A number of scientists and philosophers have taken up this challenge. There have been brain scans of meditators and philosophical examinations of Buddhist doctrines. There have even been discussions of Darwin and the Buddha: Do early Buddhist descriptions of the mind, and of the human condition, make particular sense in light of evolutionary psychology?
This course will examine how Buddhism is faring under this scrutiny. Are neuroscientists starting to understand how meditation “works”? Would such an understanding validate meditation—or might physical explanations of meditation undermine the spiritual significance attributed to it? And how are some of the basic Buddhist claims about the human mind holding up? We’ll pay special attention to some highly counterintuitive doctrines: that the self doesn’t exist, and that much of perceived reality is in some sense illusory. Do these claims, radical as they sound, make a certain kind of sense in light of modern psychology? And what are the implications of all this for how we should live our lives? Can meditation make us not just happier, but better people?
All the features of this course are available for free. It does not offer a certificate upon completion.
Week 1: The Buddhist Diagnosis
Week 2: The Buddhist Prescription
Week 3: Does Your Self Exist?
Week 4: A New Model of the Mind
Week 5: Meditation, Modules, and Evolutionary Psychology
Week 6: What Is Enlightenment?
No background in psychology or religious studies is assumed on the part of students. But it will help to have a curiosity about how the mind works, an interest in what accounts for the ups and downs of human experience, and an interest in the meaning of life.
Suggested readings will include Buddhist scriptures, scientific papers, philosophical writings, and excerpts from books (including my book The Moral Animal). Many suggested readings will be provided online, and none of suggested readings is essential to understanding the lectures.