East-West Approaches to Mind, Consciousness and Self

East-West Approaches to Mind, Consciousness and Self

These talks and discussions were filmed at a closed International Workshop on East-West Approaches to the Nature of Mind, Consciousness and Self held at Dartington Hall, Devon, UK from 21st to 25th April, 2014. They explore the edges of current understanding of ordinary and extra-ordinary conscious experience...
I've listened to several of the talks and really liked these:

Etzel Cardena on "What do anomalous experiences tell us about the potentials of consciousness?"

Peter Fenwick on "Experiences surrounding near-death and dying"

Roland Griffiths on "The Mystical Experience and Psilocybin Research"

Excellent resources, Doug. I watched the ones you highlighted plus a few more. I especially enjoyed the first part of Alan Wallace's presentation. It's also covered in a shorter video here:

It's not as lively or humorous as his presentation, so I would recommend watching that if people have the time.
I'm glad you liked the talks too, Michael. I think they're great because the speakers are experts communicating with other experts in more-or-less related fields. This means they don't dumb down their presentations as they often do while speaking to general audiences. And the questions tend to be different from what we're used to hearing from the general public, so all around there's more to think about.

Thanks a lot for recommending Alan Wallace's talk. I hadn't watched it until you mentioned it. I like it as much as the ones I recommended above. I've also watched your Wallace video and a couple of his other videos. He sure has a knack for describing where materialist scientists go wrong, doesn't he? And, for what it's worth, I also favor his pronunciation of Ptolemy. I wish more native English speakers would adopt it. :)

Sorry, I got the wrong end of the stick there so I deleted my previous post. Good Fenwick talk, interesting to hear him clarify about consciousness or lack of it in cardiac arrest. "Rubbish" he said about the many objectors who are fond of hypothesizing that there may be some residual activity sufficient to produce lucid experience.
Last edited:
Sorry, I got the wrong end of the stick there so I deleted my previous post. Good Fenwick talk, interesting to hear him clarify about consciousness or lack of it in cardiac arrest. "Rubbish" he said about the many objectors who are fond of hypothesizing that there may be some residual activity sufficient to produce lucid experience.
Yes, like Eben Alexander and other survival proponents in the neuroscience and related fields, he seems to be categorically opposed to the idea.

Something Fenwick said that surprised me had to do with a slide of a hydrocephalic brain in Etzel Cardeña's talk. Fenwick doesn't think hydrocephalus is a good example of the "no brain" claim. Instead, he views the compression of the cerebral cortex as an example of very gradual long-term brain adaption.

(For those who haven't listened to Cardeña's talk, I've modified the video's URL so it will start just before Fenwick speaks.)



The Continuum East and West

This essay examines the relationship between mysticism, for which Buddhism’s Middle Way doctrine would serve here as a defining example, and what, for want of better word, we call ‘Western’ philosophy. This is an issue of general interest to philosophers, since sooner or later in our investigations we must all decide whether the ‘Western’ kind of philosophy makes more or less sense to us than the ‘Eastern’ kind.
One of these simple (stripped of the details) yet challenging issues would be the true nature of the continuum. The discussion that follows outlines the view of physicist, mathematician and philosopher Hermann Weyl. In his book on the continuum and elsewhere Weyl makes a careful distinction between the ‘arithmetical’ continuum, the continuum conceived of as an extended object, as it must be for the real numbers and space-time, and the ‘intuitive’ continuum, the empirical continuum of experience, which is not extended, and he demonstrates that when we set out to define what we mean by ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ philosophy, the foundations of analysis would be a good place to start. The interconnectedness of all the relevant issues at a foundational level, for all roads lead to Rome, means that we may as well start where we like, but mathematics takes us immediately to what might be the most clearly discernable and easily described difference between the two philosophies and worldviews, perhaps also the most general and profound, namely their entirely different conceptions of the continuum.
A unity has no parts. This would suggest that space and time are conceptual imputations and that Reality, whatever is truly and independently-real amongst all the smoke and mirrors, is not in fact extended. This is a difficult idea but not a new one, and it is widely popular in religion. When theoretical physicists say ‘distance is arbitrary’, perhaps they are suggesting something similar. It might at least help to explain how a Big Bang can appear to have occurred before there is, was or ever will be a time or a place for it to have happened. For an ultimate view it would not have happened. If the continuum cannot have parts then all co-ordinate systems are emergent.
Here is Tobias Dantzig, Einstein’s favourite mathematician, introducing the issues.

"Herein I see the genesis of the conflict between geometrical intuition, from which our physical concepts derive, and the logic of arithmetic. The harmony of the universe knows only one musical form – the legato; while the symphony of numbers knows only its opposite, – the staccato. All attempts to reconcile this discrepancy are based on the hope that an accelerated staccato may appear to our senses as legato. Yet our intellect will always brand such attempts as deceptions and reject such theories as an insult, as a metaphysics that purports to explain away a concept by resolving it into its opposite."

While a series of points serves perfectly well for the continuum of the number line and arithmetic, on examination it is a paradoxical idea that must be rejected in both metaphysics and physics as a model of space-time. The continuum of physics is, at this time, extended as a series of points and moments, and as such no sense can be made of it. Viewed as a real phenomenon a continuum so-defined would either be paradoxical or fail to qualify for the name. We have every right to define the continuum for mathematics as we currently do, and if our idea is paradoxical then it is only a problem when we investigate the foundations of analysis. When we define the continuum for mathematics we are not making a claim about the nature of Reality. Elsewhere it would be a different matter. In metaphysics we certainly cannot adopt a priori an arithmetical definition of the continuum. Insofar as it relates to metaphysics this might be the central message of Weyl’s book. At the same time, physics and ordinary perception are heavily theory-laden, dangerously so. Our usual everyday theory is that time and space are extended in just the same way as is the number line, such that space- and time-points can be represented as locations in an extended co-ordinate system. But is there any evidence that space and time are extended objects? What is it that our wristwatch is actually measuring? Are we quite sure that our usual theory of extension, for which space-time would be a ‘classical’ or Newtonian phenomenon, is fundamentally correct? Is it a metaphysical conjecture, a testable scientific theory, something we know from experience or a highly evolved misinterpretation? For our Western tradition of philosophy this would be a famously undecidable problem. Here the continuum appears to be paradoxical, for it cannot be extended ex hypothesis, and yet, by some magic, it is. Or it seems to be. For the Eastern tradition this everyday theory of space-time would be testable and it would fail the tests, being refutable in logic and falsifiable in experience. The continuum would be a unity, just as its name implies.
Geez, I have a dissertation to write. I can't be spending 16 hours watching videos. ;)

Thanks for this excellent find. I remember Max Velmans hosted a conference on consciousness a few years back. He invited the Kelly's and has read Irreducible Mind.

It frustrates me when skeptics equate people who are interested in idealism or other non-physicalist explanations of consciousness with Deepak Chopra instead of with the intellectual heavyweights in these videos.

Ian Gordon

Really enjoyed and learned from the Griffiths one on research on psilocybin. I was surprised to hear how some experiences are so close to NDEs or other powerful STEs.