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An Axiomatic Theory of Consciousness. Dennis Blejer School of Practical Philosophy and Meditation, Boston 11 October 2009 Towards an Understanding of the Primacy of Consciousness. Introduction – Corona Trew The Nature of Consciousness, 1971.

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an axiomatic theory of consciousness

An Axiomatic Theory of Consciousness

Dennis Blejer

School of Practical Philosophy and Meditation, Boston

11 October 2009

Towards an Understanding of the Primacy of Consciousness

introduction corona trew the nature of consciousness 1971
Introduction – Corona TrewThe Nature of Consciousness, 1971
  • Consciousness is the primary fact of our human experience and yet it is not susceptible to scientific proof; it can only be realized as a personal awareness.

It stands like an axiom in mathematics, the starting point of all experience. Each of us is aware that he is conscious, that he is here and awake, and yet cannot prove this awareness directly to anyone else.

introduction max planck
Introduction – Max Planck
  • I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.

(The Observer, Jan. 25, 1931).

  • As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.

(The Nature of Matter, Florence, Italy, 1944).

  • Introduction
  • What is an axiomatic theory?
    • Criteria for scientific theories
    • What is an axiom?
    • Examples of axiomatic theories
  • Advaita Vedanta as an axiomatic theory of consciousness
  • Beyond Axioms
criteria for scientific theories
Criteria for Scientific Theories
  • Any serious consideration of a physical theory must take into account the distinction between the objective reality, which is independent of any theory, and the physical concepts with which the theory operates. These concepts are intended to correspond with the objective reality, and by means of these concepts we picture this reality to ourselves.

In attempting to judge the success of a physical theory, we may ask ourselves two questions: (1) “Is the theory correct?” and (2) “Is the description given by the theory complete?” It is only in the case in which positive answers may be given to both of these questions, that the concepts of the theory may be said to be satisfactory. The correctness of the theory is judged by the agreement between the conclusions of the theory and human experience. This experience, which alone enables us to make inferences about reality, in physics takes the form of experiment and measurement.

From: Can Quantum Mechanical Description of Physical Reality be Considered Complete? A. Einstein, B. Podolsky and N. Rosen, Physical Review, May 15, 1935.

criteria for scientific theories1
Criteria for Scientific Theories
  • A theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations… Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.

On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory.From: A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawkings.

the nature of scientific theories
The Nature of Scientific Theories
  • Correct (agree with observation and measurement)
  • Complete (explain everything in its domain)
  • Based on a few elements (the simpler the better)
  • Able to make predictions
  • There are no proofs of scientific theories, only corroboration
  • Introduction
  • What is an axiomatic theory?
    • Criteria for scientific theories
    • What is an axiom?
    • Examples of axiomatic theories
  • Advaita Vedanta as an axiomatic theory of consciousness
  • Beyond Axioms
axiom webster s 9 th new collegiate dictionary
Axiom(Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary)
  • Axiom: n. (from Gk. axioun to think worthy).

1: a maxim widely accepted on its intrinsic merit.

2: a statement accepted as true as the basis for argument or inference: POSTULATE.

3: an established rule or principle or a self-evident truth.

  • An axiomatic theory is a theory based on axioms
  • Introduction
  • What is an axiomatic theory?
    • Criteria for scientific theories
    • What is an axiom?
    • Examples of axiomatic theories
  • Advaita Vedanta as an axiomatic theory of consciousness
  • Beyond Axioms
euclidean geometry
Euclidean Geometry
  • The axioms of geometry were the most brilliant and the most “scientific” example of statements which were valid “a priori” and therefore of an eternal validity which could never be shaken by any advance in science.From: Einstein’s Philosophy of Science, Phillip Frank, Reviews of Modern Physics, July, 1949.
euclidean geometry1
Euclidean Geometry
  • Common notion 1. Things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another.
  • Postulate 5. If a straight line falling on two straight lines make the interior angles on the same side less than two right angles, the two straight lines, if produced indefinitely, meet on that side on which are the angles less than the two right angles.
euclidean geometry2
Euclidean Geometry
  • On Postulate 5: When we consider the countless successive attempts made through more than twenty centuries to prove the Postulate, many of them by geometers of ability, we cannot but admire the genius of the man who concluded that such a hypothesis, which he found necessary to the validity of his whole system of geometry, was really indemonstrable.

(Sir Thomas Heath, Euclid: The Thirteen Books of the Elements)

on the method of theoretical physics einstein lecture oxford 1933
On the Method of Theoretical Physics,Einstein Lecture, Oxford, 1933
  • A complete system of theoretical physics consists of concepts and basic laws… this is really exactly analogous to Euclidean geometry, except that in the latter the basic laws are called ‘axioms’… but if we conceive Euclidean geometry as… a physical science (of space)… the logical parallelism of geometry and theoretical physics is complete.
newton s principia axioms or the laws of motion
Newton’s PrincipiaAxioms, Or the Laws of Motion
  • Law 1: Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.
  • Law 2: A change in motion is proportional to the motive force impressed and takes place along the straight line which that force is impressed.
  • Law 3: To any action there is always an opposite and equal reaction; in other words, the actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal and always opposite in direction.
classical physics
Classical Physics
  • From Newton’s Laws comes:
    • Celestial and Terrestrial Mechanics
    • Fluid Mechanics
      • Acoustics, Hydrodynamics, & Aerodynamics
    • Solid Mechanics
  • Thermodynamics
    • Conservation of energy (1st Law)
    • No process is possible whose sole result is the complete conversion of heat into work (2nd Law)
  • Electromagnetism
    • Conservation of charge
    • Coulomb’s Law, Ampere’s Law, Faraday’s Law, etc.
relativity theory
Relativity Theory
  • Special Relativity
    • Constancy of the velocity of light
    • Principle of relativity
  • General Relativity
    • Equivalence of accelerating frames of reference to gravitational fields
    • Equivalence of all frames of reference for expressing the laws of physics
quantum physics
Quantum Physics
  • Energy is quantized
  • Quantum Theory From Five Reasonable AxiomsLucien Hardy, Centre for Quantum Computation,The Clarendon Laboratory, Parks road, Oxford OX1 3PU, UK, February 1, 2008,
  • Quantum Mechanics: Structures, Axioms, and ParadoxesDiederick Aierts, Brussels Free University,
eugene wigner nobel laureate
Eugene Wigner – Nobel Laureate
  • When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic phenomena through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again.

It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.

(quoted in Quantum Enigma, B. Rosenblum and F. Kuttner).

physics is axiomatic
Physics is Axiomatic
  • Scientific Method
    • Synthesis of observation and reason
    • Leads to the formulation of physical laws (axioms)
    • Has led to the development of Quantum Physics (supreme achievement of science)
    • Interpretations of Quantum Physics require the existence of a conscious observer for anything to happen and for there to be a physical reality
  • Introduction
  • What is an axiomatic theory?
    • Criteria for scientific theories
    • What is an axiom?
    • Examples of axiomatic theories
  • Advaita Vedanta as an axiomatic theory of consciousness
  • Beyond Axioms
  • An axiomatic approach to consciousness is entirely appropriate
  • An axiomatic theory of consciousness already exists and has existed for some time
  • It is known as Advaita Vedanta
summary statement of advaita vedanta shankara
Summary Statement of Advaita Vedanta (Shankara)
  • Brahma satyamjagan mithyaajiivo brahmaiva naa’parah.
  • Brahman is real,the world is an illusion,the self is not-different from the Brahman.
  • Brahman represents universal consciousness
shankara commentary on the brihadaranyaka upanishad
Shankara: Commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
  • “Therefore the whole universe… is transient, impure, flimsy, resembling a flowing river or a burning lamp, flimsy like a banana stalk, and comparable to foam, illusion, a mirage, a dream, and so on – appears, nevertheless to those who have identified themselves with it to be undecaying, eternal and full of substance.” (I.v.2).
mahaavaakyas great vedic dictums axioms
MahaavaakyasGreat Vedic Dictums (Axioms)
  • Tat tvam asi – That thou art (Ch. Up. 6.8.7)
  • Ayam Aatmaa Brahma – This self is Brahman (Br. Up. 2.5.19)
  • Prajnaanam Brahma – Consciousness is Brahman (Ait. Up. 3.1.3)
  • Aham Brahmaasmi – I am Brahman (Br. Up. 1.4.10)
other vedic dictums
Other Vedic Dictums
  • All this is Brahman. This is born from, dissolves in, and exists in That. (Ch. Up. 3.14.1)
  • All that is in front is but Brahman, the immortal. Brahman is behind, Brahman is on the right, as well as on the left; above and below, too, is extended Brahman alone. This world is nothing but Brahman, the highest. (Mu. Up. 2.2.11)
nature of consciousness
Nature of Consciousness
  • Self-existent
  • Eternal
  • Unchanging
  • Unmoving
  • Un-manifest
  • Non-dual
  • Unknowable via the senses or the mind
  • Of the nature of a witness only
  • Introduction
  • What is an axiomatic theory?
    • Criteria for scientific theories
    • What is an axiom?
    • Examples of axiomatic theories
  • Advaita Vedanta as an axiomatic theory of consciousness
  • Beyond Axioms
beyond axioms
Beyond Axioms
  • Advaita Vedanta is not fundamentally an intellectual tradition, but rather a tradition of self-realization
  • What is needed to realize Brahman?
    • Discrimination between the eternal and the transient
    • Renunciation of the fruits of action
    • 6 Virtues: tranquility, forbearance, faith, poise, concentration, self-control
    • Longing for liberation
does advaita vedanta satisfy the criteria for scientific theories
Does Advaita Vedanta Satisfy The Criteria for Scientific Theories?
  • Is it:
  • Correct (agree with observation and measurement)
  • Complete (explain everything in its domain)
  • Based on a few elements (the simpler the better)
  • Able to make predictions
  • There are no proofs of scientific theories, only corroboration
  • The primacy of consciousness cannot be proven but can be taken as axiomatic
  • What matters is to demonstrate that an axiomatic system, such as Advaita Vedanta, is correct, complete, and answers all of the questions of life, mind, and consciousness
  • Slides available at
quantum physics1
Quantum Physics
  • Wavefunction
    • Solution to QM problems
      • Unique to QM that the solution needed interpretation
    • Interpreted as a probability density function (Born not Schrodinger!)
      • Analogous to a mass density function
    • Determines the probability of detecting a particle in particular region of space at a particular time
qm wavefunction
QM Wavefunction
  • The process of measurement or observation causes the particular outcome of an experiment
  • This has led to the conclusion that consciousness is necessary for “physical reality”
    • Schrodinger’s Cat
schr dinger s cat is the cat both dead and alive
Schrödinger's CatIs the cat both dead and alive?

From: Einstein versus Bohr, Mendel Sachs

werner heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
  • It should be emphasized, however, that the probability function does not in itself represent a course of events in the course of time… there is no description of what happens to the system between the initial observation and the next measurement… This looks as if we had introduced an element of subjectivism into the theory, as if we meant to say: what happens depends on our way of observing it or on the fact that we observe it.(Physics and Philosophy, 1958).
  • Some physicists would prefer to come back to the idea of an objective real world whose smallest parts exist objectively in the same sense as stones or trees exist independently of whether we observe them. That, however, is impossible.(Quoted in The Conscious Universe, M. Kafatos and R. Nadeau).
hydrogen atom electron wavefunctions surfaces of constant probability density
Hydrogen Atom: Electron WavefunctionsSurfaces of Constant Probability Density

From: The Picture Book of Quantum Mechanics, S. Brandt and H.D. Dahmen, 2nd edition

einstein on the method of theoretical physics lecture oxford 1933
Einstein: On the Method of Theoretical Physics, Lecture, Oxford, 1933
  • Pure logical thinking can give us no knowledge whatsoever of the world of experience; all knowledge about reality begins with experience and terminates with it.
  • It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.
donald hoffman cognitive scientist new york times 2005
Donald Hoffman - Cognitive Scientist, New York Times, 2005
  • I believe that consciousness and its contents are all that exist.

Space-time, matter and fields never were the fundamental denizens of the universe but have always been, from their beginning, among the humbler contents of consciousness, dependent on it for their very being.

the five sheaths that conceal the truth shankara
The Five Sheaths that Conceal the Truth (Shankara)
  • Annamaya kosha – sheath of food or the body (identification with skin, bone, blood, form, etc.)
  • Praanamaya kosha – sheath of the vital force (identification with movement and action)
  • Manomaya kosha – mental sheath (identification with feeling and thinking)
  • Vijnaanamaya kosha – sheath of intellect (identification with knowing)
  • Aanandamaya kosha – sheath of bliss (identification with bliss)
bhagavad gita ch vii
Bhagavad Gita – Ch VII
  • Earth, water, fire, air, ether, manas, buddhi, and ahankara; thus is My Prakriti divided eightfold
  • Mind is more subtle than even space (ether)
  • The universe has different levels of manifestation; not just two (Cartesian dualism)
shantananda saraswati conversation with leon mcclaren 1965
Shantananda SaraswatiConversation with Leon McClaren, 1965
  • Take up anything and look into it seriously and you will find that essentially it is nothing but a manifestation of the same consciousness, bliss and truth. Although in the physical manifestation, color, form, tree, juice, skin, etc. are all related to mango, yet essentially it is that formless consciousness, a concept of that real knowledge which is Sachidaananda.
plato dialectic republic vii 533
Plato – DialecticRepublic, VII, 533
  • Then dialectic, and dialect alone goes directly to the first principle and is the only science which does away with hypothesis in order to make her ground secure; the eye of the soul, which is literally buried in an outlandish slough, is by her gentle aid lifted upwards…
does advaita address the problems of consciousness
Does Advaita Address the Problems of Consciousness?
  • David Chalmers – The Hard Problem
    • How does conscious experience arise from the processes of the brain?
  • What is the brain? What does it really do?
  • Do computers play chess or can machines become conscious?
  • What causes the body to move?