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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

No Self No Problem: How Neuropsychology is catching up to Buddhism

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

by Chris Niebauer, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism


The Author of the text reports “Neuropsychology is the study of the architecture of the brain and how that architecture relates to how we experience the world, specifically our thoughts and the resulting behavior.” Neuropsychology has successfully mapped certain processes onto specific brain areas. From facial recognition to empathy, neuropsychology can now place specific processes and brain functioning precisely at specific locations on the neural landscape. If course, none of this mattered to me at the time of my father’s death. All the author knew was that he was suffering. and his hope was that the secret to ending that suffering, or at least to understand it, could be found in the mechanics of the brain. Despite countless hours spent in the classroom, the author wasn’t finding any real answers regarding the issue. So he turned to the teachings of the East, and it was here that he began to find what he felt was missing from the traditional psychological approach. He also began to notice striking parallels between specific findings on the brain and the ideas expressed in Buddhism, Taoism and other schools of Eastern thought. As he finished his graduate work in a lab that studied the differences between the left and right brain, he split his time between the different needs of those two halves with day-to-day life as a student of science for my left brain and weekend retreats on Eastern philosophy that seemed to fulfill his right brain. While he was in graduate school, he marveled at the shift that had been taking place in the field of physics, several researchers had noticed the similarities between the findings of quantum mechanics and the teachings of the East. He remembered going into a professor’s office and with the joy of a kind on Christmas morning sharing that what was being discovered in physics confirmed what had been said in the East long ago. To his great disappointment, the professor came right out and said that there was no Santa; he attributed the similarities in these new findings to simple coincidence. Despite his dismissal, he never lost hope that a connection between neuroscience and Eastern thought would be realized. In the late 1990’she would have bet he was one of very few professors who offered a class on Zen and the brain. Hoverer, just a few years later the Dalai Lama was invited to be the lead speaker at a major conference in neuroscience and ‘Eastern philosophy can complement each other is practically a genre of its own

.

Scientists and academics have documented the many positive effects of the practices of the East. Take meditation, which we now know improves attention. Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar has shown that long-term meditation have a thicker-the area of the brain that specializes in high-level decision-making. This wrinkled outer layer of the brain is made up of neurons, which are information-procession cells. It has been well established that the cortex in general shrinks with age; however, Lazar found that the effect of regular meditation on the cortex was so profound that fifty-year old meditators had a prefrontal cortex that looked like that of a twenty-five year old. Even an eight week mindfulness-based stress reduction program and a significant impact on the brain. Those doing the mindfulness program had smaller amygdalae-the aggressive part of the brain that reacts to stress-and larger temporoparietal junctions, a part of the brain associated with empathy and compassion. Similar astonishing effects have been found as a result of tai chi, a form of movement-based meditation. The promising effects of tai chi range from the physical (for example lower blood pressure) to the mental (enhanced cognitive function). The ancient Hindu practice of yoga has also yielded similar findings. David Creswell at Carnegie Mellon has shown that a simple three-day retreat on mindfulness mediation can change the brain and lower inflammation. Those in the mindfulness group had a reduced level of biomarkers for inflammation linked to diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. In fact, it is difficult to find research uncovering a negative effect – or even no effect at all – from practicing these ancient arts of the East. These studies are wonderfully information, yet he believes the research done by many in the West points to something even more profound than the physical and mental benefits of adopting Eastern practices. For the first time in history, the findings of scientists in the West strongly support, in many cases without meaning to one of the most fundamental insights of the East: that the individual self is more akin to a fictional character than a real thing. We do not yet understand the fill implication of these studies or their impact on Western ideas of what it means to be human. This book aims to dive into that process by examining these studies, weighing their significance, and understanding what they ask of us.


This book will explore strong evidence suggesting that the concept of the self is simply a construct of the mind rather than a physical thing located somewhere within the brain itself. Put another way, it is the process of thinking that creates the self, rather than there being a self-having any independent existence separate from thought. The self is more like a verb than a noun. To take it a step further, the implication us that without thought, the self does not, in fact, exist. It’s as if cotemporary neuroscience and psychology are just now catching up with what Buddhism, Taoism and Advaita

Vedanta Hinduism have been teaching for over 2,500 years. The author starts by looking at the brain, its left and right side, and its effects on human cognition and behavior There are certainly other ways to organize and divide the brain that are important to the process of cognition, such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex mentioned inat the beginning of the text, but it is my aim to make this topic understandable and enjoyable for everyone. The left side of the brain is an interpreter or story maker. Pattern recognition, language, mapmaking, and categorization are all located in the left brain, and the evidence suggest that it is exactly these types of functions that collectively lead to the sensation of a self and the strong belief in its absolute truth. The author will explore how the unique functions of the left brain give rise not only to the sense of self but also account for why it is so difficult to see beyond this illusion why this sensation creates so much suffering in the human condition. The author explains how the left brain operates so he will help us see what the right brain and how it works, which includes things such as finding meaning, our ability to see and understand big picture ideas, expressing creativity, experiencing emotions, and spatial processing. Therese are all functions that rely on the right brain. After we have examined both sides of the brain and the processes associated with each, I will speculate and the processes associated with each, I will speculate on what this information may mean for consciousness and how it could also point beyond the ego illusion and toward the mystery of who we really are. Niebauer offers a range of intriguing exercises at the end of each chapter that will allow you to experience this truth for yourself.

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