MiCon 2002
Mind and Consciousness: Various Approaches

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Paper and event sponsored by the Infinity Foundation, NJ, USA

Abstract of "Integrating Inner and Outer approaches to perception, cognition and consciousness through Nonduality." By Rajesh Kasturirangan, Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, MIT, NE20-445E, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA, 02141

This paper is an attempt to reconcile two seemingly incompatible approaches to the mind, the outer approach used in cognitive science and the inner approach of various meditative traditions. In the past four decades, cognitive science has grown tremendously. Many cognitive scientists now believe that, with the possible exception of the "hard problem of consciousness," cognitive science will eventually explain all mental phenomena. Yet can outer, third-person, approaches provide a complete understanding of mental phenomena?

There are reasons to believe that scientists' optimism is radically mistaken. I argue that first person approaches are irreducible, in principle, to any third person approach. Simple perceptual and linguistic examples are enough to demonstrate this assertion. Scientific knowledge is founded upon making an ontological distinction between subject and object. Therefore, it is no surprise that purely subjective knowledge is beyond the scope of the scientific method. In diametrical contrast to the scientific approach, schools of Indian thought such as Advaita and Madhyamika say that true perception is fundamentally non-dual and that subject and object are one in non-dual perception. Usually, it is also assumed that non-dual perception is somehow qualitatively different from normal perception. However, an analysis of a typical perceptual or cognitive situation suggests that subject-object non-duality is intrinsic to normal (as opposed to paranormal) perception as well as normal cognition. In fact, an organism living in a natural environment should invariably reject the subject-object distinction.

To conclude, I suggest that a new approach to perception and cognition is needed that combines scientific and experiential methodologies and recognizes that subject-object non-duality is central to our biological nature.