Neurological science and buddhism

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Neurological science and buddhism

Postby Aemilius » Sat Sep 22, 2012 11:24 am

Consciousness arises dependent on the six senses and their respective sense objects. Consciousness is a series of momentary consciousnesses and it has no independent existence.
This the standard buddhist teaching. But it does not mean that buddhism has the same view as that of neurological science of perception. In Buddhism we have different extra sensory perceptions, that are not accepted by neurological science.
This means for example six abhijña and three vidya:
1.Divine vision
2.Divine hearing
3.Discerning the mind and thoughts of others
4.Seeing the previous lives (of oneself and others)
5.Miraculous powers
6.Knowledge of the destruction of mental defilements
Mahayana teaches that the fifth one includes 18 different miraculous abilities, (they are explained in Har Dayal's Bodhisattva Doctrine in Sanskrit Buddhist Literature).
Neurological science has no explantion for the extrasensory powers of mind. In buddhism there are some explanations of how they exist in the human body, mostly in the esoteric teachings. Often it is said that they are not important or essential for the Dharma, but they are essential and vital to distinguish Dharma from the materialistic view of existence.
The teaching of eighteen dhatus (eye, form, visual consciousness, etc...) is similar to the neurological view of perception. Knowing the neurological basis of perception is most helpful for meditation and for understaning the Dharma.
The existence of the six supernormal powers and the three knowledges in Sravakayana and the Mahayana teachings means that tantric or esoteric knowledge has existed from the start in Buddhism.
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby steveb1 » Mon Sep 24, 2012 9:20 am

Aemilius wrote:Consciousness arises dependent on the six senses and their respective sense objects. Consciousness is a series of momentary consciousnesses and it has no independent existence.
This the standard buddhist teaching. But it does not mean that buddhism has the same view as that of neurological science of perception. In Buddhism we have different extra sensory perceptions, that are not accepted by neurological science.
This means for example six abhijña and three vidya:

... [snipped] ...
Mahayana teaches that the fifth one includes 18 different miraculous abilities, (they are explained in Har Dayal's Bodhisattva Doctrine in Sanskrit Buddhist Literature).

... [snips] ...

Neurological science has no explantion for the extrasensory powers of mind. In buddhism there are some explanations he existence of the six supernormal powers and the three knowledges in Sravakayana and the Mahayana teachings means that tantric or esoteric knowledge has existed from the start in Buddhism.


Your post raises interesting questions.

On the one hand, you say that the special mental states "are essential and vital to distinguish Dharma from the materialistic view of existence". But on the other hand, you say:

"Consciousness arises dependent on the six senses and their respective sense objects. Consciousness is a series of momentary consciousnesses and it has no independent existence."

My question is: How does your second statement above differ from the claims of neuroscience?

I.e., if in Buddhism, matter - its forms, processes, functions - is our ultimate creator, the creator of the mind, which we recognize as our most precious tool in any secular or spiritual endeavor - then we have a view that is essentially identical to materialism. Since materialism's and Buddhism's basic mental principle is that consciousness depends upon and arises from matter, then my next question is: What difference would it make if science on some future date recognizes Buddhism's "special" powers? It seems to me that if both secular neuroscience and spiritual Buddhism pay homage to matter as consciousness's First Cause, then, too, the "special" powers must also in principle derive from matter. Granted, they may be counterintuitive based on how we think that matter behaves, relative to our current information. But - if matter really is the final arbiter of mind - then ESP and the rest of the supramundane states are fore-ordained to be viewed as mere "special effects" of matter.

Therefore could you please explain how the "Matter Causes Mind" theory, since - if I am reading you correctly - it is shared by both neuroscience and Buddhism, can at the same "distinguish" Buddhism from materialism.

Not trolling, I'd really like to know, since these matters are always on my mind.

Thank you :)
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby Astus » Mon Sep 24, 2012 10:27 am

I've never seen any Buddhist teaching that agrees with materialism/physicalism, and those few teachers who do appeared only recently. It's little to do with magical abilities, however.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby steveb1 » Mon Sep 24, 2012 5:29 pm

Astus wrote:I've never seen any Buddhist teaching that agrees with materialism/physicalism, and those few teachers who do appeared only recently. It's little to do with magical abilities, however.


Intuitively and experientially I tend to agree with Buddhism and other non-physicalist systems. However, in view of the torrentail gush of current scientific opinion, this is an increasingly tough row to hoe. Most neuroscientists who make public statements exhibit an exuberance and (over?)confidence that is occasionally marvelous to behold. However, I can't bend my mind around a few simple considerations, namely the category difference between brain and mind ("the brain is some thing, the person is some one"); the psyche, as Jung described it is "the sine qua non of all our experience"; and the "Hard Problem" in general.

I suppose the central question to Buddhism and other non-materialist systems is: "If consciousness does not arise from neural processes, then what exactly is the role of such processes, what is the role of the brain?" Is there anything in Buddhism that addresses the obviously profound connection between mental phenomena and neural events ... ?
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby undefineable » Mon Sep 24, 2012 9:59 pm

steveb1 wrote:I suppose the central question to Buddhism and other non-materialist systems is: "If consciousness does not arise from neural processes, then what exactly is the role of such processes, what is the role of the brain?" Is there anything in Buddhism that addresses the obviously profound connection between mental phenomena and neural events ... ?


Er, the effects of past karma?
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby Aemilius » Tue Sep 25, 2012 9:13 am

steveb1 wrote:Your post raises interesting questions.
On the one hand, you say that the special mental states "are essential and vital to distinguish Dharma from the materialistic view of existence". But on the other hand, you say:
"Consciousness arises dependent on the six senses and their respective sense objects. Consciousness is a series of momentary consciousnesses and it has no independent existence."
My question is: How does your second statement above differ from the claims of neuroscience?
I.e., if in Buddhism, matter - its forms, processes, functions - is our ultimate creator, the creator of the mind, which we recognize as our most precious tool in any secular or spiritual endeavor - then we have a view that is essentially identical to materialism. Since materialism's and Buddhism's basic mental principle is that consciousness depends upon and arises from matter, then my next question is: What difference would it make if science on some future date recognizes Buddhism's "special" powers? It seems to me that if both secular neuroscience and spiritual Buddhism pay homage to matter as consciousness's First Cause, then, too, the "special" powers must also in principle derive from matter. Granted, they may be counterintuitive based on how we think that matter behaves, relative to our current information. But - if matter really is the final arbiter of mind - then ESP and the rest of the supramundane states are fore-ordained to be viewed as mere "special effects" of matter.
Therefore could you please explain how the "Matter Causes Mind" theory, since - if I am reading you correctly - it is shared by both neuroscience and Buddhism, can at the same "distinguish" Buddhism from materialism.

Thank you :)


The teaching that I quoted is given by Nagarjuna in Mula-madhyamaka-karika and by Vasubandhu in his shorter works. Nagarjuna in many ways denies the apriori existence of matter. Matter has no independent existence in madhyamaka buddhism, it certainly isn't a cause for mind and mental states. Their point is that neither has mind an independent existence.
I would think there is something about ESP in the Abhidharma, because it is an ancient teaching that explains everything. I know there is something about the ESP in the teachings of the subtle body, which falls in the category of tantra.
One point is: can we experientally prove that matter has no independent existence? Vasubandhu gives several metaphorical explanations why matter has no real existence outside of the perceiving mind. These examples may not convince the modern reader, it needs updating. There are some experiental psychological studies about how what we perceive is a product of our own mind.
The 'First cause' in Buddhism is explained in the Pratitya Samutpada as avidya/unconsciousness/lack of awareness/primal unknowing/, from it arise volitions, from which arise consciousness, from it arises name-and-form, etc... Here matter appears in the phase Name and Form.
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby Astus » Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:24 am

steveb1 wrote:I suppose the central question to Buddhism and other non-materialist systems is: "If consciousness does not arise from neural processes, then what exactly is the role of such processes, what is the role of the brain?" Is there anything in Buddhism that addresses the obviously profound connection between mental phenomena and neural events ... ?


The debate exists if the problem is the classical issue of mind and body. Buddhism does not have such a duality. On one hand, it is one of the unanswered questions. On the other, they are not answered because they have incorrect presuppositions of existence and non-existence. The Buddha taught the five aggregates as the middle view. In modern terms, it is a phenomenological approach.

Aemilius wrote:The teaching that I quoted is given by Nagarjuna in Mula-madhyamaka-karika and by Vasubandhu in his shorter works. Nagarjuna in many ways denies the apriori existence of matter. Matter has no independent existence in madhyamaka buddhism, it certainly isn't a cause for mind and mental states. Their point is that neither has mind an independent existence.


Nagarjuna invalidates the independent existence of all phenomena, it does not prove any non-material existence of mind. Vasubandhu teaches mind-only, but since it's very much philosophical, his proof is relevant only for Buddhists. For instance, Vasubandhu uses magic as an argument at one point. It's hardly persuasive today.

The problem with supernatural abilities generally, is that even in Buddhism they are not sufficiently explained, but simply taken for granted. There is no reasoning how one person could read another's mind, or hear distant events, or fly in the sky. To explain it, that would need getting into the laws of physics, a topic that Buddhism does not really involve itself. And even on the level of Abhidharma, no detailed mechanism for superpowers either.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 25, 2012 3:13 pm

steveb1 wrote:I suppose the central question to Buddhism and other non-materialist systems is: "If consciousness does not arise from neural processes, then what exactly is the role of such processes, what is the role of the brain?" Is there anything in Buddhism that addresses the obviously profound connection between mental phenomena and neural events ... ?


What you are saying here is dependent on materialist assumptions which need not be accepted by Buddhists.

Clearly if the brain is damaged the individual in question will change as a result in various ways. Certain senses may malfunction or be altogether lost. This cannot be denied.

However, that does not necessitate that the brain produces consciousness, but could just as well be the physical receiver for it as some have suggested in the past. This isn't really an issue for Buddhism though.

The process of seeing has the eye as the faculty, though traditionally the mental consciousness is said to have no immediate basis in the body (the tactile faculty is associated with the body). The mental faculty (manêndriya) could very well have the brain as its basis, though that is just an aspect of the mind and in particular thought or reasoning associated with symbols/marks/dharmas, and not the totality of the mind.

The mind is composed of four aggregates, with rupa being often defined as matter and being physical, though this is problematic because it dissolves into the four elements which are associated with mere perceptions and nothing more substantial than that. The mind-matter dualism I don't think was historically relevant to many Buddhist thinkers.

In the absence of any strict mind-matter duality it isn't really a problem to suggest the brain acts as a faculty basis for the faculty of thought. Again, rupa includes the four great elements of wind, fire, earth and water, which likewise dissolve into movement, warmth, firmness and moistness. Rupa in itself is not a basis or foundation upon which the rest of the aggregates are built upon. In reality rupa is a result of karma. Our universe is the collective result of all beings' actions.

From that perspective we slide into a more "idealistic" paradigm, though "idealistic" is a western label that might not be so applicable. If matter and subsequently the brain arise from past volitional action (karma), then the brain is just a perception in our collective reality which like any other matter or energy dissolves under analysis. If the brain is damaged this is indeed perceived by both the victim and observers, though it is the ripening of karma perceived in a neat narrative of damaged organ resulting in damaged faculties and all the subsequent changes that occur without regard for all the innumerable causes and conditions behind it. One could look at the analysis a bit further and see karmic ripening at work when someone suffers a brain injury, though that model of causality is not so tangible for most people. It is easier to just witness a damaged faculty resulting in damaged senses or malfunctioning mental processes, though there is much more behind the occurrence.

This is of course a radically different perspective from what modernity generally believes, where matter takes primacy and such a materialist explanatory apparatus is employed to interpret phenomena, both "objective" and "subjective", meaning the brain is assumed to exist as is and definitely.

Again, if any strict mind-matter duality is set aside, the brain and all the other faculties are just a result of old karma and merely perceptions in our mind-streams. If you give primacy to matter this makes no sense, but if you give equal primacy to all other realms of experience then it isn't fallacious at all. There is perception of matter constituting organs like the brain or heart, but what is the ultimate quality of that matter?

In any case, if Stevenson and Tucker's research on children with past life memories is accurate, the theory of the brain producing consciousness and agency can be discarded. If consciousness can transit from one person to another then such a theory can be dismissed. The problem is reproducing past life memories scientifically, which is probably not possible, though nevertheless there is overwhelming well-documented evidence suggestive of the phenomena, to say nothing of metaphysical approaches to the subject.

The other issue with asserting that matter produces consciousness is a question of emergentism versus panpsychism.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergentism

In short, it begs the question at what point does consciousness arise from matter? Why does consciousness only arise in certain combinations of matter? Or does all matter inherently contain the quality of primitive consciousness (if that's true you get panpsychism)?
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 25, 2012 3:52 pm

Aemilius wrote:The teaching that I quoted is given by Nagarjuna in Mula-madhyamaka-karika and by Vasubandhu in his shorter works. Nagarjuna in many ways denies the apriori existence of matter. Matter has no independent existence in madhyamaka buddhism, it certainly isn't a cause for mind and mental states. Their point is that neither has mind an independent existence.

...

can we experientally prove that matter has no independent existence? Vasubandhu gives several metaphorical explanations why matter has no real existence outside of the perceiving mind. These examples may not convince the modern reader, it needs updating. There are some experiental psychological studies about how what we perceive is a product of our own mind.



We in modern times generally have a bias towards the primacy of matter given it is the default state sanctioned belief system of our time. It is what they teach in schools and what most governments officially endorse. It is hard to step outside that box (or at least it was for me).

If you gave the same amount of primacy to all other aspects of human experience (all sensations, feelings, pattern recognitions, qi/prāṇa, mystical experiences) as you did to physical experience, then matter is nothing special. It has its place in conventional reality, but is not the basis of it and dissolves just as readily as mental phenomena. Matter (rupa) is prajñapti-sat, meaning it has imputed existence. It is ultimately just a perception.

For Nāgārjuna like most pre-modern Buddhists the idea of negating any inherent quality of matter was quite easy, though maybe this is not so readily accepted by modern people soaked in materialist ideas that we need to pay service to in our discussions.

There are some experiental psychological studies about how what we perceive is a product of our own mind.


I've heard this is the case in quantum physics where the presence of an observer affects the outcome of experiments in profound ways, like with the double-slit experiment.

Here's the simplified explanation:



Something more substantial though not terribly complicated:

http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/21st_centu ... lec13.html

This renders objective reality at least at the microscopic level not as substantial as we would normally believe and/or perceive. On a much more complex level the existence of an agent might be discovered one day as the catalyst for all observed phenomena. I'm just speculating about that, though in Buddhist terms such an agent would likewise dissolve under analysis and not prove problematic.


The 'First cause' in Buddhism is explained in the Pratitya Samutpada as avidya/unconsciousness/lack of awareness/primal unknowing/, from it arise volitions, from which arise consciousness, from it arises name-and-form, etc... Here matter appears in the phase Name and Form.


As I'm sure you're aware, there is no first cause in Buddhist thought because that would violate causality. All things arise due to causes which themselves arise due to innumerably more causes. Reality is effectively groundless.
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby steveb1 » Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:02 pm

Astus wrote:
steveb1 wrote:I suppose the central question to Buddhism and other non-materialist systems is: "If consciousness does not arise from neural processes, then what exactly is the role of such processes, what is the role of the brain?" Is there anything in Buddhism that addresses the obviously profound connection between mental phenomena and neural events ... ?


[snipped]


The debate exists if the problem is the classical issue of mind and body. Buddhism does not have such a duality. On one hand, it is one of the unanswered questions. On the other, they are not answered because they have incorrect presuppositions of existence and non-existence. The Buddha taught the five aggregates as the middle view. In modern terms, it is a phenomenological approach.



Thanks for your reply, Astus :)
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby steveb1 » Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:05 pm

Huseng wrote:
steveb1 wrote:I suppose the central question to Buddhism and other non-materialist systems is: "If consciousness does not arise from neural processes, then what exactly is the role of such processes, what is the role of the brain?" Is there anything in Buddhism that addresses the obviously profound connection between mental phenomena and neural events ... ?


What you are saying here is dependent on materialist assumptions which need not be accepted by Buddhists.

Clearly if the brain is damaged the individual in question will change as a result in various ways. Certain senses may malfunction or be altogether lost. This cannot be denied.

However, that does not necessitate that the brain produces consciousness, but could just as well be the physical receiver for it as some have suggested in the past. This isn't really an issue for Buddhism though.

[snipped]



Huseng, thanks for your lengthy and thoughtful reply :)
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby Aemilius » Wed Sep 26, 2012 11:17 am

What I meant with "experimental psychology in relation to perception-only" is research found under title gestalt psychology. It still exists, although it has been under huge attack. It has many interesting points in relation to mind-only. Basically it means that human mind contains whole gestalts of different things. It interprets the incoming perceptions with the help of its collection of readymade gestalts, and it then perceives these gestalts:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestalt_psychology
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Re: Neurological science and buddhism

Postby Aemilius » Thu Sep 27, 2012 12:29 pm

There is no beginning to samsara, as the Great Muni has said. Yet there is no other cause beyond avidya/ignorance. That is why there is the end of ignorance, that causes the cessation of the wheel of samsara. Otherwise there would be no cessation, no nirvana, if avidya were not the primary cause of samsara.
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