Philosophy of the Mind

1. One nice thing about Buddha Dhamma is that there are no separate theories for the mind, meaning of existence, the physical world, or ANYTHING in this world. Thus I can refer to the section on “Buddha Dhamma” when I talk about the mind, the same way I refer to that section when I discuss “Dhamma and Science“.

2. There seems to be three basic problems that the philosophers are trying to tackle regarding the mind (there are many others, but let us start with these):

  • How does the mental experience arise in a physical body? Most scientists and philosophers say that it originates in the brain, but they have not been able to make the connection. This is the “mind-body problem”.
  • How can non-physical mental states of consciousness cause something in the physical world? For example, how can your intention ever cause a movement of your hand? This is the “problem of mental causation”. Yet, the case for “physicalism” — that everything in this world is matter-based — is made with this as a premise.
  • Finally, how your thoughts refer to something that is happening (or happened) in a distant city? This is called the “problem of intentionality”. If you are thousand  miles away from home, you can take “tour” of the home, room by room, in your mind.

3. The philosophers are divided into two camps in addressing the above problems:

  • One camp says the “physical” and “mental” are two distinct realms. They do not think “mental” can arise from ‘physical”; This camp is mostly religious and attribute the “mental” to the concept of a “soul”. They are “dualists”.
  • The other camp is ‘materialistic”: they say the ‘mental” arises from “physical”. In the worst case, some materialists deny even the existence of a mental reality, even though I cannot quite understand what that means. Because they are obviously thinking about these concepts, which is “mental”.

4. Let us look at the current status of these two camps:

  • Following the extreme dualism of Rene Descartes, there have been many dualists, including Stephen Jay Gould whose “non-overlapping magisteria” in the late 1990’s put matter and mind into non-overlapping disciplines: matter can be handled by science and morality and mind can be left to religion. However, these days only dualists left seem to be those who hold a dualist view for religious reasons, i.e., a soul.
  • These days most philosophers are materialists. With the amazing progress of science and technology, it is hard for most people to believe anything that is not “confirmed’ by science. And they think science, based on a purely materialistic approach, should be able to explain everything about ‘this world”. They believe that it is only a matter of time before brain activity will be able to explain the workings of the mind; see the reference list in “Power of the Human Mind – Introduction“.
  • The inadequacy of the materialist approach is detailed in a comprehensive manner by Thomas Nagel in his recent book, “Mind and Cosmos” (2012); it is an easy read with no fluff and only 128 pages. I was impressed by how close he came to advocating a “mind first” approach, just like in Buddha Dhamma (apparently he does not know anything about Buddha Dhamma and does not even mention it).

5. Mind is the ultimate cause of everything in this world. The Buddha said, “mano pubbangama dhamma, mano setta manomaya…”. “Mind precedes all dhamma, all dhamma are mind made…”. But Buddha’s is not a dualist world view. Mind and matter are intimately connected.

  • This is in sharp contrast to both the “dualistic” and “materialistic” views.
  • Most people translate the above Pāli verse as, “mind precedes all mental phenomena….”. So, we need to examine what “dhamma” means here.
  • Dhamma explains how anything and everything in this world comes about “dhamma” means “to bear” or “to explain” or “how anything “comes about”. Nothing happens without (multiple) causes.
  • In the Sabba Sutta, the Buddha clearly defines what “sabba” or “all” that in “in this world”: It is everything that can be experienced via the five physical senses and the mind. Specifically, eye and visible objects, ear and sound, nose and smells, tongue and tastes, body and touch, and the mind and concepts (these are the six internal and corresponding six external “ayatanas“), this is “the all”.
  • Is there anything that is not included within those 12 ayatanas? There is nothing else in the whole world that is not included in those 12 ayatanas. Six of those are “internal”; eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, and the other six are external, they exist “out there”.
  • Therefore, it is NOT correct to say that “dhamma” in the above verse includes only mental phenomena, as many translators of the suttā have done. This is why I keep saying that we need to check consistency all the time. If one thing is not defined properly, then that error propagates and lead to contradictions.
  • This “all” can also be expressed as the 31 realms of existence; of those 31 realms, normal humans experience only two realms (human and animal); see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma”. But it is possible to experience other realms via developing mental power, i.e., jhānā: see, “Power of the Human Mind – introduction” and the follow-up posts. Thus, the Buddha’s world view is much more expansive than the ones that are subjected to current scientific and philosophical investigations.

6. According to Buddha Dhamma, the ultimate realities in this world are just 28 types of rupa (matter), citta, and 52 types of cetasika. Then different combinations of the cetasika in citta gives  rise to 89 (121) types of citta.

  • Of course citta and cetasika constitute the mind, and 28 types of rupa constitute matter.
  • Another way to state the same thing is in terms of the 6 dhatus: patavi, apo, tejo, vayo, akasa (space), and viññāṇa. The 28 types of rupa mentioned above (including akasa dhatu) are derived from the satara mahā bhuta: patavi, apo, tejo, vayo. Viññāṇa constitutes of citta and cetasika.
  • All inert things and plants in this world (31 realms) are made of rupa. All sentient beings “are made of” rupa and have viññāṇa (citta and cetasika), i.e, a mind.
  • As I will explain in a separate post, rupa are ultimately caused by the mind; see, “The Origin of Matter – Suddhashtaka“. But rupa are inherently unstable (this is basically the root cause for suffering in the material world), and there is a fundamental law in physics which states the fact that matter is unstable and the universe itself “runs down”; see, “The Second Law of Thermodynamics is Part of Anicca!“.
  • When the mind is released from the material body, one attains Nibbāna, i.e., one is never reborn “in this world”. It is the material body that is subject to decay and death, and lead to suffering.

7. The reason that I started this website is that it is not possible to provide a reasonable explanation of the Buddha’s world view in an essay or even in several essays. At the website, I can make references to related posts. I hope it would be a rewarding experience for anyone who is willing to allocate some time to read AND contemplate.

  • Another reason to start the website is that I want to have it all out in the open, so anyone can challenge any inconsistency. I want to find the truth myself, and the only way to do that is to get as many as possible to look at the emerging picture and make corrections to any errors anyone can find.
  • Therefore, I would appreciate any comments pointing to any errors or inconsistencies anywhere on the site, in addition to suggestions for relevant topics to discuss.
  • There is more to follow. This is an introduction.
  • How “physical” arises from “mental” in the most fundamental sense is really complex and we may not get to that for a while. First we will concentrate on how physical bodies of the living beings arise with causes from the “mental”. I will be building up the Abhidhamma section and then will refer frequently to that section as we proceed.

8. It is time to make a paradigm change: Consciousness is not only ontologically fundamental, it takes precedence over matter. Mind can create matter. Right now we have evidence that the mind can change the brain; see, “Truine Brain – How the Mind Rewires the Brain via Meditation/Habits“. If the brain creates the mind, how can the mind alter the brain?

9. Here are a couple of papers on the subject related to the “mind body problem” for those who are interested (click on them to open):

What is it Like to be a Bat – Nagel (1974)

All machine and no ghost- McGinn-2012

Next, “Buddha Dhamma: Non-Perceivability and Self-Consistency“, …………

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