A Spiritual Exercise

The Occipital LobeA Spiritual Exercise:  Imagine, if you will, your brain setting on the table in front of you, complete with the necessary blood supply, temperature control, and appropriate “wiring” running to your eyeballs (and connected in all respects to the various nervous systems of your body).  Now, ask yourself:  Where is the scene I am contemplating taking place? 

  • Is it taking place wherever you happen to be at the moment–in front of your computer, perhaps, somewhere on planet earth!?
  • Or is it being represented in the occipital lobe of your brain (that very brain which you see spread out on the table in front of you)?

Douglas Harding MapIf the answer is “in your brain” — where, really, is your brain?  And what is the ontological status of the external reality being represented before your very eyes?

But if the answer is, “out here–obviously” — who, really, are you? And how are you observing this spatiotemporal world?

To explore this question further, click on the image, to the left, or simply ask yourself, Who Am I ?

Editor’s Note:  This exercise was inspired, in part, by the video, The secret beyond matter: “The External World” Inside Our Brain (first 20 minutes).  To explore this idea further, from a scientific and philosophical perspective, see  The Primacy of Consciousness, by Peter Russell.   For more direct pointing, from a non-religious, non-sectarian point of view, consider The Headless Way (a method of self-enquiry pioneered by Douglas Harding).  And, if it interests you, you probably should take a peek at  C.S. Lewis’ preface to Douglas Harding’s magnum opus, The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth:  A New Diagram of Man in the Universe (London, 1952)

See also:  –> The Boy in the Bubble

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4 Responses to A Spiritual Exercise

  1. Thanks, great thought experiment, raising some very important questions! Calls to mind this exchange between the Indian sage, Nisargadatta and a visitor…

    “Questioner: Scientists have discovered that the very act of observation brings about a change in what is being observed.

    Nisargadatta: What is being observed also brings about a change in the observer, and unless that change is brought about in the observer, the observer cannot observe the object; therefore, one can never get to the depth of spirituality.”

    — Nisargadatta Maharaj, Consciousness and the Absolute

  2. This exercise brought to mind a wonderful sense of connection with the world I experienced 15 years ago on a drive home from work. It made me aware of the journey I was on and that I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment. These sort of moments are the reality I often forget about. LOL Thanks for reminding me. :)

  3. There can be no doubt that old nineteenth century materialism has its limitations. These are related to the failure of nineteenth century science to embrace time in its models of the world. There is an explanation of the paradox (Aristotle’s regress in the philosophy of mind, also known as the homunculus paradox) that you describe above at Time and Conscious Experience. This explanation does not mean that there is no spiritual aspect to life – it means quite the opposite.

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