[00:00:00] Sangeetha Menon: Agency is definitely a cognitive concept. As we understand in cognitive sciences agency is very, very important, but that idea itself is seen in the body mind continuum. And the self is a concept which has transcendental elements. And it also gives you a sense of purpose.
[00:00:21] Al Scott: The rational view is a weekly series hosted by me, Dr. Allen Scott, providing a rational evidence based perspective on important societal issues
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[00:00:43] Al Scott: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the rational view. I’m your host, Dr. Al Scott in this, my 100th episode, I continue to explore consciousness, but I’m stepping a bit out of my comfort zone a little and seeing what I can learn from the religious viewpoint on consciousness. The [00:01:00] idea of an eternal soul is central to many religions and Hinduism, especially has a belief in rein Carn.
[00:01:07] I want to learn what Hindus, think about what the soul entails and what are the parallels between religious thought, philosophy and the findings of neurobiology. If you enjoy what you’re hearing, please hit like on your podcast app share it with your friends. I’d love to hear from you on my Facebook group at the rational view.
[00:01:28] Sangeetha Menon is professor and head of the consciousness studies program and the Dean of the school of humanities at national Institute of advanced studies in Bangalore there, she developed the NIAS consciousness studies program, along with BV Sreekantan to study consciousness with an interdisciplinary and a multidisciplinary mandate.
[00:01:51] Her major area of research is philosophy of psychology. She holds degrees in biology and philosophy. [00:02:00] One of her primary contributions in consciousness studies is in presenting and engaging with a concept and experience of self from the neurobiologic and philosophical points of view. She was awarded the Gita Puraskaram in 1998 for research studies on the Bhagavad Gita.
[00:02:18] She’s also an honorary fellow at the university of Exeter UK. She currently heads the NIAS consciousness studies program and is the professor and Dean of the school of humanities at NIAS. Sangeetha, welcome to the rational view. I’m looking forward to discussing these topics with you, which I have very little knowledge, I must admit. There’s so much, I want to ask of you. Could you please tell us about yourself and, and how you got to be in this position of having degrees in both biology and philosophy and, and head of this, this school.
[00:02:52] Sangeetha Menon: Yeah. Thank you, Dr. Scott for this invitation. It’s a great pleasure to talk to you and thank you for [00:03:00] having me and thank you for that kind introduction. Well I think my core interest was biology from you know, my early college days itself. And I particularly liked the Darwinian theory of evolution and how the mind shaped up to be what it is today. So, I think my love for Darwin and his theories perhaps took me to certain questions, which are on the Pedre.
[00:03:29] And it’s also possible that Darwin himself must have left those questions unanswered for me and many others like me, who would’ve asked the similar questions, which is relating to evolution and evolution of mind, evolution of human life. And primarily the meaning of human purpose. And I know that once we ask the question about human purpose it goes a bit beyond the Darwinian framework though, [00:04:00] in biology too, we talk about purpose.
[00:04:02] So I guess at that point, due to a few acquaintances, I came to philosophy. And started looking at philosophy as my source to understand some of these deeper questions and perhaps to appreciate life in a few more nuances outside the evolutionary framework as well, which might which would give some of the vantage points outside the deterministic view of human life.
[00:04:31] So on one side, I would say biology gives you a very structured view and very grounded view of things. And on the other side, I think philosophy equips you with imaginative power and which I think as a biologist, you need imagination and as a philosopher I think you need structures of thinking. So both are very complimentary.
[00:04:56] Al Scott: It seems like you’re saying that the study of philosophy adds [00:05:00] a, a level of meaning to the investigation of biology. So biology is the, how we got here and philosophy is the, why are we here? Is that fair? I assessment
[00:05:14] Sangeetha Menon: Quite well put. Biology perhaps, would give I think responses to why we are as well as, or how we are as well.
[00:05:25] But philosophy gives you that extra vantage point. And I think in that sense philosophy is very important. It, it allows you a space where you can ask certain questions without being scared of having to fit within a particular framework or theoretical framework.
[00:05:46] Al Scott: I see. So you’ve done a lot of work on consciousness, which is what I’m trying to explore right now in my podcast.
[00:05:52] What do you see as the hard problem of consciousness?
[00:05:59] Sangeetha Menon: Well[00:06:00] that’s a very interesting question and I think we may take a little bit of the understanding of this question itself to come up to perhaps respond to that question. As you know, this hard problem of consciousness itself is an expression which goes to another scholar in consciousness studies, Dave Chalmers an Australian mathematician philosopher.
[00:06:21] And it goes back to the scientific American article, which was published in the nineties and very describes about the hard problem of consciousness and indeed caught wildfire. And many people wrote many, several papers, several books after that, after that publication of the scientific American paper.
[00:06:41] And in that research article Dave Chalmas talks about the fundamental riddle in consciousness and this riddle is the coexistence of the easy problems and the hard problem. And he explains further, what is the easy problem and problems in plural. And what is the hard [00:07:00] problem in simpler? So the easy problems are perhaps how our visual mechanism works in order to give us visual perceptions or how does sense perceptions happen?
[00:07:12] So basically, how do we understand experience? How do I see and how do I get such a neat experience of seeing something or listening to something, approaching something. And, and we can understand with the development in medicine, equipment, scanning technologies, and so on. And though it is very, very minimal that we know, even if you take something about something like visual perception that with advancements in medical technologies, we may be able to understand perception, sense perception in a much more detailed manner, perhaps many years later.
[00:07:54] But he said that even if you have solutions answers for the, with the problem. [00:08:00] There is something of the hard problem of consciousness. He describe that as how does different quantitative physical neural processes, which are scattered everywhere, they, and give rise to a solitary, or if you put it a unitary, subjective, qualitative feeling of, I am seeing something or I’m experiencing this. So where does this experience part of it come from? It seems to be very qualitative, unlike the discreet neural processes. So how does all these neural processes, electrochemical processes combine together to give a seamless experience is called as the hard problem.
[00:08:50] But then I would add to it that, I also published my paper on this, that the hard problem is really about the harder problem, which is not just about [00:09:00] the experience, but the I who is experiencing it. So it is not, the experience comes with a big question, mark and namely I, so who is that I? So it is not that I just, it is not just that the experience comes, the experience comes with its beholder, which is the I. So the I is to me, the harder problem of consciousness, how do we understand that self and the you and I, who perhaps at this point having a conversation? Yeah.
[00:09:31] Al Scott: Yes. How, why are we differentiated from each other? Why do I experience sensations from my eyes? And you experience sensations from your eyes and they’re independent experiences. What defines the edges of experience? And if we’re, we’re bringing in together, all these diverse sensations. The, the typical interpretation is that we have a brain that brings all of these things together [00:10:00] with a, with a set of neurons. And this is the complete self. We have a processing computer that exists in our head that provides some sort of a a unified experience. Can you tell me what, what do we know? What have we learned about consciousness from neurobiology that we can apply to this hard problem?
[00:10:23] Sangeetha Menon: Yeah. So as you might know, Dr. Scott that neuroscience is one of the, forunner in disciplines understanding consciousness, and this is because particularly the naturally assumption, even if I say assumption, people. Not like it because there’s a lot of evidence from neuroscience. At least the claim is that that brain is the seed of consciousness. So, so basically if you have to talk about consciousness to talk about the origin of consciousness, and that is the brain. So assuming that the brain is the origin of consciousness, all [00:11:00] the discussions on consciousness is centered on the brain and understanding the brain. And this is also very interesting that on one side we see the brain as a very boring organ, you know, very rational argumentative organ I mean, considering some myth anthropological point of view, and this is why even something called as medical documentation is more about the, of description of someone’s disposition, neural disposition, a challenge.
[00:11:32] And this changed over a period of time. And there is something of the medical narrative as a storyteller. So your brain, however challenged or however productive it is there’s a narrative, which is surrounding me. So which means I’m the storyteller and I’m the storyteller of my experience, what I see. And so there is a narrative which is built.
[00:11:57] So this very interesting subjective point of [00:12:00] view is very hard to crack from a very strict neurobiological point of view because neurobiology doesn’t deal with I, the subject of qualitative or story and so on. But it’s very interesting that a lot of neurologists neuropsychiatrist, philosophers, came together to have a, puretical framework of what we call as the subject of consciousness.
[00:12:26] And that is why there happened a connection between the study of the first person data, which we get from the brain or the neural data which can be related to the first person experiences. So, what I mean to say is the development of brain scanning technologies, F M R I, and so on and so forth was assumed to be helping in understanding the, inner states of consciousness or as the experiences of the I. So that the contribution of neuroscience and [00:13:00] neurobiology in general to consciousness studies bending a bit for the slightly philosophical frameworks and allowing its own theoretical frameworks to accommodate the first person data and developing brain scanning technologies.
[00:13:19] Al Scott: Yeah, as you say the functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain can, when you tell somebody to imagine doing something, the, the functional magnetic resonance imaging can show a activity in a particular portion of the brain that correlates with this internal imagination.
[00:13:37] So that, that’s a very interesting thing that that supports, I think the, the association of the brain with consciousness to a certain degree. Can you tell me about Hindu ideas of, of agency and consciousness and self, perhaps from the Bhagavad Gita? [00:14:00]
[00:14:00] Sangeetha Menon: Thank you for asking that question. And I also wanted to say one or two perhaps descriptions of what is in the philosphy.
[00:14:09] In a sense, Hindu philosophy is also Indian philosophy because of its ancestry, historicity, and also the textual tradition, which goes back to many, many centuries of years. So to avoid any kind of political ideologies coming in. Perhaps we can also say an Indian point of view and here in the Indian, Indian philosophical point of view, cause the is the foundational text of Indian philosophy.
[00:14:36] As students, we learn that as undergrads we learn and in our masters, we do that. And so it’s not to live about a practice or someone who is living indu. In her or her daily life, but also as someone who is interested in Indian philosophy as a whole, I think that text Bhagavad Gita is important. And that is [00:15:00] why you, you might also know that there were several physicists who in were interested from the from the west, a larger west of the globe.
[00:15:09] So, but to come back to your question, I just wanted to give this introduction to that text because it is a text, which is which accommodates, not just one religion, but I think multiple religions because of its philosophical approach than just a religious text. So, so the, in the religion of course has as one of its major texts, but I think more than that, Indian philosophy as its foundation.
[00:15:34] And one of the text is Bhagavad Gita, which again is part of an epic called the Mahabharata which is all about human relationships and the study of emotions, et cetera, et cetera. So the idea of self and agency in the Gita and into your specific question; The text Gita is a very complex text. It is basically contextualized on a battlefield, and it [00:16:00] is a conversation which goes on between someone who is very smart as he lived his life and the conversation with someone who happened to be a charioteer at that point, someone who supposedly to have very non-human characteristics also, but at the same time, being a very smart person as well.
[00:16:20] So it’s basically between two smart people, but then one with a transhuman capabilities and the other, being a human in a perfect sense with the, with his challenges and frailties, as I said, this text itself is very, very, very complex and, the idea of agency is seen in the context of the body mind spirit continuum. So agency is definitely a cognitive concept. As we understand in cognitive sciences agency is very, very important. But that idea itself is seen in the body mind continuum. And the self is a concept which [00:17:00] has transcendental elements from the point of view of the Gita, and it also gives you a sense of purpose and a metaphysical travel towards it.
[00:17:11] So as per the Gita theory, perhaps it’s cognitive theoretical framework, agency is something which is based on your interest, your intent. Using mental faculties, physical faculties, faculties of desire ability to make decisions, ability to reflect and all that will give rise to an agent who which is the owner of that action as well. The owner, the enjoyer and the experiences. So basically the agent is an enjoyer and owner of a particular experience. This is important because the agent is seen not as the ultimate possessor of the self. [00:18:00] In fact it is described that the self with the capital S is untouched by the agency and the enjoyership of the human action of the individual action. But the agency itself takes its power to intent, to direct its consciousness from the self with the capital S, so agency in that sense is subservient to larger self consciousness and agencies basically cost by certain tendencies, which you might have brought into this lifetime from the previous lifetime. And that is how personality is different. And there are as many agents, as many personalities, so this is something quite interesting.
[00:18:47] Al Scott: So you mentioned that agency can come from tendencies one may even get from a previous life. That’s a very interesting point of view, very I think [00:19:00] Hindu soul type things, and I’d like to explore what the soul means and, and I think this is a very good hint towards what the belief in the soul entails. The soul is associated with agencies and tendencies, but is not necessarily the capital S self. Is that a fair assessment of what the soul entails in this?
[00:19:27] Sangeetha Menon: Yeah, so there are certain corresponding Sanskrit words in that text itself, for example, the Sanskrit word, which directs to the experiencing enjoying self is called this Jiva. Jiva, if we write in English, is the one who is intending, acting out an action desiring before that desiring something and then acting out an action, and the way a self, that little self, the experiential self, which is the Jiva [00:20:00] responds to the situation, and how is the challenge understood in life depends upon the previous life karma, karma is action. So you come with the actions from the previous life and those actions, the minute particles of those actions, maybe it is affixing as in some way to the current life, which in Sanskrit is called Vasana.
[00:20:29] So this would direct us in the way we would respond. And to relate to a particular life moment, but then the Jiva or the little self is no way the larger self, which is not born, which is unborn and which doesn’t have death, which doesn’t have birth. And so this is very, very important, according to the Gita which is the, the true self, which is absolutely unborn and it doesn’t [00:21:00] have depth. And so that is the true self. But then the Jiva is influenced by the propensities or what is called as the Vasana of the previous life. How have you lived your life in the earlier life? So those perhaps act as some subtle traits you know, are the subtle causes of your personality traits and make you behave or make you respond or make you understand in a certain manner.
[00:21:24] So the whole idea is this little self, perhaps in what you described as the soul which is now housed by this body and the mind in the current life. If it practices principles of discrimination, in the sense to distinguish between what is true and untrue, what is real and unreal, what is permanent and impermanent, and practices detachment at the same time, engaging with your life perhaps we get into a state of mind where [00:22:00] it is understood that your true nature is not your agent emotive self, but the S self with the capital S, which is consciousness. So this distinction, the metaphysical distinction is very important to understand even the ethical and the cognitive aspects of the little self with the S in lower case, which is the experiential self who is interacting in this life world.
[00:22:28] Al Scott: Okay. So there are several different selves in this that are interesting to tease apart. Which self has the memories? Is there a particular self? Like, I see self as consisting of tendencies and memories, and these are maybe separate processes in a mind or in a being. How is that understood in this thinking?
[00:22:53] Sangeetha Menon: Yeah, so I think this idea of memories very, very important, and there are several texts which talk about memory [00:23:00] and it’s in fact, a very important concept in many of the Indian philosophical disciplines, philosophies as a whole. According to the Gita, there is something called as the mental organ, which is, which is slightly different from the, you know, Cian or the Western take on your intellectual or cognitive organ. So memory is Smrti in Sanskrit, it’s called a smrti, is very important cognitively, but at the same time, it is an impediment in your travel to the transcendental understanding of your true self. But then the memory is also part of the little self which I mentioned as the Jiva. Because it, the Jiva uses the memory to, or uses and collects memory in order to relate with the current life and living world.
[00:23:57] Al Scott: And so, [00:24:00] what happens in reincarnation is, are the smrti lost and you just have… what parts of self are continuous between two different lives in this idea?
[00:24:15] Sangeetha Menon: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting question. So, as I said earlier, there’s this very interesting idea called Vasana, and basically Vasana are the essence of perhaps the memories of the previous life, how have you have lived your life in the, your previous life is transfered to your current life in the form of vasanas and the vasana which is in a very subtle manner, invoke, provoke, and express your mental actions, your intentions and desires. So memory is very important in the sense that it definitely [00:25:00] influences your current life because you carried your memory in the form of vasanas which are propensities, which are waiting to be blooming when it gets approximate or when it gets a conducive environment. So one can say that the vasana is also a carrier of the memories in a subtle manner. Maybe not about the memory of day to day activities, but memories perhaps that little self, which lived its past life and the repositories of the actions, desires, intentions, and so on. So let me also say that Hindu philosophy and particular in the Gita believes in reincarnation. So reincarnation is something which is believe. So that is why there are a lot of references where how you live should be very important so that you get a better life perhaps in the next birth. So your food is very important. The way you think is very important. The way you relate with your mind is very important. So reincarnation is something which is accepted [00:26:00] and talked about and discussed to some certain extent in the Gita. And it’s also said that we don’t know in which form you will reincarnate, not necessarily a human form. That also is important. Again, depends upon in where you fall in your next birth, you know, your your life form, where does it fall? Which receptacle it forms it need not be just a human form. So that is why every life is important so that you collect certain good karma in order to people have born in a better receptacle in your subsequent. So, reincarnation is important, but then what is important is the cycle of reincarnation is un-ending, according to the Gita. You are born, you die, you are born, you die, you die. So that cycle is un-ending. And this cycle itself is the cause of pain, existential pain, and metaphysical pain. So the only way to get out of this [00:27:00] non-ending cycle is to understand the true nature of yourself that you are not the Jiva, you are not this little self who is you know, bound by the expressions of the vasana or the essence of how you lived in the previous life. But to understand that you are a non-agent, you are a non enjoyer, but you are consciousness, which is un-caused, but causing everything else. So there are very interesting statements in the Gita or some of these chapters say that everything else exists in consciousness, but consciousness doesn’t exist in the other, which means consciousness is never reduced to something smaller or the little self, but then the little self takes the consciousness, a part of the consciousness to reflect to illumining by itself. So the, the little self definitely is caused but the larger self, which is consciousness is not caused.
[00:27:59] Al Scott: Interesting. [00:28:00] So when I hear this, I try to make parallels to what I understand of consciousness studies and it seems to be almost a panpsychism that’s being discussed here; that everything is conscious and there is agency or will, which is a small Jiva, which maybe resides on top of that and is associated with a body and a brain. In this philosophy, everything is conscious. It’s not just people it’s, you could be animals. You could be reincarnated as, as quote unquote, lower beings. Is it, is everything conscious or is it just living things that have consciousness? Or in this philosophy is the universe consciousness?
[00:28:41] Sangeetha Menon: Everything is conscious. It’s not necessary you have to have a life in the sense of biological life.
[00:28:47] For example, a stone. Is consciousness. So, I mean, let us not even talk about the other species non-human species, but everything is in consciousness [00:29:00] or has the potential of the large consciousness C with the capital, but it’s just that it’s form a name and perhaps its functions as that particular entity doesn’t allow it to express it in that many manner. So that is why, again, you go back to reincarnation, it depends upon the body. You get the mind you get in order to have the capacity to express. So if you are a stone, you express non consciousness. If you’re a human, you have human consciousness. But that doesn’t mean that any of this is lesser from a metaphysical point of view.
[00:29:38] So metaphysically, everything is in consciousness with the capital C and everything is consciousness as well. So, yeah, so I mean, you can bring in panpsychism to a certain extent, but I think what is important here also, there is a plurality, which is recognized as that everything is consciousness. Everything is [00:30:00] in consciousness, but the plurality is also to be understood in a certain sense of non-dualism, that the multiple things which are existing are not different from each other from a metaphysical point of view.
[00:30:15] Al Scott: Interesting. We are all one in the force.
[00:30:20] So there is some sort of shared aspect of this universal consciousness that everything is one in this thinking. Interesting. I wanna go back to a little bit about the reincarnation because it it’s, it interests me. And you mentioned that karma affects the station of one’s reincarnation and past actions in, in the Indian philosophy influence where you be, what vessel you become reincarnated in, or, and there’s a hierarchy here.
[00:30:56] Does this philosophy [00:31:00] reinforce human hierarchy and hierarchical classism in India?
[00:31:04] Sangeetha Menon: Can you repeat that question one more time? I wanted to know in what sense you meant the hierarchy. Yeah. You used the word hierarchy.
[00:31:10] Al Scott: So human hierarchies and classism are, are something that’s been around for a long time. Does this philosophy reinforce classism and in other words, having different classes of existence and you are fated to be in a single class, is this a reinforcing meme?
[00:31:29] Sangeetha Menon: Yeah, it’s a very tricky question. And I guess different people might respond to this question very differently. Gita that for example, I mean, let’s take at least one foundational text in order to describe the philosophy of Hinduism. If you take Gita, Gita gives emphasis for human action, not for the Genesis of human action from a particular class or societal description or a name, you know, or not a category.
[00:31:57] So it gives important to human [00:32:00] action. It is by the human action you decide to which order of social hierarchy you belong to and not necessary by the origin of your birth, where you are born, or which family you are born, but it is the nature of your human action, which will decide in the sense, what you asked me in which hierarchical order you will belong.
[00:32:22] So it is human action, which is very important. It’s very clear, according to the Gita. So it doesn’t promulgate a social division based on where you are born by your birth, but it classifies your personality and your capability, depending upon the action, which you will roll out the nature of your action, which you roll out, which again you know, as I said, the, the idea of human action is very clear at the same time complex, according to the Gita. And there’s a lot of interesting cognitive approaches we can take for [00:33:00] understanding human action. And it’s also said that the human action action liberates you as with as well as it can bind you. So it is both a liberative force and as a binding force. So for that, we, we can understand that binding perhaps binding to the the societal framework and the order in which you live, but liberate you to a particular transcendental understanding of a transcendental itself, which is beyond class cast and divisions.
[00:33:30] Al Scott: I see. That very good; that it’s action based. So does this mean that the philosophy has a certain equality amongst humans or it poses that all humans start out with equal opportunities? Or is there a hierarchy amongst human stations that you can get from your previous karma? What do people aspire to be reincarnated as? Is there a particular top that you’re looking to [00:34:00] achieve?
[00:34:00] Sangeetha Menon: Yeah. Again, maybe there could be different versions, but as I, I would understand, and from perhaps more I guess a more popular understanding of the Gita, or perhaps an interpretation of Gita, everybody has equal opportunity and everybody in the sense, any species, any form has equal opportunity. So it is not that you privileged to be in a particular species in order to be you know, just to, to realize your true nature. And in the epic, as well as in different story forms, this is said again, and again. The stone can certainly realize it’s true nature. So not necessarily, you have to be, you have to be born as a human form, but then there are also certain discussions in other texts, not in Gita that it is good to be born as human individual. Because perhaps your capacity to think maybe more there, but not necessarily do [00:35:00] I think the human form is given as a privilege or as a supremacy over other species or other non-human form.
[00:35:09] Al Scott: Interesting. So, tying it back then to biology bringing in your second degree, what do you see as parallels between the Indian philosophy and the, the work in neurobiology? Are there any particular striking parallels that you see between the two fields?
[00:35:30] Sangeetha Menon: Well, I think a couple of ideas which are very interesting in neurophilosophy is the availability of different concepts to understand the nature of human self. And it begins with understanding certain capabilities, which are cognitively driven, certain capabilities, which are emotively driven. And in today, I think there’s also a discussion on what they call as neurotheology, or neurophenomenology and so on [00:36:00] and so forth, which gives and again, neuro ethics, which is very important. So bioethics, these are all subdisciplines, which means what we call as values, what we call as personal values or larger metaphysical values. These all get a place when we discuss consciousness. So, so neuroscience otherwise, which is a very strictly biological discipline, we’ll also have to give room to understand some of these concepts, which are not just biologically driven, but also culturally nourished and enriched as we live our life. So the historicity of the human self in the form of its cultural past and cultural present. I think is better accommodated by neuroscience today than perhaps in the past.
[00:36:50] Al Scott: And tying the ideas of, of the philosophy to the biology into the, into, even to the physics.
[00:36:57] Are these aspects of Indian [00:37:00] thought necessarily supernatural or are, or do you believe that these are natural things that we are, are going to be, be able to, to discern through studying the brain and studying biology? How do these things fall in your, in your thinking?
[00:37:18] Sangeetha Menon: So you know, I think in Indian philosophy as a whole, the division is not between something which is mystical or so supernatural as you have described it and something which is earthly or worldly. The idea is of the coexistence of multiple kinds of beings and multiple possibilities of life. But that doesn’t mean that there is a world which is supernatural and there is another world which is more naturalistic. But there are multiple worlds. There are plural worlds, not just two worlds.
[00:37:53] And we don’t understand many different kinds of worlds, and there are diff descriptions actually for [00:38:00] different kinds of planetary existence in some other texts both above and below. But I think another time we can discuss that. And so I would think that it is a metaphysics which is more predominant than an idea of something which is supernatural. Because if once we discuss about what is supernatural, then it goes into more of a populist understanding of existence and you know, all kinds of beings, which we are familiar from our regions and our childhood, et cetera. But here, I think the inclusion of mysticism in the sense of accepting the coexistence of many different life forms. And at the same time, every life is as important, equally important as every other life.
[00:38:53] Al Scott: This entire subject ties my brain in knots, but that’s that’s I think a very good idea to, [00:39:00] to keep with us is that, that there’s, there’s an equivalence of life and, and we should respect other life forms. I think that’s a, a very good message to, to leave people with.
[00:39:09] So we’re getting towards the end of our, our time slot. Is there anything else that you’d like to express to us to maybe help us understand the, the, the philosophy and the thought of self in, in this, in, in this thinking and, and how this all comes together, whatever, what, what maybe express your beliefs in this or your, your understanding?
[00:39:31] Sangeetha Menon: Thank you, Dr. Scott for those important references. I think we also have to consider the current life world, which we are living in, which is gripped by a, and our inability to understand how a microorganism has dominated our everyday life. So we don’t have answers, right? I mean the pandemic world is looking for larger answers and this is also the [00:40:00] time where we can cope with the challenges the life brings in.
[00:40:05] But reminding us that coexistence is very important, coexistent with, other beings, be it to be a microbial existence or maybe another species we don’t know about it. So I think the most important aspect which comes in the context of understanding consciousness within the pandemic world is the, the relevance of coexistence, and how coexistence has to be understood as something which is promoted by the idea of oneness, which again is founded on the metaphysical principles of consciousness. And I think this also is important to understand the self as something which is much more inclusive than a binary idea, which goes back to you know, considerations of mind matter or matter life, et cetera.
[00:40:59] But as [00:41:00] something which is non inclusive, in a sense plural and the pluralistic nature, giving the enrichment and the beauty each self holds. So if we talk about the self, I think it’s very important that we consider coexistence and the integral existence of all beings, and how consciousness serves as the larger metaphysical principle to understand that it has the larger beholder of things and beings, because we need a particular metaphysical idea to understand how multiplicity is felt in a, in a seamless manner. And the only principle which we can take is consciousness, not just as a cognitive ability, but as something which is deeply metaphysical, deeply phenomenological in a sense, it’s the experience here and also something which gives you a life purpose and which is beyond [00:42:00] the world which you are currently used to, or the cognitive frameworks which we are currently used to.
[00:42:06] So it gives you a larger purpose, a deeper and a higher direction and perhaps to explore your own self and perhaps where no one has gone before. And that self inquiry, which is something which is deeper and inner, which is largely private, but I guess the meeting point is not going to be private. That is going to be very enrich the sense of existing of a plurality in a seamless manner.
[00:42:37] Al Scott: Well, okay, well, thank you for broadening my mind on this. This has been a very very enlightening conversation. I, I have a much better appreciation for, for Indian thought on, on this matter. So thank you for that. You’ve used a few metaphors in your discussion that I see as parallels with [00:43:00] science fiction, you have where no one has gone before, and we also have this, this, where everything is one in the force kind of thinking in terms of panpsychism.
[00:43:11] Sangeetha Menon: Yeah. Just, just to interrupt you, your star Trek itself is inspired by that final frontier of space. So the inner space is, is also a final frontier. Yeah. Yeah, it’s, it’s perhaps not science fiction, but I would say that is the ability to perhaps imagine our existence in a very different manner, which I think is very socially relevant as well.
[00:43:36] And by the way, I’m very interested in also in ideas of artificial intelligence and non-human existence in the sense of how would you define a robotic existence, an Android? It’s also very, very important because these are semi human existence. Mm-hmm so, and, and probably interrupt you because I think I just remember star Trek and it’s first [00:44:00] line, you know, yeah, yeah.
[00:44:01] Al Scott: That’s, that’s also very interesting. And I’ve also explored artificial intelligence in the podcast and, you know, thinking about can artificial intelligence have sentience, have internal experiences? And from, from your point of view, from your thinking from this philosophy, it seems like there’s no obstacle for that to occur.
[00:44:24] Would, would that be correct? That artificial intelligence could be sentient?
[00:44:28] Sangeetha Menon: Again, you know, in the sense again, we have to understand artificial intelligence, in what sense? Because even in what we are doing now, there is certain elements of artificial intelligence involved, right? I mean, basically because it has become the part of our everyday life with the internet of things and decentralized way of using services and so on. But I think the fundamental question of the self comes in artificial intelligence in the context of a nonhuman entity can have a self [00:45:00] that I think is a very important question. But what are the fundamental characteristics which is needed in order for something to be called S a self?
[00:45:08] So again, I think you will be aware that self-awareness is considered to be a very important aspect to be considered as a self, the ability to reflect the ability to detach from your experiential self, to look at yourself and to see something deeper and higher perhaps qualifies you to be a self. And this is again contentious, but I think this is one of the million dollar question, artificial intelligence to understand.
[00:45:36] Do you need to have a self in order to perform what the human being is able to perform in its everyday life in her or his everyday life? So there are two parties. One party would believe that yes, there need to be a self because of the ability of a human individual. Imagine beyond its capacities, capabilities, the nature of its current self itself, [00:46:00] which some people believe a self of a artificial intelligent self will not be able to do.
[00:46:07] Al Scott: Yes. That that is the million dollar question. So, yeah, that that’s definitely worth a lot of exploration, maybe another podcast so I think I’m gonna leave it here. Thank you so much for, for coming on the rational view Dr. Menon. I’d like to send you a rational view t-shirt if you’d like and so that you can remember your experience here. I really appreciate you coming on and chatting with us.
[00:46:35] Sangeetha Menon: Thank you so much, Dr. Scott, it just was a pleasure having a conversation with you, for your patience and to, to interview someone from India, because I don’t see another Indian your podcast yet unless I’m wrong.
[00:46:47] So thank you for your interest in Indian philosophy. Also your interest in consciousness. And I see that you are making a couple of episodes on consciousness so, so I think it’s really nice having this conversation with [00:47:00] you. And I also really like that title and the rational part in it, because finally, I think it’s very important that we bring in rational structures to even understand something which is perhaps beyond the rational capacities. And I think the, the rational element in each one of us has that edge to go beyond itself.
[00:47:22] Al Scott: Thank you very much for those closing thoughts.
[00:47:25] Sangeetha Menon: Thank you so much. Thank you.
[00:47:30] Al Scott: If you’d like to follow up with more in depth discussions, please come find us on Facebook @ the rational view, and join our discussion group. If you like what you’re hearing, please consider visiting my patron page @patron.podbean.com/therationalview. Thanks for listening.