Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Measuring Experiences

Measuring Experiences.

Transcendental experiences are being better understood and explained using the tool of
neurotheology. It is a spiritual neuroscience that attempts to explain religious experience, transcendental states,and intangibles like faith, in neuroscientific terms. It uses advanced imaging modalities like PET scan, f- MRI and other technological applications towards this end.  It attempts to  study correlations of neural phenomena with subjective experiences of spirituality and hypotheses to explain these phenomena.Can experience be ever objectively documented or measured?
Could experience be reduced to  neuro -chemistry or then  measured in micro electron voltage potentials?
Experience is essentially a "Qualia" phenomenon. Feelings, experiences, emotions  vary widely in different people subjected to similar sensory inputs.  The sight of a lush green meadow for example will elicit a unique sensation that's exclusive for each individual. Some will marvel at the brilliant spectral shades of green, yet others might appreciate the texture, to some it will bring pleasant memories of childhood, and to yet others it might suggest a sense of solitude.  Qualia are perceiver, perceived,perception sensitive, being  totally subjective in character. Qualia are complex entities comprised of objective sensory data tagged with a subjective affective component. This affective component draws inputs  from the conscious as well as the subconscious realms.
Whether Qualia actually exist is  hotly debated and controversial in contemporary philosophy of mind.  That is largely because  they are  considered being an obvious refutation of physicalism.
Philosophers often use the term ‘qualia’ (singular ‘quale’) to refer to the introspective, phenomenal aspects of our mental constructs. Qualia are impacted by the  intrinsic neural processing of each subject , and how the individual relates to the physical world.  Qualia is in many ways  central to a proper understanding of the nature of consciousness. Qualia is the epicentre of the  Cartesian mind matter duality. Can scientific endeavour ever objectively explain and explore the subjective domain of Qualia?
           The 'Explanatory Gap' was a term introduced by philosopher Joseph Levine.
Levine addressed the puzzling inability of physiological theories to account for psychological phenomena.  Levine’s main focus was on consciousness, or “qualia,” our subjective sensations of the world.  But the explanatory gap could also refer to mental functions such as perception, memory, reasoning, and emotion—and to human behavior.
Imaging modalities could help identify the anatomical  locus of a sensory or perhaps even a transcendental experience. It would however have limitations in explaining the unique emotional finger print, the subjective perceptive variation generated by  the same stimulus in different subjects.  This affective component colours the sensory inputs with emotional hues too.
Spiritual ,transcendental experiences are entirely experiential, and in the realm of  Qualia. Spiritual masters endeavor to explain these states metaphorically. Experience of an incredible  expansile  consciousness is made possible when the subject effaces himself totally eliminating  subjectivity  and the subject object dichotomy.   An experience that is experienced only in the absence of  the entity that experiences.  What happens to the subject during  this experience? "Who" experiences  satisfaction after prolonged  deep sleep when all the while the  Self has lapsed  beneath the cognitive horizon?
      This enquiry brings one to the core issue of Consciousness. Can consciousness exist fundamentally even in the absence of an objective  cognising entity?  Is the subject created in  consciousness by consciousness rather than consciousness being an epiphenomenon of the subject ? Is Qualia, an objective conscious experience by a subject which is also a construct of consciousness? Qualia- an  inexplicable phenomenon of consciousness experiencing itself by  consciously  becoming the subject and object simultaneously.   A transcendental state will then be an integration  of ' The Experience, the experiencer and experiencing. An experience that is experienced in the absence of an  Experiencer.

Dr Deepak Ranade

(The author is a consultant Neurosurgeon)

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