Consciousness: The Mystery and the Puzzle
Monday September 18, 2017
Ashtavakra, the young sage depicted in ancient Indian mythology who is also known for his philosophical excellence, is teaching us that the key to gain control of our lives is to be in the ever-present witnessing consciousness. But before we go further, let’s try to understand what consciousness is.
How do we define consciousness?
A few definitions are as follows: Consciousness is defined as ‘the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind’ or, ‘the opinion or internal feeling that we have from what we do’. To put it in an easy way, imagine that the whole world we experience is a 4D movie, and we are watching it all unfold before our eyes—and that’s consciousness.
But what do scientists have to say about consciousness? They say that consciousness is a neurological phenomenon, and it is part of what allows us to exist and understand ourselves in the world. Hence it arises from the brain. To elaborate further, scientists conducted studies about the complex brain—which has approximately 85 billion neurons and other supporting cells that we know little about. Our brain consumes 20% of our energy, whereas it occupies only 2% of the body mass. Scientists have studied the innermost sphere of the brain’s cerebral cortex, which is responsible for functions such as memory, perceptions, thoughts, and language. Although scientists wanted to present evidence, the search ends at a point where they have been unable to provide answers regarding consciousness. Despite extensive research, there has not been any scientific answer on the question of consciousness.
So, the scientists have not managed to unravel the mystery of consciousness. Have the philosophers fared any better? Has philosophy shed any light on this fundamental aspect of human existence? This is where the real adventure begins. Some philosophers argue that the brain is only a tiny particle of the vast consciousness we are in. Plus, a lot of other questions remain unanswered. Are we part of consciousness? Or is the world a product of the consciousness within us? What is our existence? Who am I?
During late 19th century and early 20th century, several philosophers tried to explain the subject of existentialism. They believed that we cannot control life rather, it is determined by external forces from ourselves. They also argued that whenever human beings try to seek something and don’t find it, it results to a negation which is uncertain and unpredictable, wherein the expectations are unmet. This inner conflict of uncertainty is believed to be the underlying reason why personal responsibility becomes a question mark, and ill-conceived pedagogues and concepts came into this existence. Soothsayers and philosophers alike started indoctrinating human beings over millennia. Personal choices and responsibility were considered as willful behaviors, and taking on the burden of personal accountability in all situations became an intimidating proposition. Creativity is deprived, and choices of expression became limited.
Philosophers like Sartre, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche challenged the notion of going beyond the comfort zone of our existence, to use independent will and seize the innate freedom we have and face the consequences. But it is interesting to note that like the fish who is not aware of the water surrounding it, human beings are unaware of their own consciousness. This has become one of the biggest mysteries in Science and Philosophy. However, the quest continues: but for the time being with over 20,000 papers presented on the subject of consciousness, the puzzle of consciousness continues to pose more questions than it answers.
Recently scientists and new age gurus have come up with some interesting thoughts. They say that if consciousness can be compared to a 4D movie, we are also the directors of the same movie, acting and enjoying the show, but unaware that we are creating the story and the scenes in every moment of our choices. Just as the fish does not discover the water surrounding it, we are also yet to realize that we are the king and supreme authority of our own world and the miraculous world we are surrounded with. We don’t know that we have the privilege to access this private universe of our consciousness and most of the time we are lost in it.
This is the premise where we find interesting answers from our ancient philosophers. It is truly amazing to see how their thoughts and ideas resonate and excel the modern theories on consciousness. We start for the first time once again, where we began our journey, digging the past for treasured answers.
This is also where Ashtavakra, the ancient character from Indian mythology became more relevant even in the modern era, providing answers to the timeless questions of existence and consciousness. Is the world around us a superimposition of our mind? Or are we the product of circumstances? In any case, when we unlock the mystery of consciousness, we will find ourselves asking a lot of interesting questions that could unravel the great secrets of life.