Arun Sharma

“Rely upon no experience, abide only in that which knows experience—unfettered, undistracted Presence.”
– Zen Thinking

“Free will is not something we can replicate in a machine, or software, it requires a soul”.
– Mike Ryals

Few blissful moments in life for me have been watching unraveling of colorful sunrise over Kanchenjunga or gradual display of multi-colored sedimentary rocks in Grand Canyon, AZ. Bit by bit in a slow moving frame, the darkness is pierced by sun rays in early dawn unfolding the jagged edges and the contours of the hill, as they change colors of the peaks and the valleys, the slaty distant gray hues transform to bluish tinge to sparkling pinkish whitish shades in a matter of seconds and finally intense red spots appear in the horizon and then brownish red colors emerge which becomes bright red in matters of seconds. The darkness of the night is penetrated by sun rays and array of numerous colors blasts over the horizon in psychedelic fashion. TIME pauses and the MOMENT of awe and wonder engulfs the MIND! And, then time reels again… finally the sun becomes intensely WHITE and the mountains shine as a mirror. Unfolding of the shades of colors, the final blast of yellowish white becomes glaringly a dazzling white as a function of time (matter of seconds) the splendorous beauty few seconds ago and the drama of unfolding colors becomes scorching white, too intense to bear to eyes and body. The drama of sunrise over Kanchenjunga is now FINALLY comes to an end. The sun is too bright to bear; dazzling and even blinding to the eyes. The zenith of beauty that my eyes saw now is painfully intensely bright to bear. In matter of seconds the beauty of nature has become overbearing to eyes. Within this short time frame the white mountain, the surrounding hills and the sun that were same as an object (though very slowing changing as a function of time) yet it’s impact on my body, my perception of reality has changed! I like to use this metaphor to try to explain what is known as “consciousness” as well as a notion of what is “beauty”!

To my analytical mind the objective part of consciousness has not changed i.e., the sun, the mountains, the clouds are same yet its impact on the psyche and body has altered within short frame of time. What was once so beautiful has now become painful to bear. The notion of beauty just a minute or so ago has altered with time. What has changed is the brightness and the heat generated by Sun and its impact on me. So, now I pose the question as to what really is consciousness?
“Consciousness consists of inner, qualitative, subjective states and processes of sentience or awareness. Consciousness, so defined, begins when we wake in the morning from a dreamless sleep and continues until we fall asleep again, die, go into a coma, or otherwise become “unconscious.” It includes all of the enormous variety of the awareness that we think of as characteristic of our waking life. It includes everything from feeling a pain, to perceiving objects visually, to states of anxiety and depression, to working out crossword puzzles, playing chess, trying to remember your aunt’s phone number, arguing about politics, or to just wishing you were somewhere else. Dreams on this definition are a form of consciousness, though of course they are in many respects quite different from waking consciousness.” (John R Searle)
Consciousness is being alertly aware of an object in a given condition (hot, cold, raining, cloudy, flowing of the air, water, the dog running, the birds flying, the leaves in a tree shaking etc.) however what is really changing is my perception as a function of time, its effect, impression and it becomes my new reality that I carry in my mind. The tree, the sun, moon, leaves, the dog, the bird is an object that in more or less same yet my perception, impression, impact on my body, mind, psyche has continuously changed depending upon my mood-state, biological factors of my brain and the body.

Consciousness is a neurological process, electrochemical pulses of charge that neurons deliver to brain which impacts my vision and psyche that becomes my reality. The reality captured subjectively by an artist’s brain becomes a poem, song, story or a painting. Mind you the same objects i.e. the sun, moon, tree, flower or the water stream as recorded by the observer, the thinker, the artist or a scientist. A huge bright yellow sunflower as seen by Van Gogh’s eyes on a canvas becomes a “thing of beauty is a joy forever”.

John McNeely in his writing says: “No experience is true, but that which all experiences appear within is. As soon as it is sensed, cognized, and perceived, it is gone. Every experience is an illusion; an elusive mirage created by the mind. No experience has an independent truth all of its own. Every experience only seems to exist because of YOU, because you lend your reality to its false appearance. Only awareness is true. How else could an “experience” be known? Only presence exists, which is this moment Beingness in which all knowing appears. You are this Presence, here and now—and there is nothing apart from this Presence, this knowingness, this awareness that permeates your entire being.”

And so, all that is, exists within you… So, it is me subjectively experiencing all phenomenon, all the drama of life. At the end it is me, my subjective awareness under a given condition that is what is consciousness is (awareness) that is relating with the objects within the scope of my field of view. If I were sick and lying in my bed my head experiences throbbing pain in my impaired physical condition My altered vision may contain a dancing red ball in the walls of my room (a real situation while I was sick with vertigo where everything was jumping and moving around me.) My altered consciousness was my reality, however very temporarily. That reality too changed with time! Everything is transient and changing, Buddhism says.

“All else, aside from this presence of awareness that ‘you are’, is an illusion. Everything else is an emanation from the mind, which itself is merely an appearance—or rather, an experience—an illusion within the infinite consciousness of your Self. You experience the mind, but you are not it. You experience the body, but you are not it. You experience the world, but you are not it. How can any of these possibly be real? They may be a “fact”, but facts are never the ultimate reality. A fact is just a concept conceived from a prior experience, taken from a singular moment which the mind has freeze-framed into a virtual tidbit of knowledge, which it assumes to be ever-present, unchanging, and real—but a fact is not Now. Only Now is true, and you are That… (John McNeely)

Dan Barnett is the author of the article “Consciousness Explained” in this article he proceeds to say that “There is no single spot in the brain where consciousness “happens”; once one part of the brain has made a certain discrimination (of movement, say, or color), that information is an available part of stored memory. Then he proceeds to say that if consciousness works without any real evidence that its working then it must work the same as the mind. Both the mind and the consciousness cannot be found in the body so how is it that they are able to work? Peter Crawford is the author of the article “Shadows of the Mind” and he tries to explain as to how consciousness works. He states that he “exanimate both classical and quantum physics, looking for the place where consciousness might reside.” He then draws from research into the molecular structures in the brain and finds quantum-level activity that may be influencing the “processing of information in the brain”. Could the quantum-level activity be what makes the brain produce the consciousness?
Here is a question: By programming a machine or computer can we create consciousness? “You can do a simulation of thinking, but your simulation doesn’t thereby think.” But it does give you a solution to a problem within the frame of your ability of programing. The computer or the programing is a product of some one’s brain. We know the brain and its consciousness are strongly inter-connected and dependent on one another. We can also say that consciousness is a biological phenomenon. So, we can make machines that does thinking with programming limitations but by definition it does not have what we call “consciousness”. It lacks emotion and feelings. It’s not human’s awareness!
When we say, “I think,” “I believe,” “I intend” and “I do”, we are of course conscious. Of course, subjectively consciousness!
“Consciousness is a biological phenomenon. We should think of consciousness as part of our ordinary biological history, along with digestion, growth, mitosis and meiosis. However, though consciousness is a biological phenomenon, it has some important features those other biological phenomena do not have. The most important of these is its ‘subjectivity’. There is a sense in which each person’s consciousness is private to that person, a sense in which he is related to his pains, tickles, itches, thoughts and feelings in a way that is quite unlike the way that others are related to those pains, tickles, itches, thoughts and feelings. This phenomenon can be described in various ways. It is sometimes described as that feature of consciousness by way of which there is something that it’s like or something that it feels like to be in a certain conscious state.” (Searle)
“Consciousness should not be confused with knowledge, it should not be confused with attention, and it should not also be confused with self-consciousness.” self-consciousness is different it’s focus upon yourself. You are an object as well as subject. One must ponder the relationship between consciousness and the brain. “Conscious states are caused by lower-level neurobiological processes in the brain and are themselves higher level features of the brain. The key notions here are those of cause and feature. As far as we know anything about how the world works, neuron firings in different neuronal architectures cause all the enormous varieties of our conscious life. All the stimuli we receive from the external world are converted by the nervous system into one medium, namely, variable rates of neuron firings at synapses. And equally remarkably, these variable rates of neuron firings cause all of the color and variety of our conscious life. The smell of the flower, the sound of the symphony — all are caused by lower-level biological processes in the brain; the crucial functional elements are neurons and synapses.”
Consciousness is produced by electro-biochemical processes in itself is a fascinating puzzle that too need explored. The subjectivity of consciousness in itself is a super mystery that needs examined.
And, while we are looking at a mountain peak or valley, the flower or the butterfly, the branches of a tree or a sitting colorful bird becomes our object of fascination and attention produces different impression, perception or consciousness upon each one of us. The subjectivity of observation is granted yet all the objects just described too are REAL and present can’t be denied either. This simply says our focus, attention even mood state (influenced by numerous factors) is equally critical and important on our observation/perception. To sum it up succinctly the subject, the object and everything affecting the condition and the environment.
Now I like to draw attention to the ‘aspect of familiarity’. “In order for me to see the objects in front of me as, for example, houses, chairs, people, tables, I have to have a prior possession of the categories of houses, chairs, people, tables. But that means that I will assimilate my experiences into a set of categories which are more or less familiar to me.” (Searle).
“The conscious experience of the observer also depends upon the mood that impacts the experience. Any sense of fear, depression or elation can influence our normal set of conscious states hence an observation and experience of the object or environment. Mood also is a result of biochemical process. We can impact the observation by mood-altering drugs.”
Hence in the study of consciousness we can-not ignore its subjectivity and qualitative aspects and its impact. To make it clear it is not simply an “objective third person phenomenon.” (Searle) Also, the objective and intrinsic components of reality which exists independently of any observers can’t be undervalued either. “Thus, gravitational attraction, photosynthesis, and electromagnetism are all subjects of the natural sciences because they describe intrinsic features of reality.”
George Hall chooses to look at it from Freudian ego-based angle: “Freud went on to do something, well, world-changing. He created a scientific model of the nondual state, based on his developmental model of the ego. Every child starts out in a state of oceanic consciousness, a sea of sensation and emotion with no boundaries at all. They cannot tell themselves from their mother, or any other outside object. The ego is essentially a boundary marker, a delineator of the self from every other thing. The development of the ego over time can be thought of as the sharpening and clarifying of that boundary. As we grow into adulthood, and our ego becomes mature, most people lose the ability to contact the earlier oceanic feeling because they cannot drop the acute feeling of separateness created by the ego. They have lost the sense of oneness with everything and are stuck in their “two-ness, as it were. “
On the bumpy road to de-construct “Consciousness” we have scratched the surface of interplay of the subject, the object, environment, mood-state, neuro-bio-sciences and multitude of factors including the focus and attention and also prior knowledge of the subject (of the objects under our vision) to be peeled further as we continue walk on this complex road to Consciousness.