With the concept of Modules of the Mind and its 7 sub selves, Prof Douglas T Kenrick from Arizona Sate University, offers perspectives on how the mind works that are consistent with those of Buddhist teachings. In his book the Rational Animal Kenrick explains how evolution has made us smarter by challenging the concept of Natural Selection. According to the “Time discount rate” research project, our perceptual framework change according to special stimuli. Very significant changes in our state of mind and behavioral disposition can be ushered in without our conscious choosing. And there is no single real “you” that control all of these changes. Kurzban also suggests that the merits and voices of each of the modules are evaluated before accepted almost like a committee without a CEO. “It’s a bit of a free for all at times” he says. We need a reason for doing things and will convince ourselves of whatever we feel is the right thing to do. A supporting concept is that of the Default Mode Network (our wandering mind) that explains how the modules compete for our attention. Feelings, which is very hard to control, trigger and give the modules power. And we know we can’t trust our feelings or where they come from! Thankfully we don’t have to allow any of the modules to dominate and we can choose which part we want to accentuate. So, if we are not always consciously in charge, how do we control ourselves? “We are able to choose and control our dominant selves thorough meditation” Kurzban explains. Mindfulness has the potential to influence the modules, quiet the mind and control the messages that bubble up.
Dr. Judson Brewer of Yale School of Medicine did ground breaking brain scan studies showing that the Default Mode Network (our wandering mind) gets quieter during meditation. His most recent area of specialty is the effect of neurobiological mechanisms underlying the interface between stress, mindfulness and the addictive process. “Cravings are like cats that keep coming to the door” he says. By just observing your craving meditatively, you begin the process of weakening the power thereof. He further explains that our conscious mind needs reasons with which to justify our behaviors to others. This is why the conscious mind engages in reasoned deliberation even if that reason doesn’t determine the choices we make. Mindfulness diffuses the power of modules and can influence which modules get more powerful over time and which don’t. Joseph Goldstein author of “Mindfulness, a practical guide to awakening “, suggests we can break the habituation of thought by not identifying with it. Understanding the true nature of thought helps us to avoid identification with them. And we can choose not to be governed by thoughts (or mind modules), which are not helpful. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world in our minds and meditation helps us to not get draws into the fight” he stays. Meditation gives us critical distance from the feelings that trigger modules confirming the plasticity of the mind. The philosophy of Buddhist meditation practices are hereby explained by modern psychological research.
Does modern science lend support to the moral validity of Buddhism?
Western psychological studies identified some themes as perceived by modern man that are consistent with the teachings of Buddhist philosophy. These themes include aspects such as a dubious perceived reality, being aware of impermanence, awareness that there is pervasive and individual suffering in the world, knowing that pleasure is fleeting, and that we have something like a modular mind. Our personal boundaries are not so clear as we may think they are and we live in an interconnected world with a kind of inside/outside diffusion. The human condition from the standpoint of modern psychology, and in particular evolutionary psychology, highlights parallels with Buddhist philosophy. And if we consider the way our evolutionary history has afflicted us with perceptual distortions and moral biases, dissatisfaction, and out and out suffering, we may well ask if there a world view that address these problems? And whereas we can understand these things, there is a lack of prescription. We became a better people and more self-consciousness about moral obligations, which in a way lead to more suffering. We became painfully aware of deficiencies in perception and behavior by the very fact that we have consciousness. So whereas we may have found the understanding of truth, we need a way. To this end there are religions, there are therapeutic traditions, and there is Buddhism that as a naturalistic worldview addresses the problems head on.
When we consider the effects of enlightenment as suggested by modern science and natural Buddhism: a not-self exterior view, emptiness, not-self interior view, and impermanence, we move closer to a moral truth. When we are aware of these enlightened themes we are less likely to damage or hurt others (like we will not ourselves). This logic of interdependence of things is taught in Mahayana Buddhist philosophy and supported by research findings of evolutionary psychology. The moral implications of a world-view as: you-world-one is that we are less likely to do harm. Why would you harm the world if you wouldn’t harm yourself? The exterior version of the not-self is almost a rebellion against natural selection because it fosters the sense that our interests are identical with those of other beings. And we reach a moral sense of selflessness with the realization that the boundaries of body are more permeable than we thought. However, this not-self exterior view of our sense of separateness is heresy according to Natural Selection and a kind of rebellion as illustrated by evolutionary psychology. Buddhism is in a similar way showing us the path to fight mother-nature and become better than we are.
As we have seen, there is an order built into the world. And according to Buddhism there is alignment between the truth about the world, moral truth and our fulfillment of the cessation of suffering. Buddhism doesn’t talk about a divinely imparted plan that inspires awe and commitment by virtue of God’s View like religions do. However, the order and path as described by Buddhism is as capable of inspiring awe and commitment. Religions (Christianity in this context) and Buddhism both suggest there is something wrong in the world but that there is a way out. William James famously said that religions in general point towards an uneasiness, a sense that there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand. And suggest that we can be saved by the wrongness by making proper connection with a higher power. Buddhism satisfies William James requirements for what a religion involves: Firstly it asserts the existence of an unseen order and emphasizes the value of bringing yourself in harmony with that order. And secondly, it involves a sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with life as it stands. Great synergy and thematic consistency between the world views of Religious and that of Natural Buddhism.
Let me know your thoughts on this article. Agree, disagree, new perspectives welcome!