Alan Wallace's response to the article "Buddhist meditation and cognitive sciences"

14 May 2016

Dear Friends, This is a trimmed version of podcast 79, which includes only Alan’s response to the article “Buddhist meditation and cognitive sciences”, by Daniel Simpson.

Link to the article.

· From the article “Buddhist meditation and cognitive sciences”:

o Regarding the kinds of dialogues that are promoted by the Mind & Life Institute, anthropologist Geoffrey Samuel comments, “much of what happens in this process is less a dialogue between equal systems of thought than an assimilation of the more ‘acceptable’ elements within Tibetan and Buddhist thought into an essentially Western context.”

o One Mind & Life scientist, Richard Davidson, has bent over backwards to avoid causing offence while defending materialism. He comments: “Certain scientific assumptions are themselves based on well-established principles,” adding (via the circumlocution “some would say”) that: “the dependence of mind on brain is one such assumption that has been subjected to countless empirical tests, and each and every one of them has provided support for this general claim.”

o Philosopher Jay Garfield: “Our introspective awareness of our cognitive processes, no matter how sophisticated, is as constructed, and hence as fallible as any other perception,” so reported experiences of pure consciousness may be illusory. “Perception, we learn from empirical research, is never immediate, and never devoid of inferential processes. It is guided by attention and pretension, mediated by memory and low-level inference.”

o Neuroscientist Jonathan Cohen: “Neuroscientists want to preserve both the substance and the image of rigor in their approach, so one doesn’t want to be seen as whisking out into the la-la land of studying consciousness.”

o Definition of “la-la land:” You know when you see someone and think, “wow, they’re in their own world.” Well, that world is la la land.

· Psychologist Anne Treisman commented in the 2009 Mind and Life conference in Dharamsala that perception is a kind of externally guided hallucination. We create experience rather that “photographing it,” so psychologists regard subjective reports as data, rather than as factual accounts.

· Cesare Cremonini, was a friend of Galileo and among his contemporaries who refused to look through a telescope to confirm or refute Galileo’s discoveries. He explained his refusal with the words, “I do not wish to approve of claims about which I do not have any knowledge, and about things which I have not seen... and then to observe through those glasses gives me a headache. Enough! I do not want to hear anything more about this.” [Opere, II, 564, which is a letter from Paolo Gualdo to Galileo]. Cremonini was paid to teach Aristotle (in fact, he said when under investigation by the Inquisition that he would have to return his pay if he declined to teach Aristotelianism). More generally, the heavens in Aristotle were supposed to be incorruptible and hence there are no sunspots, so why look through a telescope? Cremonini’s reasons were thus philosophical and ruled out Galileo’s observations a priori, so there was no need for telescopes.

· Giulio Libri was an opponent of Galileo who also refused to look through a telescope, but his reasons appear to have been more practical: in his book Natural Magic of 1589, Giovanni Battista Della Porta had shown that all manner of optical illusions were possible and at the time of Galileo no complete theory of optics was available to distinguish between genuine effects and tricks or self-deception. Link to the related source.

· Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman: “It is only through refined measurements and careful experimentation that we can have a wider vision. And then we see unexpected things: we see things that are far from what we would guess—far from what we could have imagined. . . . If science is to progress, what we need is the ability to experiment, honesty in reporting results—the results must be reported without somebody saying what they would like the results to have been . . . One of the ways of stopping science would be only to do experiments in the region where you know the law. But experimenters search most diligently, and with the greatest effort, in exactly those places where it seems most likely that we can prove our theories wrong. In other words we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.” (Richard P. Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1967), 127, 148, 158.)

· For a brilliant overview of rigorous scientific research that dares to challenge the prevailing materialistic dogma that reduces the mind to brain function, see Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century by Edward Kelly and Emily Williams Kelly. For critical assessments of this work by respected scientists and scholars, see the amazon link.

· William James: “Introspection is difficult and fallible; and ... the difficulty is simply that of all observation of whatever kind... The only safeguard is in the final consensus of our farther knowledge about the thing in question, later views correcting earlier ones, until at last the harmony of a consistent system is reached.” (William James, The Principles of Psychology (New York: Dover Publications, 1890/1950) I:191-2 & 197-8.)

· William James: “Psychology, indeed, is today hardly more than what physics was before Galileo, what chemistry was before Lavoisier. It is a mass of phenomenological description, gossip, and myth, including, however, real material enough to justify one in the hope that with judgment and good-will on the part of those interested, its study may be so organized even now as to become worthy of the name of natural science at not very distant day.” (William James, “A plea for psychology as a science.” Philosophical Review, 1, 1892, 146-153. (146).)

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