Reply To: Daniel Dennet's claim that consciousness is an illusion

  • Don Salmon

    May 10, 2023 at 12:41 pm

    HI Mike, great to have a fellow meditator here. You gave a clue to the resolution of this confusion with the phrase “pure awareness.”

    Here’s a meditators take on it:

    What do we know, absolutely, in a self evident way?

    awareness and contents of awareness (I’m using “awareness’ since consciousness is a word which has a great deal of confusion associated with it)

    That’s it. Is there a single reason to assume anything exists outside awareness?

    This gets confusing for people because they think “awareness” is ‘my” awareness and don’t realize “mind” or “consciousness” is different from awareness.

    The phrase PURE awareness makes it a bit clearer:

    Are the contents of Mike’s mind and Don’s mind different?


    Is the AWARENESS within which the contents of MIke’s mind and Don’s mind different?

    Well, let’s not assume anything.

    Now, are there purely material forms if we abstract away awareness altogether?

    THere’s no evidence of such. There can never be, by definition, any evidence of it (because all evidence will appear in awareness)

    So why make the assumption?

    It’s perfectly possible to conduct all scientific experiments with the assumption that the whole universe of experience exists in awareness.

    So actually, neither consciousness nor awareness has to be explained. It’s self evident.

    Now, what about matter and energy? I just looked at a child’s book on physics, and it defined physics as “the study of the interaction of matter and energy.”

    But do scientists actually study some PROCESS called “matter” or “energy”?

    What do scientists study?

    Galileo talked about the distinction of primary and secondary qualities, but nowadays we simply refer to quantities (his “primary qualities) and qualities.

    Scientists ALWAYS start with our qualitative experience (the contents of awareness) and from that, abstract quantities.

    So when you’re asking if matter or energy have standalone existence, you’re asking if measurements have standalone existence.

    Once you see that, you realize, of course not.

    So again, there’s nothing to be explained.

    What needs to be explained is why materialists like Dennett can’t see this!

    If anyone wants to make a philosophic claim that in addition to the pure all pervading, ineffable awareness which takes in all experience, and the contents of awareness, there is something else, and it’s obvious that the assumption of something else is not needed for science (or for any other human endeavor) and the assumption that that something else is utterly unaware and non intelligent, and the introduction of this abstract concept of something else (which in science is nothing but pure measurement) makes it impossible to understand:

    How laws of nature come into being and why they persist without descending into chaos

    how life emerges

    why evolution is an orderly process of increasing complexity BOTH of the organism AND of the consciousness associated with the organism

    how conscious or mind or intelligence or emotion or self awareness emerge at all

    Unless they can answer any of that (and nobody ever has or ever will) there’s no reason to even both with the materialists as they are really, basically, asserting that measurements have standalone existence.

    And when you see it this clearly, you just have to laugh and ask, “How was it that we ever got so confused?

    This is one more thing that might also be helpful:

    Nowadays, in Indian Philosophy, the word “buddhi” refers to intellect, and “manas” to the sense mind or emotional mind,

    But some 3000 years ago, in the Katha Upanishad, “Manas” referred to point like attention, associated with our desires, which takes the world of integrated whole experience and divides it up into objects, into “me” and a separate “world” “out there.”

    “Buddhi” referred to an integrative intelligence which sees the world as a whole (This is roughly LH/manas and “RH/buddhi” but the Sanskrit terms are much richer and are directly related to the Brahman or “God”)

    So our experience is the following;

    senses (“indriyas” in Sanskrit)

    manas (desire-driven point like attention centered on a separate “me” alienated from a world of standalone objects)

    buddhi (integrative intelligence

    And all of this is within – and ultimately, since this is non-dualist, “made of” – Atman, pure infinite awareness.

    The modern materialist like Dennet, lost in Manas, isolates certain limited, measurable aspects of sensory experience, takes those measurements to be real, and then asks, “How do we explain Atman?”

    But it is only by virtue of the Atman that he can ask the question.

    The Kena Upanishad puts it beautifully:

    What is it, that sees through Dennett’s eyes, but which Dennett cannot see?

    What is it, which hears through his ears, but which he cannot hear?

    What is it, which thinks through his mind, but his mind cannot think?

    It is that, That pure Atman which encompasses, constitutes and transcends the entire universe of the contents of our experience.