Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

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Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby coldmountain » Tue Oct 25, 2011 8:21 pm

Hi all,

I suppose this is question will not get a straightforward answer since there's probably different ways Buddhist schools of thought answer this. Also I hope this is an appropriate forum to post this is. If not feel free to relocate.

I'm having difficulty trying to conceptualize what 'mental' is as opposed to 'physical'. In the West we've inherited a very dualistic metaphysical system that sees 'mind' and 'matter' as two different types of stuff. When I read Buddhist literature, I sometimes come across ideas that seem to express a similar idea, yet I know Buddhism doesn't posit a dualism.

What is physical? What is mental? Are they independent? Could the physical exist without the mental? Is one metaphysically prior to or dependent on the other?

Thanks and peace.
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby LastLegend » Tue Oct 25, 2011 8:39 pm

Physical cannot exist without mental. Physical that we encounter now is the illusion of the mental.

Nothing exists outside of mind. So all is mind.
NAMO AMITABHA
NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby Paul » Tue Oct 25, 2011 8:59 pm

A lot of Buddhism is most definitely substance-dualism. This is definitely the Theravadin view, and arguably the sutra madhyamaka view. Tantra is different.
This nature of mind is spontaneously present.
That spontaneity I was told is the dakini aspect.
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby coldmountain » Tue Oct 25, 2011 10:17 pm

Paul wrote:A lot of Buddhism is most definitely substance-dualism. This is definitely the Theravadin view, and arguably the sutra madhyamaka view. Tantra is different.


Does this mean the same thing it does in the West? It doesn't seem likely. Theradava seems to posit many various conditions some falling under 'mental' and some 'physical'. In the modern West physical means material, and material is that which was defined by Descartes as that which is characterized by extension, geometry, quantity, and mechanical force; 'mind' by contrast is a completely independent substance. Mind and matter only appear to have something to do with each other. I'm quite certain that this is does not find consonance with the Buddhist view. It has made me suspect that I am understanding something different by 'physical' and 'mental' than what those words mean to Buddhists. It would, after all, be rather strange if they didn't mean something different, given the vastly different philosophical context in which Cartesian metaphysics were developed...
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby Acchantika » Tue Oct 25, 2011 10:41 pm

coldmountain wrote:I'm having difficulty trying to conceptualize what 'mental' is as opposed to 'physical'. In the West we've inherited a very dualistic metaphysical system that sees 'mind' and 'matter' as two different types of stuff. When I read Buddhist literature, I sometimes come across ideas that seem to express a similar idea, yet I know Buddhism doesn't posit a dualism.


In my opinion, the general answer is "all is mind".

This means either 1) that, a priori, nothing we experience is beyond experience, i.e. mind, therefore for all intensive purposes all is mind in a phenomenological and epistemological sense, 2) all is mind in a more ontological sense but different from monism as mind is not a substance and 3) both of these.

I find that all schools of Buddhist thought subscribe to at least one of these, often in a chronological way that is correlate with progressive understanding.

The idea is that the question itself comes from an assumption of experience as split into an irreducible subject that projects consciousness onto an external objective world. Therefore, the question seems meaningful.

However, the argument is that, upon investigation into the nature of experience, the object is found not to exist in a fixed way, thus effectively not exist at all, nor does the "irreducible" subject. Rather, it is "empty" of these things (subject and object). Instead then, experience is a unified reflexive continuum (i.e. dependent origination) that is neither mind nor matter. Seen in this way, the question loses meaning, because both mind and matter were inferences from a previous projected conception, neither of which can actually be found in a moment of experience. Thus the paradox remains that form is ultimately formless, hinting that concepts are not capable of apprehending the issue in a trivial sense of "all is physical" or "all is mind" or both, or neither.

This is why, in my view, it is simultaneously said, based on which school and the proclivities of who is asking, that the formless becomes form (substance dualism), appears as form (monism) and is form (non-dualism). These are, in context, not contradictory.
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby Malcolm » Tue Oct 25, 2011 10:43 pm

coldmountain wrote: yet I know Buddhism doesn't posit a dualism.

What is physical? What is mental? Are they independent? Could the physical exist without the mental? Is one metaphysically prior to or dependent on the other?

Thanks and peace.


Buddhism does posit a substance dualism until you get to Yogacara.

Physical is anything made of the four elements.

Mental is all cognitions and their associates.

No.

Matter depends on the mind, even in Abhidharma.

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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby steveb1 » Sat Oct 29, 2011 6:10 am

Treading lightly here, as I'm out of my depth :)

Does the Buddhist "all-mind" philosophy pertain in any way to Western neuro-cognitive science? Seems that the bald assertion "all is mind" or "matter is mind's effect" would immediately garner scorn from what seems increasingly to be a materialistically-conceived Western science of the mind. Not trying to be controversial, but what with all the (over?)confident assertions of Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Blackmore et. al., how is "mind only" maintained against "brain only" ... ?
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby Virgo » Sat Oct 29, 2011 7:10 am

steveb1 wrote:how is "mind only" maintained against "brain only" ... ?

Hi Steve,

Well, they are quite different. For startes, in Mind only, the brain is the production of the mind. In "brain only", if you will (:) ), the mind is a product of the brain.

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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby steveb1 » Sat Oct 29, 2011 9:37 am

Thanks, virgo. What I'm trying to get at is how Buddhism defends mind only from the findings of brain science, which suggest - via scanning and other tests - that it is a fact that the mind is purely/merely a brain product. That is, if as HH Dalai Lama says, Buddhism must embrace scientific truth, then how does Buddhism defend mind only from the apparent fact that brain causes mind?
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby Sönam » Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:19 pm

steveb1 wrote:Thanks, virgo. What I'm trying to get at is how Buddhism defends mind only from the findings of brain science, which suggest - via scanning and other tests - that it is a fact that the mind is purely/merely a brain product. That is, if as HH Dalai Lama says, Buddhism must embrace scientific truth, then how does Buddhism defend mind only from the apparent fact that brain causes mind?


We cannot say that mind is merely a brain product. What is in the brain is the storage of images having already existed, it is not the mind princip. As Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoché says, "mind is not in the head, but office of mind is in the head".

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By understanding everything you perceive from the perspective of the view, you are freed from the constraints of philosophical beliefs.
By understanding that any and all mental activity is meditation, you are freed from arbitrary divisions between formal sessions and postmeditation activity.
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby Acchantika » Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:41 pm

steveb1 wrote:That is, if as HH Dalai Lama says, Buddhism must embrace scientific truth, then how does Buddhism defend mind only from the apparent fact that brain causes mind?


The short answer: It doesn’t need to, as the evidence so far is non-contradictory.

The long answer: There is no universally accepted scientific definition of consciousness, nor agreement on whether consciousness has a specific neural correlate or is a product of the relationship of several. So, technically speaking Buddhism has not yet been given a specific theory to refute. There is no positive evidence that consciousness is solely the product of the brain, and whether this hypothesis is even falsifiable (How do we isolate a brain? Is a synthetic brain even possible? How do we know a subject is conscious? Etc.) and thus a scientific hypothesis is still debated.

Physicalism and Eliminative Materialism in relation to the philosophy of mind are philosophical positions that posit a brain emergent theory of consciousness. As schools of philosophy, these should not be confused with scientific fact, or even close to it, even though these are probably accepted by the majority of scientists and often argued by them. Nevertheless, what the consensus is even on is not obvious. Even within emergent theories of mind there is disagreement, such as whether consciousness is emergent from the bio-chemical, the informational, the quantum or higher-level, non-reductive processes.

Despite this, many of these notions only appear to be “brain-only” on a superficial inspection. For example, if we assume physicalism is valid, consciousness would not be possible by most physicalist accounts without external, non-neural stimuli. That is, consciousness is dependent on a non-conscious sensory environment even then, and hence not literally solely neural in the first place.

Aside from all this, there are other philosophical issues with equating consciousness solely to brain activity, such as the "hard problem", the non-algorithmic nature of cognition, whether a “Turing-like” test is tenable etc.

So in short, consciousness as a property of the brain alone is a complex philosophical claim that lacks definition, is not a scientific fact nor even a true hypothesis so impossible to respond to directly. Despite the fact that it is the preferred position of scientists it is still a philosophical, non-testable claim without positive evidence. I can cite any of the above claims if necessary.

As for these “over-confident” types, they are still often honest with regard to actual scientific progress:



Hope this helps, sorry for the long post, but it is a fairly complex topic that’s difficult to summarise as I am sure you know.

P.S. “All is mind” in the purely phenomenological sense is in total agreement with modern perceptual theory, throughout the cognitive sciences.
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:43 pm

If I was quite primitive and had never seen a TV and saw the image there, I would assume the TV was the sole responsible for it, right? I damage this circuit, it goes black and white; I damage this other one and it loses sound. So, I would think that those things there were the sole responsible for the information displayed and would know nothing about the invisible information that was in fact translated by the TV. The TV was in itself the source of the image, sound and so on.
Although the brain (and not only the brain but also the whole of the body) plays a very important role in the makings of our experience, as one would predict due to the theory of karma, it doesn't influence each and every level of the mind. I'd say that at the more superficial levels of the mind, it plays a major role. I'm sure people in Tibet and other places where Buddhism is common also had accidents in the head with serious consequences. So some might have suspected that the brain or the head had a role of sorts regarding the superficial levels of the mind, even knowing nothing about neural correlates. Someone like Namdrol may be able to clarify this aspect. However, practitioners can plunge deep enough in their minds to the point of remembering previous lives or even leave their body, not to speak about the insight they get about the very nature of reality. So, their experience also hinted that brain could play a role, but in itself it was not the source of consciousness.
Mind being an epiphenomena of the brain is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact. When you look at the correlates, they are all you see. You can't see or detect consciousness or any mental state directly. Trying to explain the whole of the mind through the brain is, philosophically, a dead end until they build a "consciometer" that can access mental states directly. In a nut shell, they need to solve the hard problem, as Chalmers coined it. So Buddhism doesn't need to defend itself from the findings of neurosciences, since are neurosciences which are advancing the weird assumption, that mind is physical . Mental states have no physical properties whatsoever. No mass, no charge, no spin, no dimensions etc. They are not of the same nature of their correlates (unlike heat and fire). So those claims need to be proven based on facts, not metaphysical predilections. The bigger problem, and this is what influences the general public thought "pop science", is that the scientific establishment is still greatly influenced by metaphysical naturalism. The reasons for such rest in the history of science and sociology, mostly. Then some intellectual sleights of hand are performed and there you have theories based on metaphysical assumptions being presented as if their conclusions derived directly from the data in an impersonal way that had nothing to do with faith. This is plain wrong. :smile:
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:45 pm

I agree, Acchantika. Nice post right there.
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby steveb1 » Sun Oct 30, 2011 1:48 am

I am so happy for all of your perceptive replies. This issue has vexed me, since I "know" that I am not merely a body-brain, but the current culture has rushed to embrace the "We are the brain" philosophy, so I have felt in a minority. It is nice to see that you guys have so seriously considered the matter, and have done research of your own :)
So thanks for all the input, for the video, and the sharp evaluations.

All I can say from my own POV is that to claim "We are the brain" is at base a gross category error, since plainly the brain is a thing, but I am person, i.e., the brain is some thing, whereas I am some one. To identify mind, self, personhood with a bodily organ - no matter how sophisticated its function and complex its structures - is simply to confuse two separate categories.

I just read a new book, somewhat over my head, which addresses this problem as a confluence of "Darwinitis" and "Neuromania". The book is Aping Mankind, by Raymond Tallis. The author is an atheist but not a materialist. It's quite witty and it takes Dawkins, Dennet and other materialists to task.

It always strikes me as odd that materialists look to the brain for human self-issues, all the while ignoring the central fact of Who, and What, is doing the looking ...
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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby Virgo » Sun Oct 30, 2011 5:41 am

Acchantika wrote:
steveb1 wrote:That is, if as HH Dalai Lama says, Buddhism must embrace scientific truth, then how does Buddhism defend mind only from the apparent fact that brain causes mind?


The short answer: It doesn’t need to, as the evidence so far is non-contradictory.

The long answer: There is no universally accepted scientific definition of consciousness, nor agreement on whether consciousness has a specific neural correlate or is a product of the relationship of several. So, technically speaking Buddhism has not yet been given a specific theory to refute. There is no positive evidence that consciousness is solely the product of the brain, and whether this hypothesis is even falsifiable (How do we isolate a brain? Is a synthetic brain even possible? How do we know a subject is conscious? Etc.) and thus a scientific hypothesis is still debated.

Physicalism and Eliminative Materialism in relation to the philosophy of mind are philosophical positions that posit a brain emergent theory of consciousness. As schools of philosophy, these should not be confused with scientific fact, or even close to it, even though these are probably accepted by the majority of scientists and often argued by them. Nevertheless, what the consensus is even on is not obvious. Even within emergent theories of mind there is disagreement, such as whether consciousness is emergent from the bio-chemical, the informational, the quantum or higher-level, non-reductive processes.........


I agree with Acchantikas post above. My philosophy is that the religion of science is very limited. First of all, in regards to certain things, we can't say it has any definitive answers, for when new information is found, the theories are revised and so forth. There are so many examples of this, such as quantum physics and so on.

Secondly, science, for the most part, rejects logical inference. This limits it in finding ultimate truths. In many regards it is it's strong point as well, but it leaves it strong in certain areas and weak in others.

Oh and if you think that science isn't a religion, think again. Not only is it a religion, but people miss out on many aspects of life because they are so scientific minded in their thinking. I respect modern sciences, and I am grateful for them, but I realize they are also limiting in many ways.

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Re: Buddhism and the relation between mental and physical

Postby steveb1 » Sun Oct 30, 2011 6:44 am

Thanks, virgo/kevin :)

Yeah, seems there's the data on the one hand ... and the interpretation(s) on the other. Sometimes the interpretations are "scientistic", which I think conforms to your "science as religion" category ...
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