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,
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


1. Introduction
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" science.

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 experience.

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 is "internal"
  • 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 for it.

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)


Doing 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 wants)


Knowing principle or supra-mundane knowledge (expressed energies of different characters; indestructible, interchangeable and inter-transmutable)


Planes of microcosmic and macrocosmic propensities (different strata of mind: conscious, sub-conscious, physico-psychic, psycho-physical, and psycho-spiritual [controlled by Subjective A - ed.])


Planes 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 (Sarkar, 1989)

3.Neuro-physiological correlates in the context of universal empiricism
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 type self-similarity.

"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" [Bovenkamp, 2011].

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 universal empiricism
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.




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