The Nature Of Consciousness: Resonance Between Ancient Philosophies And Current Science

*This article first appeared on The Huffington Post, Science Section, Used with Permission, 2016.

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What is consciousness?  Is it an essentially human characteristic or a fundamental characteristic of the universe?  Questions about consciousness have intrigued philosophers and scientists for thousands of years.  Neuroscientists, like myself, are asking questions about the essential characteristics of consciousness, and the extent to which it is dependent on activity in the brain. In the laboratory, I have studied consciousness through my research on meditation, and more recently the phenomenon of near-death experiences.

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  1. Mary Avery Kabarich on October 7, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Fabulous article tying together everything I have read for years. It’s great to witness the scientific community beginning to take seriously ancient teaching and the spiritual experiences of many diverse people.

    • Marjorie Woollacott on October 7, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      Dear Mary,
      Thanks for your comment! It seems to be happening little by little – as scientists who practice meditation begin to try to combine the two world views.

  2. Rajesh on April 16, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Hi Marjorie,
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge on the interface between science & spirituality. I am an Engineer and have been trained to be logical / analytical but at the same time, from childhood, I have been interested in God, spirituality,mediation etc. I have had some moving experiences too. But all the same, I am very intrigued about why spiritually advanced people of various cultures report completely different ideas about God / Angels/ Gods & Goddesses etc. For eg, in India, yogis & sages claim to have witnessed / experienced God as Shiva or Vishnu or Lord Ganesha or Lord Muruga etc. In other cultures, sages talk about Jesus, Allah or other such powers. How can the same God appear as completely different entities to different people in their spiritual experiences ( not just in their belief systems which have been conditioned from birth to believe in certain religion or certain form or concept of God).

    In other words, if Shiva is true, why have not advanced spiritual people of other cultures, experienced Shiva & known Him to be God ? Why have not even one sage or yogi from India of ancient days (I am not concerned about the modern ones – most of them seem to be fake ) not experienced any of the Angels proclaimed by Christianity or Jesus or God as proclaimed by Bible ?

    If truth is one, why are we experiencing it so differently ? That is what is giving rise to all this bloodshed.

    I don’t know how one can believe in Shiva or Jesus or Allah or Angels without proof for any of them coming from across cultures !

    I feel this is where, rationalists are stepping in to claim there is nothing like God etc. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.


    • Marjorie Woollacott on June 28, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Dear Rajesh,
      Thank you for your comment and your concern that people in different cultures see God or Absolute Consciousness in different forms and in different ways. One way that I and many scholars have understood this is that an experience of the absolute is ineffable, and very difficult to understand and express in words. It must be filtered through our own mental constructs, which come from our different cultures. So even though the absolute is one, it is seen through the mind differently by different people.

  3. Mike Bauer on July 14, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Amen, Marjorie.

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