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Event description

In this webinar Drs. Ben Williams and Marjorie Woollacott explore parallels between theories about the origins of cognitive processes that filter out a broader perceptual awareness in both modern neuroscience and in a medieval Sanskrit text on non-dual philosophy, the Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā (‘Stanzas on the Recognition of Śiva’). This philosophical work discusses the power of conceptualization or ideation as an essential component of the universal creative process in which all-pervasive consciousness identifies itself with a particular individual/mind-body complex. We show parallels between this framework and research identifying brain networks active in the process of filtering a vast array of perceptual inputs into a narrowly circumscribed sense of subjectivity restricted to the individual body-mind. This process includes the proliferation of mental narratives by which the individual structures their experience of reality. This theoretical exploration will be followed by a discussion of practices that reduce the filtering function of conceptuality in both the text under consideration and in neuro-scientific studies on meditation, as well as other experiences that include expanded and lucid states of awareness.

Ben Williams is an Assistant Professor at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado, and serves as Chair of Naropa’s MA program in Yoga Studies.  He received his PhD in the Department of South Asian Studies at Harvard University. In addition to a broad training in the history of Indian religions, and sustained study of Indian philosophy and literature in Sanskrit sources, Williams is a specialist in the tantric traditions of premodern India. He is a member of the Advisory Council for Muktabodha Indological Research Institute, dedicated to preserving the philosophical and scriptural texts of classical India and the wisdom they contain.

Marjorie Woollacott, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita and prior chair of the Dept. of Human Physiology, and member of the Institute of Neuroscience, at the University of Oregon. She is President of the Academy for the Advancement of Post-Materialist Sciences (AAPS) and Research Director for the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS). Her current research interests are in the nature of brain filters and  how they are modified during meditation, spiritual awakening, and end-of-life experiences. Her latest book, Infinite Awareness (2015) pairs Woollacott’s research as a neuroscientist with her self-revelations about the mind’s spiritual power.