[Advaita-l] Neuroscience - Perspective On Consciousness

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Mon Jan 2 21:59:40 CST 2006

V.S.Ramachandran is generally regarded as an outstanding researcher in the
field of neuroscience, where he has made fundamental contributions. The book
makes fascinating reading, and has received high praise from several critics,
including Nobel laureates.

He seems to be quite familiar with the basics of advaitic thought and a
believer in the traditional teachings. For example, he has dedicated the book
"To Saraswathy, the goddess of learning, music and wisdom". He has included
sprinklings of advaitic quotes throughout the book. Although he may not be
"well-versed" in advaita, he has certainly not misunderstood the philosophy

The third chapter on how one's body may actually be an illusion is especially
interesting. The body is perceived in the brain, as it has been "created by the
brain using information from the senses". Ergo: "Your own body is a phantom,
one that your brain has temporarily constructed purely for convenience" (page
58)! VSR provides an apt quote from the Vivekachudamani (verse 163) at the
beginning of this chapter (page 39): "You never identify yourself with the
shadow cast by your body or with its reflection, or with the body you see in a
dream or in your imagination. Therefore you should not identify yourself with
this living body, either. -Shankara (A.D. 788-820), Viveka Chudamani".

Ramana Maharshi has commented in "Talks" (10th March 1936) regarding the brain
and its role in the perception of the body and world:

"...the body and all other objects are all contained in the brain. The light is
projected on the brain. The impressions in the brain become manifest as the
body and the worlds. Because the ego identifies itself with limitations, the
body is considered separate and the world separate. Lying down on your bed in a
closed room with eyes closed you dream of London, the crowds there and you
among them. A certain body is identified as yourself in the dream. London and
the rest could not have entered into the room and into your brain; however,
such wide space and duration of time were all perceptible to you. They must
have been projected from the brain. Although the world is so big and the brain
so small, is it not a matter of wonder that such a big creation is contained in
such small compass as one's brain? Though the screen is limited, still all the
pictures of the cinema pass on it and are visible there. You do not wonder how
such a long procession of events could be manifest on such a small screen.
Similarly with the objects and the brain."

When sometimes VSR speaks about the "self", it is obvious that he's referring
to the ego (false "I") that is the I-am-the-body-idea and not to the Atman that
is independent of the body. For example, here is what he says on page 227: "As
someone who was born in India and raised in the Hindu tradition, I was taught
that the concept of the self - the "I" within me that is aloof from the
universe and engages in a lofty inspection of the world around me - is an
illusion, a veil called maya. The search for enlightenment, I was told,
consists of lifting this veil and realizing that you are really "One with the
cosmos". Ironically, after extensive training in Western medicine and more than
fifteen years of research on neurological patients and visual illusions, I have
come to realize that there is much truth to this view - that the notion of a
single unified self "inhabiting" the brain may indeed be an illusion."

Just in case someone thinks that the idea of the false "I" vanishing is not
advaitic, here's a quote from Ramana Maharshi's upadesa saram 19-20:
"When one turns within and searches
Whence this 'I' thought arises,
The shamed 'I' vanishes -
And wisdom's quest begins.
Where this 'I' notion faded
Now there as I, as I, arises
The One, the very Self,
The Infinite."


--- Mahesh Ursekar <mahesh.ursekar at gmail.com> wrote:

> Pranams:
> I read a brief interview of Dr VSR in the Indian Express and I get the
> impresssion that his world view is that "it's all in the brain" i.e. he is
> not well versed with Vedantic thought. Since I do not have his book, I am
> not able to ascertain this completely. Can you help me?
> Humble pranams, Mahesh

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