Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Refutation of Solipsism, continued

Original post.

A commentator responds:
According to Vedanta the world is created by the universal mind, even so called my mind is really part of the universal mind, when your mind goes to sleep it just means part of the universal mind has switched to a different state. It does not mean the whole universal mind goes in abeyance. 
"Universal Mind" is presumably a translation of Brahman, a concept notoriously difficult to explain.  It is frequently stated to be beyond comprehension and beyond thought and beyond the mind and language, but for a phenomenon so unknowable, the sages sure do know a lot about it:
Several mahā-vākyas or "Great Sayings" from the Upanisads indicate what the principle of Brahman is
  • brahma satyam jagan mithya  (Asangoham,18): "Brahman is real, the world is unreal"    
  • ekam evadvitiyam brahma (Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1): "Brahman is one, without a second"    
  • prajnānam brahma (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3): "Brahman is knowledge"
  • ayam ātmā brahma (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5): "The Self is Brahman"
  • aham brahmāsmi (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10): "I am Brahman"
  • tat tvam asi (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 et seq.): "Thou art that" ("You are Brahman")
  • sarvam khalvidam brahma (Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1): "All is truly Brahman"
  • sachchidānanda brahma: "Brahman or Brahma is existence, consciousness, and bliss"
Leaving aside the epistemological quandary (if something is unknowable, what's the basis of statements made about its qualities or even its existence?), the original article's argument about the inconsistency of solipsism for an Atman (the individual mind or soul) can be applied with some minor modifications to the Advaita Vedanta's formulation of Brahman (the "universal mind") as well:
  1. State data is information.
  2. Storage of information requires matter.  
  3. The "universal mind" contains the state data of the entire universe.
  4. Hence "universal mind" contains matter.
  5. Hence, matter exists before its creation.
  6. Hence Advaita Vedanta is inconsistent.
  7. Hence wrong.
In fact, this line of argument is strong enough to refute "the soul remembering past lives" phenomenon as well.  The "soul" is generally conceived of as an immaterial "essence" which exists before the birth of a human, and survives human death.  After the soul attaches itself to a new human body, it is claimed that in some cases the human being can remember some things from his "past life".
  1. Memory is information.
  2. Storage of information requires matter.
  3. The brain stores the memories acquired during its existence.
  4. Matter is required for preservation and transmittal of memories after the destruction of an organism (specifically, the destruction of its brain).
  5. Hence, the "soul" needs a material medium (for transmittal from the brain) and a material substrate (for storage).
  6. Hence the "soul" is not purely immaterial.
  7. Hence the conception of "soul" as immaterial is inconsistent, and wrong.


Pulkit Agrawal said...

I think your whole argument hinges on this assumption:

"Storage of information requires matter."

Where have we established that to be an absolute truth?

Existence of Physics, physical laws, concept of matter and energy, what if all of them are part of this universe that gets created in our perception?

Harmanjit Singh said...

@pulkit: information storage requires matter. The reason being that all information is essentially some patterns (DNA, digital files in a computer, memories in the brain, music tracks on a magnetic tape, etc.). Storing the "pattern" requires a substrate.

observer said...

Brahman is not universal mind. The term for universal mind will be Isvara or Maya. Brahman is consciousness, the cognition in which Maya or Iswara plays out the whole universe.

Universal mind is a good descriptive term for it, just like our individual mind remembers patterns and repeats them with variations, the universal mind remembers patterns, such as for example what are all these species but patterns? In fact even the laws of nature are the patterns which are stored in the universal mind.
Similarly human emotions, desires thoughts are just patterns which the universal mind stores and repeats.

What you are saying and what I am saying are patterns that the universal mind has stored and is now repeating, supposedly one is against the other but it is all an illusion.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@observer: whichever entity (whether isvara or brahman) is responsible for re-creating the universe when it is re-perceived, needs matter for information storage about the state of the universe, hence cannot exist prior or independent to the existence of the universe.

Pulkit Agrawal said...

@Harman, I think you missed my point completely. You are assuming that laws of physics are absolute and not just another part of the made up Universe.

Matter is required to store information in the physical world which we can touch and feel. But, what if atoms/molecules/light/gravity, nothing exists? What if they are all ideas made up by this consciousness?

We're talking about an entity, that makes up the whole universe when it perceives. It can not be bound by Physics. It cooks up Physics. That is fundamental of the philosophy.

observer said...

In fact physicists will not find fault with universal mind concept, they also conceptualize the universe as a giant interconnected information processing mechanism.

In physics also space and time is not absolute but created by this mechanism, i.e. before big bang there was no space or time according to physics.

The disagreement then is really not about the universal mind but about consciousness, according to vedanta a mind cannot exist without consciousness and your consciousness is the same consciousness that runs the universal mind.

Scientists will perhaps say that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of the brain etc and not a fundamental property of the universe.

Harmanjit Singh said...


The argument still stands. It does not assume anything about physical laws and their origins.

Let me explain. Let's assume that physical laws require no specific information storage but are inherent properties of the universe and disappear and re-appear along with the universe.

Still, the /state/ of the universe to its minutest detail (including, for example, the text of wikipedia stored on hard disks in some data center on planet earth in the solar system, as well as the topography of the craters on Mars, or the rings of Saturn), has to be considered information.

The information is existent whenever it is perceived. We all agree on this.

Either it exists even when not being perceived,

Or, the information gets re-created whenever it is perceived. (the vedantic position)

In the latter case, the information must come from somewhere for its re-creation. That "somewhere" cannot be an immaterial entity because information is a pattern which requires a material substrate for its storage.

Harmanjit Singh said...


"Scientists will perhaps say that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of the brain etc and not a fundamental property of the universe."


As for scientists being in accord with vedantic tenets, all I can do is to point you to an article called "Quantum Quackery".

Anonymous said...

After thousands of years of human consciousness there is still no 'evidence' (it is not an absolute truth let alone a fact) that physical substance is metaphysical and nothing actually exists -- except consciousness that is somehow magically independent of physical neural memory banks. So James Randy still has his million bucks.

Perhaps it's time to start looking for the facts, because not doing so has perpetuated a mass on nonsensical suffering.

So far all the evidence points to awareness always being conscious of some form of content, whether it be experiential knowledge (sense data) or mental images fabricated from sense data memories stored in neurons. Consciousness is always consciousness of something. No one has ever proven they were 'conscious of nothing' whilst unconscious. No disembodied consciousness has ever made itself known independent of or to a physical brain.

Zen practitioners 'claim' to experience consciousness without content, but only after many years of intensive meditation. Basically they psyche themselves into a dissociated state. They train the brain to ignore, become unawareness of, it's own bodily sense data. How senseless is that? And all the while they remaining dependent on their brain to maintain that pointless content-less consciousness. For what benefit?

Instead of growing into a more intelligent benign less aggressive human being they cop out, or protest human suffering by showing how they can violently set themselves on fire without writhing in agony -- and still -- leave no 'evidence' that their senseless consciousness lived on independently of that innocent body they burnt to death?

Try pondering why and how a formless consciousness would dream up an illusory physical realm so well it can no longer prove it's not really here? Why? And what would trigger it's first imaginings out of it's formless metaphysical state? And how would consciousness even know it existed in a no thing world with no feedback loop of experiences to reflect on?

If this physical world really is a metaphysical world of no things, then prove it and claim James Randy's million bucks. Otherwise you're just wasting your intelligence writing about unprovable metaphysical nonsense.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous (3.12pm): Bravo. Your comment needs to be on a separate post by itself.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was most unexpected Harman. I am sincerely honored. And thank you for blogging your own relentless, encouraging critical thoughts here.

Anonymous said...

Knowledge and information are not the same thing. Information is a string of 0's and 1's and may need matter to express itself. It may only point to knowledge(Brahma). Your arguments seem to stem from this confusion.

Anonymous said...

Also knowledge and understanding are not the same thing, as in one can know the mechanisms at work but be unable to make the brain understand how to actually use it. e.g.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous: "Knowledge and information are not the same thing."

@anonymous: "knowledge and understanding are not the same thing"

Doesn't matter. For the purposes of this discussion, we are talking about information about the state of the universe.

It seems like you are not able to comprehend the import of the argument.

Anonymous said...

@ Harman "Doesn't matter. For the purposes of this discussion, we are talking about information about the state of the universe."

Okay try this

The normal psychological perspective 'thinks' it can experience the actual world (the non psychological backward bike) but it can't, it keeps losing it's balance because it's too biased from riding the normal psychological bike.

IOW actual information about the state of the universe may unrideable (incomprehensible) to the normal psychological perspective.

Anonymous said...

As the guy in the link said "Once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head, often you cannot change it even if you want to".

So one has to practice the new way of thinking (riding) until eventually a new neural pathway in the brain unlocks and the brain understands what's actually happening.

Even then for a long while one must keep ones attention on that new neural pathway or the brain will jump back onto the old psychological road it's more familiar with. Any small psychological distraction can throw the brain back onto old psychological control algorithms and one wrecks the ride again. The child was able to ride the backward bike because young neural pathways are more plastic, i.o.w. his psychological algorithms aren't yet as habitual as an adult's.

Anonymous said...

Pulkit Agrawal said... "what if atoms/molecules/light/gravity, nothing exists? What if they are all ideas made up by this consciousness?"

If atoms/molecules/light/gravity are all ideas made up by consciousness, then it would surely be an incredibly intelligent consciousness, right? Right.

So why would it then also make up the idea that it has a brain tumor it can't get rid of, then cause a made up idea person to die of it prematurely, leaving their made up loved ones in horrific grief?

What sort of a made up idea consciousness would be so cruel? Surely if consciousness can make up a magnificent idea universe, it can also make up an idea brain that never gets idea brain tumors and idea loved one's that never cruelly suffer.

Anonymous said...

The dualist indian school considers the universe to be made of two universal entities, pure conciousness (purusha) and primordial matter (prakriti) and the interaction of prakriti with purusha causes evolution of all things. And purusha and prakriti are both without a first cause, so no need of a god (atleast this was the case for early Samkhya, after 14th century, it started having a thiestic side to it). This school adheres to as some scholars put it pluralistic spiritualism, atheistic realism and uncompromising dualism and Shankara (the main proponent of Advaita) regarded Samkhya as rival school and criticised its teachings. So there are other schools in Indian as well as Hindu thought that are against preach different theories. I think it is neccessary to have an open mind about the theories on the nature of conciousness. I see in your blog that you have not even talked about the Buddhist theory of mind which is radically different from the Vedantic point of view. What I am saying is