धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः। Dharmo Raksati Raksitah.

Dharma protects those who protect it.

– Veda Vyas, Mahabharat

Modern Science’s Std Neurological Approach To Analyzing Consciousness And Its Similarity With Abhinava Gupta & Kashmir Saivism

let’s discuss a few of these insights, that western and Indian neuroscientist have obtained. So, the first one, of course, for all neurologists, neuroscientists is an analysis of consciousness. So, I am a neurocritical care fellow. So is essentially like a coma doctor because the vast majority of our patients are in ICU and they’re comatose. Coma is a disorder of consciousness. So you would lose consciousness. So, we need an easy way to study consciousness. So there’s this encyclopedia, that actually defined consciousness or at least recommended that we analyze consciousness in this way and this is actually the standard neurological approach to analyzing consciousness, a multi-faceted concept that has two dimensions – arousal or wakefulness. So that’s like you’re awake, asleep.

So that’s the dimension that goes up and down in this axis, arousal and awareness which is like the content of consciousness. So, when you are awake, there are many things you can be aware of, that water bottle, you can be aware of a certain taste, a certain smell. So they say like consciousness, you can really assess along these two axis. But this was done by a very famous neurologist named, Stephen Laureys, it’s in the encyclopedia of neuroscience. So, based on this understanding, this is a very standard approach the neurologists used to understanding consciousness. So, the x-axis is wakefulness or arousal, y-axis is awareness or the content of consciousness.

So as you can see bottom left, where there’s no arousal, no awareness is coma or death. So and top right is like when you’re both aware and awake and that’s conscious wakefulness. In some cases, like in sometimes in seizures, sometimes in some damage to your brain, you can be left with just arousal or just awareness but those are specialized conditions. In a seizure, sometimes like a person will blank out, so he’s aroused but he is no longer aware of what’s around him. So it’s a very fascinating way of analyzing and it’s proven to be very effective.

Now the neuroscience, very advanced neuroscience literature has kind of gone beyond this two access model, to kind of have a more fine-grained view. But most neurologists still really swear by this. Interesting thing for me as an Indian is that somebody in India had come up with something very similar. This is Acharya Abhinavgupta, if any of you have an experience of Kashmir Saivism is like very famous. Of course, lived about a thousand years ago. He wrote some really fantastic stuff which, I think if understood through a neurological lens, it’s just really a mind-blowing. So, he described the ultimate reality which of course was pure consciousness, he says one component of that ultimate reality was ‘Prakash’ and that was the light of consciousness. It was unchanging, indivisible changeless and he said it’s like a smooth mirror and he says the other component is ‘Vimarsha’, which is basically a reflection and he says through the Vimarsha, you become aware of what is out there and the Vimarsha would be of various objects, it could be of emotions, so and I feel like this is very, very strikingly similar to this concept of arousal and awareness because they just seem to be describing it from two different perspectives and it could be a coincidence that somebody came up with this thousand years ago and now modern neurologist use the same thing, but it is more likely that they are both describing a same phenomenon, just happened to happen at two different time points.