The senses, especially those which depart from the norm such as those experienced through synesthesia, are the measure of our subjective realities, says Dr. Deepak Chopra.
This blog's name has been recently changed to “Sensorium” in order to expand on its synesthesia content and more-fully explore the seat of the senses in which the trait occurs. Sensorium means “the parts of the brain or the mind concerned with the reception and interpretation of sensory stimuli; broadly: the entire sensory apparatus,” according to Merriam-Webster’s medical dictionary.
Dr. Chopra spoke with me on the senses from his home in California via Skype recently. He has been extremely busy with his ongoing effort to assemble the world’s best scientists to do consciousness research. Too often criticized for his forays into the metaphysical–even when quantum physics begins to look more and more like that mysterious realm–Dr. Chopra, who is a scientist and MD by training–continues to push forward to learn what the world’s finest researchers are finding on the mind and the mind-body connection. He just donated two million dollars to six institutes for collaborative scientific efforts. Here is our interview:
How does synesthesia fit into consciousness itself?
Dr. Chopra photographed by Jeremiah Sullivan.
Courtesy Dr. Chopra
DC: Synesthesia is a very interesting phenomenon because what it is saying is that we can hear colors, we can taste sound and we can mix up the senses. And this raises a very interesting question–because no matter what the sense is: Whether it’s sound, touch, sight, taste or smell, what goes to the brain is only an electrical current. Remember if I see something, by chance, coming into my eyes, translating into electrochemistry and then there’s an action potential or an electrical current goes to the brain and then there's electrochemistry in a synaptic network, and then suddenly I experience a three-dimensional reality. And we don’t know how that happens: That’s the Hard Problem [of consciousness] isn’t it? But it’s true of any of the senses. When I smell something a chemical reaction in my smell receptors translates into an electrical impulse and then goes to the brain and voila, I experience an aroma or a taste or a sound or even a texture…
So how sensory experience gives rise to a three-dimensional reality in space-time with sound, touch sight, taste and texture, continues to remain a mystery. The fact that these five senses can kind of overlap each other and one sense can give us the experience of another sense actually compounds the mystery. So there seems to be no solution to the fact that electricity to the brain creates reality.
Do other traditions address this differently?
DC: Now, in Eastern wisdom traditions one comes across a different framework, you might say a different paradigm. We have a physical body with the five senses but we also have a subtle body. And this subtle body has mind, intellect and ego–that’s where mind, intellect and ego are housed and this subtle body also has the five subtle senses. So if I ask you to imagine the taste of a strawberry, or I ask you to imagine the smell of a pine tree, or I ask you to imagine the image of a rose, or I ask you to imagine the sensation of a kiss, then you would be using your subtle body and your subtle senses to evoke that experience in consciousness. So in this framework which comes from the Vedanta and also Ayurveda, it is your subtle body that is projecting as your physical body. And so your subtle body is actually a body in consciousness and your physical body is a projection of consciousness. Now you can go deeper into the subtle body and you end up with what in the Eastern wisdom traditions is called the causal body which is the non-local consciousness which generates different forms, you might even say species-specific forms of consciousness that then give rise to species-specific experiences of the physical world…so [with synesthesia] you’re turning it upside down. What you’re saying is that consciousness and its qualia –qualia being basically qualities of consciousness project as the physical body and even the physical senses.
It turns a lot of things on its head and gives us a new framework for saying consciousness is more fundamental than physical reality.
What does science say about this?
DC: From a purely scientific point of view, we also know that what we see as the physical world is made up of a micro-world that seems not to be physical. The quantum world is basically information and energy. And so where is that coming from? Go deeper and deeper you end up with the same emptiness…
In science what we do is objectify experiences in consciousness which are subjective. And then we validate them by giving them numbers and suddenly we’ve objectified the subjective world into a subjective reality.
Dr. Chopra just published a fascinating piece in The San Francisco Chronicle with Henry Stapp, Ph.D., one of the world's leading quantum physicists: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/chopra/article/Is-a-Mind-Element-Ne...