Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Brief Reflection on Death and Consciousness

I've had a little more time to reflect on the article from Scientific American, "Never Say Die:Why We Can't Imagine Death",by Jesse Bering. Here, I will attempt to state my case, as briefly and clearly as possible, as to why I disagree with Mr. Bering...

Mr. Bering seems to make no distinction between mind and consciousness. The terms "mind" and "consciousness" are often interchanged, but countless generations of those dedicated to the practice of meditation will likely have no difficulty in knowing the difference. Consciousness is essentially "awareness" which is not the same as the busy, thinking and deducing mind. We may (or may not) need a brain to support our "mind", but I'm not at all convinced that it is required to support consciousness. At least one of the nearly 300 commenters noted this narrow view by stating:"in an 11 dimensional universe, its (sic) foolish and egotistical to think that life and consciousness only occur in 3".

It's true... the loss of one's sense of "self" contributes greatly to the fear of death. However, it is this very state that is sought after by so many meditators. Anyone who has experienced this state of pure, thought-free awareness has, indeed, lost any sense of self. I can assure you that not one of these people will tell you that the experience was anything but a kind of bliss that eludes description.

I will end by encouraging you to view the video below. It's a short talk by Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher, who suffered a stroke in 1996. Due to the injury to the left side of her brain, she was essentially thrown, involuntarily, into what I would describe as a form of meditative practice. She is the author of My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey.

(Yes, I do have a very, personal viewpoint... I was a serious student of Zen Buddhism for many years, am also a former meditation instructor and have, so far, survived two strokes.)


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3 comments:

Jessica Knapp said...

I saw this woman interviewed on Oprah and heard he talk about just this perspective—how after her stroke, all of the outside factors of life were wiped clean from her brain, and she was living beautifully in the moment. She said she really had to will herself to come back to her family, friends, work, etc. because there was so much joy being so fully in every moment like that. It was fascinating, and it definitely made me want to check out her book.

I didn't even think of the mind vs. consciousness perspective related to Bering's article. But now I'm going to reread it through that lens. I think you make a really good point.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

I watched this Ted talk a few months ago and was fascinated by it!

papercages said...

Absolutely mesmerizing. Thank you for sharing.