Monday, December 1, 2014

Discovering the Self - Selflessly

Spirituality deals largely with understanding the true nature of the 'Self'.
Is the Self just a belief, an a priori conviction, or an illusion?  Does the Self  depend on reaffirmation from others to perceive its own self or is it self referential? 
Our emotions and beliefs and ideals are constantly evolving. — Ana├»s Nin put it perfectly: “I am a series of moods and sensations. I play a thousand roles… My real self is unknown.”  The psychologist Susan Blackmore hypothesises that the self is a collection of what she calls ‘memes’ - units of cultural information such as ideas, beliefs and habits. At birth the 'self' doesn't exist but as we are exposed to environmental influences, the self is ‘constructed’ out of the memes we absorb.
          Biologically, most cells in our bodies are completely replaced every seven years. What then is that constant formless entity of the "Self" in a  dynamically  changing  body form? How do we retain or hold the “self” with a steadfast firmness?
Neurologically, the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (MPFC) plays an important role in developing and sustaining the "Self". It represents  and reflects  on our own self-beliefs, but also plays  a crucial role in thinking about how we are seen by others. The medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) appears to play a prominent role in two fundamental aspects of social cognition  -  self-referential processing and perspective taking. It crucially takes stock of itself and all that it observes simultaneously. The software that generates an identity as well as the conviction of this delusion being the true self. 
Could the 'self'  be a quantum phenomenon? This strange 'out of of the box' quantum  concept  helped resolve the schizophrenic duality of light. Light simultaneously behaves like a particle and a wave. The self could be a simultaneous projection of "Consciousness" as both- an observing  subjective individual and the observed objective  universe. 
The 'Self' is being observed by an 'awareness' which  is also observing the  'Non-self' universe. A Self centric universe that is in line with the Biocentrism theory proposed by Robert Lanza. The observed universe created and observed by the "Self". The ocean of consciousness in which the wave of the self arises and submerges.
'Aham Brahmaasami ' a fundamental Upanishadic Truth suggests that "I" am the universe. 
This statement alludes to the consciousness that manifests as the 'Self' and the universe. It points to the state of an unresolved dichotomy. The original form of consciousness that is in quantum superposition. Quantum superposition is a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics which  states  that a physical system—such as an electron—exists partly in all its theoretically possible states simultaneously; but when measured or observed, it gives a result corresponding to only one of the possible configurations. The "Self" may be one of the possible configurations when consciousness splits itself to observe itself and begin this play of "Life". Self  realisation is when the "Self" realises that it is a transient spatio- temporal construct of consciousness, and the identity, merely a binomial nomenclature for convenience. The momentarily discrete wave realising that it is neither the wave, nor the ocean but a formless abstraction - water. 
The true 'Self' is never the transience of the wave but the eternity of the water in the ocean. 

Dr. Deepak M. Ranade

Friday, August 29, 2014

Consciousness as a computing process

Consciousness As Computing Process

By Deepak M Ranade
Posted on Jul 25, 2014 at 06:08 pmComments 187 | 8549 Views

The human brain is the most highly advanced data processor in terms of the speed volume and complexity of the data it processes. One could therefore say that it is the epitome of the evolutionary process. At any given moment the brain is exposed to a deluge of data. The sense organs are generating terabytes of data each moment, being constantly shovelled into the brain real time by transmitting pathways or neurons.

What determines prioritisation of data processing? Which data is to be assimilated and which is to be discarded?  Cognition can fluctuate between a general background unfocused awareness to sharp focusing on a specific target.
The brain has the amazing ability to process and sieve through this incoming barrage of data. One of the mechanisms deployed is called Latent Inhibition. Data (LID) that is repetitive in nature.

Signals Transmission
LID causes neurons carrying this data to suppress adjacent neurons carrying the same information. These neurons are deployed to transmit other signals or at least not transmit "more of the same." An adaptation by neural pathways which narrows the bandwidth and accords a lower priority or inhibits data is meant to prevent crowding on the cognitive horizon.

An example is the tactile sensation of clothes touching the skin which is constantly being relayed to the brain. The neurons keep this data in a "Standby" mode, relegating its transmission to a lower priority.  This phenomenon becomes even more important in increasing the accuracy of visual perception.

Our Perceptions
Different photoreceptors in the eye respond to varying degrees of light. When one cell activates in response to light, its activity impairs or prevents neighbouring cells from getting activated. This causes the edges between light and dark areas to appear more prominent than they would otherwise. In the absence of lateral inhibition, the border between a black tile and a white tile would appear less obvious. Perception is greatly impacted by the content of the delivered data.

When the filtered data arrives on the cognitive screen, the data is tagged with an emotion- byte. This emotion- byte is unique to each individual. This emotion tagged data is transcribed into samskaras or anagrams for encryption, storage and subsequent retrieval.  This emotion- byte tagged database (samskaras) is unique to each individual.

Stored Samskaras
This emotion tag could be pain, fear, grief, pleasure or joy and becomes vritti or the software- that determines one's inclinations or aversions.

The concept of vritti is central to the main definition of Yoga- "yoga chitta vritti nirodha" given in Sutra 1.2 of the Yoga Sutras by the great sage Patanjali.

Vrittis refer to the different tendencies, or psycho-physical propensities.  They are an expression of stored anagrams or samskaras. Collectively they represent motivation, behavioural patterns, desires, repulsions, predispositions and complexes.

Eightfold Path
The software thereafter not only shapes or personalises but also operates the hardware, the physical form with its identity.  The eightfold path of  Ashtanga Yoga aims to disconnect (nirodha) this database (vritti) from the personalised consciousness (chitta) to effect a pure, impersonal awareness. It ceases the generation of new software obviating the need for any appropriate hardware -- liberation "from" the person rather than "of" the person. 

Are we conscious or is consciousness impersonating us?

Scientists have for the first time separated a particle from one of its physical properties - creating a "quantum Cheshire Cat".
The phenomenon is named after the curious feline in Alice in Wonderland, who vanishes leaving only its grin.
Researchers took a beam of neutrons and separated them from their magnetic moment, like passengers and their baggage at airport security.
The researchers used an experimental set-up known as an interferometer, at the Institute Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, France.
A neutron beam was passed through a silicon crystal, sending it down two different paths .
By applying filters and a technique known as "post-selection", they were able to detect the physical separation of the neutrons from their magnetic moment - as measured by the direction of their spin.
"The system behaves as if the neutrons go through one beam path, while their magnetic moment travels along the other," the researchers reported.
This raises issues serious issues about the 'measurement paradox'.
On one hand we have the  Lockean “realist” account according to which perception involves the creation of an “inner reflection” of an independently existing external reality, and, on the other hand, a Kantean “anti-realist” concept of the “veil of perception.”Separation of matter and it's characteristics, attributes or qualities will be an important landmark in our understanding of the phenomenon of consciousness.
Consciousness is traditionally attributed to an emergent quality of neural networks. It is  very intriguing to note that even a single celled creature like the amoeba is conscious and takes appropriate measures to feed and avoid any hostile milieu exterior. Does consciousness operate necessarily through mediation by  a  biological matrix? Could it be all pervading like a magnetic field with the organic or biological substrate serving  as merely a receiver and or processor?
Could consciousness be merely a form of energy that manifests in different forms by modulating it's  frequency and amplitude?
Can perception, be merely a play  of consciousness, a phenomenon that simultaneously projects and  comprehends the external world as a holographic reality? The separation and distinction of the  objective world is because of the external appearances. If the elementary fundamental constituent is the ubiquitous atom, then the perceived difference of the external form may just be a program of the subject's perception. Rather than different particles carrying the information of matter and it's qualities, it could be that different loci in the brain might be activated to perceive matter and it's qualities simultaneously.
Monists like Spinoza adhere to the position that there is some  neutral substance, of which  both matter and mind are properties. The Advaita or non duality too believes in a non-numerical holistic all pervading unity that simultaneously manifests as the subject and the object.  The object and therefore all its qualities and attributes might just be a projection of a self referencing subject that generates  an apparition of separation as well as perception.

Dr. Deepak M. Ranade.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

illusion of incompleteness

The Illusion of Incompleteness

Om Poornamadah Poornamidam Poornaad Poornamudachyate; Poornasya Poornamaadaaya Poornamevaavashisyate’

The invisible (Brahman) is Full; 
The visible (the world) too is Full. 
From the Full, the Full having come, 
the Full (Brahman) remains the same.

This sloka from the Ishavasya Upanishads defines completeness as an intrinsic "a priori " state. All manifestation is a  tangible expression   of the intangible,  unmanifest singularity or Brahman"
This singularity is a completeness that is simultaneously conscious and blissful. Creation is merely , pleomorphism of  that fundamental singularity. 
Creation in all  its manifold splendour was embedded with a  delusion of incompleteness. The karmic cycle is pedalled by desire. 
Desire  is based on the assumption that if  this incomplete "I " gets a certain "that" , then I will be complete. 
Desire of any kind stems from an incompleteness of the subject with a conviction of gratification by getting  the object that is desired. 
An intrinsically complete subject  imagines  it will become complete by acquiring an extrinsic object. 
A quote from Chuang Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, and an early articulator of Taoism sums completeness in a different light. 
"All things -- good, bad, beautiful, ugly -- exist together in a complex totality, or "Way," that unfolds of its own accord, impervious to human desires or interventions."
"The real is originally there in things, and the 'sufficient' is originally there in things. There's nothing that is not real and nothing that is not sufficient," "Hence, the blade of grass and the pillar, the leper and the ravishing beauty, the noble, the sniveling, the disingenuous, the strange -- in Way they all move as one and the same."
Chiang Tzu has used the word 'sufficient' which , in the Upanishads is referred to as Poornam. Both the terms mean: whole, integral, complete. Chuang has explained the term by referring to  integration of opposite-pairs to form the whole.  True nature of Reality  can never be apperceived  by  a fractured perception.  
The symbolic systems we use to describe , comprehend the universe are not separate from the universe: they are a part of the universe. Since we are within the system, our comprehension is incomplete.   Completion of the model can never happen because of the basic self-referential paradox: the model is within the universe, so in effect the universe would have to be larger than itself
Completeness can never " want " anything.  It's only the illusion of being incomplete that wants to seek. Completeness is in being. incompleteness is in becoming or wanting  to become.  Completeness is in silence, incompleteness is in words.  Incompleteness is the reductionism of scientific thought. Completeness is  the wisdom of assimilation.  Ego is  incompleteness casting a spell on consciousness.. Ego generates an identity,  a sense of discreteness. This separateness haunts the internally  complete self  to  look outward. Completeness is within. Incompleteness is without.  Effacement of this separateness is completeness.
Knowledge  is incomplete. Experience is completeness.  The incompleteness of knowledge  has been stated beautifully by Ramana Maharishi in "Upadesa Saram."

       "Gnyaana varjitaa agnyaana-heena chith"

Understanding God with the logical mind filled with knowledge is impossible and  such a  desire is itself an obstacle to realisation.
The conclusion of this sloka is  "Poornamevaavasishyathay"
With the insight of self-knowledge,  one realises there is no sorrow, since the "self" is ever-full, the self is eternal Bliss.
The  gist of Poornamadah, Poornamidham has to be experienced like Ramana  and  not merely understood. Otherwise, our completeness will continue  to be gripped by the spell of Incompleteness wanting to seek what we already are.  

Dr. Deepak M. Ranade
(The author is a consultant neurosurgeon -

Thursday, May 9, 2013

To Sculpt Our Own David, of self realisation

                                    "To sculpt the David within"

Michelangelo's David is an immortal classical art form.  "David" is a Renaissance interpretation of a common ancient Greek theme of the standing heroic male nude. In  Renaissance period, contrapposto poses (Contrapposto in Italian means counterpose and is used to describe a human figure standing with weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs giving  the figure a more dynamic appearance) were thought of as a distinctive feature of antique sculpture. 
All his contemporaries had envisioned David in a victorious stance, with the slain head of Goliath, alongside as a testimonial of sorts. 
 Donatello and Verrocchio had depicted  the hero standing victorious over the head of Goliath, and Andrea del Castagno had shown the boy with Goliath's head rested between his feet. 
Michelangelo's depiction is consistent with the Renaissance practice of depicting its subjects in a "dynamic " just prior to action. It attempts to catch  the moment between conscious choice and conscious action. It symbolises an angst, coupled with a certain confidence, a blend of both  being required in perfect measure to ensure victory. 
 He would work on the massive biblical hero for more than two years.
David was sculpted out of a “ruined” block of marble rejected by all of his contemporaries. Michelangelo said that he  instantly envisaged the image he was seeking to create when he saw the  block of partially sculpted  monolith.
He then needed only to chip away at all that did not look "David"  to reveal the masterpiece. 
 In that moment,  he had  a very clear, unambiguous image of David in his mind. 
We all have  lurking within ourselves, a David, that eagerly awaits to be uncovered. Uncovering the David within, is what each one is capable of.
It requires tools like honesty, pragmatism, determination, discipline, clarity and industriousness. It also requires a great deal of motivation  to chisel away all that is not "David" gradually but definitively . Those who cannot see the concealed "David" within, it's a process of trial and error, that at times unveils glimpses of "Goliath" . There are a fortunate  few, who have a very clear image of their own David
Such fortunate souls get on with their task with amazing clarity. They take the appropriate  tools, measures, efforts, and work on themselves steadfastly. Their demeanour is a picture of conviction,  self assurance and confidence. They are not affected by any trials or tribulations they might encounter on their chosen path. The call of their David within is very strong and serves to guide every blow that lands on the chisel. There is no remorse at losing what is "Non David". Each piece that is shaved off, falls effortlessly leaving behind no scar or injury.  These shaved off bits are temptations, distractions, indulgences, weaknesses, limitations, emotional baggage and  diffidence.Their removal not only adds more meaning, shape ,aesthetics and beauty to the figure, but also makes it  much lighter.
Giving a blow requires courage, strength and a very clear image of ones own "David".  Patience is also a mandatory virtue as oftentimes, the monolith is unyielding, stubborn, and excessive force when imparting the blow can disfigure. The chisel at times needs to be moved as it is struck to get those subtle curves and the finer nuances perfect. The dynamics of the blow also have  a philosophy. They are not mere aggression but assertive, controlled passion coupled with a tenderness. The process of sculpting ones own "David" is a very gentle  metamorphosis that doesn't leave residual  rough edges of pain and grief. A certain ease and effortlessness were the hallmark of this "Michelangelo " method.
Michelangelo was not merely a very talented artiste but a great thinker of his times. His thoughts also reflected the "Renaissance" era he belonged to, and each sculpture of his was a reflection of  "The Michelangelo Method"
The gist of this method as mentioned in historical   References -
"To  find your personal masterpiece, direct your mind, which is divinely inspired, to your inner self—your values, your passions and your strengths. Once you’ve uncovered your vision, commit to your goals with confidence. To be successful, you will need to plan carefully, creatively using your unique experience, obtain necessary support, and battle to overcome obstacles. In doing so, be sure to live with integrity, remaining true to yourself."

             The human  being, evolved as he is has the sharpest tool available for chiselling his own "David", the intelligence and capability of self-realisation. This enables him with the ability to comprehend  and discriminate between "David" and "Non David" .
When all that is  "Non David" is removed painstakingly, what remains as "David"   is "pure unadulterated blissful consciousness ,  the " Self".
When we become "David" all that remains is only "David" and along  with it comes the realisation that  everything is a manifestation of "David" and 
that everything "Non David" was merely an illusion. 
The sculpting process in vedic philosophy is  called the principle of "Neti Neti" .
Neti Neti, meaning, "Not this, Not this", is the method of Vedic analysis of negation. It is the cornerstone of Vedic inquiry. The  seeker negates identification with all tangible,sensory interpretation of this world which is not the Atman, or realising it as Anatman. Through this gradual process he transcends all worldly experiences till nothing remains but the Self. He attains union with the Absolute by denying the body, name, form, intellect, senses and all limiting adjuncts and discovers what remains, the true “I” alone
The true self is an exalted awareness, a blissful state of  simply being rather than becoming. 

Dr Deepak Ranade
(The author is a consultant neurosurgeon)


The Neurological Basis of Samadhi

The thalamus is a paired structure joined at the midline and sitting very near the  centre of the brain. In humans, each half is roughly the size and shape of a walnut. Essentially, all information reaching the brain, and thus consciousness is relayed through the thalamus.
All the objective information that is generated from the sense organs is essentially coupled or tagged, with a subjective coordinate by the thalamus.This tagged data is then stored appropriately for future reference.
A computer stores data too, but impersonally. This data storage is totally a function of operating system, common to all the machines using it. There is no preferential, or biased data storage, that is unique to each computer.
The same visual image viewed by two different individuals is perceived, interpreted and stored differently. This  ‘emotional indexing’  is mediated by the complex interconnections of the thalamus with different centres of the brain.
On reaching the thalamus, the signal percolates like a drop of ink on blotting paper (thalamo-cortical radiation) to adjacent processing areas such as-
The hippocampus: This has a crucial function in the creation of memory. It has specialized adjustable synaptic receptors called NMDA receptors that can assign a constellation of properties linking an object and its context.
The amygdala: The amygdala is largely responsible for generating and regulating major emotions such as anger, happiness, joy, sadness, and mainly fright.
Orbitofrontal cortex:  If, driving to work on a Monday morning,  you have had a narrow escape at a particular intersection on the road, it is very likely that for a long time thereafter, there will be a knot in the stomach when approaching that intersection, specifically on Mondays around the same time. The orbitofrontal cortex has stored the spatio temporal coordinates, and the amygdala has stored the fear.
The anterior cingulate cortex: The anterior cingulate cortex monitors the direction of activity, and progress toward a set goal. It has the ability to rework the strategy if the existing one does not seem to work.
The above mentioned centres are part of the  ‘limbic'  system, which is an important constituent of even the very primitive reptilian brain.
These emotional coordinates weave a pleasure - pain, attachment -avoidance grid. Our identity is pure Consciousness trapped in this matrix of likes, dislikes , preferences and aversions,
an identity that we generate of ourselves for ourselves, by ourselves.
Based on this matrix of emotional coordinates, the various synaptic connections respond to subsequent inputs by an effulgence of neurotransmitters that generate a myriad of motor responses.
The human brain has an evolutionary upgrade. An intelligence that can discern, discriminate and transcend this program of emotional tagging. This intelligence is called 'vivek'.
This program could be transcended by inhibiting the spread of thalamo-cortical radiations. Practices such as meditation or chanting may facilitate this inhibition to a point of 'Vairaagya' or a state of detachment.
This is a  state or a discipline that results in control of the spread of the sensory inputs from the thalamus and subsequent emotional tagging.
Using  ‘vivek’, the potent power of discrimination,  ‘vairagya’  is effected, more as a consequence. Renunciation as a beginning of all spiritual endeavour, might be putting the cart before the horse-  the effect preceding the cause.
Vairagya is the ability to restrict all data to the  ‘objective’  domain,  eliminating the  ‘subject’  totally. In neurological terms, it would be described as an elimination of neuronal segregation,reducing the hierarchy of neurotransmssion to a monarchal singularity ;
 an ability that progresses to sharp focus and localise  perception to mere awareness . Transcending personal consciousness to a state of total objective  impersonal awareness, a point of cognitive bliss that expands to become the manifest universe, a state of Samadhi.

Dr Deepak Ranade

What really Is Love ?

Love   -a  ubiquitously used word that unleashes so many emotions and feelings. Is it a  romance that has inspired poets, a virtue preached by religion, or merely , chemical pandemonium in the neuronal circuits? Is it a sense of possession, ownership or control? Is it an acceptance or a dependence? Is it subjugation or submission? Is it desire or an overwhelming need to be desired? Is it a surreal emotional high,  or  just, an euphemism  for   rudimentary  biological behaviour?
 Love  conventionally  encompasses a multitude of emotions; from the selfless and unconditional, to a pathological, paranoid obsession ; from empathy and compassion to an insane ,inexplicable passion. From attachment and  dependence,  to a very liberating and inspiring experience. A spectrum that extends from divinity to despair;  from a benediction to transcend to a curse of lustful, beastly regression.
Nomenclatures abound,  - filial love, maternal indulgence, platonic love, conjugal love, compassion, empathy, the sobriquets just go on endlessly.
Prima facie, Love is a bond that binds, a virtue that connects, giving a sense of purpose in this otherwise meaningless hedonistic existence.
It paradoxically  also harbours the potential to hurt, cause pain, create misunderstandings and grief.  Why does  an emotion that can  potentially liberate mutate into a tool of torment?
Love  based on acquisition comes with a shelf life. Valid till  the object of affection remains captive on the shelf of possession. A possession that is available for indulgence any time  , to gloat over with a  pride of ownership. This  joy, however, is a package that comes with  a subtle fine print, 'terms and conditions apply'   implicitly and unobtrusively.
These terms and conditions  restrict the validity  of the emotion to circumstances frozen in time and place.  Any thawing of the same with the passage of time  effects disintegration of this conditioned emotion.
This conditional love is divisive , a love that discriminates the subject as separate from the object and depends on the equation between the two for its survival. Love that is subject to specifications is transient, and volatile ,changes shades as the specifications change, inevitably.
 A radioactive isotope , with variable half lives, but  irreversibly decaying with time.   A love that comes packaged with fear, and an insecurity of change.  A change, either in the subject, object or their equation, and this ecstasy morphs into agony. 
Can love ever be eternal?  Can this  emotional transience, evolve, beyond mere gratification of the ego and the senses into a state of unending bliss?
This fleeting duality based high is  merely a glimpse of the eternal bliss of Nonduality. A state of bliss and compassion experienced in oneness, without any anxiety of separation. A fearless unconditional state.
A state that does not seek recourse from insecurity but rather dispels any need for it.Love, experienced as the need to merge, has the ability to liberate when a state of unison is achieved. 'Selfless' love is the exalted  state of bliss when this emotion is experienced by transcending the form. Using the form as an instrument to pitchfork the  consciousness of the 'self' into the abyss of selflessness.
This love liberates, sets free. It is no longer a bondage, between the subject and the object . It does not become a phenomenon linking the two. It becomes the noumenon, a source that manifests as subject and object,to experience itself through its own manifestations.  Like Meera's  realisation that Krishna was not merely a personification, but an instrument to merge  her own Identity into. Krishna, was a transformation of her own self, into a state of 
formless, eternal bliss, beyond subject and object, beyond nomenclatures.

Dr Deepak Ranade
The author is a consultant neurosurgeon -