Brain And Consciousness: What Comes First?
Updated: Apr 7
In this post I would like to address an important point of this work, that is, the relationship between brain and Consciousness.
"There is no path, but only a fool doesn't walk it."
- Hindu saying –
A good friend of mine recently asked me how I can be so sure about the things I am talking about, how I do know that I am not being fooled and deceived by the tricks of mind.
Consciousness' work leads you to the realization that reality is immaterial and non-physical, that fundamentally you are not a human being, that science and biology do not describe reality accurately, that there is no one behind the eyes, that reality is the Nothingness out of which things and objects seem to appear, that everything within reality is relative, that what you think to be is not what you are, that reality is one and infinite. This is a lot to take (and it is not the whole story) and for most of people these statements do not represent at all their daily experience. Therefore some skepticism and disbelief are understandably directed towards this work.
The power of this work relies in being able to verify directly these statements by yourself without any external prove. These truths are accessible to everyone and the only limitations that might prevent you to become directly conscious of all this is what you assume to be. You have to appreciate that you, Consciousness, have worked hard to experience yourself in a limited form to know and explore yourself in this specific human form and many different layers of deceptions have been created to protect this illusion from being revealed. It is therefore part of this journey to get discouraged, feel tired and be tempted to give up. I anyway do encourage you to keep peeling the onion till all the layers of deceptions have been removed. I am going to bet that some tears of joy are going to be poured once you reach the core of the onion.
The very first step of my personal journey was the discovery of the witnessing presence, that which is aware of everything you experience in your daily life. As I have tried to point out in my previous posts ("Neti Neti: Who Am I?", "Who Is Behind The Scene?", "Body Awareness", "Contemplation: Am I The Body? - Part 1","Contemplation: Am I The Body? - Part 2") there is “something” that is aware not only of the outside world but also of every feeling, emotion, thought, sensation, perception that is occurring within your body. We are so used to identify our self with our mind, inner dialogue and the chattering within our head that we have never realized that all this content is known by something. This "something" can be referred as Consciousness or Nothingness.
Unlike many of us think, it is not the mind that knows but you, the witness. Mind is known.
Once this first step was accomplished I had to go through several intermediate steps before realizing my true absolute nature. And one of the most challenging assumption that had to be overcome was that Consciousness is personal and therefore a by-product of the brain. It is indeed quite logical to think that whatever Consciousness is, it is likely that it sits behind our eyes from where we can perceive the world. It seems quite obvious that Consciousness is within our head and therefore a by-product of the brain. If this assumptions is taken for granted and never challenged it will not be possible to fully appreciate what is happening right now around you. It will not be fully possible to grasp the magic of reality.
There is no real reason to think that Consciousness is enclosed in our body. If you actually took the time in trying locating Consciousness within the body to know from where it observes the inner and the outer world, you have probably realized that it is an impossible task to achieve. Try to answer this question: "Are the sensations in your hand and in your feet known by a specific point in your head or are they known in the same position from where they actually occur?" Already answering this question from your direct experience will help you realize that this witness presence does no sit in any specific place but it seems to be present everywhere in your body.
However, it is our bless and curse to be born in a time period where we are constantly bombarded by information that are unconsciously shaping our way to see reality. Science, for example, is teaching us how perceptions occur within the body and how humans can interact with the external world through a complicate network of neural signals present in the brain. The scientific vision of the world implies that many years ago an event named “The Big Bang” led to the reality we are living now with the formation of galaxies, planets, animals to finally arrive to the appearance of human beings. Human beings, unlike other living creatures are conscious of themselves and of the world around them and this feature has been mainly attributed to the development of an incredible machine, the brain. If you Google Consciousness and brain, science does not leave you much to contemplate: Consciousness is a by-product of the brain. However, this affirmation has no many scientific proofs because in reality science does not really know what Consciousness is and where does it comes from. Indeed, most of the time what it is described as Consciousness turns out to be mind functions.
It is likely that you, doing this work and living in such a cultural environment, might fall into the trap in concluding that Consciousness eventually is the result of some neurotransmitter signals present in your brain. You have absolutely no direct experience of it but still your assumptions and beliefs are hard to die.
Believing that Consciousness is produced by the brain is not different than believing that the earth is at the center of the Universe. Future generations will probably look back at our materialistic model of reality in the same way we are now looking back at those who supported the geocentric model.
Although this point was the most challenging to overcome in my journey due to my scientific background and to my rational and logical mind, I can now affirm with 100% certitude that Consciousness in not a by-product of the brain. Consciousness is not contained anywhere and is not produced by anything. Consciousness is everything it exists in reality, all the rest only seems to exist. Unfortunately for science, there is no experiment that can be designed to prove this statement. Only a direct experience of what you actually are can confirm this point. Consciousnesses' work is a solitary and inner journey that does not deal with shareable information. I will try anyway to list 3 insights I had during my contemplation to help you having this personal realization by yourself.
Consciousness vs. mind
The first important point to have clear is that when I refer to Consciousness I am not talking about mind. Mind, in my definition, is what you are currently identifying with, that is, emotions, feelings, perceptions, sensations, thoughts, inner dialogue, memories, ideas, projections into the past and future. These manifestations can be pointed and recognized as something specific and distinct from each other. Moreover, all these events are impermanent, that is, they come and go. Have you ever experienced a thought or an emotion to be eternal? Not possible. Positive or negative emotions have a time window in which they appear and then disappear.
At the contrary Consciousness cannot be pointed or localized and it is the only thing permanent in reality. Consciousness will always be present in your experience. Consciousness is what makes all those events possible to happen. Consciousness is the ground on which experiences can take place. Consciousness is the ocean or the canvas on which waves and colors can appear.
During the waking and dreaming states Consciousness is always present allowing emotions, feelings, sensations, thoughts, visions, sounds, smells, tastes, memories, perceptions to bloom out of you. Remove Consciousness and nothing can be experienced. Remove experience and you are left alone, Consciousness itself. This last scenario is what happens in deep sleep where there are no movements of mind. You as a human being do not exist anymore in deep sleep and your true nature is finally revealed.
Consciousness is simply what knows or is aware of all mind activities.
Having cleared out this point, how is possible that something finite as the brain can produce "something" that is eternal? If Consciousness was another movement of mind produced by the brain like a thought, it should appear and disappear, it should be impermanent. Through contemplation and meditation you can track a though to arise and fade away but you will never be able to point out when Consciousness has appeared in your experience and you will never experience its disappearance.
Consciousness is not an experience, it is what makes experiences possible.
Your Brain Is Imagined
I have already addressed this point in my post "Your Life Is a Night Dream" where I have pointed out that dreams should be retained as a precious source of information to understand the reality we live into rather than simply being dismissed as non real. We have the tendency to consider the waking state as the real world, where things truly matter and to hold dreams with less importance. However, a closer look will show you that these two states are not so different.
What you call "you" in the waking state cannot know that the "you" present in the dream is just a dreamed "you". When you dream, you literally are the character within the dream and you experience the same intense emotions, feelings and perceptions you experience during the waking state. How is possible that during the dream you can smell and taste a delicious meal? At the end your nose and mouth are just imagined, no? Which organs are you using to do so? Is the brain of the dreamed "you" producing them? Scientist will probably explain this phenomena with the fact that your real brain is producing all these sensations giving you the illusion to have a real meal in front of you.
I have another option.
There are no dreamed or real brains, they are both imagined. They are both manifestations created by you, Consciousness. Since you look at reality from the materialistic perspective, you have not realized yet that brain, as anything else that seems to exist, is a concept, a distinction that you have learnt to make. You are lost in your own conceptual domain. You are missing the point that the concept of a brain is not what it is actually there. Mind is such an genial tool that turns non-physicality into physicality, nothing into something. For how crazy it might sound, the brain is not a physical object present within your skull. You might wonder what then is actually there?
You think there is something physical and material called brain. This is an illusion. You have learnt to superimpose concepts on Consciousness. You have learnt to give physicality and objectivity to something that has no form, no shape, no color and that therefore cannot have objective qualities. Like the ground on which you walk in your dreams has no objective substance, the ground on which you are standing right now that seems so physical and real is literally made out of nothing. Scary eh? Doing this work you will realize that dreams are not made out of mind and reality is not made out of matter. They are both Consciousness.
It is undeniable that the brain and the entire central nervous system play a fundamental role in our abilities to relate with others and the world. The brain is an amazing machine and neuroscientists are constantly working to reveal its secrets. Many materialists defend their position of Consciousness being a by-product of the brain claiming that by altering the brain's structure by surgery, psychedelics or simply by drinking too many beers, our perception of reality changes and therefore the brain must be the source of it.
No one denies that affecting the brain the content of reality changes: your thoughts change, your emotions change, the outside world changes. But these are objects of which you are aware of. That which is aware of these changes is not affect in any way! No matter which drastic changes are happening within the content of reality, there is something that allows this experience to be experienced. If you take some psychedelics you might experience some sort of change in the brightness of colors, appearance of mysterious entities, alteration of sounds and so on. These are nothing else than the content of reality, experiences. But the knowing factor is unchanged not matter what is experienced.
If Consciousness was a by-product of the brain, any brain damage should obviously affect Consciousness itself. Since is not the case, it is quite clear that Consciousness is prior to the brain. Consciousness in NOT in anything, and nothing is in it. As someone said: "Looking for Consciousness within the brain is like looking inside the radio for the announcer".
These were the main points that helped me to at least question and take seriously the possibility that what science claims might not be correct. The possibility that there is something more profound and mystical about reality.
This something is the Nothing that explains everything.
Thanks for reading.