Can We Study Consciousness Within Science?

In this post I will explore some philosophical ideas from Vedic philosophy and try to describe what consciousness is and argue that we cannot reduce consciousness to matter, but we can study matter using consciousness as the model. In short, we begin by assuming the soul, and then explain matter. This scientific study of matter—based on the understanding of the soul—can be theoretically and empirically confirmed, but consciousness itself (i.e. the axiom of this study) cannot be verified using science. The confirmation of the axiom needs spiritual experience. How the postulate of the soul changes material science is a very interesting topic, but the fact that knowing the soul helps us know matter doesn’t entail that the soul is material.

What is Consciousness Studies?

There is now a burgeoning academic field of inquiry called “Consciousness Studies” which hopes to explore the nature of consciousness within the brain. There are arguments on both sides regarding whether this study can be successful or not. Some people talk about the “hard problem” of consciousness (a term coined by David Chalmers) which pertains to the “qualitative feel” of sensations and assert that it can never be reduced to the constructs of science. Similarly, there are arguments—originating with John Searle’s “Chinese Room Argument”—which assert that machines manipulate symbols but never understand the ‘meaning’ of these symbols, implying that there cannot be a computational theory of the mind. Nevertheless, there are those who insist that since aphasia (damage to brain) leads to limited perceptual and cognitive abilities, the brain plays an important role in consciousness. From here, it is a short step to claim that consciousness is the brain.

Most of what goes on as part of Consciousness Studies can be classified into three parts.

The first is the philosophical component which largely denies that consciousness can be reduced to matter. There are of course some philosophers—like Daniel Dennett—who argue that consciousness is a special biological process, but the philosophical position is dominantly on the side of denial.

The second is the empirical and experimental component which largely asserts that consciousness is reduced to something in the brain. The field is dominated by neuroscientists and funded by medical research programs that are trying to deal with brain-related injuries and cognitive anomalies.

The third is generally called “cognitive studies” which is a study of models that can be used to model mental activities including consciousness. This is not the philosophy of lived experience and whether it can be reduced to matter, nor is it the experimental neuroscience—although it could be informed by either of these. As examples, this area focuses on neural network models of the brain, the relation between quantum theory and potential processes that could be going on in the brain that might lead to consciousness—e.g. cause the ‘collapse’ of the quantum wavefunction.

The Tripartite Nature of Conscious Experience

The term ‘consciousness’—quite like the term ‘mind’ preceding it—is polluted by many different ideas ranging from attention, cognition, free will, choice, emotion, and possibly others, to a point that it is even hard to define what we mean by the term. It is fair to say that there is no clear scientific definition of ‘consciousness’ in modern science and yet the word is used freely because everyone intuitively seems to understand what we mean—i.e. the ‘awareness’ or ‘experience’ of the world.

There is however a tripartite model of experience in Vedic philosophy of which ‘consciousness’ is one of the components. The other two components are—cognition and pleasure. Each of these categories is difficult to understand, but by making this division we can begin to grasp the nature of these three parts. The fact is also that all the three parts combine to form experience, so in every experience they are always present. That makes it hard to distinguish them because you cannot experience them individually. Therefore, the three parts constitute a theoretical model of the soul, or what the soul is prior to its experiences. If we can understand the soul prior to experience, then we can understand how experiences are created from the interaction of these three parts. So, we might say that the theory of the soul is also the theory of conscious experience, or how experience is created.

Once we understand the nature of conscious experience, then this understanding leads us to differentiate between different kinds of experience, of which there are two dominant categories—material and spiritual. The study of material experiences leads us to what we call ‘science’. This science doesn’t begin in ‘matter’. It rather begins in the soul, understands the dynamics of the soul, and then identifies different kinds of dynamics, only one of which is material experience. This dynamic is then used to understand matter. This is how we can study consciousness within science—we are studying matter, but the theory of matter is based on the a priori understanding of the soul.

The success of this model of material science can indicate the usefulness of the idea of the soul, pretty much like every other theoretical is either useful or useless. As we have talked in an earlier podcast, models are used instrumentally in science and they are useful or useless. To go beyond this instrumental definition, we must directly experience the soul, which involves spiritual experience.

We might note here that models can never be directly experienced in modern science; nobody can say that a theory is true because they have ‘seen’ it. However, they can say that is very useful. In that sense, the use of the idea of the soul is also useful, and never confirmed within matter. However, there is another type of experience which confirms the existence of the soul. So, the study of consciousness in science is about the usefulness of the idea of consciousness in studying matter. It doesn’t reduce consciousness to matter, nor does it confirm the idea of consciousness. The latter needs spiritual experience. One can be motivated either by indirect usefulness or by direct experience.

What is Consciousness in Vedic Philosophy?

Let’s begin by talking about the first of the three parts, which can be called ‘consciousness’. The technical terms used to describe this idea are sat and sambandha. The term sat means ‘existence’ and the term sambandha means ‘relation’. Just demystifying these terms completely can take an entire book, but I will try to summarize the basic insights in the following paragraphs.

When you observe the world, there is a distinction between three components—the knower, the known, and the relation between knower and known. You recognize that you are different from the thing you are observing, and yet you are related to that thing. This relation is called ‘attention’ or ‘focus’ in ordinary language. Your attention is diverted toward something and it could be diverted to something else at a future moment in time. This is equivalent to the term ‘consciousness’—it is the relation between the observer and the observed. However, in forming this relation, a distinction between the observer and the observed is automatically created. The relation cannot exist if the observer-observed distinction doesn’t. Therefore, we need to describe ‘consciousness’ by saying that there are three things—the knower, the known, and the relationship of knowing.

But if you want to simplify this idea, you can say that individual things are created by the relation. This idea can prove very hard to grasp sometimes, so an example will be helpful. In the ordinary world, we recognize relationships such as father and child. The identity of the father is defined by the existence of the child and vice versa. If there is no child, then there is no fatherhood. Therefore, we can say that the individuality is given by social relations. If you are stripped of all relationships, such that you cannot call yourself father, mother, son, daughter, citizen, employee, friend, master, servant, observer, observed, etc. then it also follows that you have no observations. It is a state devoid of all experiences because it is devoid of all relationships. You cannot say that I’m a distinct individual.

So, by sat or sambandha we mean that our identity is socially constructed. The term ‘society’ is used generically here and doesn’t have to mean living entities. It can also mean that we establish a relation to other things which are non-living and by that relation we define ourselves. For example, I can define my relationship to a book by calling myself the author of the book. This is an existence, but it is not eternal existence. When the relationship of observation is eternal, then the existence becomes eternal. Therefore, to realize that consciousness is eternal, we must establish eternal relationships.

In the Chaitanya Charitamrita it is said that jivera svarupa hoya krishnera nitya dasa. This ‘svarupa’ or ‘form’ is defined by a relationship—to Krishna. And this form is nitya or eternal, which means that it can be eternal. If we form this relationship, then the identity is never destroyed. It forms the basic identity, or who I am. Identity is different from personality, and we will come to this issue shortly.

The basic point is that to realize an eternal identity we must establish an eternal relationship. In short, you cannot realize who you are independently, because your identity is socially constructed, and for this social identity to be eternal, your relationship to some society must be eternal. In the material world, our identity is constantly changing because the objects of relationship are changing. So, some day you are a spouse, but after a divorce you are no longer a spouse.

This idea about ‘consciousness’ is a very post-modernist idea, because it says that our identities are socially constructed. I am nothing without the relationships I hold, and I am defined by those relationships. So, if I change the society in which I live, I change all my identities. Hence, my society, my employment, my family, my friends, etc. all collectively define who I am. The only problem is that because the society is changing so I am changing. Hence, I cannot know who I am eternally. And that undercuts the idea that I have an eternal identity. This problem is addressed only by saying that my identity is my eternal relationship to a society, and ultimately by a relationship to God.

But it also means that I am created by a relationship. If we let go of all relationships, then I dissolve. This dissolution of identity—sometimes called the dissolution of ahamkara—is the goal of Advaita Vedanta. Once you dissolve this identity there is no more difference between you and me. In short, the society of individuals merges back into a single undifferentiated existence called Brahman. The Brahman exists eternally, but we cannot say that I exist eternally. It is existence without individuality.

This understanding of Brahman is essential to realize that Brahman is not consciousness because consciousness is socially constructed. If I cannot distinguish between I and you, then there is no consciousness. This is important because some people have tried to use the idea of Brahman—by calling it ‘consciousness’—to suggest this Brahman collapses the quantum wavefunction and thereby the ‘individual’ is created. In short, they say the individuality is created when Brahman contacts matter. This is a false idea; individuality can also be created by a relationship between two souls, without matter. However, some relationship is necessary to create consciousness, because consciousness is a relation. If we collapse the relationship, then we collapse the identity and hence we collapse consciousness. In short Brahman is not consciousness. It is existence with the potential to become a conscious entity again.

When Brahman divides into individual identities, then the ‘soul’ is created. This ‘soul’ is the socially constructed individual which has a relationship to other souls. The ‘soul’ has consciousness because its identity is that consciousness. Alternatively, we can say that in Brahman the soul is asleep. When he ‘wakes up’ and becomes conscious, he acquires an individual identity of its own.

Once we establish a relationship to something, we begin to use pronouns such as this and that, me and you, us and them, etc. These pronouns are indicative of individual identities without indicating their properties. The general structure of pronouns is reflected in languages as eight types of cases. For example, ‘I’ is a subjective pronoun, ‘he’ is an objective pronoun, and ‘his’ is a possessive pronoun. Then we distinguish these pronouns by gender (his and her, he and she). We also distinguish them by numbers (e.g. one vs. many). We can distinguish them by place (here and there). You can also address a person by a pronoun (e.g. hey, you). We use terms of time such as now and then. In some languages like Sanskrit there are distinctions between pronouns used for superiors and subordinates (this distinction doesn’t exist in English). For example, in English ‘you’ is used for both superiors and subordinates. As a contrast, in Sanskrit, the pronoun tvam is used for subordinates and bhavan for superiors.

There is a rich vocabulary of pronouns to describe individuals, without any of their properties. When you refer to something as this, you are not saying that it is a table or a chair. It is just an individual. What we call ‘consciousness’ or ‘soul’ is this stripped-down version of individuality. It corresponds to the term haecceity (or thisness) sometimes used in Western philosophy to denote individuals. We must remember that all these identities or individuals are mutually defined, which means that I cannot exist all by myself. I must instead exist in a society of individuals, as part of a collection. For those familiar with modern material science, this is a radical idea, because in science individuals are independent and not mutually defined. A particle can exist in a collection, but it doesn’t need the collection. The universe can therefore comprise of a single particle. This is impossible when we talk about consciousness. When we bring in consciousness, we automatically bring in a society of mutually-defined individuals.

The Nature of Cognition

Once we have identified the individual things, we can start attaching properties to them. The understanding of properties is called cognition. There are two broad categories of properties which are called knowledge and action. They are represented by nouns and verbs in language. These nouns and verbs are in turn modified by other properties which become adjectives and adverbs.

Thus, for instance, when you observe something, the first step is to establish a relationship to that thing, which is called ‘attention’ or ‘consciousness’, and this creates two separate identities of the observer and observed. The next step is to identify the nature of that thing. For instance, after recognizing that there is an individual thing, we can identify it as black, round, and table. The unique fact about cognition is that it always involves universals. We can also call them concepts. This is a contrast to the pronouns which always indicate individuals. In contrast to the term haecceity, the term quiddity is used to reference the universals in philosophy. Therefore, when we perceive something, our perception is comprised of two distinct parts—the individual thing and the universal concepts.

The perception of the individual is called sat, and the perception of the universal is called chit. The soul is said to have a faculty of cognition, which is to say that it can see individual things as part of classes of things, or in terms of classes of things. In Western philosophy, these universals have been hugely problematic. Plato thought that they were in another world but reflected in this world. Aristotle thought that these universals were embedded inside the individuals. As we talked about in an earlier podcast, the Platonic world makes ideas transcendent, while Aristotle made them immanent. The fact is that they are both transcendent and immanent, which creates problems of logical contradiction.

This problem can be easily resolved if we say that chit is the universal concepts, and there is only one instance of each concept. For example, there is only one instance of the concept ‘chair’. However, this concept combines with the stripped-down individuality to create an individual chair. Unlike the universal concept which is only one, there are many individuals combining with that concept. Hence, the concept of chair is universal, but the numerous chairs are individuals. By separating the universal and the individual, and then combining them together into perception, we can resolve the problem of transcendence and immanence, because the concept by itself (without the individuality) is transcendent, but when combined with individuality it becomes immanent. God, as the original concept, is transcendent. But when He observes the individual things, He becomes immanent. Alternatively, God as the original chit is transcendent, but as the original sat He becomes immanent.

The universals or concepts are also defined in distinction with other concepts. For example, hot is distinct from cold, black is distinct from white, table is distinct from chair. But these are universal distinctions rather than individual relations. There is a sense in which two things are related by consciousness. There is a different sense in which two things are distinct from each other due to distinct concepts. These distinctions are understood as oppositions. In the material world, what we call ‘matter’ is these concepts or distinctions or duality. The individual soul combines with these distinctions and becomes related to other individuals and yet opposed to other individuals by their qualities.

For example, a man and a woman are different individuals and their individuality is socially constructed by a relationship. However, men and women also have opposite qualities. The opposition makes it harder for them to be together because of the inherent contradictions between their opposing nature. However, the socially constructed relationship reconciles them via different roles.

The Nature of Pleasure

However, before we see the relevance of the reconciliation between opposites, we must recognize the fact that there is attraction between the opposites. As opposites, two different things are inconsistent and must therefore repel each other. However, there is also attraction between the opposites. This attraction is due to desire or pleasure. This attraction is called ananda. It is the logical opposite of the distinction between opposites: the opposites repel due to chit and attract due to ananda. The sat then reconciles this attraction and repulsion, by placing them in a social relationship or role.

The separation of two opposites arises due to the problem of consistency. However, their attraction arises because they are mutually incomplete. To create both consistency and completeness, the role brings them close without making them identical. In their mutual presence, the opposites experience relative completeness, without creating a contradiction or inconsistency. Thus, the socially constructed identity has a very important role in finding the balance between inconsistency and incompleteness. We can achieve consistency by keeping the opposites far apart, but they will become incomplete. Similarly, we can achieve completeness by merging the opposites, but it will create inconsistency. Hence, the state in which the opposites have been merged is inconsistent, and when the opposites are totally separate the state is incomplete. The social relationship reconciles these opposing demands.

To understand ananda we must grasp the nature of incompleteness. It manifests as desire in us and creates an attraction. But what is desire? It is the experience of absence or the feeling that something is missing. We cannot measure this absence in the common sense of cognition. In some of the schools among the six systems of Indian philosophy, there have been debates about whether absence constitutes a legitimate perception. Can you really say that you perceive non-existence? Is there indeed something that can be called ‘conspicuous by its absence’ because we never see absence?

The short answer is that absence cannot be measured cognitively but it is visible through our desires. When we desire something, it is because we miss something, or because something is absent. This absence creates a desire or attraction to something that doesn’t yet exist in our experience. So, absence is an experience and yet it is not a cognitive experience. Rather, desire is the perception of non-existence or separation from the desired object, and happiness is the fulfillment of desire when the desire is fulfilled. Without desire there can be no happiness, and without absence there can be no desire. Therefore, this non-cognitive category called ‘absence’ is the basis of all happiness. We must first experience absence, and then we must overcome that absence to create happiness. If we feel the absence but cannot overcome it, then we will be unhappy, distressed, frustrated.

Just as there are varieties of concepts, similarly, there are varieties of desires. What we desire, and feel absent from, has generally little to do with the presence or cognition. For example, a rich person may have a lot of desire for money, while a poor person may not have such a strong desire. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that the desire for money arises because money is missing (cognitively). Since the desire can exist even when there is an adequate amount of money, therefore, we must separate cognition from desire. In other words, desire is not necessarily caused by the cognitive absence of money; it can come even when we have money, cognitively speaking. The experience of absence is a non-cognitive experience. As a result, desire is simply the feeling that I’m incomplete, sometimes even contrary to fact.

This idea has immense ramifications in Vaishnavism where the soul feels incomplete even after self and God realization. Cognitively there is completeness, but emotionally there is separation or absence. This sense of separation creates attraction and desire, and no matter what the cognitive experience is, the desire is never satiated, because the experience of absence never disappears.

Earlier in this post we mentioned a difference between individuality and personality. We can now describe what we mean by personality. It is all the ways in which we feel incomplete. It is all the desires we have, and it is all the ways in which we are attracted to other things in this world.

The fundamental problem of the soul is that it is inherently conflicted. As chit it aspires for consistency—e.g. I’m white and not black, I am tall and not short, I am big and not small, etc. But as ananda it experiences incompleteness—I’m attracted to black, short, and small (this is just an example, because one can be tall and still attracted to tall, not because one is factually short). When this incompleteness is overcome, an inconsistency may be created (e.g. if a tall person is attracted to a short person). Then to resolve this inconsistency again a separation must be made, which can then lead to incompleteness. This internal conflict forces change—from consistency to completeness and vice versa. The change creates impermanence unless one finds those relationships where these are balanced.

Science and Consciousness

If we understand the tripartite nature of the soul, and its inner conflicts, then we can use this understanding to model the nature of the external world in science. As an example, the world would now be described not as independent particles but mutually defined relationships. The world would no longer be universally consistent and homogeneous; it would rather be fundamentally opposed and contradictory because it is built from conceptual opposites. Material objects don’t have this contradiction, so the world must be described as opposite meanings. We would no longer think of the world in terms of empirical and cognitive confirmation—i.e. what it is—but also in terms of what it is not. Indeed, this absence—which cannot be cognitively measured—will create the causal basis for change. In modern science, causality is based on what exists (here and now). In the new approach, causality would be based on the notion of absence, or what doesn’t exist here and now.

Since the drive for change and the drive for consistency are mutually opposed, the world would be viewed as an oscillation between opposite extremes. If you try to attain consistency, you create incompleteness. If you try for completeness, you create inconsistency. Both are temporary conditions, which means they cannot create stability. As a contrast, modern logic and mathematics postulate that the world of ideas can be both consistent and complete. However, when analyzed as properties of the soul, we can see that they are inherently conflicting. As we try to resolve this conflict—by going to either end of consistency or completeness—we create the incentive for the opposite end. This creates a kind of a pendulum or oscillation from one extreme to another. Note how the idea of oscillation comes out naturally due to the nature of the soul, rather than due to a mechanical force.

Everything in nature must now be described as an oscillation or vibration. This vibration is no longer a physical particle being pushed or pulled by an external force. It is the inner conflict between consistency and completeness that produces this oscillation. Finally, we will also recognize that these oscillations create instability because neither of these extremes are permanent conditions. Since instability arising out of this vibration is problematic, stability is achieved through relationships in which the opposing tendencies of consistency and completeness are balanced—although they are never reconciled.

The world can now be said to have a teleological goal toward balance and stability. But this stability is ephemeral because it is constructed out of two opposing demands—consistency and completeness. In every state of balance there is some inconsistency and some incompleteness. If we try to remove inconsistency we create greater incompleteness, and vice versa. So, the state of balance remains precariously positioned and can easily fall onto either of the two sides of imbalance.

The Five Forces of Nature

The inner conflict in the soul thus creates three forces—which we can call consistency (chit), completion (ananda), and cooperation (sat). Cooperation produces balance between consistency and completion, but it is neither consistency nor completion. This creates a competition between the three forces. If consistency dominates, we swing to one side. If completion dominates we swing to another side. If cooperation dominates we get balance between the opposites but now both sides are pulling in different directions because neither of these two conditions is satisfied. Thus, there are three ‘forces’ arising out of the nature of the soul, and they pull in different directions. This constitutes the fundamental problem in understanding the soul—namely that there is inner conflict.

Thus, apart from the three forces—consistency, completion, and cooperation—there is the fourth force of competition between these three forces. Each force tries to dominate, and results in prioritizing one among the three aspects of the soul, but all the three priorities can never be satisfied in this state. As a result, the soul can never be in a stable condition due to these conflicting but necessary priorities. As one conflicting requirement is prioritized over another, oscillations are produced.

The end to these oscillations arises from the notion that an individual is part of a whole. If sat is modified to establish a relation to the whole, then chit or consistency is automatically achieved because the whole has opposite sides (e.g. front and back of a person, or head and tail of a coin), yet each part has a desire for the whole because the part is incomplete and the whole is complete.

Therefore, we can say that without the whole, the parts are internally conflicted. However, in relation to the whole, the internal conflict or competition between the three parts comes to an end. The material experience pertains to the situation when the whole is not recognized, the three aspects are competing, and a person goes through internal conflict because all of them cannot be simultaneously satisfied and only one must be preferred. The spiritual experience pertains to the situation where the whole is present and all three conflicting priorities are simultaneously satisfied. The material world can be studied as that incessant oscillation between opposites in the absence of the whole. The spiritual world can be studied as the reconciliation of these priorities in the presence of the whole.

This form of spirituality is called liberation or mukti. It is freedom from inner conflict and oscillation that results from this conflict. The soul feels satiated and satisfied due to inner resolution. The presence of the whole and its ability to reconcile the conflict in the parts constitute the fifth ‘force’. This fifth ‘force’ is absent in the material experience, but present in the spiritual experience to create liberation. So, another way to think about the spiritual vs. material experiences is to talk about the presence or absence of the ‘fifth’ force. The spiritual experience is better because of the fifth ‘force’.

The Sixth Force of Spiritual Nature

Beyond the position of liberated experience lies another kind of experience in which a new kind of conflict is created within each of three aspects of the soul. This conflict is different from the conflict between the three forces. The conflict within the three aspects of the soul arises because there is a recognition that one is a part of the whole, but a very small part. The desire arising out of incompleteness creates boldness, but the recognition that one is small creates shyness. Boldness and shyness are both desires, but one pushes forward and the other restrains backward. One is therefore conflicted again—there is a strong desire to meet, and there is shyness to restrain. Which of these two desires must be prioritized; whichever you prioritize there is an opposite ‘force’.

There are hence descriptions about two kinds of māyā (which means a negation, or that which doesn’t exist). This non-existence is desire; it is not a cognitive non-existence (for instance, māyāvāda philosophy says that the world cognitively doesn’t exist or is an illusion). The cognitive non-existence is a false idea; however, the emotional non-existence or the experience that I’m incomplete is real. As we discussed above, this desire leads to the quest for completeness, which conflicts with the need for consistency and cooperation, resulting in incessant oscillations among priorities. However, even when these priorities are reconciled and satisfied, another kind of inner contradiction is produced. This type of māyā is called yoga-māyā instead of mahā-māyā or the sense of incompleteness in the material world. Mahā-māyā means I am small and therefore I will try to attain completeness. Yoga-māyā means that I am so insignificant that I can never approach completeness which is so much greater than me.

Material desire creates boldness, and material anxiety creates restraint. But in the material world one only has one of the two—either anxiety or desire—at any given moment. There might be alternative movements between desire and anxiety, but they two don’t exist simultaneously (the are sometimes distinguished as avaranatmika and prakshepatmika aspects of material nature). Yoga-māyā means that desire and anxiety are simultaneously present. Even as one seeks the desired object, there is anxiety that one doesn’t deserve to fulfill the desire, and the desire is hence internally conflicted. Similarly, the push for consistency—i.e. pushing out the opposites—is also conflicted, due to which one doesn’t fully seek consistency nor does one move completely over to inconsistency. Finally, there is a conflict between the notion that one is an individual and then that one is insignificant. As an individual, one’s identity is asserted, but as insignificance one’s identity is not accorded prominence.

This new type of inner conflict—which exists within the three aspects of the soul (and after the three aspects of the soul are themselves not conflicting)—creates a new kind of experience, which is called bhakti or devotion. It involves a strong desire that pushes one forward, and a strong humility that restrains one backward. The conflicting demands of desire and humility seem contradictory, but they reinforce each other. The more one feels humble, the lesser is the sense of completeness, which increases the desire. So, this inner conflict is not a contradiction but reinforcement. Because of this reinforcement, the desires perennially increase. Similarly, the cognition expands as more of the contradictory meaning is imbibed within (as leaves of a tree). And the identity is ever more nuanced by an increasing number of relationships to ever new individuals (preserving the old relationships).

Thus, the result of this type of inner conflict is that experientially the world expands. This contrasts with the material experience which oscillates and with the liberated experience which remains stable.

In the material realm, our experience is always changing—i.e. old desires, cognition, and relation are replaced by new ones. In the liberated realm, our experience is stable—i.e. the desires, cognition, and relation are eternal. In the devotional realm, the experience expands—the old desires, cognition, and relation remain unchanged, but new ones are constantly added to nuance and expand them.

In contrast to these three types of experiences, there is the realm of Brahman devoid of experience because the three aspects of individuality, cognition, and desire are missing. The material realm involves the three forces of consistency, completion, and cooperation, which compete. The liberated realm involves the same three forces, but the competition is overcome by the presence of the whole. In the devotional realm, the competition between forces is overcome, but an inner conflict which expands each of the three forces—and thereby the resulting experiences—is created.

The Soul is Magnificent

In one sense, there is nothing other than the study of the soul, because there is nothing other than experience. By understanding the three aspects of the soul, and their mutual conflict, we can understand the material experience, and hence the nature of matter. When a Supreme Soul is added to this study, then the inner conflicts are reconciled, and stability is created. However, when the soul comes under the influence of devotion, in addition to the Supreme Soul, then a new type of inner conflict results in expansion. The understanding of the soul is complex, but it produces everything else.

Since each conscious person is a soul, one doesn’t need anything other than the understanding of the self to know material and transcendent realities. Everything can be understood by understanding the self. Similarly, to change our experience, we don’t need anything outside of the self.

Material science constitutes a small part of this overall diversity of experience. When material science is equated with the study of individual things—devoid of the understanding of the whole—then this science must either be inconsistent, or incomplete, or form a ‘society’ of conflicting and incomplete ideas that are collectively used instrumentally to perform different kinds of ‘roles’. For example, each of the conflicting and incomplete theories can be used for solving different kinds of problems. This fact about material science is not just about matter, but about the conflicting nature of the soul. Science can only be rescued from this oscillating state of conflicting priorities by adding a whole. This constitutes the state of balance and reconciliation of the conflicting demands. However, since this balance itself arises from the liberated experience, the spiritual ideologies of liberation must be brought to bear on science. In that sense the problems of science cannot be solved without a spiritual experience.

However, even without the liberated state we can still model the nature of the material world as conflicts resulting in oscillations if we recognize that the soul is internally conflicted, and this inner conflict is reflected in the external world as the conflicts between different aspects of nature. Accordingly, nature too must be modeled in terms of three ideas—relation, cognition, and emotion, or relation, concept, and absence. Once the nature of the soul is clear to us—perhaps through introspection or perhaps through digesting the philosophy of the soul—the material world will naturally be understood. Hence, ‘consciousness’ can also be studied through matter because its inner conflict is reflected in the dynamic of the material world, although ‘consciousness’ is not matter.

This ideology about the soul, and its relation to science, can potentially constitute a new ‘philosophy of science’ in which the more we understand the soul, the better we understand matter. We don’t have to look outward to experiments, nor do we have to speculate on the nature of the world. We must rather understand the nature of the self, and then we can also use it to understand the world. This type of viewpoint can be equally well called the ‘synthesis of science and religion’, the ‘study of consciousness within science’, or even ‘consciousness studies’ in the truest sense of the term.