irst Person Perspective

I've already blogged about Thomas Metzinger a couple of times. In this post I want to write about another of his ideas. His book The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self opens with the words "In this book, I will try to convince you that there is no such thing as a self" and as Buddhists we may immediately feel that this is familiar ground. However Metzinger is not a Buddhist, and sums up the Buddha as a pessimist who posited, "essentially, that life is not worth living". (Ego Tunnel, p.199) Of course I disagree with this summation - the Buddha wasn't a pessimist, and did not say this, although he did place limits on what kind of life is worth living. In this post I want to look not at Metzinger's book, but at a talk he gave in 2005 as part of the Foerster Lectures on the Immortality of the Soul, (available on YouTube) entitled "Being No One" (also the title of a book) which explores the idea of a first person perspective. Metzinger says that for there to be a first person perspective we need three 'target properties' 1. mineness - a sense of ownership, particularly over the body. 2. selfhood - the sense that "I am someone", and continuity through time. 3. centredness - the sense that "I am the centre of my own subjective self". I'm not sure where he got these criteria, but after working on the Alagaddūpama Sutta recently I am struck by a parallel. Selfhood in the Pāli texts is often summarised in the phrase: etaṃ mama, eso'haṃasmi, eso me attā. this is mine, I am this, this is my self.

I suggest that: etaṃ mama = this is mine = mineness. eso'hamasmi = I am this = centredness. eso me attā = this is my self = selfhood. The order is different but the criteria are almost identical. I've recently argued that these are general observations, and not specifically connected with Brahmanical ideas about ātman which which the only minimally overlap.[1] Buddhists will hopefully be familiar with the traditional analytical approach to deconstructing these statements, so I can focus on Metzinger's approach. Drawing on work by Antonio Damasio and Ronald Melzack, Metzinger proposes we replace the notion of a 'self' with a theoretical entity which he calls a Phenomenal Self Model. This is a representational system, created in the brain, the content of which is us, ourselves. "We" are in fact a simulation. We simulate and emulate ourselves for ourselves, and thereby create what we call consciousness. This model is rooted in our proprioceptive sense (the information derived from muscle tension, inner-ear and other bodily sensations) according to Melzack; and in our bodily systems (especially endocrine, blood and viscera) and emotions according to Damasio. These (probably both) generate a constant input which is modelled in the brain for the purposes of regulation and optimisation. This model is sub-personal, it is not a 'person' in our heads directing our actions (there is no homunculus as it used to be called). What we call our 'self' is in fact simply a representation of our bodily, and mental states, combined with a representation of representing (reflexive awareness). However this model is transparent to us - we do not understand ourselves to be relating to a model of reality, we understand ourselves to be relating to reality. This is because the processes which generate the model are not available to introspection - they happen too fast, and too seamlessly for us to see them. There was a clear evolutionary advantage to having this ability to model reality and use that model to guide our actions; but there is no advantage in knowing that we are doing this - we see a danger and react, but to complicate things by seeing the picture of a danger in our head as a picture would only slow our reactions down, and we would not survive. For Metzinger the transparency of the Phenomenal Self Model is a strong limit that we cannot break through. It only becomes obvious through detailed analysis of what goes wrong with consciousness in specific brain injuries. We are all naive realists according to Metzinger, i.e we think we interact directly with reality, because that is how it feels. It is probably this naive realism that makes us resistant to reductive explanations of consciousness - whether Buddhist or scientific. The mechanisms of consciousness are not available to introspection, but we feel (want, assume) it to be something more than simple biological processes, and we are baffled by complexity generally so we think of consciousness as something rather magical. We may be wrong. Metzinger's critique of the idea of a first-person perspective centres on the way that the Phenomenal Self Model can go wrong. In the case of "mineness" for example, we get cases where our thoughts do not seem to under our control, as in schizophrenia. In unilateral hemineglect a person may not recognise their limbs as their own. In alien hand syndrome one of the hands appears to act independently of our conscious will. Likewise some delusional people experience everything that happens as caused by their intention - Metzinger relates meeting a person who stood all day looking out the window making the sun move. In the rubber-hand experiment we find that an artificial hand can become included in our body image by confusing the physical and visual senses. Finally he cites the case of a woman born with no arms or legs who never-the-less has phantom limb sensations. Having never had limbs where could such phantoms come from if not the brain itself? The sense of mineness is

it is no one's illusion". I believe. In my own terms. In traditional Buddhist terms there is no possibility of direct contact with reality . that it is not available to introspection . However Taylor associates "I am" with the left hemisphere of the brain which "shut down" during here stroke . Note that Taylor lost all language. to some extent I know.from a non-Buddhist scientific philosopher. the apparatus of experience: he allows for no insight into the creation of a first person perspective which might allow for liberation from it in a positive sense. So Metzinger argues that all of this plasticity and bugginess [my choice of terms] in the three qualities tells us that they do not exist as such." thus: "if it is an illusion. (TED) Taylor's description of the breakdown of the first person perspective is similar to the mystical experience sometimes called oceanic boundary loss that is described by mystics of many traditions. His phrasing perhaps suggests a Vedanta outlook (we know he meditates but not in what tradition). and nobody ever dies". memory of who she was. and there is no one. The first is: is the self an illusion? "For the self to be an illusion. that in meditation the Self Model becomes opaque and available to introspection. D. but she did not lose consciousness nor the ability to make intentions or memories.he does not seem to allow for a radical change in consciousness like bodhi. I myself [the content of the currently active transparent self model] am seeing this object [the content of the transparent object-representation] and I am seeing it right now [as an element within a virtual window of presence (i.she remained conscious and aware. he does not allow for access to the khandhas. The sense of ownership is generated within the Phenomenal Self Model. But we cannot experience these systems working. Consciousness. The second question relates to immortality. "there would have to be someone whose illusion it was. He says "of course you don't see with your eyes!" We see with our visual perception systems.this becomes a contradiction in terms because consciousness is only a simulation. we find ourselves back on familiar ground with these last statements. Laing called 'ontological security' is by no means assured. which suffices for the evolutionary purposes of the brain]. working memory)] with my own eyes [the simple story about "direct" sensory perception. But note that Metzinger is saying that the process is transparent. It sounds a lot like Buddhism . Compare Jill Bolte Taylor's description of her stroke in which the lefthemisphere of her brain shut down. Various disorders of the dissociative type show that what R. while remaining conscious. but are elements of a simulation. and the ability to walk." says Metzinger. Or we may. In the final part of the lecture two questions emerge from the the title of the lecture series which concerns the question of "the immortality of the soul". within the brain. wrongly identify ourselves as some other person. but with no sense of "I am". the ability to speak. and in mystical experiences of oneness with the universe. and some people experience a complete breakdown of their sense of being a self. . The first person perspective also capable of being disrupted: in out of body experiences for instance (which Metzinger has vivid experience of). self-consciousness is a virtual reality. He sums up the idea with an annotated statement about the process of cognition. we just experience seeing. Having begun with the familiar and traversed some unfamiliar territory. Similarly the sense of selfhood is prone to malfunction.e. and to this idea he says: "strictly speaking nobody is ever born. through delusion. which derive mainly from the writing of Sue Hamilton.actually prone to error in many ways which would not be possible if it actually reflected our bodies.

vol. Suffice it to say. Notes 1. London. Part of my rebuttal is précised in the post Early Buddhists-and ātman/brahman . but nothing to indicate that the Buddha had any direct contact with Upaniṣadic sages or was directly dealing with issues central to their texts.] A Theory of Language Evolution (with a footnote about mantra) I HAVE BEEN READING The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self by Thomas Metzinger.' The Buddhist Forum: Seminar Papers 1987-88. Richard. K. T. It is a book with . SOAS.while the whole argument is set out in a longer but not quite finished essay. o Norman. and here he says some very interesting and attractive things which I will try to write about at some point. p. pp. and Bṛhadāranyaka for Gombrich. Oxford: Pali Text Society. [Reprinted in Collected Papers. In making this claim I am consciously and explicitly contradicting both K. (1981) 'A note on attā in the Alagaddūpama-sutta. 1991.Chāndogya in the case of Norman. ii. (1990) 'Recovering the Buddha’s Message.In The Ego Tunnel Metzinger explores some of the ethical and even spiritual implications of his theory. Ahmedabad. Ed.' Studies in Indian Philosophy (Memorial volume for Pandit Sukhlaji Sanghvi). Norman and Richard Gombrich who see this particular phrase as a specific echo of the early Upaniṣads .200-209. R. The papers I am thinking of are: o Gombrich. Skorupski. I do see a connection of a sort. R. For more on Metzinger's theory see the self-model page on Scholarpedia.

however. Metzinger is a philosopher. by how we might manipulate them. Think of reptiles.but over a broader area. The other form of communication shared by all animals is posture .called mirror neurons -. I'm reminded here of George Lakoff & Mark Johnson's theory of metaphor.e.g. e. In other words. Metzinger speculates that these two types of neurons might have been associated with the development of communication and I want to run with this idea. and these are sensed with the mouth and nose. This may make him unique in the field. world-view. Recently neuroscientists discovered two related facts about the link between behaviour and the brain. which I'm not going to dwell on. When we see an object. Over posture we note that reptiles will sometimes reinforce posture with sound. he seeks a theory of consciousness which takes his unusual experiences seriously and explains them. They say that the metaphors which underlie our abstract language and thought are related to our physical interactions with the world.light up whether we are doing the action ourselves. and added more complex sounds to the mix. These sounds mainly seem to transmit the the message conveyed by posture -.the single celled organisms . groups of neurons associated with motor activity are active. but on the whole Metzinger presents a fascinating theory of consciousness. gesture and facial expression we see in others. When we perceive objects part of us is relating to them by imagining potential physical interactions. are capable of producing more sophisticated sounds. though these are still related to fairly basic . Mammals. along with his own out-of-body experiences and lucid dreams. Birds developed elaborate postural displays. The combination is intriguing because though he fits in with a scientific. We all release chemical messengers. and sketch out an idea about how language might have evolved.and look at the way animals communicate there are clearly hierarchies. Once we move beyond the very simple forms of animal life . so is concerned to give an overview and to create a coherent narrative of consciousness. selfhood. and self-consciousness. I want to come back to Metzinger's theory of consciousness in subsequent blog posts. submission or dominance. In particular these mirror neurons seem to be active when we witness emotional states in other people and feel empathy with them. receptivity (for mating). and important for us social primates. In this he follows in the footsteps of Antonio Damasio whose book The Feeling Of What Happens I highly recommend.some flaws. On the other hand we know that some neurons associated with motor activity -. territorial displays. or have a physical effect on us. or receptivity to mating -. It seems that mirror neurons are involved in modelling the posture. hormones. These are called canonical neurons. His opening sentence declares that he is setting out to convince us that there is no such thing as a self.and posture is one of the basic activators for the canonical and mirror neurons. Hence we can say that we grasp an idea meaning that we understand the concept. even materialistic. But not much beyond this. Subtlety begins to emerge when we employ three other forms of communication. This ability to sense emotions in others is quite accurate. but here to talk about a point he makes in passing in his chapter the 'Empathetic Ego'. birds can broadcast their posture.aggression. although reptilian sounds don't add much to the message.g. (See Metaphors We Live By). in order to understand the kinds of feelings we associate with that physical arrangement. Posture can communicate attitude . or whether we are observing someone else doing it. but his source materials are the findings of neuroscience.

to the mix. However there is not much scope for abstraction. With these one can communicate a wider range of emotions. The roots of sound symbolism may be in pre-language sounds which communicate emotions. desire. As I mentioned. Language sits on top of all of this. People can communicate complex abstract language with only their hands. and aggression. tone of voice.war and hunting.'emotions' like fear. no possibility of communicating outside the immediate present. contentment. a more subtle form of posture. but language is orders of magnitude more sophisticated again. receptivity. but is deeply rooted in them. You would be forgiven for thinking that language existed apart from all of this because linguists seldom make reference to non-linguistic communication. since clearly conventions of sounds are . and facial expression. We can't really consider language separately from gesture for instance. Gestures. This is usually qualified by saying that it is arbitrary but not random. gesture. and in mouth movements which either directly interact with an object. So native English speakers know the metaphor that up is good (on the whole) and down is bad: e. With posture. So this level of communication is quite sophisticated. emotional communication. at least some of the time. in discussions we employ the argument is war metaphor: we take sides and defend positions against opponents. Further support for this idea comes from research on the Brocas area of the brain. and getting others to cooperate in group actions that require forward thinking . Vocal sounds are. and perhaps emerges out of them. we line points up and shoot them down. We do know that chimps are capable passing on knowledge of tool use. surprise. and many variations can be accurately communicated without any words through posture. This region is intimately connected with language. Scholars have come up with many lists of basic emotions which overlap but do not converge. Lakoff & Johnson have argued that the metaphors which underlie the our abstract though are based in our physical interactions with the world. or imitate an interaction. any list would contain some common items. a good mood is up. non-language verbal sounds. disgust. and are often focussed on just the words involved in language. One of the central dictates of modern linguistics is that "the sign is arbitrary". we love to drop bombshells.). And in fact we share this level of communication with other primates. S. However. This suggests that language doesn't jut sit on top of the under-layers of physical. and overturn paradigms. Some mammals added gesture. fear. optimists feel things are looking up etc. of planning. or from posture. and we win if our points are on target or we exploit a weakness. V. and that this is related to the evolution of language. Similarly. mouth movements and language are obviously connected. used symbolically and the study of this phenomenon is called Sound Symbolism or Phonosemantics. but is also part of the system that controls motor function in the mouth and hands. but hate to capitulate and back down. (Similar metaphors are found in Sanskrit btw. All of these. or even just written language. joy. and facial expression we can communicate the full range of human emotions. gesture. or tone of voice. for instance: anger. Ramacandran (in his 2003 Reith Lectures) speculated that cross-activation in this area is responsible for the tongue poking out during intense concentration on manual tasks for instance. a vigorous exchange involves cut and thrust.g.I'm not sure if anyone has looked at this. sadness. In which case we would expect that both canonical and mirror neurons would be involved in the language as well . Gesture allows for more nuanced communication. or lose when our argument is undermined or demolished. Then primates in particular added facial expression to this mix.

It certainly seems to tie together many of my own interests. So Metzinger's theory is interesting because we can construct a plausible narrative about the evolution of communication around it. and it links up with other interesting ideas about the brain. but related to how verbal sounds function as symbols. devotional practice. nor only a side line. ~~oOo~~ Note 1.without resort to the supernatural. Mantras are said to be sound symbols. and I'm interested in how verbal sounds function as symbols. [1] So perhaps Metzinger and I. Sound symbolism takes this further by saying that the conventions are so pervasive and they represent such a high a level of organisation that they cannot be arbitrary. and in individual meditative practice -. the mind. O. Indeed it would be surprising if verbal sounds were arbitrary in relation to the concept being conveyed because they would exist outside the structure of language itself. are out of step with contemporary philosophy .but there have been few ages when being out of step with contemporary philosophers has been a bad thing. Lakoff & Johnson say that abstractions are not arbitrary. Sound symbolism tells us that there is a relationship between a word and it's meaning which is not arbitrary. with our interest in such "grandiose philosophy". Flanagan. might begin to explain the effectiveness of Buddhist mantras both as a collective. New Scientist. This is not idle speculation on my part. This idea has been bubbling away in my Buddhist brain because I am fascinated by Buddhist mantra. (2009). Explanation vs Interpretation . It can incorporate many different observations. 44. but rooted in how we physically interact with the world.seen. 201(2700). Review: The Ego Tunnel by Thomas Metzinger. or something very like it. and the evolution of language. I believe that this sketch of a theory. Though I note that one reviewer of The Ego Tunnel complained that "Grandiose philosophy is so 19th-century". and it dovetails with other theories of embodied awareness and communication. Personally I think Metzinger is ahead of his time.

but make the point that the dichotomy is in many ways a false one. the authors Thomas Lawson and Robert McCauley admit they intend to cause trouble. He is known for his impatience with superstition and ignorance of facts. that contributes to their success. However in Chapter One Lawson and McCauley make some interesting observations about the social sciences generally and the study of religion in particular that I want to pick up that scientific explanations form general systems of abstract principles. but only on the subset of all possible knowledge amenable to empirical observations.IN THE INTRODUCTION to their book Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture. by contrast. and it isn't related strongly to other knowledge. They note a dichotomy between those who seek knowledge through explanation and those who seek it through interpretation. Unweaving the Rainbow. and for his public attacks on religious beliefs. the way they work together to support each other.which distinguishes it from common sense . In its extreme form the explanation camp says that all interpretation is irrelevant. Interestingly Richard Dawkins evinces surprise that people should see him as 'cold' and 'nihilistic' on reading The Selfish Gene. and interpretive efforts simply get in the way. We can safely let Richard Dawkins stand as a good example of the scientist explanationist camp. These principles can be applied beyond the domain in which they were discovered. The audience for the book is probably involved on one side or the other of the sometimes bitter scholarly conflict they are writing about. But for all that he shows that he is familiar with poetry and deft at manipulating metaphors in his factual explanations. The important thing about science . Common sense knowledge. and attempts to alter that impression with his next book. The combination of jargon and assumed common political and intellectual background make it a bit daunting for the general reader. The approach to knowledge puts strict limits on acceptable subject matters and methods. the logical empiricist who is only concerned with the observation of facts. The stereotype here is the materialist scientist. Explanations lead to consensus. is typically restricted to a particular domain. Knowledge is the discovery of causal laws. he also seems to misunderstand something fundamental about human cognition and decision making - . It is the inter-connectedness of scientific theories.

but makes no attempt to connect with the values of the audience. is it not even asked! Scientific determinism creates a sterile vacuum by placing many aspects of human life . but allows that despite the lack of true agency that behaviour is so complex that it remains unpredictable. Although laws may not be possible.outside the sphere of knowledge seeking and making. Freudian.especially all the creative and imaginative arts. However interpretation allows us to structure and understand those areas of life which science cannot touch . Dawkins appears to explain his failure to communicate himself as laziness or stupidity on the part of his audience. He is not concerned with what causes us to behave. Marxist. Equally he discusses ritual murder in the same context without any sense of moral judgement . and the human emotions and values .and therefore about religion . Feminist. but he is broadly speaking a Jungian. but it strikes me that Joseph Campbell fits the profile. Note that his sub-title for Unweaving the Rainbow contrasts science with delusion as though these are the only two possible positions. Each group comes up with a plausible story about what things mean. Since the Enlightenment myth has become a byword for something which is not true.every expression of human behaviour is valid to him because it is simply an expression of the myth. Socrates question 'how should we live?' is not only not addressed. Identifying and discussing problems such as universal human rights rely on interpretation rather than explanation. and disclaim all possibility of wider consensus since there is only personal interpretation. and Jesus brutally nailed to a cross as being the same story without any qualification (I disagree). and that scientific determinism is simply how things are . On the other hand is the interpretationist who says that all inquiry about human life and thought occurs in irreducible frameworks of values and subjectivity. Similarly Stephen Hawking in his recent book The Grand Design declares "philosophy is dead". The term for this kind of view is monist expressed sometimes as "all is one".the role of emotion in our lives. and criticises the other groups with no possibility of consensus. The Grand Design trumpets itself as offering "new answers to life's ultimate questions" . which means that he presumes that everyone prioritises cold hard facts as he does.g. Christian. and reaches an apotheosis in the Post-Modernists who reject all explanation and all objectivity. Campbell's position is not easily reducible. He is openly contemptuous of people who are not persuaded by his explanations. However Campbell creates extremely plausible narratives in many cases and he seems to shed light on the content and importantly the function of myths.he goes as far as denying the possibility of free is simply one interpretation of a range of observations. in the way that a scientist is. He interprets myths and legends. there are certainly patterns. Foucauldian. I'm not familiar with any of the examples of interpretationist type given in the book. etc. Buddhist. Since interpretation allows no common (objective) standard and there is much less interactivity amongst knowledge found in this way. The interpretationist account of humanity is overly fecund. . and at worst not possible. Campbell on the other hand accepts everything as part of life's rich tapestry without judgement. Human beings are subjects not objects. I think. seeking reasons for human behaviour and sources of meaning relating to it. only in what it means that we do behave the way we do. So when discussing the theme of rebirth (in his interviews with Bill Moyers published as The Power of Myth ) he sees the images of the Buddha peacefully meditating beneath the bodhi tree. If he were a Marxist his reading of the myths would no doubt be different. The search for knowledge about human beings .is the search for reasons (hermeneutics) and meaning (semiotics). Explanation is not only unnecessary it is at best undesirable.and the selection of the questions is telling. His contumely is reminiscent of legacy attitudes of the British upper-classes to the common people. First and foremost Hawking seeks to answer: 'why is there something rather than nothing?'.particularly human experience. There is no way to prove what Campbell says . there is a tendency to splinter into factions e.

experience. and has to some extent rehabilitated the word myth. In the process of attempting to integrate Buddhism and Western Culture (which includes science and technology as well as distinctive myths and ideas about what gives life meaning) we cannot afford to take an exclusively explanatory or interpretive approach. By contrast." (p. They speak of scientists 'explaining away' their beliefs. when people seek better explanations they go beyond the rearrangement of categories. For this last group interpretation sets the agenda for explanation. especially religious. Religious people are wary of explanation which they see as 'cold'. "When people seek better interpretations they attempt to employ the categories they have in better ways. Although both have had their successes. in explaining human religious behaviour. but see human actions as guided by reasons and not by causes. We are forced. but interrelated. by intellectual honesty. will destroy the things they value about their religious practices and fundamentally interpretive. and in particular argue for the importance of subjectivity in the construction of scientific knowledge systems. to accept the strong conclusions of science: the classical laws of physics and chemistry for instance are not really in doubt despite being dependent on a frame of reference . and both are necessary.we do in fact live in that frame of reference. so it seems natural to focus on interpretation while not actually discounting explanation (I think the problem here is free will). and as 'killing the magic'. if successful. Some of the critique of each camp is useful . A third intermediate position sees all knowledge seeking . and that in effect we all do it anyway. In studying humans they prioritise the concrete contents of human experience over the abstract theories about them. Some see the methods of social science as yet inadequate to the task of an empirical approach. but successful explanations winnow and increase knowledge.29) Interpretation presupposes a body of explanation (of facts and laws). leaving interpretation as the only way forward.including the natural sciences . but these require some familiarity with the literature and are therefore harder to explain. And on past evidence this is not an unreasonable fear as explanationists are often insensitive to values. The two processes are not mutually exclusive. while we are reminded that facts are not always hard (think of statistics and how vital they are in biology or quantum . In my experience most religious people are interpretationists of either the extreme kind who deny any possible explanation for human. the authors say.explanation helps to put useful limits on interpretation. A second group acknowledge that explanation has a role. or they tolerate a level of explanation but place certain types of experience forever beyond the reach of empiricism and factual knowledge (my Buddhist teacher Sangharakshita is overtly in this camp I would say). and seeks to (re)organise empirical knowledge.Campbell shows how myths have value because they symbolically communicate meanings and purposes. They point out that in fact explanation and interpretation are different cognitive tasks. they have tended to polarise the discussion about religion and stymie communication and understanding. Explanation always contains an element of interpretation. they inevitably privilege interpretation and subordinate explanation. Overall when there are concessions made by 'social scientists'. Lawson and McCauley outline some intermediate positions. It's clear that the extreme approaches are not always helpful. the generate new theories which will. replace or even eliminate the conceptual scheme with which they presently operate. The danger religious people see is that science. The point that Lawson and McCauley wish to make is that there is a way to combine both interpretation and explanation without privileging or banishing one or the other.

R. and often comes with an offhand. One fact is that human values are not easily objectified. a great psychologist. London: Equinox. and remains not just inaccessible but forbidden to scientists. has spoken of two modes of thinking. Religion and Cognition: A Reader. T. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. If we go further and declare our belief that consciousness is entirely based in the brain (which I more or less accept) or that the Buddha was just a human being who was kind and not troubled by psychological suffering then we will find the charge of blasphemy being laid surreptitiously at our doorstep. to those we see in theistic milieus. "Interpretation and Explanation: Problems and Promise in the Study of Religion. E. Facts are important. living Buddhas. Slone (ed. One of the big issues of religion in the modern world is the status of the supernatural. To even consider trying to explain the Buddha is seen as a kind of heresy.often having to point out that my disinclination to supernatural interpretations of experience does not amount to materialism (see Am I a Materialist?). One is to create narratives. See also: Oliver Sacks on Why the brain creates myths on bigthink. unbroken lineages. I would say. The form of the arguments is identical. The important thing about Lawson and McCauley's analysis is that it clarifies what issues and values are at stake so that we can bring them to awareness. and have the discussion in the open. Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture. We may find that someone will say that we are not in fact Buddhists if we don't accept a transcendental version of Buddhism. Chapter One Reprinted as Lawson. R." J. I regularly find myself in conflict with those who embrace interpretation . The label materialist has a powerfully pejorative sense in this context. N. N. and McCauley. (2006). let alone explanation.mechanics) and laws governing imagination and emotion are vague." You might also like: . genuine masters. and another is that experience doesn't necessarily conform to mathematical laws. T.that emerge when we transgress. dismissal of the socalled materialist's opinions. Buddhists like to emphasise true. original (in the temporal sense) and authentic teachings. More or less any doctrinal innovation in Buddhism leaves one open to the charge of heresy. sometimes contemptuous. E. or we may be called a materialist. and on a more serious level we have a transcendental Buddha beyond any predication or description. As someone with a science education and a leaning towards explanation. It can be heresy to deny some doctrines. We are a bit obsessed with appealing to external authorities to bolster our internal authority. Lawson. Why do I constantly refer to the Pāli Canon for instance when I have my personal experience? Could it be from lack of experience? We have some way to go as most of these issues are not even conscious.). Though one of the most interesting areas of neuroscience is the effects of meditation on the brain. and McCauley. one is to create paradigms or explanations or models. On the trivial level we have ghosts and 'energies' of various "Jerome Bruner. (1990).despite all protestations to the contrary . and we should not be denying facts in promoting Buddhism. and fully ordained individuals. We Buddhists do maintain conceptions equivalent to both heresy and blasphemy . Nirvāṇa is taboo. though not without importance. To some denying rebirth is a heresy.

PTS ii. Are happiness and unhappiness made by one's-self and others? No. the Universe. . that's not it. Religion. Science Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 11 February 2011 Happiness and Unhappiness Timbaruka Sutta S 12. and Everything! Rebirth and the Scientific Method LinkWithin Leave a comment: 24 comments so far. that's not it. Are happiness and unhappiness made by another (paraṃ-kata)? No.22 [1] STAYING AT SĀVATTHĪ.Am I a materialist? Life. Knowledge. that's not it. and having exchanged pleasantries. he sat to one side and asked a question. Timbaruko. Are happiness and unhappiness (sukhadukkha) made by one's-self (sayaṃ-kata)? No. Then the wanderer Timbaruka approached the Bhagavan.18. Labels: Epistemology. replied the Bhagavan.

ignorance ceases. When this was said the wanderer Timbaruka said Gotama I go for refuge to the Bhagavan Gotama. However the words are used in a variety of ways.] that the experience and the one experiencing are different. volitions cease. with the cessation of volitions. Gotama. One gets the sense that Timbaruka was ready to argue whatever the Buddha might agree with or disagree . Is there no such thing as happiness and unhappiness? It's not that there is no happiness and unhappiness. Clearly there is happiness and unhappiness. Please remember me as a nonmonastic disciple from this day forward. etc. thus the whole mass of disappointment ceases. and with volitions as condition there is consciousness etc. the aspects of experience on which we base our notions of happiness and unhappiness. Timbaruka seeks to understand the problem of suffering in terms of self and/or other.e. [i. who go around just arguing with everything. I do not say "happiness and unhappiness are caused by one's-self" because underlying that statement is the eternalist view that the experience (vedanā) and the one experiencing (so vedayati) are the same. you've answered 'no' to all my questions.. and see them. and there may be other interpretations. ~:o:~ Comments I've translated sukha and dukkha as happiness and unhappiness here which is fairly conventional. With ignorance (avijjā) as condition there are volitions (saṅkhārā). the things we find pleasing and displeasing. With the complete cessation ignorance. The Buddha lets Timbaruka exhaust all the possible options within that paradigm without committing himself. Explain happiness and unhappiness to me.1-2 that sukha/dukkha can represent nibbāna and saṃsāra for instance. to the Dhamma and the community of Bhikkhus. Is it that you don't know or see happiness and unhappiness? It's not that I don't know or see happiness and unhappiness.Do happiness and unhappiness appear without any reason? No. Please explain to me what you mean. It seems that some of the wanderers were a bit like the sophists in ancient Athens and some people these days. I do not say "happiness and unhappiness are caused by another" because underlying that is the view of one overcome by sensations. [i. I've noted in my comments on Dhammapada v.. Avoiding both of these positions I point to a foundation (dhamma) in the middle. On this level they represent the positive and negative aspects of experience. I do know them. that's not it... Well Timbaruka.e the nidāna chain] and thus the whole mass of disappointment comes about.

There are two basic positions: the experience is either the same as the experiencer. From the fact that the Buddha doesn't bother to answer the other variations proposed by Timbaruka. By this I mean we don't consciously make this decision. or we "see red". The nihilist would presumably argue that ultimately there is no suffering (something I've heard Buddhists argue. His answer though partial from Timbaruka's point of view. Understanding that experience is impermanent we see that there is nothing to identify with. In this we aren't identified with the sensations. They are the default settings for human beings. and then gives his alternative way of looking at the view. I find this both philosophically problematic.impermanent. Falling in love is such a powerful sensation. Identity is just another experience . but of someone overwhelmed by sensations [vedanābhitunna]. and impersonal. Having rejected the Timbaruka's terms the Buddha gives an explanation of why he is not interested in that particular argument. disappointing. but the idea that suffering comes from either. This is almost the default setting for humanity: in effect we are our thoughts and emotions. and throughout the Pāli canon. Suffering is not caused by oneself! At least in this text. not philosophies that we take on willingly. or different. The Buddha uses this strategy fairly often. In his explanation the Buddha focusses on how dukkha arises and ceases as an impersonal process. The kind of view which is engendered by mystical experiences such as oceanic-boundary-loss . The kind of dichotomy that Timbaruka proposes doesn't apply in the Buddha's frame of reference. However this leaves us with no real choice in how we respond to situations and causes us problems. The fact that the Buddha does not take a stand on any of the views presented is a strategy Timbaruka has apparently not anticipated. This is not advaita (non-dualist) philosophy. We often describe people as basically greedy and hateful for instance. and see our self as continuous and lasting. to my consternation!) To reiterate an important point: these 'views' are not conscious ideologies. a mixture of evolution and early conditioning.with. And note that what is being rejected is not the self/other dichotomy per se. covers the only sensible points.i. and chaos if not mayhem often ensues. like other religieux. The Buddha here is arguing for a much less personal view of the problem of suffering. we might conclude that he does not take them seriously. which reminds us that the story is told specifically for a Buddhist audience. We see that the rejection is in terms of Buddhist technical terminology.that suffering is caused by self . but feel compelled by them as when we are "overcome with grief". Again we often imagine that we have no choice about responding to powerful desires and aversions. Eternalism and nihilism as critical terms are distinctively Buddhist. all is one . we smuggle through an implicit one. As Thomas Metzinger says we are all 'naive realists'.that suffering is caused by other . it's just how things seem to us. it is pragmatism aimed at relieving suffering. [2] Elsewhere the Buddha uses the metaphor of intoxication (pamāda) to describe this condition. Although we reject the explicit notion of original sin. The first view .is that of the being criticised here. Buddhists. The problem here is that we identify ourselves with experience. and unhelpful. The second view .e. not of the nihilist. The approach the Buddha takes is distinctly different to this one which proposes a dichotomy and then finds fault with all possible alternatives. . tend to express a tinge of blame when describing the human condition. nature and nuture.

Jill Bolte Taylor's description of this experience during a major stroke is instructive because she articulates the relevant aspects of it. By dis-identifying with experience we make it less likely that we are either caught up impermanent and impersonal. and such tensions and disagreements continue to play out in human civilisations. but following our evolutionary heritage and conditioning we pursue pleasant sensations. I say the echo is distant because I don't think that Brahmins are the target here. Pali Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz Newer Posts Older Posts Home Subscribe to: Posts (Atom) . at least not completely. or perhaps God or the Universe! In order to change this we need to step outside that frame of reference and see our experience in a completely new light . means we don't blame anyone. What we naively pursue is not happiness. and often we do have some influence on the conditions that contribute to suffering. probably associated with the mystical experience sometimes described as oceanic boundary loss. and our conditioning says that someone must be to blame . meaning that there is nothing to hang on to. There is a distant echo here of the Brahmanical view that one achieves liberation through a comprehensive identification with the world. or him. even nominally Buddhist ones (2500 years. So we are not happy. Seeing experience as an impersonal process. Then a kind of happiness not conditioned by pleasant or unpleasant experiences can and does arise. but a fundamental mistake about the nature of happiness. or overwhelmed by experience. My translation. Leave a comment: 7 comments so far. Any view about happiness or unhappiness based on self and/or other leads to contradictions and argumentation. 2. Dependency does not do away with agency.17. In a sense Timbaruka is right. The target is everyday naive realism.Experiences constantly arise and cease. Labels: Dependent Arising. in which the first-person perspective is a just another conditioned experience. If there is a painful state we see it has arisen dependently. ~~oOo~~ Notes 1.if not me. Human intercourse in any age has shown this to be true. the identification with experience as real. The more subtle point is that our own relationship to experience is the primary condition to think about. nothing to let go of even. and we have a choice about being happy or unhappy that is not related to (not conditioned by) the particular experience we are having now. then you. main points identical to S 12. The problem is not this or that strategy for achieving happiness. I have a growing suspicion that this is what asaṅkhata [unconditioned] means. and we still can't agree on some things!). even if a stroke is not attractive as a way to have that experience [See her TED presentation. The feeling of breaking down the subject/object distinction and identification with everything. and my response An Experience of Awakening?].

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that the crops will grow and ripen. that we will have enough food and water. Give a human being a random array of points of light (like. that the seasons will appear in due course. or else utterly determined by rules. Hopefully readers will recall the movie A Beautiful Mind. and yet it highlighted something about the human mind. Given random events we will see connections. to choose. but this was a natural faculty gone haywire. But along the way I began to see that my education in science consisted in being presented with a series of increasingly sophisticated models. and what to expect from it in the future . but not too much. unstructured void .we are pattern recognition sensors of the highest sensitivity. Simple equations such as F=ma or E=mc2 tell us a great deal about how matter behaves. none of which was true in any absolute sense. In the movie John Nash becomes obsesses with and delusional about patterns. Our mind sees patterns . We want to know that the sun will rise each day. Most of these are not very sophisticated and reflect our evolved biological needs rather than our intellectual . We want to be free to act..e. but they do not meet every need. and none of which did much for my angst. not simply a product of madness. to experience novelty. was brought into being. and in what way the universe is ordered ( unordered. is one of the most pervasive human myths and an important idea in most religions.and then the ordered universe. above all that the universe follows rules analogous to human social rules that we can understand and follow in order to get along. Indeed we could define myth in this sense as a story or narrative which conveys the sense of an ordered universe. It no doubt romanticised the experience of madness. In ancient India this order was called first ṛta and then dharma. the hope is that there are enough rules to make life predictable. not too many as to make it stultifying.The idea that the universe is non-random. say.matter appears to 'obey' these 'Laws'. the kosmos.e. the stars) and we fill it with a bestiary and a pantheon that reflects everything that we care about. myth is descriptive). In the course of my education I studied these physical laws in great detail. Since the European Enlightenment it has been discovered that mathematical models can describe aspects of the world very accurately. and personally demonstrated many of them. One could also say that religion is simply our collective hopes and fears writ large and projected out onto the universe: our worst fear is that the universe is devoid of rules. that predators will not carry us or our loved ones away etc. does not mean that there is order. In fact we tend to see order where there is none. The Laws of physics are useful and accurate descriptions of matter under most circumstances. Just because we perceive order. In some tellings of Greek myth first there was khaos . religion is prescriptive). and religion as attempts to ensure we follow the laws implied by an ordered universe (i.

but never the less we discern order amongst them and do what we can to facilitate that order through sacrifice and prayer (all gods are similar in needing to be propitiated in order to behave . Because the wonder is that self-aware beings can and do care. These beaches are potentially dangerous and every year several people drown there. say. This might sound bleak or hard. When you float around on it for hours at a time. it has no bias towards 'good') but one which is not aware at all. chimp behaviour (I highly recommend reading Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man for instance). but it is not alive. New Zealand (especially Piha). because it cannot. or as in ancient China as a celestial empire. and thrilling. scientists are often accused of being cold. and it is interesting that Christian intellectuals back off from anthropomorphic versions of god even when they cannot give up the idea altogether. I don't deny that. We have an ability to be altruistic not possessed by other beings . several days a week for a couple of years this becomes apparent. Caring is something that humans do. And they want the universe to care. When you compare that to members of the public it's more like 75% of people believe in a god. Part of the reason that apparently irrational religion is so very popular is that it speaks directly to deep human needs. I had an important realisation about this some years back when I used to surf on the rugged West Coast beaches near Auckland. Atheism is.e. The sea does not glory in killing people. The universe described by scientists seems not to care about us.demanding submission and the best food. The waves just roll in to their own rhythm. and they do not hesitate to drown the incautious. The universe does not care about us. other animals experience consciousness and emotions so some extent. Sure. I thought that was a very interesting point. As social primates it's important for us to establish social rules and hierarchies and for everyone to keep to them in order to fulfil our social needs. I believe the universe is like this also. A caring universe is often personified as a loving mother or father (I don't recall any culture describing the universe/nature as a favourite aunt or uncle for instance). In effect it is humans that provide the love. The gods of course are not observed to obey the same social rules as humans. I wonder if this mismatch between our basic biology and intellect may be behind the mismatch between ordinary people and intellectuals? Recently I watched TED video of Richard Dawkins exhorting his audience to militant atheism. The ocean does not care. but I'm not finished. One of the points he makes is that amongst members of the American Academy of Science less that 10% believe in a god.rather like over-sized toddlers). and can turn enemies into friends. however. the caring. Dawkins quotes (ex)president Bush as saying an atheist could not be a patriot. just the strategies for meeting those needs. But humans have this ability to rise above circumstances that no other animal possesses. Hinduism and all other religions put together. Ordinary people are harder to convince because they still project their hopes and fears onto the universe. though with care they provide excellent surfing and swimming. let alone aware of us and our needs: the universe is largely inanimate and driven by physics and chemistry.longings. Many gods are effectively alpha-male primates in the sky . not sentient. It is not an ethical universe (i. beautiful. It seems irrational until you look at. Hence we see the personified forces of nature as a celestial society. Intellectuals can generally see that the idea of a creator god is not credible. But atheists have no political voice in the USA. The ocean is magnificent. and the emotional warmth in the universe because they are products of consciousness.for instance we help strangers. The sea is completely and utterly indifferent to us. the largest category of religious belief in the USA after Christianity outnumbering Judaism. or regret one getting away. Our societies overlay this with a veneer of sophistication. but our actual needs haven't changed in millennia. fascinating. especially self- .

It is up to us to provide this quality. And finally we radiate equanimity . compassion. Love is a human quality that emerges from our consciousness. You might also like: . caring. is not the source of friendliness. In response to one group of Brahmins who were concerned about the afterlife (Tevijja Sutta DN 13). and so we must set about it systematically. love. Then we imagine that all people in need getting what they need. Brahmā (the creator god . One first of all radiates general goodwill. all the ill and unhappy beings becoming well and happy. We are. and have a go at the practices.consciousness. What finer use of the imagination is there? It is no coincidence that the Buddha named this group of practices brahmavihāra (dwelling with god) and said of them that dwelling on the meditations was like dwelling with. It's a big job. love.a pure positivity not dependent on circumstances. The name was probably aimed at Brahmanical theists whose religious goal was brahmasahavyata 'companionship with Brahmā'. but which arises out of our identification with all beings everywhere. and we have exemplars to inspire us. All we need do really is allow ourselves to be inspired. The universe. friendliness.usually depicted with four faces looking in the cardinal directions). One makes no distinctions between any beings. god if you will. Then we imagine ourselves celebrating along with everyone who has good fortune. or perhaps as. The Buddha's point is much the same as I have been saying. the Buddha described a series of meditations in which one radiates positive emotions for all beings. but imagines all beings everywhere being happy and well. Else we may fail. In response to concerns about the afterlife the Buddha simply teaches us to love without bounds in the here and now (as the Karaṇīya Mettā Sutta says). and collectively. and we all know what that failure looks like. Fortunately we have ways of developing these qualities.