How Do We See? – Role of the Gandhabba

December 22, 2020; revised December 23, 2020

 The question “How do we see?” remains unanswered by science. The short post by the National Eye Institute, “How the Eyes Work,” concludes: “These electrical signals travel from the retina through the optic nerve to the brain. Then the brain turns the signals into the images you see.” That does not explain the important part, the EXPERIENCE.

How Do We See?

1. Let us systematically see what happens when we “see” a tree, for example. Please don’t just read through, but stop and think about each point. There is a lot of information condensed in this post (true for most posts, but especially this one).

  • Light reflected off of the tree falls on our eyes and forms an image of that tree on the retina in the back of the eye. As you can imagine, that image is tiny. That image is then transmitted to the brain in terms of a chemical/electrical signal.
  • How does the brain “see” the tree using that chemical/electrical signal?
  • Furthermore, we “see” that tree in great detail: leaves, individual flowers, fruits, etc. How is that possible? The images that land on the back of the eyes are microscopic.
  • Someone who has thought a lot about this issue is Jeff Hawkins, who is actively engaged in artificial intelligence (AI). In his book, “On Intelligence,” he discusses current scientific knowledge on vision and other sensory inputs (Ref. 1.)
Jeff Hawkins’s Book “On Intelligence”

2. Starting on p. 55 of his book, Hawkins discusses how the image that falls on the back of the eye is transmitted to the brain: “But let’s take a closer look. Visual information from the outside world is sent to your brain via a million fibers in your optic nerve. .”,

  • “You can visualize these inputs as a bundle of electrical wires or a bundle of optical fibers..” he writes, “The inputs to the brain are like those fibers, but they are called axons, and they carry neural signals called “action potentials” or “spikes,” which are partly chemical and partly electrical..”.
  • As discussed in that book, visual signals and all sense inputs (sounds, taste, smell, and body touch) to the brain are of the same type. You hear a sound, see the light, and feel pressure, but inside your brain, there isn’t any fundamental difference between these different types of neural signals. An action potential is an action potential.
  • Scientists have not been able to figure out how the brain distinguishes those different types of signals. Moreover, they have no idea how the mind “sees the light” or an image of that tree. Same for the other senses.
How Are Electrical/Chemical Signals Sensed or Experienced?

3. To quote more from that book (p. 56): “Your perceptions and knowledge about the world are built from these patterns. There is no light inside your head. It is dark in there. There is no sound entering your brain either; it is quiet inside. In fact, the brain is the only part of your body that has no senses itself. A surgeon could stick a finger into your brain, and you would not feel it. All the information that enters your mind comes in as spatial and temporal patterns on the axons”.

  • It is a mystery how those chemical and electrical signals coming to the brain are sensed as vision, sound, taste, smell, and body-touch by the mind.
All Existing Scientific Theories Are Speculations

4. Scientists are trying to solve this puzzle by looking for answers in the brain. They have come to the end of the line here.

  • Jeff Hawkins’s book was written in 2004. The video in Ref. 2 (which discusses the brain) was posted in 2006. He and many other scientists have done much work since that time. Yet they have made NO PROGRESS on the key issue of “how those sensory events are EXPERIENCED.”
  • There are, of course, many THEORIES on that connection. For example, some have suggested that consciousness (EXPERIENCE) arises in microtubules in nerve cells in the brain; see Ref. 3. However, microtubules are there (even though different in structure) in plants too. But plants, of course, cannot think.
  • No matter how much they try, scientists WILL NOT be able to find a way to say that mental phenomena can arise in inert matter. 
  • Before we discuss Buddha’s description, let us review some relevant findings from recent scientific studies.
Tiny Oak Seed Has the Blueprint for an Oak Tree

5.  A tiny oak seed has the blueprint for the huge oak tree. That seed extracts necessary “materials” from the soil and “builds” that tree! Think about how complex that process is, i.e., oak seed giving rise to an oak tree!

  • The video does not show the latter stages of growing into a huge oak tree over many years.
  • As we can see, all necessary “materials for the tree” are extracted from the soil. The seed only has the blueprint for the tree!
Gandhabba Has the “Blueprint” or the “Master Plan” for a Human Body

6. The growth of a baby inside a womb (and then outside the womb) is not different from a seed growing into a tree.

  • The zygote (formed by an egg from mother and sperm from father) is not different from a seed.
  • The MAJOR difference is that a human can THINK and a tree cannot.
  • The THINKING part in a human comes from the gandhabbaWe discussed these details in the posts “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception” and “Cloning and Gandhabba.”
  • Let us discuss another piece of evidence from recent scientific findings.
Vision Is Not Continuous

7. Vision or “seeing” appears to us as continuous. We see people moving around, vehicles moving, animals running around, etc. However, in reality, “seeing” happens due to a series of “snapshots” that our physical eyes take. Those chemical and electrical signals mentioned above come in packets of about 10-millisecond duration. 

  • As an example, let us take the case of seeing a tree. The eyes send a series of “data packets” (chemical and electrical signals per #2, #3 above)  to the brain. It is NOT a continuous stream of data that arrives at the brain via the optic nerve. The signal comes in “packets.” Similar “data packets” come in from the other four physical senses. They are processed (in parallel) by the brain.
  • Recent scientific studies show that a human needs at least 10-20 milliseconds (1000 milliseconds = 1 second) to look at the picture to recognize it. Similarly, a “sound packet” of a duration of about 30 milliseconds can be detected and recognized. Thus, it seems that the brain processes sensory data in packets of about 10-30 milliseconds.
  • Some of those processing may happen in parallel in different regions in the brain. Further details in “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.” It is essential to read this post if one needs to understand Buddha’s explanation fully.
  • However, scientists have no idea how those “data packets” lead to seeing, hearing, etc. (actual sensory experiences)!
  • Now we can start discussing Buddha’s explanation.
Sense Experience Happens in the “Mental Body” (Gandhabba)

8. Actual “seeing” (and hearing, smelling, etc.) goes on at the hadaya vatthu located in the gandhabbā or the mental body. This is the key point.

  • In the case of “seeing a tree,” the brain processes the data received from the eyes to a level that scientists CANNOT probe. They are reduced (or “broken down”) to the suddhāṭṭhaka level below the elementary particle level reached by scientists. At that stage, that signal can be transmitted with the mental body of the gandhabba to hadaya vatthu. That is where the sensory experience takes place!
  • As discussed in #7, the brain takes about 10-30 milliseconds to PROCESS data from each sense door. When we are watching a movie, for example, the brain needs to work non-stop to analyze visual and sound data for the duration of the movie. That strains the brain, so it is impossible to watch more than one movie at a time without ending up with a headache.
  • In fact, the brain consumes about 25% of the energy intake for the whole body!
  • These are the details that could not have been transmitted in the Tipiṭaka. Furthermore, during the Buddha’s days, essentially nothing was known to other humans regarding the brain. The Buddha could not provide this kind of detail at that time. We will discuss that in the next post.
Science Will Never be Able to Create “Artificial Life” or “Artificial Intelligence”

9. That is also why science will NEVER be able to succeed in AI (Artificial Intelligence.) Note that AI is different from making efficient robots, which are purely mechanical. They don’t have the ability to THINK!

  • Note that “artificial insemination” is not creating a new life. There, scientists use DNA from humans (or animals) to create a zygote. That is not any different from a zygote produced in a womb. See, “Cloning and Gandhabba.”
  • The bottom line is the following: Without a human gandhabba, sensory experience is not possible. The physical body is just a shell.
  • That gandhabba can be created ONLY by kammic energy, based on a previous strong kamma (deed.) The laws of kamma work automatically. It is a natural process, just like an oak seed giving rise to an oak tree.
Difference Between a “Live Human” and a “Dead Body” Is Gandhabba

10. The gandhabbā is like a delicate mesh (or an “energy field”) overlapping the physical body, with the hadaya vatthu located close to the physical heart. That is what gives life to the physical body.

  • At the physical body’s death, fine gandhabbā comes out of the physical body like a ghost. It is so fine that we cannot see it. But we all know that a body can be alive one second and become totally inert (like a piece of wood) at death.
  • Have you touched a dead body (human or animal)? You can immediately sense the difference between a dead body and a live person/animal by just touching.
  • At death, as soon as the gandhabba comes out permanently from that body, the body starts to get cold. The “life force” is no longer there! That life force is the gandhabba or the “mental body”!
Transfer of Data from the Brain to Pasāda Rūpa/Hadaya Vatthu

11. Another key point is that in the fine body of the gandhabbā, there are five “pasāda rūpa” located around the hadaya vatthucakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya, that correspond to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touch. Those ‘sensing units” overlap the physical heart, far away from the brain. Scientists will never be able to solve the problem just by analyzing brain processes! 

  • We have discussed related important concepts in the sub-section, “Brain and the Gandhabba.” As I remind frequently, it takes a real effort to understand these concepts. With this post, we are going back to continue that discussion.
  • The brain is like a sophisticated computer that analyzes those chemical and electrical signals discussed above in #2 and #3.
  • Those chemical/electrical signals are, in fact, reduced to the suddhāṭṭhaka level per Buddha Dhamma. Suddhāṭṭhaka is the smallest unit of matter in Buddha Dhamma) and are transmitted to the pasāda rūpa located around the hadaya vatthu.
  • That transfer of “information” from the brain to pasāda rūpa around the hadaya vatthu happens in the “energy-body” of the gandhabba that overlaps the physical body.
Only a Buddha Can Figure Out the Complex Connection Between Mind and Matter

12. That is what the Buddha taught 2500 years ago. Until scientists accept that mind and matter are two different entities, they will not proceed too far from where they are now.

  • The ultimate realities of this world are citta, cetasika, rupa. Thoughts encompass citta and cetasika. They are in a separate category from rupa. Citta and cetasika CANNOT arise out of rupa! Stop and contemplate on that. This is why Abhidhamma is important.
  • Someone who has studied Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) may realize that it starts with saṅkhāra (ALL mental) generated due to avijjā. The PS cycle ends with jāti (birth) of an entity with the matter.
  • The “connection” between mind and matter is “defiled consciousness” (or viññaṇa), and viññaṇa arises ONLY in a hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) in a gandhabba created ONLY by kammic energy.

13. That is a fascinating account amenable to minds that are not defiled with strong wrong views. That is why it is NECESSARY to live a moral life and be willing to “listen to reason.” As the Buddha warned, not everyone can understand the deep Dhamma. It takes effort and faith (built on one’s own experiences.) 

  • We will discuss the deep connection between mind and matter in detail in upcoming posts. But the key points can be found in “The Origin of Matter – Suddhāṭṭhaka.”
  • Of course, many details in this post are not available in that form in the Tipiṭaka. In fact, that holds for many of my posts on gandhabba.
  • However, those descriptions are fully compatible with the Tipiṭaka. I will discuss that In the next post.

1. Jeff Hawkins, “On Intelligence” (2004).

2. Jeff Hawkins: “How brain science will change computing.”

3. “Can Quantum Physics Explain Consciousness? One Scientist Thinks It Might.”

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