Diverse Intelligences: Information Processing and Pure Consciousness
In present-day cognitive and computer sciences, the mainstream notion of intelligence is framed around a list of information processing functions such as the ability to store information to guide adaptive behaviors. This definition contrasts with broader views of intelligence in several spiritual traditions. The contrast is especially striking in spiritual practices aimed at achieving a state of “pure consciousness,” in which awareness is vividly present but devoid of any perceptual or thought contents. Hence, no task is being performed and no information is being processed.
Cultivating states of pure consciousness allows practitioners to recognize the essential, stable nature of mind that lies beyond fleeting perceptions and thoughts—a recognition that deepens spirituality and increase well-being. Intriguingly, a prominent new theory of consciousness—integrated information theory (IIT)—makes the counterintuitive neurophysiological prediction that consciousness should still be present when all the neurons comprising the substrate of consciousness are inactive. Moreover, it posits that such a state would resemble the “pure consciousness” of spiritual traditions.
In this project, I propose to use a high-density electroencephalogram (HD-EEG) in long-term meditators from Buddhist and Christian backgrounds to test the prediction of IIT that phenomenal states of pure consciousness correlate with a high readiness of the cortex, signaled in the HD-EEG by low delta power, combined with a low level of neuronal firing, signaled in the HD-EEG by low gamma activity compared to other awake states. If this project is successful, it will demand a radical rethinking of the dominant functionalist, information processing view of intelligence and, in turn, validate century-old spiritual accounts. This will provide neurophysiological support for the existence of diverse forms of intelligence and pure being that can be dissociated from information processing.