To Prove Consciousness or to Trust It?
Dr. Stephen Fulder
Die Now Into The Now I am starting this personal comment with an enigmatic quote from Nisargadatta Maharaj, the great Indian advaita (non-dual) teacher, a quote which wanders its way repeatedly across my computer as a screen saver, a reminder of the spiritual point of view. What is fascinating about a phrase like this, is that to the rational mind, used to thinking in explanatory terms, it is irritating nonsense. Within the appreciative context of an expanded consciousness, it is dramatically clear and mind-turning, even mind-shattering. It is the kind of language that gets as close as language can get to the processes of meeting pure awareness, which is defined here as the global sense of knowing that is beyond both the observer and the observed. In this language there is no sense of describing a world of things and facts. Awareness itself cannot in the end be described because all knowing lies within it. Therefore we can only respect its unbounded nature by silence, or second best, by image, poetry, enigma or hint.
Nevertheless, as scientists and professionals we have a deeply ingrained tendency to want to explain, describe and prove the existence of consciousness. I have been a member of the Scientific Medical Network for some 30 years, and the many articles on the subject appearing 30 years ago were not much different from those appearing now. They were written in reasoned, explanatory and conceptual language designed to demonstrate the existence of consciousness. Included in this is a strong emphasis on phenomena such as ESP that cannot be explained by conventional science, and are given as supporting evidence. However I do think there is a subtext to this work that is not being sufficiently addressed. That is, conceptual thinking about consciousness results in the mind-set that consciousness is a concept. Does this not tend to make consciousness a thing, or another entity that can be conceived? Or, to put it another way, do we want to prove consciousness, or do we want to trust it? And is not a mental atmosphere of proof at the expense of a mental atmosphere of trust?
Two recent articles in the Network are illustrative. Both excellent within their frame of reference. Graham Dunstan’s article, ‘The End of Materialism’ (Network Review, Spring 2006) states that consciousness itself is fundamentally unknowable and indefinable. It cannot be located, measured, or described. It faces us with the utter mystery when we ask what actually is going on when one complex part of an interwoven reality (e.g. a human being through the medium of eye and mind) is in cognitive relationship with another less complex part of the same reality (e.g. a stone). The other article is by David Lorimer, ‘Consciousness and Spirituality: Widening the Perspective’ in the same issue. This article postulates a greatly broadened and non-materialistic science, which has an epistemological and metaphysical basis that allows exploration into spirituality and consciousness. In both these articles consciousness is reified as a something, although it is acknowledged that it belongs to the experiential domain. ‘Life is experienced as energy and consciousness’, David Lorimer writes. If consciousness is so unknowable, mysterious and transcendent, what language are we using to write and think about it? David Lorimer quotes Aldous Huxley who says: Knowledge is a function of being. When there is a change in the being of the knower, there is a corresponding change in the nature and amount of knowing.’ Are we using a language and a way of knowing, even in the pages of the Network, that encourages a change in the being? Is there a danger that by discussing consciousness in the language of explanation, we might make the experience itself more distant, change in our being more difficult?
Perhaps 30 years ago, when no-one was listening, we felt compelled to try to convince other professionals of the spiritual view, using the language of the dominant scientific culture. Do we still need to do it so exclusively? Is there a mature balance in which the proof and the trust are both expressed, the concepts and the silence? The living in awareness and the talking about it. In my own life, I still work using tools of science. But I have also taught meditation and spiritual practices to a great many people in Israel during the last years, and for such purposes employ entirely different tools and a completely different language. There is no essential difficulty about this, just as the tools and ways of carpentry are different from those of cooking. But my question is whether in the project of the Scientific and Medical Network, and in our own lives, we are able to use both tools in balance, and are not habitually dominated by only one. Can we be flexible enough to dance at different weddings, and mature enough to acknowledge a different ways of thinking and language appropriate for the bounded and the boundless? In relation to the Network itself, and perhaps its activities, is there room for more material that gives the feeling, sense and experience of the transcendent in addition to the proof of it? I would be interested in reactions to this idea.