In the May 2011 issue of the Scientific American Mind magazine, a reader asked the question “Why do memories of vivid dreams disappear soon after waking up?”. According to current science, clarity of dreams depends on neurochemical conditions in the brain. Dreams are forgotten due to deficiencies in the hormone norepinephrine in the cerebral cortex, and more generally, due to the fact that dreams are not highly conscious activities in the brain. Check the link given above to read the entire answer. In this article, we will examine this question based on the Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
The spiritual path often seems like a walk through the arid desert. Intermittently, one may encounter an oasis of water in the form of a replenishing soul moment, but the rest of the time one has to trudge through the scorching heat of the hardships of daily life. It is in this context that the Vedic Rishis spoke of the spiritual seeker being like a Divine child who is suckled by two Mothers – Dawn and Night. In such situations, one may wonder why spiritual experiences never seem to repeat; why can’t one recapture that stirring rapture one had experienced before? The Mother Mirra Alfassa provided some striking and sagacious answers to such often perplexing questions.
If everything is consciousness (Brahman), then how does this conscious energy put on the appearance of material solidity. Why does the table appear solid? In order to bridge the gulf between consciousness and apparently durable matter, ancient Indian sages postulated (or “divined”) that all physical things are constituted of five subtle elements called Pancha-Mahabhutas – earth, fire, water, air, ether. These are not the elements known in the conventional sense (e.g. “water” does not imply the water, and “earth” does not mean soil) but are actually subtle conditions which together create the perception of forms which can be sensed by the human mind. The actual names of these five elements are Akasha (ether), Vayu(aeriality), Agni(fire), Apas(liquidity) and Prithvi(compaction). The descriptions of these five constituents are quite similar across Sankhya, Tantra and Buddhist philosophy and even Greek Stoic texts. Furthermore, as I point out later in this article, what is amusing is that these five elements were codified, probably inadvertently, in the Vishnu iconography seen in Indian temples!
Neuroscience with its impressive array of technologies continues to plumb the depths of the human brain and throw up fascinating new results, not all of which can be adequately explained through the Yoga psychology model, which relies on occult insights handed down by Yogis, both ancient and modern. In a recent TED talk, neuroscientist Patricia Kuhl described an intriguing anomaly that she and her colleagues uncovered while investigating the linguistic abilities of 6-10 month old babies, which we briefly discuss here.
It is known that the restless mind cannot immediately enter into a state of thoughtlessness. That is why meditation is practised in stages. A 2005 paper “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness” by Antoine Lutz and his colleagues contains a very succinct description of this graded process accompanied by a concise table, which we highlight in this post. Continue reading
The Cartesian paradigm which dominated (plagued?) science for the past three centuries is gradually being jettisoned. In the cognitive sciences, one of the latest theories being actively researched is called Embodied Cognition, which posits that the mind is inextricably tied to the environment. It argues that higher cognitive processes are shaped by and grounded in the bodily experience. In the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa, we find unstinting affirmation for this model of cognition; in fact, their whole model of Integral Psychology is based on a fine-grained differentiation of the intricate connection between the mind, the vital and the physical parts of the human consciousness. In this article, we present the connection between the Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo and Embodied cognition.