signal begins 0.3 s before the subjective awareness of an impulse to lift the finger. Thus: The brain begins to process a muscle act prior to the subjective awareness of the urge to act!

57 The experiments of Soon, Brass, Heinze, and Haynes (2008)
Functional MRI (blood oxygen level dependent) measurements of the brain showed that the brain begins to process pushing either the left button (dark voxels) or the right button (light voxels) up to 10 s before any awareness of the subjective urge to push a button. (Instead of watching a clock, the subject watched letters being flashed on a screen every 0.5 s in random order. The randomness guaranteed that the subject could not anticipate the letters.)

58 Generalization of these experiments
Any mental or sensory event (as measured by brain waves or scans) happens before “our” awareness of it (as measured by subjective response) because the brain requires time to process the event before we can become aware of it . Thus, all subjective experiences happen after the corresponding objective events. This applies to “volitional” experiences as well as “nonvolitional” ones.

59 Example: Free will Free will assumes that we can choose our thoughts.
If we can choose our thoughts, why do we have thoughts that we don’t want? Free will assumes that we can choose our feelings. If we can choose our feelings, why do we have feelings that we don’t want? Free will assumes that we can choose our actions. If we can choose our actions, why do we do things that we don’t want to do?

60 Exercises on free will To choose means to have control over choice.
Try to stop thinking for 30 seconds. Were you successful? Try to stop feeling for 30 seconds. Were you successful? Try to stop sensing for 30 seconds. Were you successful? Try to stop all muscle action for 30 seconds. Were you successful? If “we” can’t control our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions, what can “we” control?

61 Can “we” control anything?
“We” experience thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions but “we” can see directly that “we” cannot control them. “We” experience will but “we” can see directly that it is not free. If “we” think “we” should have control but don’t, “we” suffer.

62 The cause of suffering Suffering is a result of identification with a “me”. Identification with a “me” results in the belief that “we” have control. The belief that “we” have control results in judging, clinging, and resisting. “We” judge our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions to be good/bad, right/wrong, virtuous/evil, etc., and… …“we” cling to the “good” ones and resist the “bad” ones. It is judging, clinging, and resisting that comprise suffering, not the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions in themselves.

63 Examples of judging, resisting, and clinging
“I” should not have these thoughts (“I” should have only pure thoughts). “I” should not have these feelings (“I” should have only pleasant feelings). “I” should not have these emotions (“I” should have only loving emotions). “I” should not have these sensations (“I” should have only pleasant sensations). “I” should not act the way “I” do (“I” should always act compassionately).

64 If “we” really do have control, why is clinging to it necessary?
Perhaps “we” cling to the idea of having control because “we” are afraid not to. In fact, at some level, perhaps “we” know that “we” have no control but are afraid to know it! But, is control necessary? Perhaps “we” would be just fine without it!

65 The end of suffering When the “me” is investigated, it cannot be found. When it is clearly seen that there is no “me”, and that no “me” is needed, suffering ends. This might have to be repeated many times.

66 Nonduality Nonduality is the teaching that Consciousness is all there is. This is a pointer to Reality, not a description of It. Symbolically, Consciousness is both the circle (Awareness) and everything inside it (arisings in Awareness).

67 Duality Consciousness is always whole and unsplit.
However, Consciousness seems to be split into separate parts with names (e.g., yin and yang). Anything that is thought to be separate from anything else is nothing but a concept. For example, yin and yang are nothing but concepts. YANG YIN YIN

68 The basic split Consciousness seems to be split into “I”/“me” and not-”I”/”me”. However, nondualistically, there are no separate persons… …so there is no “you” that is separate from "me". “You” and “I” are only concepts in Awareness. However, the illusion of separation is extremely persistent. All spiritual practices have the aim of seeing through it. Clearly seeing through this illusion is called “disidentification, “enlightenment”, “awakening”, or “nirvana”.

69 If I am not a concept, what am I?
Nondualistically, I am pure Awareness without any separation from anything. I am the circle, the yin, and the yang. That is my true nature… …and I have never been anything else.

70 Spiritual practice Spiritual practice helps us to see that I am not separate from anything else. It helps us see that there is no “I” that can do anything or control anything. The paradox of spiritual practice: We have to do it in order to see that we are not doing it! There are many spiritual practices, almost as many as there are teachers.

71 Meditation Meditation is best learned from an experienced teacher.
You may have to try out several teachers and several forms of meditation to find one that will help you to realize your true nature as pure Awareness. A widely taught form of Buddhist meditation is called Vipassana and consists of two aspects: Concentration Mindfulness

72 Concentration Concentration enables mindfulness (next slide).
We start by relaxing and resting easily for a few moments. From a state of relaxation, we gently bring the attention to the breath by feeling it from the inside. Our attention will wander and we will become lost in thought. Whenever we notice that we have been lost, we gently bring the attention back to the breath. We do this several million times. Each time we become aware of having been lost, it is another awakening! We stay relaxed the whole time. The more effort we put into it, the less likely it is that it will helpful.

73 Mindfulness We can practice mindfulness while sitting or in activity.
We notice our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions as they arise. We don't ignore them or suppress them, nor do we analyze or judge them. We simply notice them nonjudgmentally, moment by moment, as they arise and fall in the field of Awareness. We notice that Awareness is unaffected by anything that arises in it.

74 Inquiry: The most common spiritual practice in Advaita
There are two basic kinds of inquiry: − self-inquiry (lower case), and… − Self-inquiry (upper case). • Initially, inquiry is most easily practiced during meditation. • Later, it can also be practiced during activity.

75 self-inquiry (lower case)
self-inquiry is the investigation of the “I”: Ask: Who/what is it that is thinking this? Then, try to find the thinker. Ask: Who/what is it that is feeling this? Then, try to find the feeler. Ask: Who/what is it that is sensing this? Then, try to find the senser. Ask: Who/what is it that is doing this? Then, try to find the doer.

76 What do you find? If you find a thinker, feeler, senser, or doer, who/what is it that finds it? Are you that which is found or that which finds it? (That which is found cannot be that which finds it.) If you don’t find a thinker, feeler, senser, or doer, can there be one? In that case, what are you?

77 Self-inquiry (upper case)
Self-inquiry is the investigation of the true I. Ask: What is it that is aware? Then try to find it. If you find it, what is it that finds it? If you can’t find it, but you are what looked, what does that make you?

78 Resonance (aka transmission)
When we are with a teacher and feel whole, complete, and full, resonance is occurring. Nothing passes between the teacher and the student, but… …ignorance (the sense of being separate) in the student is temporarily lifted. (No matter what the circumstances are, wholeness, completeness, and fullness are experienced whenever there is no sense of separation.)

79 Silent meditation during resonance
During resonance, silent meditation is effortless. The teacher instructs: “Don’t do anything”. The student experiences: “I am being meditated”.

80 Guided meditation during resonance
There are many kinds of guided meditation. Some of Francis’ guided meditations involve maintaining open awareness while the body moves. Others involve visualizing doing something nonphysical, such as expanding the body to fill the room, or standing outside of the body. The purpose is to see directly that we are not physical.

81 The four classical spiritual paths (from the Bhagavad Gita)
Jnana yoga: The path of understanding (intellect). Advaita is primarily a jnana path. Bhakti yoga: The path of devotion (heart). Karma yoga: The path of selfless service (action). Raja yoga: The path of meditation (common to all of the other three paths).

82 The three paths according to Francis (from Jean Klein)
The path of truth (via the intellect) The path of love (via the heart) The path of beauty (via the senses) A good teacher guides the student along all three paths simultaneously. Satsang speaks to the intellect, while the heart and senses are carried along by resonance. When in resonance, meditation involves all three paths.

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