By defining nonduality as that which is known when attention is able to rest on awareness apart from conceptual objects, we basically pull it away from its native ideological habitat, i.e., a spiritual culture primarily informed by superstition. In doing so, it becomes a neuropsychological problem; how to fix attention on awareness apart from conceptual objects. But making it so doesn’t necessitate withdrawing from spiritual culture right away, as while perhaps being a large part of the problem for seekers of nonduality (by way of the folk theory of enlightenment), spiritual culture has also provided a few solutions which definitely seem to have been helpful.
These then must also fall into the neuropsychology chute: meditation, self-enquiry, mindfulness, and the other metacognitive strategies which have been taught within the bounds of various nonduality traditions. Fortunately, the cognitive science of meditation and metacognition is a very hot field, and much of what they’re finding mirrors what has been suggested by the traditions they arose within. That’s all well and good. However, there is an additional problem that’s yet to be well-investigated. We may be learning a lot about what meditation and metacognition look like in the brain under an fMRI scanner, and what they can provide for its practitioners in terms of their own feelings of happiness and well-being, but we know nothing about what happens in the brain when attention is able to rest on awareness apart from conceptual objects. And here lies the conundrum, for the first time attention finds a way to recognize awareness apart from conceptual objects, it’s almost always reported to be a spontaneous occurrence, aka, an act of grace, which throws us right back into the purview of spiritual culture.
That is, at least until we can get a handle on what an awareness of awareness without conceptual objects looks like in the brain. I believe this can be done with a fairly simple experiment done in an fMRI scanner. You’d have three groups: non-meditating controls, experienced meditators who do not report nondual realization, and a group of folks who do report nondual realization. Once they are being scanned, you ask them to consider the notion of nondual realization. The controls and non-reporting meditators will have to invoke imagination, while the realizer group should be able to simply allow their attention to rest on awareness apart from conceptual objects. I’m no neuroscientist, but I’m quite sure this is going to look completely different than what might be seen in the other two groups.
While the information gleaned from such a study won’t necessarily solve the grace conundrum, it is likely to reveal some of the parts of the brain which are, and perhaps more importantly, which are not involved when attention comes to rest on awareness apart from conceptual objects. By noting the differences between the not- and reporting groups, we may be able to infer what has been changed in the brain by that spontaneous moment when attention first comes to rest on awareness apart from objects. Only then can the philosophy of nonduality finally begin to shake its overwhelmingly superstitious origination and come to be regarded as a fact of normal everyday human experience.