Kerala Seminar - Psychology in India: Past, Present and Future

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

Abstract of "Binding Experiences: Looking at the Contributions of Adi Sankaracharya, Tunchettu Ezuttacchan and Sri Narayana Guru in the Context of Recent Discussions on Consciousness Studies" By Sangeetha Menon, PhD, Associate Fellow: Consciousness Studies, Philosophy of Science Unit, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore, India 560 012

Brain studies, theoretical analysis, cognitive science and cultural studies have, jointly in the last ten years, redefined the complexity of 'consciousness' by the factorisation of otherwise considered less important categories of analysis and understanding of the problem. The major epistemological worry faced equally by the empirical analyst as well as the philosopher and psychologist is based on the central feature of 'consciousness' which is 'experience'. Prima facie, this worry could be described as how to have a theoretical explanation for the mutual influence of neural events and subjective experiences. Nevertheless, it is recognised that the field of consciousness studies is no more a school of reductionism, whether it be the case of understanding segregated mechanisms for neural events or mystifying experiences under unexplained 'transcendences'. Interestingly, any attempt to understand 'experience', such as simple physical pain or much complex psychological pain, will have to cross the epistemological barriers of hierarchies and causal relationships, demanding a non-linear path. The classical description of consciousness as 'unitary' has even evolved, to accommodate the questions emerging in interdisciplinary dialogues, to present the term 'self' which was once considered metaphysical, but very much scientific today. The epistemological transition, however implicit it is, is from a third-person perspective to a first-person perspective.
In this presentation I will attempt to juxtapose two discussions. The first discussion will look at:
i) the recent semantic trends in interdisciplinary dialogues on 'consciousness',

ii) how 'experience' itself is defined in these dialogues as a problematic,

iii) how far non-linear and integral are the categories of thinking employed in the analysis, and

iv) how far holistic the larger goals of these dialogues are towards health, creativity and personal growth.
The second discussion will look at the distinctive styles of approach and analysis engaged in by three saints from Kerala: Adi Sankaracarya (8th c. A.D.), Tuncettu Ramanujan Ezuttacchan (16th c. A.D.) and Sri Narayana Guru (19th c. A.D.) towards understanding human mind. I will be, in my discussion of the philosophies of these three literary stalwarts and spiritual leaders, looking at:
i) alternative epistemological tools used by them such as 'metaphors' and 'imageries' facilitating 'transcendental thinking',

ii) first-person and 'Self'-oriented analysis of experience,

iii) phenomenological descriptions of ordinary and transcendental states and experiences,

iv) 'complexity' as not a property of the phenomenon but of the epistemological devices needed for integral understanding of the problem,

v) personal growth, self-healing, self-identities and relationships as important factors in understanding the reality of the 'given' and the possibility of the 'unknown', and

vi) the therapeutic value of their methods of analysis and presentation.

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