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For example, in this answer, we find Buddhists insisting that the mind is not a "byproduct" of the brain, i.e. the mind does not arise neurologically in the brain. By neurology, I mean that according to that view, the mind arises by the electrical and chemical interactions happening in neuron cells of the physical brain.

I have also seen Ajahn Brahm stating in a video that even a person with dementia would have a moment of clarity of mind, just before death, proving that the mind is not neurologically originated.

My understanding is that Buddhists have this view, because without it, it does not seem sensible that the mind stream can be reborn into another life. Is this right? That's my first question.

This answer is interesting:

Consciousness (viññana) and Materiality (rūpa) are related as are magnetism and electricity. Their relationship is reciprocal, each conditioning the other. They are dependently originated, i.e. neither exists independently.

To me, it does not matter if the mind arose neurologically in the physical brain or not.

My analogy is that software or data is composed of the bits of 1s and 0s on the physical media of a computer, for example, harddisk and RAM. So, it is electronically and chemically originated. However, software can be copied or transferred to other computers or other physical media over networks. So, while software depends on physical media, this does not impede it from moving to other physical media.

So, my second question is, does it really matter (in terms of holding the Right View) if the mind is neurologically originated or not? I think if the mind is neurologically originated, it does not matter and does not impede the notion of rebirth or continuity of the mind stream, just like in the case of software.

  • Brain and mind are different things.You get informed because of brain (neurons) and not because of mind. Here may this question would help you. – Swapnil Mar 10 '18 at 11:45
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I think I more-or-less agree with your "mind is like software" position. Here is my personal opinion on the topic.

If you read modern books on mind, such as "Consciousness Explained" by Daniel Dennett and "Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human" by Daniel Siegel, you will see that modern researchers are slowly getting to the same idea:

Mind is an empty (non-solid, impossible to reify) informational phenomenon. It's existence depends on dynamic processes of information exchange. In this sense mind is not dualistically separate from its various media, it is the informational aspect of everything, built into the fabric of regular things. In this sense, "everything is mind".

In my opinion, the comparison of mind with software is fairly accurate - although mind is even more subtle and amorphous than even software, but yes it is of the same kind. Mind is not just the thoughts, memes, books and other human stuff though. In a more subtle way mind exists in animals, trees, and even in geographical features. Mind as dynamic property of things moving, transforming, reflecting, affecting, conditioning, and representing each other.

I would not say mind "emerges" from matter though, to me that's an incorrect characterization. In my view, mind is what animates matter, it is the "spirit" or "soul" of things if you wish (metaphorically speaking). Mind/information/energy is the active side of things, while matter is only a temporary form that it takes.

Now, whether it matters for Buddhism or not, I think it does matter. The materialistic or nihilistic position declares primacy of matter and downplays importance of information and (abstract) energy (of latent influences and potentialities). The position of naive spiritualism is really an extension of materialism, in which "soul" and "self" is some sort of special cloud that resides in the body and leaves it at death (and more elaborate versions of that). Both of these positions lead to interpretation mistakes about reality and life. Materialism leads to "it does not matter" attitude that ignores all subtleties and critically important sideeffects. Naive spiritualism leads to a conservative kind of thinking that fears scientific discoveries and advances and basically rejects reality in favor of superstitions.

In terms of ethics, this way of thinking has potential to finally reconcile the religious and the scientific positions, and the two camps of people identifying with them. The mainstream understanding that mind is not confined to brain but instead is like the atmosphere that we all share should lead to important breakthroughs in our ability to connect, share, appreciate, respect, accept, and love each other.

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In short: it doesn't matter. Why? Because drilling down on this topic will not free you from suffering. Instead, it may well create more.

  • I provided a similar answer. Kindly score my answer 'up' if you wish, so it is not snuffed out. Thanks – Dhammadhatu Mar 13 '18 at 10:04
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The first question is asking about this answer (in full):

All unenlightened beings suffer including scientists. I suppose the real question is whether scientists will ever realize the four noble truths. Unless there's a radical change in how they approach reality, I do not see that happening any time soon.

The real issue is that mainstream science still does not acknowledge that there is a mental aspect to the universe. They think of the mind as a byproduct of the brain. Any scientific research done based on that hypothesis will never lead to the understanding of the four noble truths.

The phrase you're asking about ("they think of the mind as a byproduct of the brain") seems to be an elaboration of the previous sentence ("The real issue is that mainstream science still does not acknowledge that there is a mental aspect to the universe"), and a bridge to the next sentence ("Any scientific research done based on that hypothesis will never lead to the understanding of the four noble truths").

I think the sentence wants to emphasise mental aspects (not physical aspects), as explained more-or-less explained in these comments (under a different answer):

If the scientists took the mental aspect of the universe seriously, today we would have very useful scientific theories on things like rebirth, Karma etc. – Sankha Kulathantille Mar 4 at 13:46

@SankhaKulathantille If the scientists took the mental aspect of the universe seriously When you write "the mental aspect", I guess that "mental aspect" includes ,"how we perceive it (sense-objects)", "how we feel about it (dissatisfaction)", and "how we react to it (anger or attachment)", and maybe "what's good (ethics, discipline, maybe kindness or selflessness too)". Is that what you mean by "the mental aspect" (which science should have studied), or did you mean something else? – ChrisW Mar 4 at 14:13

@ChrisW By the mental aspect, I mean 4 out of the 5 aggregates. Scientists only study 1. I.e. Rupa. Look how much they are missing. – Sankha Kulathantille Mar 4 at 14:15

So I think that answers that. Your question is "why does it matter if the mind is seen as a byproduct of the brain", and the answer appears to be that the brain is only a part of only one of the 5 skandhas, which is (I think, obviously) insufficient for the Buddhist endeavour.

In summary I don't think it's because it's relevant to "rebirth"; it's because it's too simplistic. And maybe too low-level: you can try to interpret everything (all activity) as physical/atomic, but IMO that is an inappropriate level in/at/from which to perceive feelings, ethics, and so on.

Yes you can take fMRIs of a brain in various states, but ...


As for the second question, "So, my second question is, does it really matter (in terms of holding the Right View) if the mind is neurologically originated or not?"

  • I think it's OK to say that the mind has a "dependent origination" relationship.
  • BUT "the mind" is complicated -- see e.g. What is the difference between Vijñāna, Manas and Citta?
  • BUT "dependent origination" (the 12 nidanas) includes more than only "mind and brain" (i.e. it's more complicated than that)
  • BUT tradition includes "immaterial (formless) realms", and inhabitants thereof (devas), and any claim that "there is no mind without brain" may appear to contradict that.
  • BUT "the mind originates in the brain" isn't taught (historically orthodox), isn't included in any definition of Right View, and maybe isn't a soteriological doctrine -- which prefers to teach that mental phenomena are mind-made (not that mind is matter-made)

As a scientist perhaps I might say that "the theory that 'the mind originates in the brain' is a model which seems to explain various phenomena".

But maybe it's not the best (or right) model, to explain the kinds of observation that are the subject of Buddhist doctrine.

To answer the question with a rhetorical question, do you think you can arrive at, for example, a neurological understanding of the four noble truths? Can other people? Is it that doctrine that's readily apparent, inviting inspection, maybe self-evident etc.?

Again I don't think it's necessarily to do with "rebirth", only that assuming that "the physical is all there is" isn't the right perspective from which to understand Buddhist doctrine or practice.

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When I said "byproduct" I meant the materialistic belief that the mind is a physical phenomenon, rather than being a separate aspect of reality outside physicality. I didn't imply that the physicality cannot influence the mind. In reality, it is the craving in the mind towards physical experiences that creates the senses. If not for the workings of the mind, the body wouldn't even exist, much less the brain.

Having said that, lets assume that the mind is a byproduct of the brain. In other words, the physical is all there is in the universe. Then there would be no Karmic difference between a man intentionally killing another man and a coconut falling on a man's head and killing him. Either both events are devoid of any Karma or the coconut also breaks the first precept. :) Suffering of beings would be nothing more than the suffering of a rock in your garden. Why even bother to attain Nibbana?

Electricity and magnetism are both physical phenomena. Software does not exist. What you call software is usually electricity and magnetism. If we assume that the mind is a part of the brain, in order for those data/chemicals/electrical traces to be transferred to the brain of the next life, the brain in the current life should have some physical connection to the brain of the next life before it is rotten or burnt. This scenario is highly unlikely given the diverse places where beings can be born and that there is no such physical connection to those places. It also completely removes any possibility of immaterial births.

So if one wants to end Samsara, all one has to do is to go to a room with electromagnetic insulation and commit suicide and let the brain be burnt. No need to keep to the precepts and meditate tirelessly :)

If we go to the level of ultimate reality, electricity and magnetism do not exist either. It's all seeing, hearing, feeling etc. Identifying that those experiences have mental and physical aspects is called the the Namarupa pariccheda nana. It is the first Vipassana knowledge a meditator attains. There's no ending of suffering if you cannot even get past that first stage.

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Here is the mind catching question again. The mind and brain question. if some one analyze my suggestion as an answer is most appreciated.There are mainly two views on this issue.

  1. Brain( material/physics or rupa) and mind are two different things. once death of brain, mind is caused to next birth. buddhist way chutti citta shape the next birth. Also memory recall of past life is taken as supportive proof for the rebirth. Here is very strong witness information of Prof.Ian Stevenson rebirth exploration as an example.

    In the case of the boy who said he recalled the life of someone who had been shot, the sister of the deceased told Stevenson that her brother had shot himself in the throat. The boy had shown Stevenson a birthmark on his throat. Stevenson suggested that he might also have a birthmark on the top of his head, representing the exit wound, and found one there underneath the boy's hair.

So these kind of witnesses can't be scientifically proven and supply strong supportive materials for rebirth believers.

  1. Brain and mind co-exits and co-related and interdependent. mind is extinguishes (once neurons stop fire) on brain death and that is the end of mind and consciousnesses. Scientists,rationalists are in this view. They have supportive materials to prove it.

e.g An patient in unconscious or coma situation,

Some psychotic medication and some chemical(e.g chloroform,adrenalin,opium etc... can be used to manipulate mind and thoughts patterns.

Also when consider and analyze Heart Sutta and culla sunnata sutta express the similar thing.

But the second view is make huge controversy to first view in ethics,tradition in the purpose of doing good(karmic effects) and bad,doing wholesome and mundane,super-mundane concepts.

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The Buddha did not teach about a 'mind stream'. Dependent origination is about the origination of suffering (sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief & despair). 'Rebirth' (new egoism) in happy or unhappy state is something that is a result of kamma (action). The question is about meta-physics and unrelated to the teaching of the Buddha, who taught:

In the past & now, I teach about suffering & freedom from suffering.

MN 22

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