My own thoughts: this question of why do you, as an individual, think that you should think something or not, is a big one that I think is very fundamental to the mechanics of this dialogue (rather than the content, perhaps). As I mentioned, it is somewhat typical on one side that the motivation of all this philosophizing (etc.) is to find Truth (at least that is one of several positions that many of the westerners seem to fit into). And it is fairly well established in Buddhist principles that you should cultivate mental factors (thoughts, beliefs, habits, etc.) that are liberative from suffering for yourself and others, while eliminating those that cause suffering. This would be called ethics of mind, as was mentioned in one of the sessions.

A further implication of this is that in Buddhism, a belief is a practice. You don’t believe something because it’s “right”, you believe something because believing is an action or process which has consequences in your development and environment. The “emptiness of self” necessarily means that beliefs aren’t reified; I like to say that a belief just means there’s a thought that you repeat to yourself over and over until it becomes automatic and unquestioned. But it’s still just a thought. (Aside: this counts equally for the belief that “I will be reborn after death” and the belief that “I will not be reborn after death”, so “trimming unnecessary beliefs” does not logically lead to eliminating belief in rebirth; if anything, it just leads to eliminating your philosophizing and debating about it.)

The reason I think this is important to this dialogue is that now that I have spent some years studying and practicing some Buddhist systems, it now appears to me that many if the scientists have a painful, or perhaps endearing, fixation on making sure their minds (brains?) don’t get contaminated by getting tricked into thinking the wrong thoughts. There’s really not a lot of room for “for this discussion we will start with the philosophy that matter arises from mind; for the next discussion we will start with the philosophy that mind arises from matter”. One of those appears to be “wrong” in some kind of absolute sense, so how could any good come of it? Christof wouldn’t make the effort to go with the flow of the idea that mind doesn’t depend on a physical substrate, even just for the purpose of exploring the EXPERIENTIAL sequelae of inhabiting that belief system. Of course not, because the purpose of a belief system is to be True, not to have some experiential consequence.

But this really shuts a lot out of the dialogue. The Buddhists are trained diffently (and some of them get it, but probably not all) and you can see that many of them have no trouble at all playing along with mental materialism or whatever is on the table.

Someone said to me that he thinks it would be WORSE if the scientists learned more about the other side, because then there would be less productive tension in the dialogue. And yes, it is fun when the sparks fly. But it is asymmetrical, both in terms of effort and devotion, and also in terms of practicalities like stage time and who is accorded higher social status. And this too has consequences. I heard that at the last mind and life summer institute, there was a minor insurrection among the Tibetan monastics in attendance because they had an accumulating sense that the community wasn’t really listening to them but perhaps even keeping them around for show. One can protest all one wants that no of course that’s not true and the scientists all really do appreciate the monastics, but if they feel that way after all these years then that feeling alone means something is wrong.

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