Neuro-physiological correlates of higher states of consciousness in the
context of universal empiricism
Frank van den Bovenkamp, Director, TrigunaMedia (advanced heart and brain
diagnostics), Netherlands, www.trigunamedia.com
DRAFT, Oct 2011
updated word .doc here
Classical empiricism is shown to be philosophically and practically inadequate
as a context for consciousness research. An extended empirical basis,
progressively combining classical and creational empiricism is proposed
and referred to as universal empiricism. The matrix of universal empiricism
includes two new types of subjective plus objective poles and their interactions.
It is shown how universal empiricism can be used as a context for global
neuro-physiological correlates of higher states of consciousness and as
a universal psychological matrix. An existing classification of meditation
types is extended and reviewed in the context of the universal matrix.
A universal stage of consciousness is proposed, refining the classical
duality vs. non-dual dichotomy.
Keywords: meditation, empiricism, Sarkar, alpha
More than half a century of modern neuroscience has produced an ever growing
body of detailed insights in the general physiology, molecular chemistry
and electro-physiology of the brain, as well as in physiological correlates
of (otherwise verifiable or non-verifiable) subjective experience, or
sleep, or certain disorders. This research may or may not have aimed at,
but has not actually led to a universal bio-physical or a generic basis
of conscious experience
A potentially breakthrough approach to a bio-physical basis of conscious
experience could be the investigation of neuro-physiological correlates
of higher states of consciousness. This could be categorized as a third
type of correlates, besides those of normal awareness and sleep, creating
an altogether new level of transparency. However, especially in the context
of higher states of consciousness, to develop a truly universal approach
there must also be agreement on a broader, post-materialistic empirical
basis. The brain, resp. the CNS, is not necessarily the sole physiological
basis of conscious experience - also for example the heart, the "chakra's"
(subtle plexi of bio-psychology) or the naval area may be felt as the
center of experience. More crucially, it could be argued that the idea
of the brain resp. other physiological locations as an object of investigation
are in fact an internal creation of the mind, rather than vice versa.
This may not easily be proved or disproved and could lead to endless philosophical
regress. This dilemma and in fact both issues are more elegantly approached
by assuming a generic, rather than a physiological cause and basis of
the experiencing mind. After all, experience as such is by definition
the only undisputable factor. Hence, the phenomenon of individual experience
itself, rather than any of its philosophical implications, is taken as
a universal, post-materialistic empirical basis.
With a generic rather than a physiological basis of individual experience
there is nothing in an absolute sense external, so this necessarily implies
that the mind itself is not only an observing, but also be a creational
entity. This has certain consequences for what is generally considered
"subjective" and "objective". From this analysis an
approach of universal empiricism will be developed.
In everyday experience, the subject-object poles are (directly or indirectly)
based on sensory perception. This constitutes normal or perceptual empiricism,
based on an observer and that which is observed. Creation does not play
a decisive role in normal empiricism, because it falls outside the scope
of perception. But while creation is nevertheless part of reality, there
is typically a non-empirical or mystical explanation for a subjective
creator ("God") and the objective created ("God's Creation").
This is the stance of especially the Western mindset centered on individualized
existence and this stance is de facto equally assumed by so called "objective"
On the contrary, if creation is considered entirely internal, the subject-object
poles are based on creation. This implies another type of empiricism which
could be referred to as "creational empiricism", based on the
idea of a sovereign creator and that which is created. Sensory perception
does not play a decisive role in creational empiricism, because it falls
outside the scope of creation. Creational empiricism is essentially intuitional
and, depending on person or culture, mystical. There is no explanation
of sensory perception - and hence no worked out concept of science - in
fact sensory reality may directly or indirectly be felt and categorized
as illusionary or a distortion of an existential ideal ("maya").
This is more or less the stance of for example indigenous tribes, having
little individual awareness, dwelling in the objective end of the creational
spectrum, or that of mystics or other accomplished spiritualists, having
transcended individuality and feeling one with the Creator. The idea of
creational empiricism is not new. For example, the philosopher John Locke
held that some knowledge (e.g. knowledge of God's existence) could be
arrived at through intuition and reasoning alone, and Robert Boyle held
that we have innate ideas. This suggest that this type of knowledge, although
it is not derived from sensory but from intuitional experience, can be
equally consistent and hence in principle falsifiable.
2. Toward a matrix of universal empiricism
It may thus be obvious that creational empiricism cannot be explained
in terms of normal (perceptual) empiricism, and vice versa. Hence, a truly
universal approach must one way or another reconcile the two empirical
styles. The idea is that perceptual and creational empiricism are not
mutually exclusive, but must in some way be complementary so that the
blending of both resolves the intrinsic limitations of each. Together
they then constitute a matrix of individual experience which could form
the universal, post-materialistic empirical basis for paradigm-shifting
neuroscience and many other fields.
Universal empiricism must therefore reconcile the resp. poles of perceptual
and creational empiricism to form a universal basis of conscious experience,
including meaningful cross-relations between the poles. In normal, perceptual
empiricism the concept of the individual observer is somehow confused
or incomplete, for it lacks a generic objective portion and subjectivity
alone cannot explain individualized experience. At the same time, in creational
empiricism the idea of a purely creational subject is unrealistic, because
there is no actual concept of an individual observer at all. In a universal
approach, the subjective and objective poles should be defined in such
a way that individual experience is explained in a creational context.
This reflects and redefines the initial point on a generic basis of conscious
Universal empiricism is realized by introducing the following complementary
perceptual / creational factors:
- "Subjective A" = creator + observed
- "Subjective B" = creator + observer
- "Objective A" = created + observer
- "Objective B" = created + observed
Universal empiricism is then defined as follows:
- Creator principle = Subjective A + Subjective B
- Created principle = Objective A + Objective B
- Observer principle = Subjective B + Objective A
- Observed principle = Subjective A + Objective B
The key differences with common empiricism are:
- With respect to normal, perceptual empiricism, the "observer"
now also has an objective aspect, while the "observed" has
a subjective aspect, making each a complete and logical expression in
the spectrum of creation
- Creationally, the subject and object include an explicit "observer"
resp. "observed" aspect
- Psychologically, the observer is "external" and the observed
- The observer is no longer the same as the subject, the observed is
no longer the same as the object
This summarizes in a nutshell a universal approach reconciling perceptual
and creational empiricism.
A generic approach of individual experience has deep implications in
fields ranging from psychology to neuroscience and physics. Critical for
all fields is that the "observer" is clearly "externally"
defined, whereas the "observed" is actually "internal".
Although by itself rational enough, this may psychologically seem somewhat
counter-intuitive at first, especially for the Western mind bent on individualism.
At the same time, the universal subjective is psychologically akin to
the idea of "heaven". Consequently, the universal objective
is "earth", psychologically as well as in terms of the world
composed of the denser elements. Whereas the implications for contemporary
physics may be quite interesting, the focus here will be on neuroscience
and to some extend on psychology. Obviously the challenge is to deeply
comprehend the original meaning of the newly defined subjective and objective
faculties, and to create intuitional as well as scientific curriculum
A concept of universal empiricism, or a universal matrix of creation
and experience, is not found in classical philosophy. There is similarity
with "phenomenalism", especially the epistemological variety
(Berkely) in the sense of discrimination between a noumenal and phenomenal
cause, but in phenomenalism both causes are not fully evolved, let alone
reconciled. However, universal empiricism is virtually interchangeable
with a contemporary, paradigm shifting cosmological theory from the Indian
philosopher and social revolutionary Shrii P.R. Sarkar. Sarkar introduces
his theory from a bio-psychological, rather than a philosophical angle.
As the proposed model is deeply inspired by Sarkar's theory, the latter
is briefly clarified here.
Sarkar: "Although this is not an easy subject, we should study the
impact of the inferences on the mental propensities [etc..]" (Sarkar,
1989). "Inferences" refers to sensory- and possibly other waves
or information influencing the biological body and mind. This, in a rather
inconspicuous way, already hints at a universal basis of the mind, because
"impact" refers to direct influence and control by environmental
factors, rather than an independent individual processing sensory input.
Further, "This is a new line of thinking, a new philosophical approach.
Here, 'knower I' or 'doer I' are not necessarily the 'mahat', 'aham' or
'citta' [resp. mental stages] of philosophy.. New Sanskrit terms will
have to be created:
- Knower-I is Jina Purusa [Knowing Principle]
- Doer-I is Krta Purusa [Actional Principle]
- other.." (Sarkar, 1989)
principle or supra mundane seed of the actional principle, ready
for being sprouted (microvita of different characters, either of
positive or negative nature, collectively maintaining the balance
of the actional universe, creating initial forms of carbon [carbonic?
- ed.] atoms that help macro- and micro propensities in having their
purely physical [i.e. material -ed.] auxiliary media with mass and
principle or supra-mundane knowledge (expressed energies of different
characters; indestructible, interchangeable and inter-transmutable)
of microcosmic and macrocosmic propensities (different strata
of mind: conscious, sub-conscious, physico-psychic, psycho-physical,
and psycho-spiritual [controlled by Subjective A - ed.])
of universal macrocosmic inferences and their reflected and refracted
inferences (planes of inferences which are being activated, accelerated
and stimulated by Subjective B)
Table 1 - Creative principles and their interactions in Microvita Cosmology
3.Neuro-physiological correlates in the context of universal
Neuroscience, including physiological correlates of higher states of consciousness,
does not generally consider a generic basis of the mind. Without questioning,
the brain resp. body and senses are considered the basis of the mind.
Without therefore meaning that correlates - "if a person feels A,
we measure B" - are trivial, as long as there is no universal empirical
basis for "A" and "B", the correlation between "A"
and "B" may be pragmatic or heuristic, it is not completely
methodical. A few highlights of classical and contemporary findings of
EEG correlates, especially related to higher states of consciousness,
will therefore be reviewed in the light of the proposed universal empirical
matrix. The purpose is to create context and reference working both ways,
without at this point necessarily meaning to provide additional evidence.
EEG alpha prominence
The most basic of experiences is that of a single wave, like for example
a sound wave. In terms of universal empiricism this could be compared
with a single "thought-wave", and likewise there can be other
types of thought waves, for example related to inner experiences. Whereas
the concept of a thought-wave is currently of course ill-defined, it is
proposed that the diagram of universal empiricism can imply and represent
just such a single thought wave. Further it is proposed that (only) in
psycho-physiology, "thought waves" or mental waves, using dedicated
algorithms, are essentially measurable as electrical spectra. A peak in
the alpha range of the EEG spectrum is classically associated with a state
of mental idling, and therefore could be viewed as a measurable default
mode of the thought process (not to confuse with the default mode network
associated with subjective states), and hence with a default state in
the context of universal empiricism.
Dual process, same area theory
Neurological research supporting this theory suggests that new experiences
are processed slowly and serially, whereas known experiences are processed
in a massive parallel way. Both take place in the same (global) area of
the brain. This approach is deeply consistent with the re-defined subjective
/ objective pairs in universal empiricism, as follows:
- NEW EXPERIENCES: Observer (Objective A > Subjective B). The individual
effort to discern, unpack and contextualize (i.e. cognize) new patterns
or trends. Serialization implies a principle of discerning sequential
self-similarity of sustained patterns (not too static, not too chaotic),
for example in rudimental form the subsequent periods of a single wave;
- KNOWN EXPERIENCES: Observed (Objective B > Subjective A). The "automatic"
(non-individual) synergetic process of re-cognizing previously cognized
patterns. Massive parallel processing implies a principle of universal
pattern-representation, for example through fractal or otherwise hierarchic
"Cognition - creating the individual space in which ideas can materialize.
Cognition is not the same as re-cognition. Re-cognition connects known
objects, whereas cognition means creating new individual space in which
ideas can materialize, while there was nothing objective before"
Intrinsic vs. extrinsic networks
An intrinsic network has been proposed that is active during focus on
"inner" experience, whereas an extrinsic network is active during
"outside" focus or tasks. Both networks are thought to be globally
distributed. It is suggested that during a state of "non-dual awareness"
both networks are balanced. In a setting of universal empiricism, "inside"
is not the same as "subjective", and "outside" is
not the same as "objective". Instead, the redefined subjective
and objective poles combine these psychological definitions in different
ways. The way how "inside" vs. "outside" are used
with respect to intrinsic vs. extrinsic networks seems to refer to "subjective"
vs. "objective" in a classical sense. However this interpretation
is interesting in a setting of universal empiricism as it is very complementary
with "dual-process-same area "theory.
4. Meditation types, extended with empathic auto-transcendence
Originally two different types of meditation (a technique to create higher
states of consciousness) were proposed by Lutz (Lutz, Dunne & Davidson,
2008), namely "focused attention" and "open monitoring".
Later, a third type was proposed, "auto-transcendence" (Travis
and Shear, 2010). The latter emerged from the technique of Transcendental
Meditation (TM). The term "transcendence" specifically refers
to a proposed non-dual state, where the subject / object dichotomy has
dissolved. The process to get there or "inward stroke" in TM
vocabulary could be referred to as "transcending". With respect
to universal empiricism, there is theoretical scope for two types of transcending,
resp. transcendence. One is on the "outside" resp. observer
side, that is, from "Objective A to Subjective B". This could
be referred to as "cognitive transcendence", resulting in pure
(self-) awareness. The other is on the "inside" resp. observed
side, that is, from "Objective B to Subjective A". This could
be referred to as "empathic transcendence", essentially resulting
in pure bliss resp. devotion.
Reported experiences during TM transcendence include "Absence of
time, space, body sense (68%), peaceful (32%), unbounded (20%)" (Travis
and Pearson, 2000). Experiences like "bliss", "compassion"
or "devotion" are not typically mentioned. This is one of the
reasons suggesting that TM is essentially a technique of cognitive transcendence.
Other types of meditation are more empathic or devotional in nature. The
result of that type of meditation is categorically reported as a "blissful
state". An example of this type is Ananda Marga (AM) meditation (
"Ananda" means bliss, and "marga" is path). The AM
technique has some aspects in common with TM, specifically the use of
mantra, but more importantly, it is equally aimed at auto-transcendence.
However in the case of AM technique it is empathic or devotional auto-transcendence.
Josipovic was keen to observe that "the non-referentiality of compassion
makes it more akin to meditations in the non-dual or ‘automatic self-transcending’
category", that is, rather than a focused attention type as suggested
by Travis and Shear (Josipovic, 2010). In any case, compassion is far
more akin to empathy than to cognition. In case of doubt regarding this
differentiation, "devotion" is definitely not aimed at or felt
during TM, whereas in AM meditation devotion is essentially the goal and
reason. So this introduces a fourth type of meditation, summarizing:
- Focused attention (example: Tibetan Buddhist loving-kindness-compassion)
- Open monitoring (example: Buddhist Vipassana)
- Cognitive auto-transcendence (example: Transcendental Meditation)
- Empathic auto-transcendence (example: Ananda Marga)
(Travis and Shear, 2010, except "empathic"..)
Note: "Focused attention" is not necessarily the same as pure
objective focus - meditating on crude objects is not desirable. Hence,
all arrows are emphasized, suggesting that the mind gets integrated and
balanced. An example of focused attention is deity meditation (Kozhevnikov,
Louchakova, Josipovic & Motes, 2009), where the meditator associates
oneself with certain visible or subtle qualities of deities, with the
idea that one can actually acquire those qualities (for example, courage,
compassion, etc..). Another example including focused attention is TM-Sidhi
practice, combining focus on a sutra (phrase) with transcendence (Travis,
2011). On the contrary, either type of auto-transcendence is positively
aimed at making the mind subtler in an otherwise unspecific way. The proposed
differentiation between cognitive and empathic auto-transcendence is not
only represented in the universal empirical matrix but also refers to
cognitive versus affective- or social neuroscience. Open monitoring is
not aimed at and concerned with any contents at all. For the sake of argument,
a fifth type of "meditation" could be added, which implies focus
on relatively crude objects and objectives - this is generally the case
in everyday life and for non-meditators. Either way, the principle is
"as you think so you become" - hence the goal of all types of
meditation is to expand the mind conform human potential.
5. Duality, non-duality and universality in universal empiricism
The distinctively higher resp. completely altered state of consciousness
as the result of meditation is typically referred to as "non-dual"
awareness. This definition is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, every
form of awareness is by definition dualistic, even the experience explained
as "awareness of awareness". Sarkar: "This state of objectless
is not mentally apprehensible" and "The lingering bliss which follows
this state of vacuity is the proof of that state, the means of firm believe
in that state" (Sarkar, 1996). "Awareness of awareness" seems
more akin to the experience of pure "I-feeling" - it is not
completely objectless, and hence not non-dual. Secondly, a plain "dual
vs. non-dual" differentiation leaves no scope for the transpersonal
or supra-mental faculties of universal empiricism. Therefore, a dual vs.
non-non-dual classification can by definition not provide a complete context
for neuro-physiological correlates of higher states of consciousness.
A third or rather intermediate state is proposed, which is referred to
as the universal stage or universal mind. The "dual" stage or
normal awareness can be called "individual" and the non-dual
stage "causal", or causal mind. In terms of neuro-physiological
correlates, it is proposed that during normal awareness (e.g. eyes closed
rest), the four poles of universal empiricism are present but indiscernible.
In the universal stage (just anticipating non-duality) the poles are discernible,
and in the completely non-dual state they become identical resp. merge.
6. Understanding the subjective and objective poles in
The original subjective and objective poles of normal, perceptual resp.
creational empiricism are more or less familiar. However, it was shown
that either original pair cannot form a generic basis of individual experience,
as each pair has certain intrinsic demerits, whereas the pairs are also
not directly compatible. An alternative definition of subjective and objective
poles, as well as their interactions was proposed to overcome these limitations
and clear the way for a formulation of universal empiricism. The diagram
incorporating the newly introduced poles could be referred to as the transpersonal
or supramental matrix of creation and experience.
The psychological, neurological and possibly physical reality of these
faculties is a subject of laboratory as well as intuitional research.
By definition, a purely analytical approach of the transpersonal faculties
is infeasible, as the very principle of analysis (intellect) is itself
a mere subset of the bigger scheme ("Objective A > Subjective
B"). Hence, according to P.R. Sarkar, we should develop our conceptual
powers through sadhana (meditation, i.e. intuitional practice). In that
sense neurological research on higher states of consciousness is excellently
consistent with Sarkars approach, with the understanding that not only
the test person, but specifically also the researcher him or herself should
ideally be a regular meditator. It needs just a little of the mind of
a mystic, to fully appreciate universal empiricism.
Below matrix shows the psychological equivalents of the subjective and
objective poles of universal empiricism and their interactions, with the
purpose to develop scientific as well as intuitional curriculum:
Finally, a suggestion for a physics interpretation is given. It is proposed
that fundamental states and processes manifesting on macro-cosmic and
microscopic scales are mimicked by the individual mind, for which neuro-physiological
correlates can be found.
Bovenkamp, F.A. van den (2011). Wave-matrix psychophysiology.
www.trigunamedia.com. Extracted Oct. 2011
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