Brain vs mind?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Jason
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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Jason » Fri Apr 08, 2011 12:01 am

Alex123 wrote:Jason,

Then they are not be strict materialists like (eliminative materialist who deny that mental states exist) or epiphenomenalist who accept the mind only as an effect of matter, or reductive materialists who reduce mind to matter.
I fail to see how people who see consciousness as the result of material (i.e., electrochemical) interactions aren't materialists.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Alex123
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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Alex123 » Fri Apr 08, 2011 12:08 am

Jason wrote:
Alex123 wrote:Jason,

Then they are not be strict materialists like (eliminative materialist who deny that mental states exist) or epiphenomenalist who accept the mind only as an effect of matter, or reductive materialists who reduce mind to matter.
I fail to see how people who see consciousness as the result of material (i.e., electrochemical) interactions aren't materialists.

They could be dualists. Also, if consciousness is the result of material, then material affects consciousness, and material affects the material. So any type of non-material cause is excluded. Matter could behave just as well without any consciousness (if it doesn't play a causal role).
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Jason
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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Jason » Fri Apr 08, 2011 12:20 am

Alex123 wrote:
Jason wrote:
Alex123 wrote:Jason,

Then they are not be strict materialists like (eliminative materialist who deny that mental states exist) or epiphenomenalist who accept the mind only as an effect of matter, or reductive materialists who reduce mind to matter.
I fail to see how people who see consciousness as the result of material (i.e., electrochemical) interactions aren't materialists.

They could be dualists.
Well, according to Merriam-Webster, materialism is defined as "a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter." A person who sees consciousness as the result of material (i.e., electrochemical) interactions is, at least according to this definition, a materialist.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Alex123
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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Alex123 » Fri Apr 08, 2011 1:05 am

Jason wrote: Well, according to Merriam-Webster, materialism is defined as "a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter." A person who sees consciousness as the result of material (i.e., electrochemical) interactions is, at least according to this definition, a materialist.

So according to that definition, only matter is the cause. Consciousness is not included. And if it is included, then only as a result that is not the cause and neither is the fundamental reality. The above definition excludes the possibility of consciousness being the reality that can control anything.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by pegembara » Fri Apr 08, 2011 11:29 am

Brain conditions mind eg. inherited tendencies for mental illness. Mind conditions brain eg. changes in patterns of activities in yogis.

Is brain activity responsible for consciousness or consciousness responsible for brain activity?
Is the brain just the soil/substrate for consciousness/brain activity?
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Alex123 » Fri Apr 08, 2011 3:19 pm

pegembara wrote:Brain conditions mind eg. inherited tendencies for mental illness. Mind conditions brain eg. changes in patterns of activities in yogis.

Is brain activity responsible for consciousness or consciousness responsible for brain activity?
Is the brain just the soil/substrate for consciousness/brain activity?
It depends who you ask. A strict materialist would deny that consciousness (if it exists) can alter anything in the brain.


A dualist would most likely accept the possibility of consciousness altering brain activity.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Nibbida » Fri Apr 08, 2011 6:25 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:Not a problem, imo.

Buddhism doesn't teach atta-view. The aggregates are impermanent and are like the parts of a chariot (or car). There is form, but also the 'thinking mind' which is also impermanent.

The 'thinking mind' is one of the six senses and also impermanent.
I agree with this. The fact that the mind and brain have something to do with each other (not necessarily claiming which causes which) does not create a problem for Buddhism. Whatever the hell is going on, people can awaken nonetheless.

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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by yiming » Mon Apr 11, 2011 9:10 pm

Nibbida wrote:
I agree with this. The fact that the mind and brain have something to do with each other (not necessarily claiming which causes which) does not create a problem for Buddhism. Whatever the hell is going on, people can awaken nonetheless.
Seems to me that nothing will ever create a problem with Buddhism if we don't care about which causes which.

Mind, brain and people. :stirthepot: Which causes which?

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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Alex123 » Mon Apr 11, 2011 11:17 pm

yiming wrote: Seems to me that nothing will ever create a problem with Buddhism if we don't care about which causes which.
Mind, brain and people. :stirthepot: Which causes which?

Well, if mind is 100% caused by matter, then there would be a Noble Chemical Path . Life is great when you find the right anti-depressant.

So this issue does matter.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 14, 2011 3:17 pm

Alex123 wrote:

Well, if mind is 100% caused by matter, then there would be a Noble Chemical Path . Life is great when you find the right anti-depressant.

So this issue does matter.
No pun intended? :tongue:

One argument is that meditation techniques are ways of manipulating/rewiring the brain (which is what medications do, basically). In that case, the Noble EIghtfold Path already is the Noble Chemical Path.

Meditation has a demonstrable effect on the mind. Therefore, one of two possibilities must be true: a) the mind is non-material, or b) meditation affects the physical brain.

In fact, though, we already know that meditation has a physical component. Yogic practice is usually divided into "calming" and "insight" methods. "Calming" involves breath work, which regulates the flow of oxygen and helps control the body's anxiety response system (the behavior of which is well-understood).

"Insight" amounts to monitoring (and rewiring) our synaptic pathways. Cognitive therapy also takes this approach, usually in combination with medications that intervene in the behavior of particular neurotransmitters.

So meditation and medication aren't necessarily all that different in terms of what they set out to do. Which is the better method remains an interesting question.

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kirk5a
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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by kirk5a » Thu Apr 14, 2011 3:45 pm

Lazy_eye wrote: "Insight" amounts to monitoring (and rewiring) our synaptic pathways.
Our synaptic pathways? Maybe you could give an example of a meditatively observable "synaptic pathway"?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 14, 2011 3:53 pm

kirk5a wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote: "Insight" amounts to monitoring (and rewiring) our synaptic pathways.
Our synaptic pathways? Maybe you could give an example of a meditatively observable "synaptic pathway"?
You are observing thoughts and habitual thought patterns, no? The arising and disappearing of citta?

Moreover, you are observing which citta are afflictive and which ones are not...the "observation of the mind in the mind".

Cognitive therapy also involves recording habitual thought patterns with an eye to changing them: for instance, one records thoughts of self-doubt, fear or worthlessness; meanwhile medication attempts to intervene in the chemical process associated with afflictive thinking. The point is that the thought process is closely linked to the behavior of neurotransmitters. You will generally not be bothered by certain kinds of thoughts unless your physical brain is functioning (or malfunctioning) in a certain way.

That's why a person may be extremely disturbed by his or her thoughts at a certain time (say 3 am during a bout of insomnia), then the next morning it all seems completely ridiculous and not worth worrying about. Since the brain's equilibrium has been restored, the bothersome thoughts simply don't arise.

So, in brief, medication and meditation are going after the same problem, but in a different order -- meditation affecting the thoughts, and by extension the chemistry; medication intervening in the chemistry, and by extension the thought patterns.
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Thu Apr 14, 2011 4:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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kirk5a
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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by kirk5a » Thu Apr 14, 2011 4:21 pm

Thanks! Now we have a basis for discussion.
you are observing which citta are afflictive and which ones are not...the "observation of the mind in the mind".
What is the cause for the arising of afflictive citta?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 14, 2011 4:35 pm

kirk5a wrote:Thanks! Now we have a basis for discussion.
you are observing which citta are afflictive and which ones are not...the "observation of the mind in the mind".
What is the cause for the arising of afflictive citta?
Well, according to evolutionary biology, all mental activity (whether painful or pleasurable) serves our prime imperative: the proliferation of our genes.

Now this is interesting because Buddhism, of course, links the end of affliction to the uprooting of desire. Equally interesting, it stresses equanimity: i.e., we don't go for either pain or pleasure. And it's "against the grain", i.e. runs counter to ordinary human drives.

From the evolutionary biological perspective, emotions largely act as the conduit for various drives (most of which are connected with furthering our genetic legacy). So it stands to reason that if one can successfully detach from those drives, the afflictive emotions will wane. In this sense, meditation is also a technique for rewiring the brain, which comes with default "settings" more or less dictated by natural selection.

A renunciant is one who has resolved not to be fettered by biological drives -- a monk or nun has abandoned the desire to reproduce, and therefore all the other stuff that goes along with it (competition for mates and resources) no longer applies. Since emotions just act as a stand-in for genetic self-interest, once that self-interest is discarded, the emotions shouldn't have a strong sway. Equanimity and serenity should be the result (note: "should" is always a tricky word). So we can see here how sila goes hand in hand with meditative practice, and how both could be interpreted scientifically.

All this is by way of saying that even if "mind is 100% caused by matter", Buddhist practice would still be effective and we could even explain why and how it works. Now, whether the traditional goals of Buddhist practice (liberation from the round of rebirths) would still make sense...that's an open question.

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Re: Brain vs mind?

Post by kirk5a » Thu Apr 14, 2011 5:29 pm

According to Buddhism, desire (craving) arises due to ignorance.

Can you think of an evolutionary advantage to ignorance?

Also, is anyone working on developing a chemical which removes ignorance?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

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