KNOWING oneself necessitates consciousness and self-awareness, both mysterious and elusive correlates of mind.
Consciousness is a hard nut to crack, because it comes down to the mind doing “metacognition” — i.e., thinking about thinking — equivalent to mentally lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps.
The special organ of consciousness is of course the brain, acknowledges H. P. Blavatsky. Nonetheless, she asserts:
“What consciousness is can never be defined psychologically.”
“We can analyse and classify its work and effects,” she says, but science cannot define it directly. That would require they “postulate an Ego distinct from the body.”
But the mainstream cognitive sciences, eschewing Eastern psychology, still strongly resist the idea that mind can have an independent reality.
Research conducted by Mark Beeman, Ph. D at Northwestern University in Illinois, using functional magnetic resonance (FMR), reveals that ‘aha moments’ produce a “striking increase” in activity of the right hemisphere, in the anterior superior temporal gyrus.
Does this mean that epiphanies and ‘a-ha’ moments are generated by the gray matter of the brain? Or, conversely, is it the brain that is being activated by the mind, so its ideas will reach our conscious awareness?
One way to adjust mental strategies is to practice metacognition: thinking about thinking to solve insight problems. This is where the hard problems begin. Says neuroscience writer Manfred Mareck:
“Maybe that’s why creative agencies or dotcom companies always seem to have dart boards or ping pong tables in their social areas.“
Thinking creatively by getting away from ‘thinking’ at all, may seem counter-intuitive — but the practice actually helps generate insights and ‘a-ha’ moments. This lends credence to the mind-controlling-brain scenario.
“A relaxed state of mind and positive mood,” says Mareck, “are important preconditions to generating true insights.”
“By contrast, much of our problem solving is based on analytical thinking that occurs in our working memory, or frontal cortex, which is why we are aware of the progress (or lack of progress) that we are making.”
An Electric Soup
“Neuroscientists believe that consciousness emerges from the material stuff of the brain primarily because even very small changes to your brain (say, by drugs or disease) can powerfully alter your subjective experiences.” (Discover)
Is Mind a Person?
In her article Psychic & Noetic Action, Blavatsky supports the idea of mind as a being:
“The phenomena of human consciousness must be regarded as activities of some other form of Real Being than the moving molecules of the brain.”
The Primacy of Consciousness
Peter Russell, M.A., D.C.S., F.S.P. — a fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, of The World Business Academy and of The Findhorn Foundation, and an Honorary Member of The Club of Budapest — refuses to shy away from the question:
“How is it that something as unconscious as the matter of the brain, can every give rise to something as immaterial as an experience —[or a thought]?”
This ‘real being’ is the permanent individuality “which gives to every man the feeling of being himself and not some other,” W. Q. Judge concludes in the Ocean of Theosophy (Ch. 7) — it is our individuality that uses the brain to communicate it’s presence, and to regulate the functions which allow its physical body to function optimally on this plane. It is …
“… that which through all the changes of the days and nights from youth to the end of life, makes us feel one identity through all the period.”
It is this permanent, reincarnating individuality that “bridges the gap made by sleep”, Judge writes, — “in like manner it bridges the gap made by the sleep of death.”
It is not our brain that lifts us above the animal, but the self-consciousness chooser we call individuality.
Judge concludes that “the depth and variety of the brain convolutions [gyri] in man are caused by the presence of [mind], and are not the cause of mind.”
On this esoteric model, brains are extremely complex, mysteriously synchronized living tissue. They may even have a consciousness of their own.
But brains don’t create consciousness — their own, or ours.
Brains are, it seems to many frontier thinkers, ingenious living systems designed to capture, organize and process our feelings, ideas and sense perceptions — integrating them into numerous networks of awareness.
The exquisite design is able to coordinate and oversee simultaneously with all other functions — millisecond by millisecond — the physical biology of the entire body, an amount of multitasking that some believe would confound an army of super-computers.
Mind Stuff vs Brain Stuff
The question has enticed philosophers for centuries — it’s called ‘the mind-body problem.’ Then “what is the relationship between the thoughts in our minds, and the brains in our heads?,” asks Robert Lawrence Kuhn, Ph.D the creator and host of the program “Do Brains Make Minds?” :-
“Is mind-stuff different from brain-stuff? Maybe gray matter is all that matters — or do minds have existence outside the brain, beyond what’s crammed into our craniums?”
“Today, brains and minds make for hot debate,” Kuhn notes, and asks: “So what’s so special about the human brain, compared to the brains of chimps and dolphins? And what about the artificial brains of computers?”
Do Brains Make Minds? – Part 1
Ph.D luminaries Barry Beyerstein, David Chalmers, John Searle, Marilyn Schlitz and Fred Alan Wolf, tackle the problem in this video produced by the K2 Media Group at University of Southern California. Many provocative and controversial Theosophical ideas about consciousness are revealed in this discussion.
Cut to the chase: is consciousness a cause, or an effect? After watching the discussion below about consciousness, what do you think?
‘The Hard Problem’
“How does something as immaterial as consciousness arise
from something as unconscious as matter?”
Theosophy maintains “there is no such thing as either ‘dead’ or ‘blind’ matter,” and as already said, a stage of consciousness can be identified even in “stones.”
Professor of philosophy and cognitive science, David Chalmers, who was the first to describe ‘The Hard Problem’ (above), comments “there are two quite different ways in which a materialist might respond to this challenge.”
“The type-A materialist denies that there is a ‘hard problem’ distinct from the ‘easy’ problems,” Chalmers says —
“The type-B materialist accepts (explicitly or implicitly) that there is a distinct problem, but argues that it can be accommodated within a materialist framework all the same.”
Do Brains Make Minds? – Part 2
“All the World’s A Stage”
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
William Shakespeare – (from As You Like It 2:7)