Consciousness: Quantum and Jainism

September, 2023 by Dr. Narayan Lal Kachhara

(Part- II: Soul, Consciousness, Mind and Jainism)

2.1  Projections from Jainism

The concept of awareness as defined above is related to indirect cognition, particularly perceptual cognition, of Jainism. The mind establishes contact with the external world through senses. The sense signals are communicated to brain and than contact are made with mind. If the connection between sense organs and brain is broken due to some reason the mind does not know the object. The thinking process starts when the object is perceived by the mind. The perceptual cognition is the knowledge gained through sense – organs and the mind. The knowledge is conceptual consciousness and is determinate.

There are different elements of perceptual cognition. Perceptual cognition (mati) takes stock of a present objective datum, recollection (smriti) has reference to a datum perceived in the past; recognition (samjna) is the cognition of the identity of a past object of perception with the present; thought (cinta) is the cognition of a future event. All these different varieties of cognition are regarded as identical in spite of the difference of determinations, because the substantive object is the same. Abhinibodha is cognition competent to take stock of an object with all its temporal determinations as past, present and future. Matijnana (empirical knowledge) is a comprehensive class which includes a large variety. Thus, for example, there are purely sensuous cognitions, purely mental cognitions and cognitions which are generated by both the senses and the mind. The sensuous cognition of animals, beginning with one-sensed and ending with five-sensed, but destitute of mind, are purely sensuous. Recollection and instinctive intuition are purely mental. The normal cognitions of beings endowed with mind are generated by the cooperation of the mind and the senses. According to Jain epistemology, all cognitions are nothing but different states of soul and as such are only cases of emergence and not origination proper, the senses and the mind being auxiliary conditions or instruments only.

One variety of perceptual cognition is Sruta nisrita – the intellect based on scriptures or depending on verbal symbol. These are of four types (i) Avagraha-sensation (ii) Iha– speculation, (iii) Avaya-judgment, and (iv) Dharana-retention.

Sensation means cognition of a generic character in the wake of the intuition of the contact between the sense and the object without the manifestation of any characteristic of the contact. The sensation is in respect of the vyanjana (possible object) and the artha (plausible object). The vyanjana sensation means indeterminate cognition of the objects such as sound and the like through the contact between the object and the sense organ. This is a judgment like ‘there may be something’. There occurs in the trail of this sensation another sensation called artha-sensation, which cognizes the object a little more distinctly, though devoid of the concepts of class, substance and attributes. This is a judgment like ‘there exists something’. Speculation consists in the experience “this must be that”. The speculation constitutes the intermediate stage between indeterminate perception and determinate perceptual judgment. Speculation is an attitude of the mind which leads to the determination of the specific character of the object by laying emphasis upon the real characteristics that are perceived and the elimination of the unreal attributes that are not cognized. Perceptual judgment is the specific determination of the object ‘this is that’. The persistence of the perceptual judgment is called retention.

There are three stages in the perceptual cognition process (1) desire to know, (2) cognition, and (3) attitude in terms of feeling and willing. The first and the third stages are processes of mind, bhava manah, as states above. The second stage of cognition consists of two parts (i) change in the state of the soul that affects cognition, and (ii) physical processes taking place in the body in accordance to changes in the soul. The soul and the body system are in mutual balance, a change in one causes equivalent change in the other. The second part of cognition process comprises of two steps (a) processing of multitude bits of sense data by the brain, and (b) integration of processed sense data to create unity of experience.

How and where these two physical processes take place? It can be assumed without difficulty that processing of sense data is the function of brain that works as structural information processor. Empirical evidences cited in the first part of this essay raise doubts that integration of data is also performed by the brain. It is a pointer to the possibility that this function is the responsibility of the physical mind, the dravya manah. The physical mind and the brain interact through radiations emitted by the physical mind. The physical mind is a subtle structure and may behave like a quantum computer that enables integration of data and generating information. The fact that brain is unlikely to integrate the processed data and that unity is experienced by us there must be another part that discharges this function and the dravya manah is the obvious choice for this act. The dravya manah also stores a large amount of memory and therefore it could also be a holonomic device. This suggests that brain must be a classical device and determinate in that sense.

We see that concepts from Jainism suggests a suitable system consisting of brain as structural information processor and the dravya manah as a unifying device that enables a large sensory data input to be converted into a unified processed information to be presented to the perceiving soul. The soul makes the experience “what it is like”; the experience is subjective, called qualia or phenomenal. Thus, the soul, the mind (Dravya manah) and the brain together constitute a composite system that realizes perception of object by the subject. This is the process of perceptual cognition. The soul also has the capacity of direct cognition of object without the involvement of brain and mind as happens in clairvoyance.

The brain is an important component in the process of perception and cognition. The perception is interrupted when the brain does not receive the sensory data as happens in sleep, coma or un-awake conditions. This cannot be interpreted to mean that consciousness is absent. The involuntary functions of the body are still taking place that require intelligence, and hence consciousness, which is beyond the range of material genes; the body would be dead without consciousness (cetana). In the state of the soul in question only the voluntary functions are suspended. To justify existence of consciousness on the basis of voluntary activity is not correct. Consciousness is a permanent feature of a living being in whatever state he may be; it is certainly not an emergent property,

The steps in perceptual cognition are shown in the flow diagram below.

Sense data


Physical mind

Psychical mind or Soul

l                                              l

The sense data to brain link is accessible to science and has been studied in detail. Operation of this link depends on the health of the body and the brain; it is broken in case of any physical disability. For example, sensory loss takes place in polio, brain damage, sleep or coma. In all such cases the brain does not register the sensory inputs. The receipt of processed data by mind from brain depends upon attentiveness of mind; the mind receives data only when it is attentive. For example when someone is calling you, you hear him only when you are attentive; if your mind is wandering elsewhere you miss the call. In this case the ears receive the sound and the brain registers the sense signal but still you are not conscious of it. This implies that in order to be conscious of a sensory input both the brain and mind must be attentive. Understanding follows when the mind compares the sound you heard with the previously recorded sound of the same individual and then you know that X is calling you.

Mind is a powerful super computer that manipulates data at such a fast speed that we experience the event almost instantaneously. Because of its speed the mind can also present several options in quick succession and you decide that it is only X, and not Y, calling you. For this kind of processing the mind should also be in a healthy and alert state. If the mind is preoccupied or disturbed because of worries or some other mental problem the understanding, the awareness, may be impaired. Note that the high speed of action is possible because of the subtle structure (quantum?) of mind; the brain does not possess this capability. The brain processes data and information primarily for the body where the communications are relatively slow.

We now attempt to define the terms awareness and ‘consciousness’. Awareness is assumed as reception of sense data without understanding. The process of awareness bypasses the mind, which is the instrument of understanding, and it is identified by the route senses data-brain-soul on the flow diagram. Awareness is comparable to the first stage of perceptual cognition, the sensation. In the above example it means that you only hear a sound and do not know that it is a call. The process of being conscious of the object involves application of mind and the route of information flow is now sense data- brain-physical mind-soul on the flow diagram. This ‘consciousness’ is comparable to the second stage of perceptual cognition, speculation. In the example in question it means that you know that that sound is a call. In the next stage of perceptual cognition, judgment, you know for sure that it is X and not Y calling you and this constitutes knowledge. There is a third kind of mental activity called thinking, not requiring assistance of sense data, and this is represented by the route physical mind-soul on the flow diagram. Is brain involved in thinking? Perhaps the brain may be involved as a processing center, and hence it has a record, but thinking is supposed to be primarily an activity of mind.

A final remark on the meaning of the terms ‘consciousness’ and awareness is in order. The main property of the soul is called cetana. Cetana is not only just ‘consciousness’ as is generally known to philosophers but much more than that, it manifests itself in several ways: intelligence, knowledge, intuition, bliss, perception, emotions, will, attitude and behaviour, awareness of pleasure and pain as stated before. Philosophers hold that consciousness is “awareness” or “experience” in the conscious state, it is supposed to be absent in unconscious or in coma state. Cetana being property of the soul is always present, it manifests explicitly in the conscious state and implicitly in the unconscious or coma state. Without cetana no life is possible.

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About Author

Vijay K. Jain

Dr. Narayan Lal Kachhara passed B.E.(Mechanical ) in 1961, M.E.(Mech) in 1969, and Ph.D. in 1973 from University of Salford, UK. Since retirement in 1997 he has been working for religious and social cause. Scientific spiritualism is his fond subject. He is particularly exploring the scientific perspectives of Jain philosophy.

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