For the link to this lecture go to my friend Matt Segal’s blog at
(The lecture was given at the Californian Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco.)
My comments on this will be general and so I hope understandable even if you have not seen the presentation to some extent.
My first worry about neuroscience is that the neural correlates of consciousness it often shows, neural resonance and re-entry processes (see Lancaster 2004) etc. are totally reductive. They amount to chemical changes producing electrical energy in the brain and while they are interesting I don’t feel they tell me very much. They ignore the fact that the brain is an organ of the central nervous system and makes no sense unless its behaviour is seen as part of the holistic process of this system physiologically within the body. To look at chemical responses within the brain is similar to looking at sub atomic particle behaviour in quantum physics. David Bohm (1958) writes in Quantum Theory:
“…the world cannot be analysed correctly into distinct parts; instead, it must be regarded as an indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as valid approximations in the classical (i.e. Newtonian) limit … thus at the quantum level of accuracy, an object does not have any intrinsic properties (for instance wave or particle) belonging to itself alone; instead, it shares all its properties mutually and indivisibly with the systems with which it interacts.” (cited in: “The World Is Your Body”, Chap 4, page 106, Watts 1966) .
I add to this my belief that the human body as a complex system also shares and interacts with the system known as Gaia.
To fully see the holistic significance of this one needs to raise another criticism of Evan Thompson’s presentation: the use and reliance on the Cartesian paradigm of subject-object relationships. I had begun to believe we were beginning to live in a post Cartesian world but there was little sign of it in this lecture. If we take a human perception and look at the neural correlates of this on a computer screen we do not necessarily see anything more than a subjective state of consciousness in response to the image out there in the objective world. We may then (though this was side-stepped in the lecture I thought ) get tied up in hopeless arguments about “qualia” etc. Let us suppose, however, with Bohm’s view and my comments above in mind that what has occurred is a “participatory encounter” (Ferrer, 2002) between two energy fields, for example, a human and a wolf, or a human and a tree or a mountain. What we then have on our screen is only the partial response of half of the encounter. The so-called “percept” is also part of a system within a system just as we are. The whole is much more complex than we might suppose from the reductive view on the computer representation of neural responses in the brain. The subject-object paradigm is the distorting lens.
The final area I thought needed some resolution in Thompson’s presentation was his undefined use of the term “self”. When I say undefined, he may have defined it to be synonymous with the concept of “ego” and further with the ” I ” that is conscious of an event real or imagined. My more holistic view of what it is to be fully conscious would be more in line with Jung’s use of the term “Self” . My fully conscious being is more than an ego identity with the pronoun I use to predicate my actions. In this sense yes it is perhaps somewhat mystical. It includes a reciprocal union of varying degree with other aspects of consciousness in the world I inhabit ( e.g. at a level we all know: it is part of your consciousness too if we were “in love” with one another or witness the consciousness of a Walt Whitman).
I was not always sure in the presentation exactly where the interesting Neuroscience was meant to be leading me. I was left wondering about Thompson’s use of Buddhist experience and writings and of what practical experience he had himself of such a way of being.
Thank you Matt for letting me see all this and pushing me out into the river of thoughts that keep me alive. Blessings.
Bohm, David (1958). Quantum Theory. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, pp. 161-162
Ferrer, Jorge N (2002). Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality. SUNNY, Albany.
Lancaster, Brian L, (2004). approaches to Consciousness: The Marriage of Science and Mysticism. Palgrave Macmillan.
Watts, Alan (1966). The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. Pantheon Books, Random House.