Consciousness On/Off Switch

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.
boda
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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by boda » Fri Dec 11, 2015 12:06 am

Myoho-Nameless wrote:
Jesse wrote:... they can't prove they are 'unconscious', merely that they have interupted some functions required for speach/motion/gestures/etc. Same appplies to the area of the brain they are shocking, there have no idea if it's an area nessecary for consciousness, or just some area responsible for motor skills, memory, etc.

You can achieve the same thing by hitting someone in the head with a stick. This research doesn't seem much more advanced honestly, but they guy seems quite pleased with himself.
I agree. If I hit throw my xbox controller at my tv I stand a real chance of affecting it's ability to give a quality picture. But I would not be affecting the ultimate source of the picture itself.
The researcher didn't throw an xbox at the woman's head. Perhaps I'm missing the finer points of your metaphor, but wouldn't it be more like simply pressing the on/off button on your xbox?

Did either of you notice that when the voltage was reduced the woman continued her thought as though nothing had happened. If the area affected were just responsible for motor skills and memory, and her consciousness continued, wouldn't her thought be disrupted?

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Jesse » Fri Dec 11, 2015 12:13 am

boda wrote:
Myoho-Nameless wrote:
Jesse wrote:... they can't prove they are 'unconscious', merely that they have interupted some functions required for speach/motion/gestures/etc. Same appplies to the area of the brain they are shocking, there have no idea if it's an area nessecary for consciousness, or just some area responsible for motor skills, memory, etc.

You can achieve the same thing by hitting someone in the head with a stick. This research doesn't seem much more advanced honestly, but they guy seems quite pleased with himself.
I agree. If I hit throw my xbox controller at my tv I stand a real chance of affecting it's ability to give a quality picture. But I would not be affecting the ultimate source of the picture itself.
The researcher didn't throw an xbox at the woman's head. Perhaps I'm missing the finer points of your metaphor, but wouldn't it be more like simply pressing the on/off button on your xbox?

Did either of you notice that when the voltage was reduced the woman continued her thought as though nothing had happened. If the area affected were just responsible for motor skills and memory, and her consciousness continued, wouldn't her thought be disrupted?
No. Her eyes were still open, she was not dead, her brain functioning was simply impaired in some way. I am arguing technicalities here, not generalities. In general you can say she was unconcious because she was at that moment unaware of what was happening. However if you want to go more in depth in the topic I think it can easily be argued she didn't lose consciousness/awareness, only that her brain was temporarily unable to process incoming stimulus and convey something to other people. Meaning there was still awareness, just not the capacity to act on the objects of awareness. Also if it only effected memory during the time the electricity was being applied, to her it would seem no time had passed and she would continue her conversation where she left off.

Anyway, how do they know exactly what it did to her brain? The brain is so poorly understood at the moment, it could of done any number of things that inhibited her functioning, yet didn't 'knock her out', or 'turn her consciousness off'

Think of people in comas, there are many people who report being totally aware the entire time, yet they are unable to function or technically wake up.
Last edited by Jesse on Fri Dec 11, 2015 12:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Queequeg » Fri Dec 11, 2015 12:17 am

I take the research at its face when they relate that the woman had no recollection while the "switch" was in the off position, suggesting there was no awareness (this part of the brain they activate seems to function like a relay - run a current and the switch flips).

If you've ever had full anesthesia - there is nothing that could be called "awareness" in any commonly accepted meaning of that term when you are under.

Experiences like that, along with studies like this, suggest to me that the mind stream has nothing to do with what we commonly understand as "awareness". For me, anyway, awareness is very much limited to the six senses. I can't even conceptualize awareness apart from them.

The mindstream, however, if there is awareness in that, its nothing like what we call ordinary awareness. I understand there are practitioners who are able to settle into this level... Would they be willing to subject themselves to these sorts of experiments to help us understand? :shrug:

Probably not. Let's get the rabbis in here to parse the monastic rules - It would likely fall under one of the prohibitions against displaying super powers.

I kid. I kid. What's life without levity?
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by boda » Fri Dec 11, 2015 12:25 am

Jesse wrote:I only mean that all objects that exist are still aware.
In that case there's no situation where you would consider the woman in the research experiment unaware. She could even be dead and she'd still be aware, right?

This is a curious notion, especially considering what "objects that exist" are. Is your hand aware? Is your finger aware? Is your fingernail aware? Are the cells that make up your fingernail aware? Are the molecules that make up the cells in your fingernail aware? Are the atomic particles that make up your fingernail aware? And so on...

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Myoho-Nameless » Fri Dec 11, 2015 12:37 am

boda wrote: The researcher didn't throw an xbox at the woman's head. Perhaps I'm missing the finer points of your metaphor, but wouldn't it be more like simply pressing the on/off button on your xbox?
more like unplugging it, since the thing never actually turns off by just pressing the button, strictly speaking.

But I think it would be more like turning the TV off whilst leaving the xbox running, or just straight up damaging it by throwing something at it (the TV). My metaphor implies that the brain receives, rather than generates, consciousness. Though obviously its crude and the relationship something complex, in my opinion. I have seen too much info to the contrary to believe that the brain generates consciousness, but also too much to believe it doesn't affect it.

The metaphor is normally used in the context of brain injury and changes in behavior, hence damaging the TV, but not the signal.

Not sure how "Buddhist" that outlook is, but my view of mind/consciousness is not only informed by what is draped in an officially "Buddhist" style. Though I haven't yet encountered an out and out contradiction, at least according to my understanding at this time.
boda wrote: Did either of you notice that when the voltage was reduced the woman continued her thought as though nothing had happened. If the area affected were just responsible for motor skills and memory, and her consciousness continued, wouldn't her thought be disrupted?
maybe, maybe not.
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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Jesse » Fri Dec 11, 2015 12:49 am

Queequeg wrote:I take the research at its face when they relate that the woman had no recollection while the "switch" was in the off position, suggesting there was no awareness (this part of the brain they activate seems to function like a relay - run a current and the switch flips).

If you've ever had full anesthesia - there is nothing that could be called "awareness" in any commonly accepted meaning of that term when you are under.

Experiences like that, along with studies like this, suggest to me that the mind stream has nothing to do with what we commonly understand as "awareness". For me, anyway, awareness is very much limited to the six senses. I can't even conceptualize awareness apart from them.

The mindstream, however, if there is awareness in that, its nothing like what we call ordinary awareness. I understand there are practitioners who are able to settle into this level... Would they be willing to subject themselves to these sorts of experiments to help us understand? :shrug:

Probably not. Let's get the rabbis in here to parse the monastic rules - It would likely fall under one of the prohibitions against displaying super powers.

I kid. I kid. What's life without levity?
I would argue, you simply have no memory of the time you are anesthetized. Much like dreams, if you don't remember them, it's like it never happened. With NDE's people have all sorts of experiences while dead, yet if they never came back to life there would never be a way to 'recall' these exeriences, or know they happened. If a person had damage to their brain and could not create new memories, does that mean the person has no experiences, or is not aware ? Or just that there is no way to 'know', they had experienced things.
boda wrote:In that case there's no situation where you would consider the woman in the research experiment unaware. She could even be dead and she'd still be aware, right?

This is a curious notion, especially considering what "objects that exist" are. Is your hand aware? Is your finger aware? Is your fingernail aware? Are the cells that make up your fingernail aware? Are the molecules that make up the cells in your fingernail aware? Are the atomic particles that make up your fingernail aware? And so on...
If she was dead, 'she' wouldn't be aware. Her body would no longer be functioning, and so there is nothing to be aware of. I think you are mistaking awareness for self recognition, or cognition. Awareness is a basic knowing. I think a hand, and fingernail are bad examples because they are part of a larger form, the human body. Let's say a rock, is a rock aware? I would argue it is. It simply has a form that can not be aware of it's awareness. An even better example is a crystal, or plants.

Read here:
http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2 ... g-crystals

Since we are discussing a rather complex topic, That neither I or any other human has solved (The origin's of consciousness/awareness) The best I can give you are theories.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
-Henry David Thoreau

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by undefineable » Fri Dec 11, 2015 1:50 am

Myoho-Nameless wrote:I have seen too much info to the contrary to believe that the brain generates consciousness, but also too much to believe it doesn't affect it.
Consciousness -i.e. mind- is refracted by the brain so as to allow interaction with the world to one degree or another, although without a brain there is consciousness only as potential. Circuits that may not 'do' much on their own even when activated (which might appear to support the materialist position) work with or otherwise affect (by not working etc.) other more obviously useful circuits. At the other extreme, the greatest sophistication in the structure and function of brain circuitry will lead to the greatest sophistication in a being's actions and way of life.
Myoho-Nameless wrote:after years of contemplating these and similar topics I don't believe at this point memory (at least long term memory) has much to do with the brain either. There might be some data I am unaware of, but last I checked its still a mystery.

Dementia???

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Myoho-Nameless » Fri Dec 11, 2015 2:28 am

undefineable wrote: Dementia???
That goes back to the xbox/tv analogy. Just because the brain is damaged or otherwise not full functional, that does not mean that the memories are gone. We don't know where in the brain memories are stored, or if they are at all stored in the brain, the jury is still out, at least as far as long term memories are concerned.

though they could be and we just haven't found them yet, sure.
undefineable wrote: although without a brain there is consciousness only as potential.
at this point, I don't agree.
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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by boda » Fri Dec 11, 2015 3:17 am

Jesse wrote:
boda wrote:In that case there's no situation where you would consider the woman in the research experiment unaware. She could even be dead and she'd still be aware, right?

This is a curious notion, especially considering what "objects that exist" are. Is your hand aware? Is your finger aware? Is your fingernail aware? Are the cells that make up your fingernail aware? Are the molecules that make up the cells in your fingernail aware? Are the atomic particles that make up your fingernail aware? And so on...
If she was dead, 'she' wouldn't be aware. Her body would no longer be functioning, and so there is nothing to be aware of. I think you are mistaking awareness for self recognition, or cognition. Awareness is a basic knowing. I think a hand, and fingernail are bad examples because they are part of a larger form, the human body. Let's say a rock, is a rock aware? I would argue it is. It simply has a form that can not be aware of it's awareness.
A hand or fingernail are good examples because they are part of a larger form. You might ask yourself, what isn't part of a larger form. :rolleye:
Since we are discussing a rather complex topic, That neither I or any other human has solved (The origin's of consciousness/awareness) The best I can give you are theories.
The best you can give is to explain your theories, as best you can.

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by tingdzin » Fri Dec 11, 2015 6:29 am

Queequeg, in one of your earlier posts, you say, "If you bother to actually look into this subject, they offer some really interesting theories on how consciousness actually works." Did you mean just the Scientific American article, or di you have other stuff in mind as well. If the latter, I'd be interested in some of the stuff you found the most useful (I'm interested in the subject myself).

The subject is very difficult to talk about, and I don't claim to have any particularly great insight into it. So right now I have just some random observations. First, I don't see how intellectual investigation into things like this could interfere with anyone's meditation practice, but then again, I don't know of, and certainly don't practice any meditation that is dependent on Abhidharmic labelsas I am practicing. The descriptions of mind function in Buddhist scriptures are IMO always after-the-fact attempts to interpret what is actually going on in the stream of mentation, useful primarily as guideposts -- probably better than any anybody else has come up with so far, but not engraved in stone.

Second, you say the "implications [ of the experiment described in the article ] are really interesting." It seems to me simply that the researchers may have identified an area of the brain through which outwardly observable mental responsiveness is channeled. I don't see that the implications of this are any more interesting than discovering, to use an obvious and simplistic example, that sight consciousness is channeled through the optic nerve. Perhaps I'm being dense, but could you expand on this a little more?

Third, I don't think we can assume that consciousness as experimentally defined as outwardly observable mental responsiveness is necessarily the same thing as consciousness as a lived experience. I can remember a long and frustrating discussion between Tulku Urgyen and some students on this, or a closely related subject. I hate to devolve into a semantic discussion but people have very different understanding of what the word "consciousness" mean. I would accept whatever definition you propose for purposes of this discussion.

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Queequeg » Fri Dec 11, 2015 6:56 pm

tingdzin wrote:Queequeg, in one of your earlier posts, you say, "If you bother to actually look into this subject, they offer some really interesting theories on how consciousness actually works." Did you mean just the Scientific American article, or di you have other stuff in mind as well. If the latter, I'd be interested in some of the stuff you found the most useful (I'm interested in the subject myself).
Hi tingdzin,
I did mean other things. Here is a piece from Radiolab that is not relating to the claustrum in particular, but relates some theories about what is happening in the brain under general anesthesia.
http://www.radiolab.org/story/anesthesia/

In case you can't access it (though I think its worth the time if you can), here's a summary -

They talk about anesthesia as a "black box" meaning they're not really sure how it works. The present a short history of general anesthesia, and then talk to some researchers. A theory they have goes like this:

Different regions of the brain handle different tasks. This much is generally known. What they've found is that there is a central part of the brain - they're not quite sure where - that coordinates "communication" between the central hub and the various parts of the brain. What happens in ordinary conscious state is that there seems to be a wave of electrical impulse that works around the different regions of the brain that, in an orderly way, let a particular part of the brain send and receive messages. Under anesthesia, the wave stops. Its not that the parts of the brain stop functioning, but their communication becomes uncoordinated - the experience of this is that we lose consciousness.

If there is an "awareness" apart from this consciousness, its not in the brain, and as Jesse suggests, it has to be distinct from the physical working of the body.

Assuming this "awareness" is fact, this would suggest that any notion of experiencing this awareness would have nothing to do with the six consciousnesses which seem to be functions of the physical body.

Without a basis in the six senses, I'm not at all sure how this awareness can be explored. If it can be explored through the six senses, its not entirely clear to me that the "awareness" is not some conjuration within the six senses.

I have not quite fleshed the implications of this for my practice yet, but it does tend to lead me to view most practices that are billed as gates to the experience of this deeper awareness are vain. Admittedly, I have been able to refine subjectivity in meditative practice but have not been able to release what I experience as the subtlest sinew of subjectivity.

To sum up, these sorts of studies help me to understand where not to bother looking for insight, but indeed, they don't actually help meditative practice in a positive way.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by undefineable » Sat Dec 12, 2015 5:29 am

Myoho-Nameless wrote:Just because the brain is damaged or otherwise not full functional, that does not mean that the memories are gone.
Where are the lost memories exactly, then? They're certainly not readily accessible to the conscious mind. I accidentally induced dementia in myself, so I should know :tongue:
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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Myoho-Nameless » Sat Dec 12, 2015 5:37 am

undefineable wrote: Where are the lost memories exactly, then?
I don't know. and neither does the scientific community. least last time I checked.

undefineable wrote:They're certainly not readily accessible to the conscious mind.
not the everyday conscious mind, no. But I am a Buddhist and I think there is more going on in the bigger picture of "mind". Too much to be a biological computer.

Though as an anxiety prone high functioning autistic with probable brain damage resulting from a medicated childhood I don't go as far as to say the brain is not a.....component of a skanda.
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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by undefineable » Sat Dec 12, 2015 6:01 am

Myoho-Nameless wrote:not the everyday conscious mind, no. But I am a Buddhist and I think there is more going on in the bigger picture of "mind". Too much to be a biological computer.

Though as an anxiety prone high functioning autistic with probable brain damage resulting from a medicated childhood I don't go as far as to say the brain is not a.....component of a skanda.

I am myself an anxiety prone high functioning autistic with {extensive} *proven* brain damage resulting from a crazed youth in which I gave myself a brain tumour by trying to cure myself of my (as yet unlabeled) autism, with the residual negativity directly causing an otherwise-unexplained build-up of brain damage since my initial post-op recovery _ _ _ _ _

Anyways, I'm not particularly struggling with the idea of awareness beyond 'everyday conscious mind', but calling 'everyday mind' a "biological computer" seems too dismissive, and treating whatever else there may be (in the Mind) as if it can somehow rescue every memory seems to put something vague, uncertain and (for most people at most times) irrelevant on a pedestal that it doesn't warrant.

Maybe the brain is best seen as the repository of all the skandhas - The place where they're captured, encoded and activated

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Myoho-Nameless » Sat Dec 12, 2015 8:26 am

undefineable wrote:
but calling 'everyday mind' a "biological computer" seems too dismissive
I agree, which I why I didn't. biological computer is not what I believe, its what the materialists (say they) believe.
undefineable wrote:and treating whatever else there may be (in the Mind) as if it can somehow rescue every memory seems to put something vague, uncertain and (for most people at most times) irrelevant on a pedestal that it doesn't warrant.
Well, thats great for you. But I wasn't saying it can "rescue" memory. Maybe it can, maybe it cant. I was only saying we have not yet established the materiality of memory. There are many theories on how memory works, and I am neutral, I don't know. Dogma exists in science as well.

undefineable wrote: Maybe the brain is best seen as the repository of all the skandhas - The place where they're captured, encoded and activated
I guess I tend to see it as an organ, and so I suppose a component of the skanda of "form".........which to me implies it can affect my state of mind.
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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by undefineable » Sun Dec 13, 2015 2:25 am

Myoho-Nameless wrote:I was only saying we have not yet established the materiality of memory. There are many theories on how memory works, and I am neutral, I don't know.
I'm trying to tell you that since I have lost most of my memory faculty, I can say for certain that brain damage removes or otherwise blocks memories - There seems to be some kind of encoding going on in the brain. It's said that as progress is made towards enlightenment, more and more memories are recovered from previous lives.
Myoho-Nameless wrote:I guess I tend to see it as an organ, and so I suppose a component of the skanda of "form".........which to me implies it can affect my state of mind.
This appears to be an extreme anti-materialist position that is untenable given the current state of neuroscience - The brain can easily be shown to do far more than affect one's state of mind. In Buddhist terms, while mind also affects one's state of brain (particularly at certain times and for certain people / meditators), the infinite potential mutability of sentient beings (seen as natural expressions of primordially-enlightened mind) is frozen by Ignorance into a particular angle of consensual illusion or display. This structuring and self-reinforcement, as far as can be reasonably deduced from the available evidence, is mediated entirely by the brain, which provides that mind with everything it needs to live out unfathomably complex patterns of karma and generate infinitely more. Therefore, a human mind comes together and falls apart with its brain.

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Myoho-Nameless » Sun Dec 13, 2015 5:12 am

undefineable wrote: I can say for certain that brain damage removes or otherwise blocks memories - There seems to be some kind of encoding going on in the brain. It's said that as progress is made towards enlightenment, more and more memories are recovered from previous lives.
I have no issue with that. I merely was pointing out that it is not yet proven that memory is material. We tend to believe it because it "agrees" with the narrative we acquire in our day and age regarding "real" science or "folk science". I wan't actually saying that that is what I believe about memory. I think it was brought up on the context of why brain damage seems to negatively affect memory is not evidence enough to say that memory "stored" in the brain. Though it certainly could be. I would probably be surprised if it was conclusively shown to be non material in any way. Rumor has it some people who get heart transplants have changed personalities and other people's memories. And there are neurons in the heart.

"Blocking" is an option I normally consider. Especially if it is even possible to "remember" previous lives. Though I wouldn't say anything with confidence.

and, if it matters, yes, I have seen someone with dementia "slip away"

just an aside:
undefineable wrote:This structuring and self-reinforcement, as far as can be reasonably deduced from the available evidence, is mediated entirely by the brain, which provides that mind with everything it needs to live out unfathomably complex patterns of karma and generate infinitely more. Therefore, a human mind comes together and falls apart with its brain.
maybe, maybe not.

I am less willing to mix "conventional" science (the culture and community surrounding it) with Buddhism. The day may come. But for now I have no opinion.
outside of the subject of memory, I tend to believe our brain determines a lot of our nature. Spend enough time in the men's rights or mgtow community and you have to.
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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by undefineable » Mon Dec 14, 2015 12:19 am

Double post - Sorry
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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by undefineable » Mon Dec 14, 2015 12:21 am

Myoho-Nameless wrote:it is not yet proven that memory is material.

Actually, it's easily demonstrated that memory is not material: A memory is a conscious depiction, while a material pattern is an energy nexus network existing across space as well as time. QED. Any Priest can announce that ravens are writing desks (to misquote Alice in Wonderland), or that a naked Emperor is fully clothed; the fact that this will then be 'believed' if the relevant branch of priest-craft is powerful enough (what does 'belief' in patent nonsense even mean?) is just part of human nature it seems.
Perhaps there's a shared underlying nature at some level, with mind and matter revealing themselves as 'two sides of the same coin', but from an everyday point of view, this is mere speculation unless you're enlightened enough to see the truth directly. Anyhow, memories appear to be activated via the brain, but unless there's a brain basis for a memory, then -as far as I can see- there's no reason to suppose that the memory has any means of coming back into existence in the future.
Myoho-Nameless wrote:outside of the subject of memory, I tend to believe our brain determines a lot of our nature.
I'm still not sure why you (and Rupert Sheldrake to my understanding) see memory as less brain-based rather than more so. Again, if you do mix science and Buddhism, you might see the brain as a vessel of past karma _ _

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Re: Consciousness On/Off Switch

Post by Queequeg » Mon Dec 14, 2015 5:27 am

Jesse wrote:
I would argue, you simply have no memory of the time you are anesthetized. Much like dreams, if you don't remember them, it's like it never happened. With NDE's people have all sorts of experiences while dead, yet if they never came back to life there would never be a way to 'recall' these exeriences, or know they happened. If a person had damage to their brain and could not create new memories, does that mean the person has no experiences, or is not aware ? Or just that there is no way to 'know', they had experienced things.
These examples are all over the place. There are any number of reasons we lose consciousness. You can be choked to unconsciousness - you pass out from lack of oxygen to the brain. But that's not what happens under anesthesia. Which is different again than deep sleep (I'm not convinced sleep, and dreaming, is anything more than daily maintenance - I have no reason to believe it's anything more.) NDEs are likely not a trip beyond life, but echoes in a dying brain.

The point is, unconsciousness generally seems to preclude the formation of memories... Because there are no experiences to remember. This is different from brain damage which prevents the formation of memories. Anyway, if I get you, you're arguing 'awareness' is distinct from consciousness, distinct from our body.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

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