A recent paper entitled “Life and Consciousness – The Vedāntic View” has been published in the Journal Communicative & Integrative Biology.
Summary (Bhakti Niskama Shanta (2015) Life and consciousness – The Vedāntic view,Communicative & Integrative Biology, 8:5, e1085138; DOI: 10.1080/19420889.2015.
This paper serves as a critique to the ontological view of the organism as a complex machine. In the seventeenth century, the French philosopher René Descartes claimed that only the human body has a soul, and all other organisms are mere automatons made of meat and bones. Influenced by such a line of thought, most of the scientists were also thinking that only humans are conscious and all other creatures are not. Based on empirical evidence, our published paper presents a case for ubiquity of consciousness in all living organisms. Not only the unicellular organisms (say, bacteria) display cognitive behavior, but that even individual cells in the multicellular organisms exhibit individual cognitive behavior. The scientific confirmation of the existence of consciousness in unicellular organisms and plants certainly establishes that the brain is not the source of consciousness. In modern science, it is generally assumed that matter existed before the universe came to be. However, the dominant materialistic or reductionistic view in modern science cannot explain how matter acquired cognitive features like thinking, feeling and willing. A reductionistic analysis is just a pretension to study life, but in actuality it only deals with the study of dead matter, which is devoid of consciousness. In our paper we termed such types of studies in science as abiology, because a study devoid of cognitive analysis of reality is not a biology proper. On the other hand, the Vedāntic view states that the origin of everything material and non material is sentient and absolute (unconditioned). Thus, sentient life is primitive and reproductive of itself – omne vivum ex vivo – life comes from life. This is the scientifically verified law of experience. Life is essentially cognitive and conscious. And, consciousness, which is fundamental, manifests itself in the gradational forms of all sentient and insentient nature.
Even though in both artifacts (machines) and living organisms, the ends are determined by purpose (a cognitive act), the difference is that in the case of artifacts, the purpose (designer) is outside the system (external teleology), and in the case of a living organism, the purpose is within (internal teleology). Following a linear logic in the case of artifacts, parts are produced and combined into a whole by the designer. On the other hand, following a circular logic, the body of the living organism appears from another living organism by a developmental process (cell division) and not by the linear accumulation of parts – design. Therefore, proposals like “artificial life”, “artificial intelligence”, “sentient machines” and so on are only fairytales because no designer can produce an artifact with the properties like internal teleology (Naturzweck) and formative force (bildende Kraft). In other words, a machine will never do things for its own internal purpose and it cannot build itself. Although the attempt towards mechanization of nature served as an important driving force behind the scientific revolution, it also unfortunately created an image of a clockwork universe set in motion by an intelligent first cause. Such machine analogy is also applied to living organisms. However, the view that a supernatural being, God, is external to living organisms and that He imposes form on matter from the outside (intelligent design) is also reductionistic, and shows a logical fallacy. The logic of extrinsically purposive systems (machines) cannot be applied to intrinsically purposive systems (living organisms). The Vedāntic view offers a scientific alternative (The invocation of Śrī Īśopaniṣad provides the concept of ‘Organic Wholism’: oḿ pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaḿ pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate): “‘Organic Wholes’ produces ‘organic wholes’ and an ‘organic whole’ cannot arise from parts that have to be mechanically assembled. The process of externally assembling parts can only produce inorganic, mechanical machines or chemical processes, not living organisms.” Empirical evidence shows that every living cell comes from a living cell and there is no single evidence that shows a case where a living cell appears from the external assembly/accumulation of biomolecules. According to Vedānta: “janmādy asya yataḥ” – the origin of everything is “abhijñaḥ svarāṭ” – the unitary Supreme Cognizant Being. Twenty first century biology teaches us that we should not inflict our ideas on nature; let nature reveal herself to us.
The rapid progress in molecular and cellular biology is becoming more and more incompatible to Darwinian line of thinking and thus offering challenges from various angles to refute the core of Darwinism. In Darwinism, organisms are often assumed as optimally designed machines blindly engineered by natural selection. However, the cognitive view of life in 21st Century offers a significant challenge to this blind presumption. Living organisms exhibit many overtly noticeable goal-oriented or teleological activities (self-determination, self-formation, self-preservation, self-reproduction, self-restitution and so on), which make them distinct from insentient mechanical and chemical systems. Darwin’s Origin of Species invokes natural selection to explain the goal-driven activities of the living organisms, but the Darwinist insists that random mutations are exclusively responsible for the gradual but steady appearance of more complicated organisms. This irrational inability to scientifically explain how novel body types arise in study of life and its evolution is the major deficiency of Darwinism. In contrast to the idea of objective evolution of bodies, as envisioned by Darwin and followers, Vedānta advocates the idea of subjective evolution of consciousness as the developing principle of the world. In Vedānta, the reincarnation theory is based on the subjective evolution of consciousness and the Darwinian objective evolution theory of bodies is a perverted representation of this ancient wisdom. In Darwinism, evolution means transformation of bodies, and in Vedāntic view evolution means transformation of consciousness. In this paper, an attempt has been made to highlight a few relevant developments supporting a sentient view of life in scientific research, which has caused a paradigm shift in our understanding of life and its origin.