April 26, 2012

Buddhism and the Brain

Where Buddhism overlaps with neuroscience.

Western thought is hardly monolithic or simple, but monotheistic religions made a simple misstep when they didn’t apply naturalism to themselves and their notions of their souls. Time and again, their prominent scholars and philosophers rendered the human soul exceptional and otherworldly, falsely elevating our species above and beyond nature. We see the effects today. When Judeo-Christian belief conflicts with science, it nearly always concerns science removing humans from a putative pedestal, a central place in creation. Yet science has shown us that we reside on the fringes of our galaxy, which itself doesn’t seem to hold a particularly precious location in the universe. Our species came from common ape-like ancestors, many of which in all likelihood possessed brains capable of experiencing and manifesting some of our most precious “human” sentiments and traits. Our own brains produce the thing we call a mind, which is not a soul. Human exceptionalism increasingly seems a vain fantasy. In its modest rejection of that vanity, Buddhism exhibits less error and less original sin, this one of pride.