Thread: Dharma, Neuroscience, and Free Will

  1. #1

    Dharma, Neuroscience, and Free Will

    "Dharma, Neuroscience, and Free Will" an article from the Buddhist Door website:

    Any thoughts about the article?

  2. #2
    Global Moderator
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
    What a dire article, designed to bring out the worst in Buddhist thought. The first part is particularly awful, denying what we really are, animals. This idea that we are different is particularly dangerous because it uses the terminology of propaganda strategies such as 'may lead to...' 'may influence..' and 'what being human really means.' In other words paying lip service to scientific research while really saying that it has no place in understanding what goes on within us as we practice.

    It trashes neuroscience by saying that, 'Ultimately, what makes humans different from other animals is the ability to exercise freedom of choice, also referred to as free will' as if this was something not associated with neuroscience. Next the article reduces animals to mere, 'mechanical animal instincts' where they operate without any conscious thought. In fact there is a lot of neuroscience which points to decisions being made before we are conscious of them, that our 'free will' is a trick of the mind, a way of makig our conscious selves think that it is charge, when it is not.

    The 'free will' debate ranges over many areas, particularly those philosophical investigations into what we really are, and is a complex subject not to be banded about lightly. In terms of the Dharma, what is it we have to work on? If it is just conscious thought then what about the evidence that decisions are made on a deeper level, one we are not aware of? Yet even if the decisions are made unconsciously, they still arise from our own brains. We can still influence how those decisions are made. Neuroscience shows that our brains change constantly and we can even generate new brain cells as adults, a thing unheard of just a few years ago. We can certainly change pathways within the brain and connectivity between different areas.

    For me, this is how we can 'break the circle of destiny' the author writes about. How we follow the path is important in bringing about such changes. We can choose which changes we want to bring about by looking at the long history of Buddhist and other practices such as meditation and yoga and, if the research is there, understanding what it is that changes in our brains when we undertake them. The article goes into some of these practices, but overlays its own understanding on them, pushing the need to 'leave society behind' and 'practice free will elsewhere'.

    Maybe my concerns will be met in the next article which the author says will actually look at neuroscience and evidence. If so, I apologize in advance, but my reading so far lends me to think that there will be more elements of 'propaganda' and 'sleight-of-hand' language designed to push this idea that we are different to other forms of life in some magical way.

    Moderator Note: Here's part two at the URL:


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