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Consciousness of the new millennium
on October 1, 2011
Consciousness of the new millennium
This bulky, elegantly written and intellectually rigorous book of Penrose et al is an impressively fluent compilation, cleverly converting the specialist knowledge of several investigators of consciousness into a succinct review of the many dimensions of consciousness. Those who are disenchanted with the current materialistic views of consciousness would find the book useful in expanding their model of consciousness. The chapter on extraterrestrial consciousness makes this book abreast of times. Quantum is only bedrock of matter, but some believe that mysticism inform us of the bed-rock of reality. The current world is in a transitional stage from the 20th century materialism to a new mysticism and this book clearly depicts such a switch over. Consciousness and the Universe is a 21st century way of approaching the issue of consciousness- consciousness of the New Millennium.
Reductionism is the assumption that nothing can be greater than the sum of its parts. There has always been pitched intellectual battle between the adherents of reductionist and non-reductionist ideologies and this book gives food for thought to both sides. In the reductionist view, mind is an epiphenomenon - caused by physical phenomena and incapable of causing anything. A non reductionist could argue that such a view is like believing that Olympic pool created the swimming events held there. In the 20th century the brain was accorded more significance than the mind; to the reductionist of 20th century, consciousness is nothing more than a causally ineffectual by-product of the grinding of our neural machinery, of which nobody is in charge. In the last century, neuroscientists have been criticised for diminishing the mind to a scientific nullity making consciousness to a subjective illusion but some particle physicists are now shifting the goal post.
Section, five and sixth offers evidences to support non reductionist views. The non-reductionist view is that with the recent growth of meta-analysis, all the basic phenomena of experimental parapsychology, extrasensory perception, psychokinesis and so on have been justified by statistical analysis; they challenge a materialistic model of mind. There is evidence from survival research to support their case. For reductionist views to be successfully challenged, it has to be established that minds can exist independent of brain. One way of proving that humans have a non-physical part in association with the brain which can also exist independent of brain is proving post mortem existence. According to survival researchers, there is now as much evidence to justify belief in life after death as there is for the historical existence of dinosaurs. The reductionists have to accept the limit of their approach to phenomena like near death experiences, collective apparitional experiences, death bed visions, supernormal states etc. There are mounting evidences to support the claims of enhanced cognitive faculties in Near Death Experiences when brain is truly underactive. Whether memories can outlive physical extinction is a matter of scientific significance. A narration of the different findings of survival research would have made the book more appealing for the non reductionist.
The volume does not offer any watertight evidence -based conclusions, but has put forward many thought provoking and worthwhile contributions. Human beings may be electrical animals, quantum beings and spiritual personalities, and therefore may also have a higher consciousness. Consciousness studies should ideally have intellectual and spiritual benefits; this book is geared essentially for the former. It has a bottom up approach to consciousness as opposed to top down approach and is a brain praising book; I have no problems with that. Consciousness and the Universe is a serious attempt to develop a deeper understanding of mind and is a milestone in cognitive sciences. This book marks a return of consciousness studies to the map of neurosciences. Last chapter offers a conclusion with an overtone of metastatic monism as opposed to metastatic dualism. Consciousness and the Universe has not demystified consciousness but has made it more mysterious, and that is probably the novelty of this book.
Dr. James Paul Pandarakalam