[Buddha-l] Article: The Death of the Scientific Buddha
vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 3 06:13:15 MDT 2012
You may have won the prize for the largest number of factual errors in a
short buddha-l post ever -- a truly remarkable achievement considering the
> I'm surprised that Dan, who claims to have some expertise in the field of
> phenomenology, still has these old New Age thoughts about science and
> spirituality (whatever that may be).
That's the first time anyone anywhere has accused me of anything new-agey.
Your earlier post showed some confusion about science and scientism, and
that has now leaked over into strawman rhetoric. As for phenomenology...
>Not only Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty have written convincingly
>about the differences between a scientific and a philosophical discourse,
You seem to be under the sway of new-age dichotomies, Erik. Husserl's last
major work was titled _The Crisis of European Sciences_, in which his
intention was to provide a surer epistemological to science, not to claim
philosophical or methodological distance from science. Merleau-Ponty,
already in Phenomenology of Perception, incorporated many scientific studies
on perception, psychology, etc. into his phenomenology, taking them as
serious data for philosophical thinking long before many other
"philosophers" in the 20th c. (and apparently there are still some European
holdouts in the 21st). Oh the other hand, Heidegger, to the delight of
new-agey magical-mumbo-jumbo thinking folks, did draw a sharp line between
what he considered philosophy (but some others wouldn't) and "science,"
which, esp. as "technology," he feared and condemned. Don't reduce
phenomenology to Heidegger. Reductionism (pace Richard) *is* a fallacy (esp.
when it pretends it is not being reductionistic).
>ut also living philosophers as Bruno Latour and those of the new
>phenomenological movement make clear that causal explanations don't tell us
>anything about what it means to be human.
That's because they are under new-agey influence (it's easy and fun to
denigrate everything to be dismissed as "new-agey"). And NOT Buddhists. For
Buddhists, the ONLY explanation that carries any weight is a causal one.
Now it is the case that philosophy at the beginning of the 20th c made a
major turn, casting aside age-old requisite notions like causality and
certainty in favor of "description" and "probabilities", and so on. Husserl,
in particular, sought to develop expositions that avoided recourse to
causality (for instance, when investigating what in a daydream or fantasy
allows the images to appear in such a way that one knows they are not real)
because appeals to causal explanations tended to reiterate and reify
metaphysical presuppositions rather than shed phenomenological light; but he
did not consider causal understandings a priori illegitimate or something
not worthwhile pursuing under other circumstances. His willingness to
"bracket" causal explanations is one of the major differences between the
Husserlian and Buddhist approaches (which otherwise -- esp. from Asanga to
Dharmakirti -- have incredibly rich and evocative resonances and parallels).
>The Mind and Life circle is a group of friends who still have the same New
>Age thoughts as Dan, but no clue what philosophy is about.
Ok, so your strawman has an address, but it's not mine. I never heard of
these people, so don't know whether you are characterizing them accurately
or not. Everything else in your post opens the strong possibility that you
are not. But if you are, then address your grievances to them, and stop
confusing us with them.
>They still think that Descartes introduced dualism in a happy world being
>the culprit who in 1650 spoiled life for all of us and that the Dalai Lama
>has to rescue us. The Dalai Lama on the other hand thinks that if you learn
>Tibetan monks quantum physics they will understand what's going on in the
Silly cartoon, which, like some cartoons, resembles real life but in a
drastically reduced and myopic way. Cartesian dualism is what it is -- it
has become entrenched and has led to many wonderful and good things, while
posing problems elsewhere (doesn't everything?). Its entrenchment is a
problem, but certainly not the only one facing humans today. Eliminating it
won't solve all problems. That HHDL would like to bring Tibetan culture and
thought out of the dark middle ages is to be lauded, not sneered at.
As for the idea that science can't tell us much about meditation, only
actual meditators can (a methodological strawman since most scientific
studies focus on meditators), this too is false. Practitioners of Yoga sutra
styled meditation call their practice samadhi (as do Buddhists) and describe
the hightest achievement kaivalya, which could be translated as "isolation."
Everything becomes non-other than the self (cosmic reductionism, or
expansionism, as you wish). Do these Hindu practitioners develop and
cultivate the same "state" as, for instance, Zen meditators? Ask the
practitioners themselves and they will answer either from a sectarian basis
("No, the others achieve a different state, inferior to ours in some way"),
a theosophical basis ("Yes, all paths lead to the same reality"), or an
acknowledged limitation ("I don't know, since I don't do *their*
meditation"). Even if someone samples from a fuller spectrum of the
spiritual supermarket, the seeming similarities and differences one or
another practitioner experiences with different techniques have no more than
subjective, anecdotal weight, and may indeed be heavily influenced by that
person's background, current stage of development, etc. So the question,
while leading to an interesting conundrum of plausible (predictable) but
contradictory responses, can have one chasing one's tail like a cat instead
of finding an answer.
Enter science. That question was asked half a century ago by scientists with
their newest tools, to wit: eeg, which measures and records brain waves.
Strapping measuring devices on meditators in India and Japan they found not
only answers to that question, but confirmed some previously intriguing
claims (i.e., they can now be considered fact, not merely weak-minded
gullibility). A hindu meditator, following the Yoga sutra techniques, enters
kaivalya. Eeg becomes very stable. Any outside distraction is not only
ignored, it is not experienced. When a pin or other sharp device pierces the
skin, the meditator is not "pretending" to not feel it; nothing whatever
shows in the eeg, indicating they literally don't feel it. That is real
With zen monks, on the other hand, an entirely different phenomena takes
place. Normally humans habituate, which means any stimuli that is constant
(a single color, a constant sound, etc.) will fade from one's attention.
While most of us are unaware of this, our eye makes rapid tiny movements, a
thousand or more a second, because of habituation, since, if our eye didn't
move and nothing changed in the visual sphere, the world would disappear
from sight until something moved or changed. Scientists devised a light that
could focus on a small portion of the back of the eye, stimulating a limited
number of rods and cones on the retina, with the beam designed to move with
the eye's movements, so it would continually strike the same rods and cones
directly. When first shining it is clearly in the visual sphere; the light
disappears from view after about 45 seconds, which is the average time (we
now know, thanks to science) for habituation to take over. Most of us are
more aware of sonic habituation. A constantly clicking clock, that we "tune
out" after a short while (roughly 45 seconds); or a loud refrigerator or
air-conditioner, etc., that we didn't "notice" until it suddenly shuts off.
What eeg-s show is that habituation is not simply a psychological process of
"not noticing," but a physiological one in which the constant stimuli
declines gradually (the eeg waves get smaller) until they fail to register
In the case of the zen monks, a clicking clock was placed in the room while
they did zazen. Its initial clicks registered in their eeg waves. Normal
habituation would have shown declining waves and after 45 secs. or so, no
registering reaction to clicks at all. What eegs of the zen meditators
actually showed was different. Their eeg waves never declined. Even after 45
secs., even after several minutes, their eegs registered a wave reaction as
large as the first, in every way equivalent to the first time they heard it.
In other words, they were NOT habituating to it, but hearing it fully as if
for the first time, each time. New-agey types like Erik will call that being
in the moment. We usually habituate because constant attention to the same
is (1) annoying and (2) distracting from other, more important tasks to
which one can turn one's attention. The eeg-s also showed that the zen
meditators did not become aggrevated or annoyed by the clicking. They heard
it and let it go. Did it distract them from other things they might be
considering during zazen? That you would have to ask them.
Even if one could have solicited explanations from the hindu and zen
practitioners about their meditation, the stark contrast, and the degree to
which their claims were justified would not have been as clearly established
as by these simple scientific experiments, reported long ago by the same
Charles Tart recently mentioned by Franz.
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