Aspects Of Consciousness

June 4, 2009


Image Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

In my previous post The Fabric Of Consciousness, I featured excerpts from Dr Allan Hamilton’s book, The Scalpel And The Soul: Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural, and the Healing Power Of Hope. There is a story in the book that sparked my contemplation on the nature of reality and conscious awareness. As Dr Hamilton tells the story, one questions what we have learned from science and our culture, in regard to the human body and our awareness. Could the mind have an existence independent of human physiology, beyond the borders of the central nervous system?

Sarah, a young woman underwent  challenging surgery for an aneurysm in her brain, and essentially her heart function was artificially disengaged for a period of about seventeen minutes to safely operate.  Her heart was stopped and there were no brain waves. In other words she was dead for those seventeen minutes. No machine was used to replace the function of her planned cardiac arrest. There was no blood flow in any blood vessel in her body. Because the body was gradually cooled, the brain did not die as it  needs less oxygen for the cells to survive at lower temperatures.

The surgery was a success, her heart responded well as its functioning was gradually reintroduced. Several hours later, the surgeon and his team of residents paid her a visit in the recovery room. The patient inquired about how the surgery went. The surgeon assured her that it all went perfectly well. Then Sarah remarked that she remembered hearing someone say something which now made her wonder if everything went well. The team of doctors were dumbfounded. She was able to describe what the nurses looked like, where a machine was located that was brought in after she was unconscious and relate bits of trivial conversation that took place during the surgery.

How was it possible  for Sarah to form new memories when there was no sign of any electrical brain activity? And if her new memories,  formed during the period of no brain function were stored somewhere outside of her physiology, how was she able to access the data intact, after the brain began to function again? These were the questions that perplexed,  not only her team of doctors but doctors from everywhere when they heard of her case. “One theory held that her brain—and the conscious mind it produced—went somewhere else, beyond its own physical and physiological confines. Out into the cosmos. The notion that conscious awareness—something generated by and of each brain—could have a life (so to speak) independent from the brain itself is a baffling idea.”

The spiritual teachings of the great mystics, tell us that Consciousness defines the body. The physical body does not contain consciousness but is embraced within the one conscious awareness, the Self which manifests through each one of us. We are only separate in our physical bodies but we are that one consciousness that embodies  a rock, a tree, an ant, or a chair. In the Yoga Vasistha, the sage Vasistha said, “The one infinite absolute existence or cosmic consciousness alone is. Knowing this, be free of the ego-sense and rejoice in the self. There is no mind, no ignorance, no individual soul: these are all concepts that arose in the Creator. As long as one considers the body as the “I” and as long as the self is related to what is seen, as long as there is hope in objects with the feeling “this is mine”, so long will there be delusion concerning mind…..In these substances like rocks, consciousness remains immobile, having abandoned the thinking faculty but not having been able to reach the state of no-mind, It is like the state of deep sleep, far away from the state of liberation…Liberation or the realization of the infinite is not existence as an immobile creature! Liberation is attained when one arrives at the state of supreme peace after intelligent inquiry into the nature of the self and after this has brought about an inner awakening. Total freedom is the attainment of pure being after all mental conditioning is transcended consciously and after a thorough investigation.”


1 Mergingpoint 06.04.09 at 6:57 pm

Yes, Miruh… Science needs facts to substantiate. Spirituality is experiencing beyond the senses, so there is no question of prooving etc… every moment for every individual is a rediscovery of the Self..

2 Lisa (mommymystic) 06.04.09 at 10:53 pm

Thanks for sharing these stories. I’m sure you’ve read My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain anatomist who had a stroke and describes her experience of consciousness as her brain function broke down. I love all this research that is happening on the relationship between brain and mind, neural activity and consciousness…so far, nothing in science can truly explain consciousness, it is the mystery of life, of existence…

3 Miruh 06.05.09 at 7:56 pm

Hello Mergingpoint,

Well said: every moment for every individual is a rediscovery of the Self..
How fascinating this earth-walk is with that perspective!

Thanks for your wisdom sharing!

4 Miruh 06.05.09 at 8:02 pm

Hello Lisa,

I haven’t read that book yet, thanks for mentioning it, I will have to look for it.

When scientist can use their minds to explain consciousness, we know it is another theory. The mind cannot perceive that which is ever evolving and expanding beyond the known.

Happy weekend Lisa!

5 Pamir | Reiki Help Blog 06.06.09 at 4:17 am

The existence of Mind independent of an organ such as the brain is a core Buddhist teaching. The Vedic tradition also has much to offer Consciousness studies. It’s also true that Mind is everywhere and definitely not only trapped in the brain or central nervous system.

I’m both encouraged and dismayed by modern research and neuroscience. Despite anomalies observed, science wants to still explain it all within its own worldview. In the quote above it says, “One theory held that her brain—and the conscious mind it produced…”

How gray matter produces mind or consciousness is beyond me. The wisdom traditions tell us that Consciousness is primary, as Vasistha’s words illustrate.

6 Liara Covert 06.06.09 at 12:03 pm

Scientific communities often limit the parameters of their investigations based on what they psychologically accept. Take for instance, Dr. Brian Weiss never believed in immortality, life after death or spirit realms, until his own personal client experience urged him to expand his thinking. Some scientists refuse to believe their senses. If this is so, that simply means they choose to resist and are not willing to shift conscious awareness. Personal experience teaches tha the truth is felt. What you do with your feelings, how you sense and listen to inner voices, determines what is next for you on your path. Some people are convinced they travel alone. Other people sense collective oneness which means everyone shares the same journey.

7 Miruh 06.06.09 at 9:06 pm

Hello Pamir,

As you say, “Despite anomalies observed, science wants to still explain it all within its own worldview. ” Scientists are using the tools of their trade, reason and logic. Consciousness is beyond the confines of cause and effect. But just as in the healing process, once we begin the inquiry, there is room to be shown if we are open and pay attention to the answers that are always all around us.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

8 Miruh 06.06.09 at 9:49 pm

Hello Liara,

It takes a willingness and courage to walk away from the known and what we have been taught about the nature of reality. Resistance only says we do not feel safe to explore the unknown. As you implied, this is all part of the journey.

Happy weekend!

9 Paul Maurice Martin 06.08.09 at 5:18 pm

The thing is, her brain was still there and intact. While it’s fascinating to think her mind might have had some locus outside of her brain, it seems to me that logically the first place to consider as the origin of her thoughts would still be her brain, since it was still there and alive.

I’d add that I’m no scientist, but clearly our abilities to figure out how to make and use tools let us survive the jungle – and have ultimately produced the computers we’re using to communicate with now. Reason and logic have a great track record where truth is concerned, and while they can by no means account for everything, that’s the best place to start before tossing it aside. Otherwise we’re in danger of wishful thinking and seeing what we want to see.

10 Miruh 06.08.09 at 10:03 pm

Hello Paul,

The truth is that we don’t know how consciousness works. When cases like this one happens, it is an opportunity to explore the possibilities. Perhaps we are being asked to be open to other facets of reality, to let go of the boundaries we create because of what we know and assume about the nature of reality.

I agree with you that reason and logic has given us great enhancements for civilization but let us not forget that many an inventor including Einstein has credited their success to inspiration. Those aha moments, outside of logic and reasoning, are in the realm of higher consciousness.

Thanks for joining in the conversation.

Love and blessings to you!

11 Alexys Fairfield 06.09.09 at 3:15 pm

Hi Miruh,

So glad I am able to comment. This comment box was disabled last time I was here. (Maybe a glitch?)

It sounds like Sarah had an out-of-body experience. Although technically she was “dead,” and her physical sensations were disabled, she was still aware of what was happening. I love stories like this. Soul never dies.

Thanks for sharing this amazing story. 😀

12 Miruh 06.09.09 at 10:16 pm

Hello Alexys,

Yes there was a glitch, I hope it wasn’t caused by a cyber meddler. I was alerted by my blogger friends by e-mail. I am glad you are here now!

Sarah’s story provokes contemplation on the nature of reality. Think of all the possibilities of human potential that we are missing out on with our limited world-view.

Here’s to soul searching. ;D

13 vinod 06.12.09 at 1:44 am

This is something like out of body experience which that lady had , I think so. For the existence of mind soul has to be there but soul can survive without mind. Dissolution of mind in universal consciousness is kind of samadhi we can say. All living beings and non-living beings are occupied with one universal consciousness.
Thanks for nice post.

14 Miruh 06.13.09 at 9:02 pm

Hello Vinod!

It maybe that she had an experience of oneness or samadhi where she went into witness consciousness. To me it is a wonderful example of the Vedic contemplation of who is the witness. There was no mind to witness the goings on in the operating theater. Therefore the witness is not the mind.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

15 Linda 06.16.09 at 11:46 pm

Thank you for an interesting post. I listened to Dr. Hamilton on Coast to CoastAM Radio show the other night. I look forward to reading his book.

16 Miruh 06.18.09 at 9:57 am

Hello Linda,

Welcome! I took a quick peek at your blogs, a nice eclectic offering. I will certainly be by to read some later.

Glad you liked the post. Dr Hamilton’s book is a must read for someone like yourself who is interested in spirituality. His writing is punctuated with his unique sense of humor and irreverence. A page turner.

Thanks for dropping by.

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