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.”