May 30, 2014

Buddhism and Modern Science taught by Robert Wright Princeton University

 Jennifer Curry’s Final Assignment Paper for Buddhism and Modern Science class with Robert Wright Princeton University. For our finally assignment we were given specific questions to base our paper on. We had several choices we could choose from. So do not think this is a complete assignment on how Modern Science supports or does not support Buddhism. As you read the question become apparent as is shown in the statement below

Modern Science does support Western Buddhist ideas about the human predicament and the mind.

In the Buddhist teachings there are central elements that lend itself directly to the scientific method of solving problems. The Who, What, Why, Where and When and medical approach to Diagnosis and treatment. The “Four Noble Truths” are the central elements and main thesis  that parallels with science in regard to the human predicament The first two noble truths is the diagnosis. The first truth is  that life is dukkha or difficult. The second is " the causes of this difficulty. These causes relate to attachments and cravings to things that are inherently dissatisfying because the nature of impermanence. The third and fourth are the treatment or cure. The third noble truth states that it is possible to be liberated from the difficulties and then the fourth gives us the means in how to go about obtaining the cure; by following the eightfold path.The eightfold path is divided into three spiritual trainings, living a compassionate life of virtue (ethics), wisdom and meditation practice also referred to as “The Way of Liberation and Enlightenment.” The belief and statement of psychologist, William James; was that there is; an underlying order to things in the universe and if we align ourselves to that order harmoniously we will experience the truth. Both buddhism and science deal with pleasant, neutral and unpleasant feelings. Western Buddhism and Darwinian and Freudian science has helped us to navigate our feelings by understanding how they originated and evolved in a different environment than what we previously lived in. Although, Freudian theory gives to much credit to a self that later turns out to be proven to be undefinable. The way we benefit from buddhist practice becomes evident when our practice is focused on mindfulness and investigating the reliability or trustworthiness of those feelings. Being mindful can change our relationship to our feelings that may have govern our action in the past and may no longer influence us in the same way.  Evolutionary psychology; The "Approach and Avoidance" theory support the ideal that we have evolved to favor pleasurable feelings for our survival.  Like Buddhism, Science has investigated, how the present environment differs from the one that our feelings originated from. Our nervous systems have evolved so that when we encounter a presumed threat the "flight or fight" response is activated. It is only through our ability of cognitive reasoning or mindfulness that we are able to discern whether it is an appropriate response for the particular situation. Buddhism and Modern science addressed the issues of why people suffer, experience anxiety, sadness, why people act unkindly in various situations. They  address the issues of how the mind deceives us about reality and why we must be skeptical of our feelings which influence our thoughts and behavior. Science goes onto say that our minds are designed to see what are literal illusions. The split Brain studies is another study that concluded that the conscious self can create and believe, untrue stories about a person's actual motivations and is capable of greatly overestimating how much influence it has over behavior. The scientific experiments performed with ambiguous drawings indicated that “false positives are more frequently experienced than really exist and was necessary for the human species to evolve and survive.  Depending on other stimuli introduced before showing the ambiguous drawings , for example scary music to subjects  would determine their perceptions and what version of the object they selected. The objects represented was a squirrel/alligator, rope/snake, and a pan/ax. If participates listened to scary music they would see the drawing as an alligator rather than the squirrel and if they were expose to more friendlier  stimuli they would chose the object that was less threatening. In Western Buddhism the practice and study of the mind is the main thesis. One practice is to increase compassion and to clarify what shapes our perceptions is the mind training practice of “Lojong Teachings” this is on awakening compassion and fearlessness. 

In the Discourses on the "Self" by Buddha, he discussed the five aggregates as not containing a self. Modern Science's "Modular view of the mind", also asked us to think about what is, this thing, we call self, and how much control does it really exert over our behavior? First, it is important to define what we mean by self and non-self and in which context it is discussed. In order for a self to exist there must be two aspects present.  They are;  something that persist through time associated with having control. Buddha pointed out that these two things were not present in the five aggregates that makes up what we think of as being human.The Modular view of the self as shared by psychologist Robert Kurzban, the self is more like a public relation broadcaster and one does not have conscious access to the decision we make. Depending upon which modular is activated will determine the decisions.Sometime multiple modulars will respond to problem solving and that is where the complexity comes in. His modular view of the mind does not include a self as we ordinarily conceive a self to be, or unitarian self.

In Paul Havey book, "Selfless Minds", his main conclusions is that the self is not able to be identified through intellectual analysis or a thing to be thought about but rather to experience through meditation. We can say the same thing in our approach to emptiness. It is only by allowing the mind to relax and open that we may achieve the experience of self and emptiness that we so desperately try to explain and are unable to do.     Jennifer Curry

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