Thursday, 22 October 2015

Jennifer Windt and the scientifically-minded Advaitin


By combining my analysis of the methodological background assumptions of scientific dream research with Thompson’s proposal on the investigation of dreamless sleep experience, we can see that if we were to translate the Yoga and Advaitin view into a research methodology, we would find it to rely on assumptions that run parallel to those of scientific dream research. Dreamless sleep experiences, or so a modern-day, scientifically-minded Advaitin would be forced to admit, are reportable experiences; and if it should happen that (under sufficiently ideal reporting conditions, such as immediately after having awakened from sleep) one were unable to recall any such experience having happened during sleep, this would indicate that no such experience had occurred.
(from commentary on Evan Thompson’s paper on Deep Dreamless Sleep by Jennifer Windt)

If the criterion for being a scientifically minded advaitin is the acceptance of neural correlates of consciousness as a given then any advaitin would pass. To put it at its strongest, for them the brain is just very complex matter. It is ‘jada’ or inert until it is pervaded by consciousness. It then can reflect the level of its complexity. That is the primary statement of the understanding of the advaitin which is further clarified by saying that the being or existence of any reality is consciousness. There is no emergence of consciousness at a certain level of complexity of brain structure. It always is. In this the advaitin as a monist would depart from the usual run of materialist psychology. Parallel operation of brain/mind is taken as a working hypothesis for yoga as is clear from its bio-feedback practices but is not their final understanding.

This consciousness which is the being of everything cannot be lost as otherwise the individual thing would wink into non-existence. This then is why the d.s. argument is so important. The pure blankness of deep dreamless sleep knows itself as a pure blankness. We do not need to posit some obscure experiencer by scrying the eeg data. The knowledge underlines the existence of a non-dual immediacy. Evident non-dual knowledge cannot be interpreted as arising from the experience of a mental subject being aware of a mental object. As the person passes from this deep dreamless sleep into a waking state the transition becomes evident but not as an inference or Husserlian retro reflection etc.

Clearly for the empiricist whose foundational inquiry is: if I know, how do I know; knowledge that is immediate, non-inferential, non- analytic or a priori is a poor candidate for real knowledge. The empiricist will tend not even to see it or to naturalise it automatically. Windt follows Thompson in this. Nevertheless her remarks on spatio-temporal sense in dreams is interesting.
(cf. her blogposts on this at: philosophy of brains)


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