Sunday, March 13, 2011

Liberation from Personhood, TOI- SPeaking Tree-7th March 2011

Deepak M Ranade

The brain's various centres are each designated for a specific function. The senses take cognition of the environment. The anthropological basis of the nervous system was to facilitate an interaction with the environment, based on the individual's awareness of being separate from the environment. All senses subserve the function of underlining a sense of discreteness. Touch, taste, sound, smell and vision are instruments of discrimination. The entity that integrates these inputs and collectively coordinates them as a subject is the assumed 'identity'. The coordinated output of separateness that the senses keep generating is ego.

The brain also provides a data bank that stores previous interactions with the environment. These are categorised and stored for reference in the bandwidths of likes and dislikes. The brain helps fragment awareness into the subjective 'self' and objective 'non-self' - the observed world. This split awareness is switched on continuously and both the 'self' and the 'non-self' are vital for each other's symbiotic existence.

Our own identity relies on our ability to perceive our self as uniquely different and distanced from the environment. Various decremental states of consciousness, such as feeling drowsy, deep sleep, semi-consciousness or even an unconscious state are familiar. Therefore, it is only logical to believe in states where there is an incremental increase in the level of consciousness.

If identity was based merely on a deep-rooted sense of discreteness that the senses generate, would a person, alone in a dark, quiet room - whose brain is not being fed with sensory inputs - consider himself as non-existent? An unconscious person doesn't interact with the environment but might be assumed to possess an 'am-ness' that is partial and aware of only the 'self' without comprehending or interacting with the environment. It's a state of partial awareness.

A seizure that arises in the portions of the limbic system - phylogenetically one of the oldest group of neurons - could give rise to profound spiritual experiences. Repeated bursts of abnormal electrical activity can facilitate a new pathway within the complex network of neurons. This is called 'kindling' - where consciousness may be getting defragmented leading to an un-split awareness, without the usual fragmentary approach.

All sense organs route their inputs through the limbic system and to various designated areas. The sensation of extreme bliss generated by un-split awareness gets triggered by the limbic system and not in the frontal lobes, the seats of intelligence and logical analysis. Such experiences are hence states of altered awareness rather than conclusions arising as a result of intellectual thought processing of the brain. The experience or realisation that the am-ness of subject and object are of the same essence could be that final frontier of consciousness evolution, the attainment of state of superconsciousness.

Faith and devotion as ways to salvation rely on the dismantling of the worshipper's identity and becoming one with the worshipped. That is, perhaps inputs that serve to generate and maintain a separateness of the self are modulated or filtered within the limbic system - a state of comprehensive, unrestricted oneness.

It's a paradoxical situation of the observer becoming the observed without the mediation of sense organs, by expanding awareness to a supra-sensory level.

Realisation may well be a modulation and 'kindling' of the neural pathways leading to a perception of oneness with the entire cosmos. It would then really be more a liberation from the person rather than of the person.

The writer is a consultant neurosurgeon.

Flower Lessons- Speaking Tree, Sunday 27th Feb

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By : Deepak M Ranadeon Feb 26, 2011 | Views (404) | Post response
Appreciation from others feeds the ego, but it should not steer our actions, writes Deepak M Ranade

As we trudged along the steep mountain path and reached a clearing, the landscape evolved into a picturesque panorama. The tall pines stood erect in attention as if in a military drill.

A solitary wild flower caught my attention, as it swayed merrily in the breeze. It seemed oblivious to my presence and appeared to be in some sort of a private celebration — its bright yellow colour eloquently reflecting its vibrant mood. It appeared strangely assertive of its uniqueness, and yet blended harmoniously into the orchestra of colours that surrounded it. I don’t know if it was blissful indifference or whether it was some intrinsic, stoic, self-assurance that never mandated any cognisance.

It seemed to have no questions or doubts about its existence; neither did it seem to care whether it was appreciated or even noticed. Scarcely intimidated by the riot of colours around, it seemed sure of its own little place on the vast landscape. As it swayed gracefully, its suppleness made its movements seem more like a dance than like any form of submission to the whims of the unpredictable breeze. It did not seem anxious about the overcast conditions that could stamp out its very existence. Rather, it seemed to be making the most of the given moment as its petals fluttered noiselessly.

Quantum theory would deny its very existence in the absence of an observer. I wondered, then, whether it would be considered to have existed at all, had I not seen it, and whether it would behave differently had it been aware of it being noticed. The casual disdain with which it basked in the meadow did not suggest that it cared for recognition.

Appreciation and approval is vital to every one of us. Response from the environment is what generates and maintains our identity. Our joy and happiness is most often based on recognition and it tends to direct our actions, making our existence relative.

The relentless interactive behaviour constantly generates varying coefficients of self-esteem. Fluctuation in self-esteem impacts our confidence, happiness and the sense of well-being. The need for approval and appreciation increases our vulnerability. Equanimity and being at peace with oneself warrants being unflinching and unaffected by the inconsistencies of responses.

Such an attitude was aptly illustrated by the protagonist of the novel Fountainhead, Howard Roark. When Peter Keating asks Howard what he thinks about him, his terse reply, “I don’t think about you” reveals a personality that does away with the need for any struts of approval to stay upright. This can, at times, be interpreted as being insensitive but it reflects more of a conviction in one’s own persona and script of existence. It portrays a casual self-assurance without a trace of self-doubt; an assertive awareness of the surroundings, that is neither submissive nor dominating — an awareness that merely observes and is not spectator-sensitive. The awareness that remains unruffled, metamorphoses into a state of bliss. Happiness is more an intrinsic phenomenon than being an outcome of any subject-object interaction.

Does the equation of happiness always need to factor in external response? The manifestation of that original, undivided, universal consciousness into myriad forms was for that consciousness to become aware of its own self. It was not programmed for the various forms to depend on one another for acceptance or acknowledgement. Appreciation feeds the ego, but it should not steer our actions. The image of that petite yellow flower remained imprinted in my mind — probably against its wishes — long after it unobtrusively dropped out of my field of vision.