Evan Thompson: Buddhism and the brain
Here is an interview with Thompson on Buddhism and the Brain. It starts with defining consciousness as awareness, its changing contents and how both then identify as a self in changing contexts. “Consciousness is something we live, not something we have.”
I also like using the metaphor of dance for the process of self. Both are in the enaction of the process, not a thing apart from that process.
He also goes into how mindfulness in our culture has turned into McMindfulness, how we might learn to pay attention non-judgmentally but then fail to judge how the work we do might be harming others and the environment. It’s taken out of context with the entire Buddhist ethical framework.
There’s more in the interview with an embedded link to the full interview.
I appreciate his insight about the inextricable link between consciousness and the body, “When you look for consciousness it never shows up apart from some context of the body. At the same time, the body always shows up in our field of awareness.” His following statement resonates, “Mindfulness is always an ethical notion.” He goes on to say “I’m very concerned with what I would call a decontextualized — or maybe the proper word would be recontextualized — consumerist notion of mindfulness, where mindfulness is about paying attention non-judgmentally in the present moment. That gets framed in terms of paying… Read more »
Traditionally they engage in vigorous debates between the different schools and factions, challenging each other and themselves. Having engaged in those debates I’ve found that more often than not everyone ends up defending their own dogma. But occasionally a few rare individuals break through. That’s one reason I like Thompson, being part of that tradition but also taking it to new heights using science and other domains. Stephen Batchelor is another one, although not so much from a scientific standpoint.
One of my favorite Buddhist practitioner/scholars is Sonam Thakchoe. See his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries for the theory of two truths in Tibet and the theory of two truths in India. He has also written a book called The Two Truths Debate, available at b-ok.org. If you download it from that site, use the pdf download on the search page. Do not click on the title or it will re-direct you to another site. As always, scan any download before opening.
This article clearly highlights a lively debate across philosophical schools of thought. The article also brings up numerous questions for me. Below are a few. In his Clearing Dhamchoe’s Doubts (Dam chos dogs sel), Mipham says that: “Reality as it is (de bzhin nyid) is established as ultimately real (bden par grub pa). Conventional entities are actually established as unreal, they are subject to deception. Being devoid of such characteristics ultimate is characterized as real, not unreal and not non-deceptive. If this [reality] does not exist,” in Mipham’s view, “than it would be impossible even for the noble beings (ārya… Read more »
Great questions. For now I’ll only answer briefly that I agree with you on most of these points. And they mostly seemed directed at the Nyingma school (via Mipham), which is more in agreement with Gorampa’s side in the debate with Tsongkhapa. I have long argued on Tsongkhapa’s side against Gorampa and his ilk. Not that I agree with all of it, but it isn’t as likely to fall prey to the valid criticisms you figured out for Nyingma. We can talk more about it in person. PS: Thompson also strongly favors Tsongkhapa in this debate. He discusses this briefly… Read more »
Excellent video. The self as a process resonates. Self being a process aligns well with consciousness being a process and awakening being a process. Summarizing one slide in the video, the enactive theory takes into account the self process enacting through social cognition, language, rooted in the life of the body and immersed in the environment. Enactivism takes into account the complexities influencing the process of self. Ignoring the complexities and reducing self down to the brain creates an illusion of self is a curious notion (neuroreductionism). It makes me wonder about the difference in peoples life experiences, home and… Read more »
The video below is Evan Thompson challenging an article in Scientific American that reduces mindfulness down to regions in the brain. He argues from the perspective of embodied cognitive science. During the Q&A someone asks what the Scientific American author’s response was when Evan questioned their article. Evidently Scientific American pressured them to present the data in a particular way.
Wrong link above. The one above is George Lakoff on embodied cognition and language. The correct one is below.
Weird. I pasted the link to a new tab and it was correct. I paste it to a comment and it is the George Lakoff link. Not sure how to remedy this one.
This may solve the problem. I used the share link rather than copying it from the URL.
Yes, I’m familiar with the Thompson video you reference.
Also a lot of this information is in a discussion thread on Stephen Batchelor I started at the following link. He calls himself a Buddhist atheist and has tried to eliminate much of the metaphysical beliefs from Buddhism. It’s a 10-page read but very dense with information.
Here’s a funny satire on how to become a Buddhist.
That guy is hilarious! I couldn’t stop laughing.