Can Consciousness exist without time?

Can consciousness exist without time?  – My answer in Quora

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta (and I believe also zen and Dzogchen), time is not just something elusive, but ultimately unreal – only an idea or concept. The same can be said about the concept of ‘now’, which cannot be elucidated or measured in any way. ‘Now’ can only be a symbol of eternity, immeasurable but always present. ‘Eternity’ itself is a symbol or slanted conception of reality or existence/being, which is timeless. For the absolute time does not exist. Consciousness alone is real and, thus, timeless. Stated differently, ‘what is never ceases to be; what is not never comes into being’ (Shankara). Parmenides, Gaudapada, and Shankara were strong in that position.


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Is everything said just an opinion? 


From the metaphysical perspective, however – for instance that of Plato – things are quite different, e.g. what is a physical object, whether natural or man-made? What is ‘true opinion’? What do the senses tell us and how to relate it to the Intellect (nous)? In this higher, metaphysical, order there is, following Plato, only one (ultimate) truth: that arrived at through contemplation of ‘Ideas’ or archetypes, themselves reducible to the one supreme Idea, ‘the Good’. This is the only thing that merits the name of real knowledge according to Plato, and is not transferable from person to person.

All interactions between people can be considered at most ‘true opinion’ (except, as said, consensual, empirical truths for the most part). Plato found ‘true opinion’ to be lacking in epistemic support; in the end he even made a joke about it, rather than ending with the usual ‘aporia’ (indeterminable). A similar account of truth v. belief or opinion can be found in Eastern metaphysics.

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The three non-existing princes

A young boy asked his nanny to tell him a story, and the nanny told him the
following story to which the boy listened with great attention:

Once upon a time in a city which did not exist, there were three princes who
were brave and happy. Of them two were unborn and the third had not been conceived. Unfortunately all their relatives died. The princes left their native city to
go elsewhere. Very soon, unable to bear the heat of the sun, they fell into a swoon.
Their feet were burnt by hot sand. The tips of grass pierced them. They reached
the shade of three trees, of which two did not exist and the third had not even been
planted. After resting there for some time and eating the fruits of those trees, they
proceeded further.


They reached the banks of three rivers; of them two were dry and in the third
there was no water. The princes had a refreshing bath and quenched their thirst
in them. They then reached a huge city which was about to be built. Entering it,
they found three palaces of exceeding beauty. Of them two had not been built at
all, and the third had no walls. They entered the palaces and found three golden
plates; two of them had been broken into two and the third had been pulverised.
They took hold of the one which had been pulverised. They took ninety-nine minus
one hundred grams of rice and cooked it. They then invited three holy men to be
their guests; of them two had no body and the third had no mouth. After these holy
men had eaten the food, the three princes partook of the rest of the food cooked.
They were greatly pleased. Thus they lived in that city for a long, long time in peace
and joy. My child this is an extremely beautiful legend; pray remember this always,
and you will grow up into a learned man.

O Rama, when the little boy heard this he was thrilled.

From Yoga Vasishta

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Is a single neuron conscious? A short discussion.


M. Advaita Vedanta’s perspective is better seen from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Consciousness or awareness can be considered (there is a consensus on this) as a ‘fundamental ‘property’ of (or pointer to) reality’, not reality itself, which is unfathomable and indescribable. It permeates every apparently external phenomenon, which is thus an expression or manifestation of Consciousness. Accordingly, a neuron, an electron, is a manifestation of Consciousness – ‘the One without a second’. Alternately, neurons, atoms, etc. are embedded in Consciousness or reality.

PB. I think the best words you can use to characterize reality are awareness/consciousness, existence/beingness and bliss/love. However, I wouldn’t identify reality with consciousness, the other two concepts, or all three together. They are just the purest manifestations of reality that we can identify. True reality is not a thing or concept, it is beyond definition.

But yes, I would agree that neurons, electrons etc. are phenomena of consciousness, as are these words and the bodies and minds that write them.

M. Metaphysical truth is sometimes called apperception, or direct supramental perception, and it is non-transferable. Nicholas of Cusa put it this way: “The highest wisdom is this, to know… how that which is unattainable may be reached or attained unattainably”. Metaphysics (philosophia prima, or first philosophy of medieval times) is not science, and its truths are often dressed as paradoxes, analogies, and metaphors; they are not meant to convince anyone who is not open to them.


A metaphysical truth appeals to intuition; it is an experience, or knowledge-experience… It is not speculation and is not amenable to subject-object relationship or distinction.

M. (to another participant) Did you look up the word ‘rishi/s’? It means ‘sage’ – Swami Vivekananda described Rishi-s  as Mantra-drashtas or “the seers of thought”. He told— “The truth came to the Rishis of India — the Mantra-drashtâs, the seers of thought — and will come to all Rishis in the future, not to talkers, not to book-swallowers, not to scholars, not to philologists, but to seers of thought.” (From Wikipedia).

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Three Q&A-s

How can we consciously realize the consciousness concept?

First, consciousness is beyond concepts – language, which is dualist, allows talking of it as if separate from the subject, thus conceptually. But consciousness is a prime reality, the foundation of everything existing; same as being (which are not two). Consciousness is first, an immediate reality and, accordingly, you don’t have to do anything to realize it since you are it. Only, let the veil of ignorance drop, mostly by ‘not this, not this’ – one apavada after another; that is, by real understanding or discrimination. You are being itself, consciousness itself. The knower cannot know itself – as an object.

Who would win in an argument between Ramanujacharya and Shankaracharya?

As non-duality can be said to go beyond, and at the same time enclose duality within itself, we can also say that Shankara, being a non-dualist philosopher, goes beyond and ‘incorporates’ Ramanuja, that is, the latter’s philosophy (it has been said: a jñani understands a bhakta, not vice versa).

Ramanuja took the ego (psychological self) as being the Self, an error for an Advaitin. For the former a destruction of the ego (“me”) will thus entail destruction of the Self. For an Advaitin, the ego or subtle body (mind, senses and vital breath) dissolves when the body dies – not so awareness or pure consciousness.

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta ‘consciousness’ is another name for ‘reality/being/existence’: all there is or that can be (all possibilities of existence). Neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’, it annihilates this (mental) division, as well as sublating all concepts.

Or, as Francis Lucille, a well-known teacher wrote: ‘Simply put, non-dualism is the hypothesis that reality is non-dual, that there is only one single reality which is the substance of all things, of all phenomena, of both mind and matter. If that is true, it follows that the reality of our ordinary consciousness, meaning whatever it is that is really perceiving these words in this moment, must be this non-dual, single, and universal reality.’

Shankara said:

‘An enlightened person, after his death, does not undergo a change of condition – something different than when he was living. But he is said to be “merged in Brahman” just due to his not being connected to another body.’ Quoted from ‘The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta’, Michael Comans.


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Three questions & answers

Three Q/A from QUORA (on brain, philosophy, QM, NDE, consciousness)

  1. How does the brain understand philosophy?

M. The brain… understanding philosophy? My reply to this is similar to the one I gave recently to another question and which was based on Socrates’ answer to an observation that someone was making. The man saw a pool of water being stirred by a stick held by a man and said that the stick was stirring the water. To which Socrates replied: ‘Is it the stick, or the man moving the stick?’ (Which one is the real agent – the material, or the instrumental cause, in Aristotelian terms?).

Equally, is it the brain, or the mind which ‘moves’ the brain which moves the stick which stirs the water?

Is it the brain, or the mind which (using the brain as an instrument) understands philosophy?

Actually, it is consciousness (as a substrate) using the mind using the brain… Consciousness itself does not do anything


2. How does the theory of quantum mechanics affect our picture of consciousness?

M.The two notions (QM and consciousness) are in-commensurable in all respects, which should be obvious: a) QM is a theory referable to reality or an aspect of reality (the microcosm); consciousness, on the other hand, is an established fact, not a theory – not only a fact but that which is behind, the substratum of, all facts and movements of the mind. b) The reality that is consciousness does not need to be proven for it is immediate, direct, unstultifiable or unsublatable – everything else: objects or phenomena, thought-constructions, etc. being stultifiable.

That means that there is not even an approximation between the theory of QM and reality per se. It would be a category mistake to relate one to the other, unless using such exercise as an analogy. In this sense, there are two or three things that can be said: 1) Reality/consciousness is limitless, like the referent (or an aspect thereof) of QM, but the former is un-measurable, unlike QM which is amenable to measurement/quantification and statistical verifiability. 2) Reality is non-local (Bell’s theorem), like QM. 3) Consciousness/reality does not depend on anything, while QM is theory-dependent.


3. What are some scientific arguments for consciousness being able to preserve itself after the death of body?

M. There are some ‘facts’ or experiences by individuals in favor of what goes under the name of NDEs (near death experiences) and LAD (life after death), but I will restrict my answer to the teachings of Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta – and my own convictions (for what they are worth). And that, without holding a belief in the naive or popular notion of reincarnation, that is, reincarnation of the body

Consciousness (aka awareness), being the only or ultimate (exclusive) reality from the metaphysical viewpoint, is not in need of preserving itself at any time. It simply IS, and is beyond the time dimension, which is an unreality for IT. This means that there is no death – of anything or any being – , only apparent transformation of phenomena properly so called. ‘I’ (‘you’) am not a phenomenon. ‘I’ am consciousness, pure, indescribable, and immutable. Obviously, by ‘I’ I don’t mean this body-mind.


Two comments to last Q/A:

  1. Experiences reported by individuals are not facts and do not contribute to any form of scientific argument.

Similarly, your beliefs regarding consciousness are not scientific arguments. Attempting to use faith-based philosophical statements in place of scientific arguments is like trying to use colors to describe flavors. Even if it makes sense to you, it’s non-transferable and definitively different.

In other words, your statements may be interesting, but did not address the question that was asked.


M. Agree about ‘facts’ and scientific arguments. You will have noticed that I wrote ‘facts’ between apostrophes. Secondly, I also said that the view-point from which I wrote my answer derives from Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, therefore it is philosophical. Do you think that all philosophy is irrational, or non-rational? That would include philosophy of mind, phil. of science, of mathematics…

Also, I did address the viewpoint of science re NDE, etc., given that there is continuing empirical research in these areas by brain scientists and neuro-physiologists. They work with data and, obviously, with some theories.


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Two answers in Quora: 1)Consciousness; 2)The spiritual path  (been repeated here? – 98 upvotes) re  consciousness  (spiritual path only way)


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