Max Velmans on "From West towards East in Five Simple Steps"

Max Velmans

Drawing on some aspects of Reflexive Monism, this talk suggests how one can move from a careful, Western analysis of ordinary conscious experience towards a more Eastern understanding of its transformative potential in five simple steps. Step 1: accept that the boundaries of ordinary conscious experience encompass the entire phenomenal world, which requires an understanding of reflexivity and perceptual projection. Step 2: accept that experiences arise from somewhere—that there is a chain of normally unconscious/preconscious causation that precedes the arising of each experience that one can investigate in both a third- and first-person way. Step 3: accept that it is only when entities, events and processes are directly experienced that they become real-ized in the sense of becoming subjectively real, and that this applies not just to everyday conscious processes such as speaking, reading and thinking, but also to one’s conscious sense of Self. Step 4: accept an expanded sense of Self that includes not just one’s conscious Ego but also the unconscious embedding and supporting ground of which it is an expression. Step 5: accept that human consciousness is not a “freak accident of nature”; rather it is one natural expression of what the universe is like (although we have some way to go to discover the precise psychophysical laws that govern how conscious experiences relate to their associated material forms). I then show how these aspects of Reflexive Monism take one in the direction of Advaita Vedanta and other forms of perennial philosophy—although the point of balance between Eastern and Western ways of understanding mind, consciousness and self may need to be somewhere midway between the two. Suggested readings: the book Understanding Consciousness Edition 2 (2009-particularly Chapters 12 and 14); online papers: How to arrive at an Eastern Place from a Western direction (2013); Reflexive Monism: Psychophysical relations among mind, matter and consciousness (2012); Reflexive Monism (2008) Max Velmans, initially an Electrical Engineer (Sydney) with a PhD in Psychology (London) was a Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley and is currently Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, and Visiting Professor in Consciousness Studies, University of Plymouth. He is also a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, and has been involved in consciousness studies for almost 40 years. His main research focus is on integrating work on the philosophy, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology of consciousness, and, more recently, on East-West integrative approaches. He has around 100 publications on these topics. His book Understanding Consciousness (2000) was short-listed for the British Psychological Society book award in 2001 and 2002, and is now in its second (2009) edition. Other publications include The Science of Consciousness: Psychological, Neuropsychological and Clinical Reviews (1996), Investigating Phenomenal Consciousness: New Methodologies and Maps (2000), How Could Conscious Experiences Affect Brains? (2003), and (with Susan Schneider) The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2007). He was a co-founder and, from 2004-2006, Chair of the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society, and an Indian Council of Philosophical Research National Visiting Professor for 2010-2011. See http://www.gold.ac.uk/psychology/staff/velmans/

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