This paper was presented at
Psychology: The Indian Contribution
National Conference on
Indian Psychology, Yoga and Consciousness
organised by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research
at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education
Pondicherry, India, 10-13 December 2004

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Issues and problems of assessment in consciousness research

S. K. Kiran Kumar — University of Mysore, Mysore.

Development of science and technology are interdependent and mutually enhance each other. Research on consciousness is no exception to this With the development of brain imaging techniques like PET, MRI, and NMRI we are much better of in having more information on the activities of brain centres during a particular state. However, at the most they can give information about physiological correlates of a state of consciousness. Thus, it is inevitable that physiological data cannot take us very far and we need to depend on the verbal reports to access the phenomenology of a state of consciousness. Attempts have been made to examine the spill-over effect of the experiences of a particular altered state phenomenon on the psychological functioning of an individual in the normal, ordinary state. These three kinds of data viz., physiological, phenomenological, and psychological have been collected by investigators in consciousness research depending on the orientation and interest of the researchers. Almost all of them have studied consciousness chiefly from the perspective of modern science. All these devices give us an ‘extra-spective’ view as against ‘intra-spective’ possibilities of a yogi or siddha, which understand another person’s state without the aid of any of these techniques. Traditionally it is claimed that such an understanding develops due to an expanded awareness, which includes the consciousness of the other. It is ‘knowledge by identity’. Further, the experiential phenomena in some altered states go beyond the time-space barrier and defy the notion of causality. In such cases all the technological devices developed as extensions of sensory apparatus fail to serve any purpose. It is here the attempts at measurement and communication breaks down and the notion proposed by Charles Tart – “states of consciousness and state specific sciences” – has its relevance and application. This paper discusses the issues and problems in consciousness research within the framework of Tart’s proposition and then examines the Indian approach to the understanding of consciousness.

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