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site detail; it is useful in understanding the brain and its relationship to our conscious experiences, but it cannot examine causality between consciousness and changes in the brain, for example, or tell us anything about the fundamental nature of consciousness. Similarly, identifying the seat of “fear” in the brain can tell us nothing about the nature of fear itself. The other general approach to the study 3 3 ô33


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self-observation and is psychological in na- ture. Questions like “How does it feel to see the color blue?” or “What is it like to have a nose?” may be asked through this approach. + 3


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experience of being conscious, but it can at best only reveal qualities of being conscious, such as being happy, sad or curious. It is si- lent about the nature of consciousness itself. This method is useful in understanding the relationship between various stimuli and their associated feelings, or even the feeling R


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tallness, but reaches its limit when we ask,


“What is the nature of that which is experi- encing these feelings?” In the Western philosophical world, sev-


eral theories about the nature and proper- ties of consciousness have arisen over the centuries. For example, the theory called “substance dualism” holds that there are two distinct substances that cannot be reduced to any common existential ground: matter and consciousness. This theory, then, considers consciousness a nonphysical substance. An- other theory, “property dualism,” proposes that consciousness evolves as a property of complex physical systems, yet (as in sub- stance dualism) is itself nonphysical. A third methodology, “functionalism,” states that 3 3 ô33 3 3


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and is not a separate substance. The current popular paradigm within the


Western scientific world is that of physi- calism, which assumes that only the physi- cal world exists, and that consciousness is a product of brain activity, inseparable from the brain. When the brain dies, conscious-


ness ceases. Though this theory is currently in fashion, it is but one of many theories of consciousness that have come in and out of fashion. As Max Velmans observes, “Being out of current fashion does not mean they are entirely wrong.”


India’s Contribution Within the world of Indian philosophies, there are even more ways to look at con- sciousness. According to Advaita Vedanta, a system of non-dualism, the entire perceived world is an “illusion” (maya) and, in fact, only consciousness ( ö , chaitanya, jnana) exists; instead of being bodies with a conscious- ness, we are consciousness itself, inhabiting 3


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(adhyasa) with the illusory world (samsara). The experience common to all worldviews


is that of being conscious. As Descartes pointed out, one finds it difficult to deny one’s own conscious existence. It follows that the study of consciousness is one of human- kind’s most fundamental investigations, a quest confounded by the highly elusive na-


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april/may/june, 2017 hinduism today 53


april/may/june, 2017 hinduism today 53


alex grey


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