Who am I ? Towards a science of Consciousness
Towards a Science of Consciousness
by Sushanta Banerjee
Wow! We have made “great progress in science and technology, but advanced very little in the social sciences. Modern psychology is based (mostly) on rats. Consequently, are we surprised that we find ourselves in a rat race?,” and the Seminar Hall at the IIT resounded with silence.
An IIT hosting a talk on the subject of “consciousness” – What a revolutionary departure. The hallowed halls of my beloved alma mater that I had thought were avowedly dedicated to the study and manipulation of objects, was hosting a talk that acknowledged the existence of consciousness.
The speaker was Dr. Matthijs Cornelissen, a medical professional of Dutch origin and a respected member of the Indian Psychology Institute at Auroville, Puducherry.
The central proposition of the 70 minute talk was a compelling argument to expand the education and acculturation practices to include an understanding of ourselves as human beings – as individual units of consciousness enfolded in a universal consciousness.
Current practices are “locked on” almost exclusively to objects and the means of acquiring and exploiting these. Our thinking, trained mainly to deal with objects –begins to first treat others and then ourselves as objects for exploitation. Is it then surprising that chit funds become cheat funds, bankers turn robbers, some administrators fill their own pockets at cost to the common man, and that a bus driver and his cohorts squeeze the life out of a young woman, seeing it as a great “opportunity” to exploit a perceived object, her body ?
The time has surely come for a change. Many firmly believe that attention towards expanding the awareness of consciousness (the essence and life principle) and its study will alter the present situation, in which the unforeseeable, unintended consequences of object centric “progress” are looming perilously large.
The field has been at the center stage of Eastern thought, but since sources are chiefly in the Asian languages, it has not become mainstream. However, of late, it has been drawing the attention of numerous western thinkers as well.
At the essence of the field lie two simple propositions that Sri Aurobindo and his follows had developed and expounded: “I am aware of the fact that I am aware”, and enquiries following the questions “Who am I? Who are we?”
Is it not time to wonder as to what influence or agency do we have on our thoughts, or do they have an independent existence and thereby power over our actions? Becoming aware of this dimension is foundational in the study of consciousness.
All proponents of this field have a central point of agreement: that we must, as a society, turn at least one eye to our inner world. Here consciousness is not a moral principle raising guilt and damnation. It is the inner life principle – a departure from the laws that govern objects. An object centric world will inevitably be subject to the laws of entropy.
I came out feeling grateful to IITD, and to Dr Cornelissen for a lovely, thought-provoking conversation. May there be many more.
The article has been written with contributions from Vinit Taneja (IITD 1979).
For those interested in exploring further, you could begin by browsing the Aurobindo Ashram website and their Libraries – one is situated opposite IITD on Aurobindo Marg.
An comprehensive PDF document is available for free download: “A Course in Consciousness” by Stanley Sobottka, Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4714. [Link]
The original material is available through sources such as the Bhagvad Gita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras etc. YouTube has an extensive catalog of of videos and lectures pertaining to the topic, such as those given by Swami Ram.
The author of this article is Sushanta Banerjee, IITD (Mech) 1970. He runs a Behavioral Science Consulting firm, and has also taught at IIM, Ahmedabad.