I have always been interested in philosophy, particularly in how the mind operates and creates meaning. By the time I was a young man, I had a burning desire to understand the purpose of life. This led me on a decade-long personal journey way down the rabbit hole of Eastern metaphysical traditions, studying, practicing, writing and teaching. I was fortunate to study and work closely with Baba Hari Dass, a silent monk from the lower Indian Himalayas.
I’ve also taught logical reasoning in the LSAT prep course for Kaplan, taught high school literature and writing, helped define fitness and popularize CrossFit, produced thousands of videos and articles, and edited, published and/or co-written three books. Throughout all this is a unifying theme: the practical application of theory.
My favorite Eastern metaphysical philosophy is Samkhya (an ancient and now dead Indian philosophy). Among all the mystical traditions I could find, Samkhya offers the most scientifically rigorous explanation of consciousness and the mind. It has a robust, internally consistent logical structure, taking the principles of cause and effect to its extreme limit, particularly around the activity of the mind. Samkhya never relies on faith, and remains internally consistent. In science, we evaluate a theory by its ability to predict results. The goal of Samkhya is to identify and remove the cause of thoughts so that they may be stopped, and it works.
The reason I am not simply offering a modern explanation of Samkhya is because its purpose is different. It is designed for practitioners seeking enlightenment and the removal of suffering. As such, it focuses entirely on individual subjective experience. While there is enormous value in this, it falls short of providing a true operational definition of consciousness. I have thus adapted the core concepts for a Western scientific orientation.
One of the biggest problems I see in the current approaches to defining consciousness is anthropocentrism. From the beginning of time, the human mind has fashioned itself as exceptional. In 1633, Galileo was imprisoned for promoting Copernicus’s dangerous and crazy heliocentric astronomy (the notion that the earth revolves around the sun). While we may have eradicated anthropocentrism from astronomy, it’s as present and as preposterous in today’s discussions about consciousness as it was in Galileo’s time about astronomy.
The other major problem is the attempt to explain consciousness within the realm of thought. This is like trying to explain oxygen within the realm of water. It’s there, but not in its true form. The mystical traditions have the advantage of practicing the elimination of thought activity, which provides an entirely different perspective.
During my early years at CrossFit, I worked closely with Greg Glassman as he developed an empirical, operational definition of fitness in an industry that didn’t have one. I saw first hand how important good definitions are, along with the challenges, responsibilities and consequences of creating them. My hope is that this operational definition of consciousness provides a common terminology and framework for furthering the full scope of scientific studies of mind and consciousness.
I’m very interested in making this content as useful as possible, so please send issues, questions, and/or corrections to OpDefCon at gmail dot com.
– Tony Budding