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February 20, 2010


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Great post thanks Brian. I can see myself linking to this in the near future.

"...60 to 80 percent of all energy used by the brain -- occurs in circuits unrelated to any external event."

ONLY 60 to 80 percent? Judging by the blah blah blah that goes on internally (and which I largely ignore), I'd have thought more like 90.

I'm not sure if pure awareness can be linked to any brain activity measurements...it's, perhaps, more like what the story of measuring the brain arises in, or the activity of the brain itself arises in.

It's not something that the mind can grasp, it's what the mind arises in. Some people liken it to the sense of existing.

Fun to play around with it all, understandable or not!

Hello Brian - I smell what you're cookin'. Unfortunately, science is of no use whatsoever when it comes to the big, unanswerable questions. If you come to the conclusion that awareness is a mere happenstance caused by a molecular configuration, it stands to reason that the molecular configuration itself makes that determination. Presto! Instant self-realization. Then, the molecular configuration continues until it disintegrates. However, in many cases, the molecular configuration continues to churn out inquiries into it's own nature as if what is perfectly obvious is totally unacceptable.

That's because it IS unacceptable. Reality is unacceptable. No explanation can be acceptable, because there is no explanation. No explanation is required, except for the molecular configuration that cannot figure itself out.

There is no entity that stands apart from "reality" ("reality" being simply what is, without explanation). You may think there is, or want there to be, but that is simply part of "reality".

"Awareness" is the condition that pertained before the Big Bang. The Big Bang is "Awareness" imagining that it is something that it is not, and doing a pretty good job of it. "Awareness" is what must necessarily pertain when absolutely everything ceases to exist.

"Awareness" is absolutely nothing, except that "nothing" is a state of absence and there are no states that can be associated with "Awareness".

So let me summarize: Life is exactly what it appears to be. There is no explanation for it. It simply "is". The sensation that you exist is most definitely a result of the molecular configuration that comprises your brain (and your entire organism). When that configuration is no longer viable, there is no longer a sense of existence. Just like before the Big Bang. Just "Awareness", aware only of itself (in a manner of speaking).

Poetic concepts like "Pure awareness," "True Nature," "abiding in the Self," and all promises of a future permanent state change are nothing more than a sales pitch.

Hey Steven, hmmm, depends on if who's saying it is selling...one of the things writers/teachers of awareness type stuff seem to say a lot is, this is it, right now, there isn't anything better, so stop looking!

no, i don't agree suzanne.

stephen sashen is right. i agree with him.

all of the spiritual, philosophical, mystical, religious, yogic, advaitic, and/or 'awareness' rhetoric... is indeed nothing more than a sales pitch.

and tucson has rightly pointed that out many times as well.

Hey tAo, a sales pitch for what? Very curious.

A "sales pitch" for those that are addicted to seeking the truth. Nothing wrong with someone that is seeking, unfortunately there are some that are fanactical in their need to seek the truth. While I'm here, what again is this truth?

In some recent work I did with Walter Freeman at his lab in Berkeley, citing the seminal work of Raichle, we established that during the sychronized gamma typical of meditation and consciousness, the analytic power of the brain may momentarily approach zero;

Freeman, W., S. O'Nuallain and J Rodriguez(2008) "Simulating cortical background electrocortigram at rest with filtered noise" Journal of integrated neuroscience,7 (3 )Page: 337 - 344 Sept 2008

I've just published what I believe is a breakthrough paper on meditation and consciousness (formal abstract and link below). It is the first to interrelate the work on synchronized gamma in consciousness with the well-attested work on gamma in meditation in an experimental context.. It adduces experimental and simulated data to show that what both have in common is the ability to put the brain into a state in which it is maximally sensitive and consumes zero power, briefly. It is argued that this may correspond to a “selfless” state and the more typical non-zero state, in which gamma is not so prominent, corresponds to a state of empirical self. Thus, the “zero power” in the title refers not only to the power spectrum of the brain as measured by the Hilbert transform, but also to a psychological state of personal renunciation.
While the general perspective is compatible with panpsychism, a more practical consequence is that the beneficial health effects of meditation may partly be due to the fact that the brain's “dark energy” consumption normally absorbs about 18% of the body's metabolic production. During these moments of “zero power” this energy is freed up for repair and healing. In fact, it may also lead to differential gene expression.

The paper is;

O Nuallain,Sean (2009) Zero Power and Selflessness: What Meditation and Conscious Perception Have in Common Cognitive Sciences 4(2)


Secondly, the sychronized gamma may well, through neural resonance, cause synchronous firing of individual neurons in a manner facilitated by subthreshold oscillations;

O Nualláin, Seán and T. Doris (2010) “What is neural resonance for?” Chaos and complexity letters 4(2)

Sean O'Nuallain PhD (Nous research, Ireland)


This paper attempts to reconstrue the art and science of meditation in the context of an overall theory of cognition, and with reference to evidence from simulated and real data analysed in a neurodynamical framework. First, we discuss the phenomenology of meditation and its relation to the known evidence. It is argued that meditation is on a continuum with the types of conscious mental activity characterized by synchronized gamma. Specifically, it is suggested that gamma synchrony in meditation allows the normally prominent background noise of the brain momentarily to subside. Secondly, a set of experiments using both simulated and real data and interpreted in a neurodynamical context that bear on the issue of meditation is described. Thirdly, the theoretical and experimental frameworks are brought together into an overall perspective that impacts on cognition as on applied experientialism. Most of the material alludes to books and other refereed published material by the author.

Sean, your paper sounds most interesting. I like your attempt to relate selflessness to brain states. I wasn't able to find the paper online, just the "offer" to purchase the journal issue for $59 which is a bit, or a lot, steep given that I'm only interested in your paper. Hopefully there's a way to read it in another fashion.

Sure - drop me an e-mail or post c/o my blog on tenure and I'll be happy to send it gratis

I too have misgivings about the journal system.

I just e-mailed copies of the two critical articles to Brian, who is welcome to pass them on to anyone who asks

There is another, just out, on


Hi Sean,

I also think that the Zero Power and Selflessness paper sounds very interesting.
I have not however been able to find email contacts for you anywhere on the web!

Is there anyway that you wold be able to also send me a copy of the paper?
My address: [email protected]

Many thanks

Why Tononi is wrong

In a recent NY Times article, Tononi chooses to propose a rather sketchily-described “Shannon informational” model to supplant a gamma synchrony model partly on these grounds;

“Dr. Tononi sees serious problems in these models. When people lose consciousness from epileptic seizures, for instance, their brain waves become more synchronized. If synchronization were the key to consciousness, you would expect the seizures to make people hyperconscious instead of unconscious, he said. “


Had Tononi been correct about this, this would have been the end of the "Zero power" model with its consequences for metabolism and "dark energy"

Jouny et al (2010) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19910249 surely should have suggested that this is premature closure, with an INCREASE in signal complexity – that is, decline in synchrony – associated with seizure

Ours study of ECOG data (electrodes directly attached to the cortex, not on the scalp) confirms this. Sleep signal is least complex/disordered under PCA, first component explains 97%, awake is next, with 93% explained by the first component, while seizure has just 63% explained by first component.

We will duly submit these results to a responsible peer-reviewed journal

Sean O Nuallain PhD (Kaelasha eventually tracked me down, thankfully!)

Prior to everything we are aware of, know, do or think there is Awareness as the Substratum of it All. Awereness patterning is the TRansparancy of Things, which is experience, there is only experience, appearing in WHAT you are, which is not located anywhere. What you are is Non-Local; thoughts about the brain appear in that.

Hi all,

We are currently offering a course on “Neuroscience and experience” as
taught as an advanced seminar in Stanford. A sample lecture and
outline of the course can be found at


The ethos of our institution can be found at the (under construction site;


Queries can be sent to

[email protected]

Best wishes



Bye bye :)

Hello, I liked your article.
The idea and experience of what you call pure awareness has interested me for some time. I can't quite figure out why you propose that the 'dark brain energy' may somehow indicate that certain states of consciousness do not exist or are unattainable. Out of all the busy activity of the brain, only a smallish portion of brain activity is correlated with our conscious experience, so there seems to be no reason to assume that dark brain energy is preventing any type of experience.
It is theoretically possible to eliminate the 5 senses from our conscious experience, via meditation, brain trauma, technology, drugs, or perhaps luck. It is also possible to disable the linguistic narrative functions. When you do not have any sensory or linguistic stimuli/activity, would you not be in a state best characterized by the phrase 'pure awareness'? It may be the case that it is only necessary to disable the linguistic functions, leaving one with an indescribable experience (see- Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight - http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html) However, that may be another creature entirely.


Are you saying, the exact definition for 'pure awareness' is, the complete absence of any sensory or linguistic stimuli/activity? In addition, could you describe the meditation technique that eliminates the 5 senses from one's 'conscious' experience?

Thanks for your comments

I just published a paper in Biosemiotics that I think answers your question

It's at




Sean stated,
"to shift between states in a high-dimensional space."

I like the word interdimensional, because
I have a copyrighted system for stocks
and commodities called
Interdimensional Cycles, which was fully computerized
20 years ago.

It proved mankind runs on highly predictable
cycles, which run from micro to macro.

They are so accurate, that I came to
the conclusion that man is automated.
Man being a beast.

That man does not think, but rather is
being thought.

Man BELIEVES he is thinking via a thinker,
which bridges the gap with the illusion
of continuity of a permenant self.

But, in reality there is thought only,
minus the delusion of a thinker, or organizer.

A way to save energy was proposed by G. I.Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky, in The Forth Way.

It ran on energy transformations in an
extremely organized model of the energy
levels in the universe.

First thought was diminished. Second, negative emotions were eliminated.

Last sexual energy was maintained.

The scale matched the classic occult

But, they believed the astral body had to
be created. Next, the causal was created.
Third, both were blown away and what was
left was that which was already there
in full form. You might think of it
as the Boddhi Body.

They believed in eternal recurrance,
as did Nietzsche, but with a twist.

Every recurrance the more conscious a person
became, the better their next recurrance would be.

Also, Ramana Maharshi talked of a positive
power, which although not conscious to
the person, could manifest and take
the person unknowingly through the wilderness of life.

A point in consciousness, where everything
became instinctively intuitive.


I posted the zero power paper;


best for 2012



Pure Consciousness reports during Transcendental Meditation are correlated with extremely high alpha eeg coherence with virtually no gamma EEG whatsoever, so there are at least two radically different states competing for the title "pure consciousness":

Research on the physiological correlates of pure consciousness found during TM practice:
Breath suspension during the transcendental meditation technique.

Pure consciousness: distinct phenomenological and physiological correlates of "consciousness itself".

Autonomic patterns during respiratory suspensions: possible markers of Transcendental Consciousness.

Autonomic and EEG patterns during eyes-closed rest and transcendental meditation (TM) practice: the basis for a neural model of TM practice.

A self-referential default brain state: patterns of coherence, power, and eLORETA sources during eyes-closed rest and Transcendental Meditation practice.

Research on the physiological correlates of the stabilization of pure consciousness outside of meditation in long-term TM meditators:

Patterns of EEG coherence, power, and contingent negative variation characterize the integration of transcendental and waking states.

Abstract for the 2007 Conference of the American Psychological Association
Brain Integration Scale: Corroborating Language-based 
Instruments of Post-conventional Development

Research on the physiological correlates of the stabilization of pure consciousness outside of meditation in non-meditators:

Higher psycho-physiological refinement in world-class Norwegian athletes: brain measures of performance capacity

Clearly there is confusion; let's attempt a synthesis


and other papers really are too detailed and attested to ignore in their assertion of gamma's importance. However, the notion of detecting pure gamma synchrony from an EEG signal is a fantasy. I append an abstract that we'll submit somewhere as so as we've time

Here is what we think might be the case; gamma's main role is to decrease brain energy consumption at theta cycle rate. High theta lulls could indeed create synchrony at close to alpha levels - if the gamma itself is synchronized. Much depends on improving the specs of the electrodes as given in the tech papers and that should happen



I append the abstract;

The impoverished nature of the EEG/ECOG signal and putative neural quantum effects

Sean O Nuallain, CSLI, Stanford and Tom Doris, Ardrex London England

The existence of phase coherence in gamma waves in the brain, and the relation of this phenomenon to consciousness, is a point of much consensus, with only the recent work of Pockett and her colleagues contradicting it. It has been further argued that the entropically minimal state resulting from this phase coherence might yield an environment conducive to quantum coherence.

While we believe that the work of Walter Freeman indeed is indicative of entropically minimal states in the brain occurring several times a second, we believe that the EEG/ECOG signal is too coarse to indicate synchrony. Indeed, we will adduce findings from PCA , among other methods, indicating that a 64-electrode grid produces at most two signals. As for phase coherence, the stated electronic specifications of the equipment use expressly prohibit any such inference, as the error range of the equipment is too large.

In fact, we will adduce data to indicate that much of the statistical inferences in classical EEE/ECOG evince premature closure, and that this approach is certainly not ready – pace, the ORCH OR proponents – for the non-classical world.

I'm nearly three years late to the party but this is a fascinating subject and I thank you all (and google) for introducing me to it. I would love to read Sean's Zero Power paper (and any others that are public) - the link he provided requires an invite.

Along with others here, I'm struck that the DMN explains the semi-conscious "monkey mind" of buddhist psychology. In addition I was fascinated by the suggestion that we can't help wandering off into it even when we "shouldn't". Experimenters can predict forthcoming errors in conscious tasks by spotting a rise in DMN activity.

I also found it interesting that the DMN covers areas of the brain involved in remembering personal events and imagining how others are thinking. This may be vital for making working models of the world and of dealing with others skilfully, but I know from my own experience how easy it is to get caught up in neurotic ruminatory states where these models and projections are given too much weight. In which case the purpose of meditation, by activating both the extrinsic and intrinsic networks simultaneously, might be to shine the outer reality-discriminating 'eye' on our intrinsic internal world, and thereby bring some balance!

As regards 'pure awareness', I feel it's wrong to believe the senses have to be absent for this to be present. It is not 'pure' in that exclusive way - it's pure in the sense of being awareness that is purified and clear. You could say it's the part of awareness that's devoted to seeing things as they are. Hence it's said to be the essence of truth, life, and all spiritual goodness. It has no content of it's own but when it is present all things are 'tuned' and clear.


You'll find the paper if you scroll down




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