Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Ten Questions for a Pure-Observer-ist

Many spiritualists believe in a "pure observer" that exists independent of the body, the brain, and is "untouched" by the interactions of the body and the brain with the rest of the universe.

This pure observer (also called "drishta" in Hindi) is however, a very hazy notion that quickly falls apart when subjected to some very basic questions.

This belief in a pure observer is quite common in non-dualist Hinduism (Advaita-Vedanta), many strains of Buddhism, and is often an unspoken assumption in those who preach mindfulness and "choiceless awareness".

What follows is a list of ten simple questions for anyone who professes this belief.  Thinking hard and trying to respond to these questions will, I hope, be instructive for the believer.  And who knows, it might even convince the non-believers that there is some sense to the notion.

Unless there is a more clarifying definition, I take the pure observer to mean the following:
Pure Observer: An entity which is able to observe human experiences (both inner, as in pain, and outer, as in visual), but is neither a part nor an effect of the body or the brain.  It almost goes without saying that it is not a man-made device like a camera or an EEG.
Now, the questions:

1.  What is the basis of your claim that the pure observer exists?

2.  A sense experience is an interaction of matter/energy/waves.  If you claim that the pure observer is able to observe sensate experiences, then it must be that the pure observer is reachable by matter/energy/waves.  If so, it should be detectable, modifiable and even be prone to destruction by a suitably harsh damage.  What is your explanation about the communication from senses/brain to the pure observer?

3. In deep sleep and in coma, the brain is oblivious to sense experiences.  What happens to the pure observer in those states?

4. Does the pure observer have a memory?  Where are the memories stored?  How can it have memories and still be "untouched"?

5. What is the role of the pure observer, if at all, in affecting your thoughts and behavior?  How does it communicate in the reverse direction (to your body and brain)?

6.  How does your brain know of this pure observer.  As one example, your brain is right now responding to these queries and stating things about the pure observer.  Is your brain able to "observe" this pure observer?  How does that work?

7. What happens to the pure observer when you (as in, the body) are dead, or not yet born?  How did you come to that finding?

8. If the pure observer is not part/effect of your body/brain, why are its experiences restricted to your experiences only.  Why doesn't this pure observer know things that your body/brain can't perceive?  Does it, for example, know what is happening right now on the moons of Jupiter?  Have you met anyone who can show extra-sensory perception decisively and repeatedly?

9.  Does the pure observer have any morality or sense of justice?  Does it judge and use that judgment to some effect, say for example, doling out divine justice or assigning a new body at the time of reincarnation?

10. Perhaps you would agree that the pure observer theory has lots of arcane and at-present-unverifiable assumptions.  We should generally avoid needless assumptions.  Is there any phenomenon that is better explained by this theory than by the current scientific understanding?  Is there anything that this theory predicts which can be verified?

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