Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Neural Buddhists

Check out the David Brooks OpEd piece with the title of this post. You really have to respect Brooks for putting so much energy into understanding contemporary mind science.
...the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is...In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism...In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. I’m not qualified to take sides, believe me. I’m just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. It’s going to have big cultural effects.


  1. Anonymous11:26 AM

    In my master's thesis at UC Santa Barbara, I argued that nudges toward conclusions like "neural Buddhism" should be viewed not as unassailable scientific determinations but as another step in the lineages of religious thought. I deal directly with a number of the figures that Brooks mentions here, especially Andrew Newberg.

    It is available in unpublished draft form on my website. A simplified version is currently available in the May/June issue of Science & Spirit magazine as well.

  2. Anonymous2:55 PM

    Best I can tell all he means to say is: God isn't dead, but religion is (or will be). I don't see that happening, although it'd be a step in the right direction.

    The rest of his materialism stuff seems to be very old news, rehashed in a simplistic manner.

  3. There's a criticism of this article on ScienceBlogs.

    Science and mysticism aren't going to blend. Science is not reinforcing mysticism. The use of the word 'sacred' is deceptive. There is no proof for the supernatural.

    Brooks's article is little more than posturing and severe misunderstanding.

  4. Just as the word 'sacred' is deceptive, so is the word 'mysticism'. For all its imprecision, I still applaud Brooks' writing as hopefully nudging some conventionally religious people in a more rational direction, loosening their attachment to their own creed's creation myth, anthropomorphic god, etc.